For years, decades really I’ve struggled with rest, not mere inactivity, vacation, or sleep, but true, deep rest. I was once a firecracker burning at both ends, always working, and always busy. I suffered severe burnout three times. You’d think I would have learned my lesson the first time. In these vain pursuits of success, productivity, or achievement I found my identity and value, just as my culture instilled in me; work hard, live fast, and you’ll be a success.
Author, consultant, speaker Jeremy Mangerchine had a similar experience and writes about how Father God was finally able to get him to pay attention to his health, his identity, and his relationship with Him. The book is The Quitter’s Manual: Finding Rest in a World Gone Berserk, and Jeremy’s idea of quitting isn’t what most of us might think. It’s a nice brief 108-pages of essential life changing wisdom.
In a wonderful autobiographical series of anecdotes Mangerchine brings us along on his own journey into Father’s realm of true rest, of a powerful life in the Presence of God without strife, without struggle, or futile busyness.
What I enjoy so very much is how Jeremy shares his own journey, and doesn’t wag a finger at any of his readers. For us it’s a take it or leave it proposition, but personally, I found this book liberating, and affirming. I’ve come a long way on my won rest-seeking life journey and for me, it was good to read how I can better that journey as well as find encouragement in what I’m already doing well.
Great book. Short and powerful read. Life changing, if we want it.
This evening, I watched a film (80 mins) on photographer Annie Liebovitz, Life Through a Lens. It’s aptly titled because following her early career to today, it’s an historic walk through the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s, and now. We revisited San Francisco and the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll era. We wandered through several decades of Rolling Stone magazine, read by anyone wanting social and cultural change. We moved on to her current work with magazines, Vogue, and Vanity Fair. It was 40-years of American, New York cultural history and influence.
What struck me most was how so many up and comers find their creative expression in such destructive lifestyles. She talked about her incredibly close friendship with the late Susan Sontag, singer & visual artist Patti Smith, and her engaging work in the lives of a vast array of celebrities. This film is a whirl wind tour of the back half of the twentieth century all seen in the tumultuous context that is artistic New York.
This morning Manuel Luz, singer/songwriter and author wrote a wonderful post. In Science, Hendrix, Banned Books & Brokeness he spoke of how truth is so often found even in the midst of lives of death and destruction.
“Angst is real. It’s a part of what is true. So if you’re wanting music or any art form that is true, you go for truth, regardless of where it comes from. I think Jimi Hendrix was doing something that was actually really true. Now he was coming from a sense of brokenness, and I feel bad for that because he never was able to reconcile that. My faith is what has helped me to reconcile…”
So many Christians in this season – and it’s becoming less so, praise God – keep ugliness and unpleasantness at arms length simply because it is unpleasant and ugly. They’re not really looking for God’s Truth, but merely a quiet, pleasant life. When it comes to their kids being seduced by pop culture, or secular humanism, their tendency is to wall themselves off with their families lest they be contaminated. In this way, these Christians are operating from a posture of fear and are allowing themselves to be neutralized by their enemy, the Liar. To them God isn’t very powerful, and evil must be battled even here in the physical / material realm. Folly this.
This is perhaps the main reason the institutional church fights to manage artists who are Christian; much Truth is found amid ugliness and unpleasantness. If the artists are forced to seek Truth in stringently clean, fully Christianized contexts, well then, it will be not only beautiful, but pleasant. However it will contain absolutely no Truth.
Because artists are open, brave, and receptive to the world around them, their lives are often lived as loose cannon, rolling around the deck of life and doing “damage”. Christians who wall-off and shelter themselves from unpleasantness and ugliness seek peace and order, something that life has very little of, and in so doing endeavor to present a Theology of Aesthetics. In effect these wall builders seek to dictate and control expressions of beauty and the arts. Therein lies much of the basis of the centuries old friction between the institutional church and artists.
This is why I am creative outside of the church, and in The Church (Body of Christ). I do not allow any institution to dictate to me what I will or will not produce as art. If the creative person is censured, there is little or no Truth in the work, just Christian propaganda; yet another reason why 1-million Christians are leaving the institutional church every year and seeking God in person – directly and relationally.
And all of this was triggered and unpacked just by a documentary film on the greatest cultural photographer of our times. Amen ~
When I was a youngster, I was just like all kids seem to be. I was energetic and impatient. When I was supposed to do a “project” I’d rush through it as fast as possible. I’d then gather up my “creation” and toddle off in search of praise despite the dripping glue and paint.
Even in college I was still working fast because in this American culture of ours; fast is rewarded. In my work in film & theatre, there were time crunches and budgets to maintain. The mentality was for high quantity, and the quality just needed to be “good enough” for the job at hand. My creative work was always pressed by either a budget, a deadline or both. It’s no wonder students of the creative arts are always asking the “old pros”, “So, where do you get your ideas?” The pressure to produce continuously is enormous. But alas, I digress.
Years later when I was in theatre leadership, I was the Production Designer for the company and its primary builder as well. I took my time on the designs because I had to enhance the context of the story. A good set does that, but our low-skill novices needed to be able to assemble it quickly. So there’s the dichotomy; meaningful beauty in a matter of a few hours of intense construction.
In these current years of not working for others, not working in a production context, I’ve slowed down a great deal. I’ve gradually moved from impatiently wanting to see the thing done, to actually savoring each and every stroke of brush, pen, or pencil. It’s been a wonderfully long journey that takes further steps every day.
The majority of this shift has been a movement away from a paradigm of quantity over quality, to the reverse; quality over quantity. I savor quality (or qualities) over quantity any day. I’m no longer a tin can being kicked along the road by the driving forces of production. For me quantity is so meaningless that I simply won’t tolerate it in myself.
As recently as this year, I’ve even stopped making quantities of Coptic-bound journals; why? because in the end it’s nothing more than a pile of product about which I have little care. What enjoyment did I get from that experience? Well, I enjoyed the collection and processing of upcycled papers and paste-board. I enjoyed ironing the paper and cutting it into sheets, and then folding them into signatures. I enjoyed the design elements I’d use on the covers; covering the boards and folding each corner with a binder’s fold. In short, I loved the process. But in the end, I was left with a pile of journals that I liked, but very few people wanted (or would buy). It was pleasant, repetitious, and productive. And while I’ve ceased making them for sale I still make all of my own journals and sketchbooks for personal use mostly. I don’t buy journals or sketchbooks anymore.
Instead, I make art books – that is books as objects of art. These are one of a kind, filled with meaning, and certainly not repetitious. With these “books”, anything goes, and I’m no longer making them for others. There’s no pressure to “produce” quantities of “product”. Each is filled with meaning and story.
The beautiful collage quilt blocks I used to make were also product. I began making single blocks, having researched thousands of quilt block patterns, and while each was unique, it soon became a production line effort.
It wasn’t until I began reincorporating story into my work that a far deeper satisfaction emerged. It’s what I was creatively hungry for but had so quickly forgotten. As a faith-driven artist, I just couldn’t see much of my relationship with God in the quiltblocks. I’m not knocking quilts or quilters, I love both. I’m simply saying that quilts just aren’t my medium, whether made in paper on masonite or in fabric. What I am knocking is my own impatience, and lack of savoring each moment of making. I was rushing to get the thing done and missing the point along the way.
How is it that I allowed myself to be pushed and shoved into a production mindset? What is it that I temporarily let go of? What did I forget about myself, who I am, why I make art, and for Whom?
I’ve had to relearn why I got into this “art-thing” in the first place. I’ve had to return to the foundations of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. That’s why I remembered that I’m into story – I’m a storyteller and that is the kind of art I need to be making. I needed to quit listening to the “good advice” of well meaning others, and remember who and what I am before my Lord God.
I’m drawn to art that contains story. At minimum the work must contain some evidence of human beings. I don’t care if it’s a paring knife on a plate with a half-eaten apple, there’s a story in it. Someone’s been there. This development of story in my work has caused a dramatic slowing in my making. I “listen” more to the materials, to the piece being made, and to God’s insights in the making. I’ve come to the point of savoring every brush and pencil stroke; every knife cut and trim; every architectural element to be included in the work. I’m even savoring the mental planning process of thinking through how it’s going to be assembled; something of an old friend from my scenic design and stage directing days.
For me process, the acts of making, of thinking about making, of considering the meaning of what’s being made all merge into a kind of meditation or at least a contemplation. That’s the major reason I’ve slowed so much, and savor each moment of process so much more. I don’t want to miss anything, not a “flavor”, or a “smell”, or the whisper of insight God’s Spirit might share with me.
To my mind art, like faith in God, is not an intellectual/mental “thing”. Making, the process of making, is intimate, dynamic, deeply personal, uncertain, “messy”, but oh so precious. God and I commune in process. I worship Him in process. Sometimes I even feel a bit like John the Revelator who, being taken away in the Spirit, was shown things, deep things, and told to share what he’d experience with the world. It’s a privilege, a celebration, a joy.
It’s all in the process.
I’ve read a lot of blog posts, essays, and a few books which talk about art as worship and art as prayer. Personally I find the subject fascinating, and it brings with it as many variations (which I love) as it does commentators.
Last Thursday evening I’d been invited to a gathering of faith-driven creatives and after a good meal together, catching up with one another, and some Show ‘n’ Tell, we got down to the discussion; (and I paraphrase here), Does prayer and worship show up in your work (if it does at all), and how does prayer and worship affect your art practice? Juicy question, huhhh?
I want to share a few notes I took, which are reactions to comments made by others, and then I’ll talk about my own reaction to the question(s).
We talked about whether or not our artwork is prayer and if the act of making is an act of worship. Some folks saw quite specific distinctions between prayer and worship, saying that for them prayer is a deliberate, intentional conversation with God. Others felt absolutely no distinction between prayer and worship, feeling that they were so closely related as to be almost one experience.
What about following a formal structure or formula in prayer and can we offer prayer in any context? To the latter half, we shared a resounding “Yes, we can pray any time, any where.” But for some there is a need for some kind of structure to prayer, while others saw prayer differently, informally; perhaps more immediate and responsive.
One person said that for her prayer was intentional, serving a deliberate purpose, while worship is more responsive (perhaps more emotional). And, yes, she felt worshipful in the act of creativity.
For me, at this time, most of my prayer life, in any context, is done through my journal writing. Sure, I do pray elsewhere at other times. But my processing of the life-stuff that’s the “bread and butter” of my arts practice is done in my journal. I learned this from author Julia Cameron from her book The Artist’s Way. I unload my spirit and listen to God in my journal writing. It’s a luscious outpouring of often random bits and pieces which He and I look at and make sense of. A whole lot of self-discovery has happened in our “sessions” together.
Often, in my writing time, I will break into worship, usually because He’s given me a discovery or revelation. I may stop right then and there, raise my hands and pray the doxology, or simply proclaim His awesomeness in the form of a Psalm, just how great and wondrous He really, truly is.
For me, worship is part and parcel of my art-making process and experience. Sometimes I’ll be so overwhelmed at what we’re making together I’ll start crying with release and joy – our time together is that intimate. All-ways though, the making is an alchemy of an intimate faith relationship and is my worship of Him. I mean, the very idea that I get to share in one of His most awesome attributes, creativity; I’m often overwhelmed by the privilege.
Let me close with this thought; To my mind we Faith-Driven artists are (or should be) powered by the ever-deepening intimacy and the ever-growing maturity of our relation with God through Christ. That’s what Faith-Driven means – literally driven to action by our faith (relationship) in God.
I’ve been to Orcas Island. I’ve walked and talked, and broken bread with other thoughtful creatives. I’ve been loved back to my senses and out of my own self-inflicted doldrums. I’ve been quickened among other friends at KindlingsFest 2013. Last night, I listened to a podcast and took notes from Dick Staub’s talk on day one, The Good Life as the Godward Life. Let me share a particularly powerful gift I was given while there.
The “terrible” parable of the talents… it pierces me through the heart time and time again. I drift away in some form of self-inflicted confusion or misery like a skiff that has somehow come untied from the cleat on the pier. With the slightest breeze, the briefest lapping of the waves, I slowly and inexplicably drift away from my purposeful place at the dock where I await my next commission.
I say terrible not because it’s a bad story, or because it’s a tale of retribution. I say terrible in the sense that Madeleine L’Engle calls human freewill a terrible gift. Like fire that warms and feeds, human freewill can also destroy the very thing it was meant to nourish and support. One’s home can be either warmed and brightened, or burned to the ground by that self-same power.
Talent is like that. Oh, I know the parable is dealing with a measure of material wealth, but that’s just a metaphor for any gift God, in His infinite wisdom, has designed us to bear; and they’re terrible gifts too. These same gifts woven into the very fibre and nature of our being can either bring great abundance and prosperity, and glory to God, or they can reveal what we’re made of through our cowardice of their neglect.
God doesn’t “gift” us just so we can run away in fear and trepidation and bury that thing He’s graciously made us to be. He’s not a malicious God of tricks, but a God of love, and yes, even of tough love; the kind of love that kicks us in the butt when we really need it. His is the love that restores our self-respect, gets us out of the ditches of our own digging, re-equips us, and sends us on our way, refreshed, restored, and a little wiser.
Love is restorative; we the prodigal child and He the Divine Father, embrace with the sudden realization that we’re off course and the brutality of some aspect of life was needed to bring us back to our senses. All He waits for is our own realization that we’ve somehow gone astray and need His help. He awaits our return with open arms, a ring for our finger, and yet another cloak to cover our nakedness. And with these gifts of restoration, He embraces us, kisses us on the cheek and says, “All is well now. What have you learned? Let’s go celebrate the new depth of our relationship together.”
I’ve neglected to regularly post on my blog, to show up every single work day in my studio, and to get an artist’s website up showing what I’ve been doing.
KindlingFest-Day One: I was at lunch and got to talking with some friends about our creative lives in general, and that embarrassing question came up again, “Do you have a website?” My friend asked in genuine curiosity. She wanted to see my latest work, and in the context of our conversation, I wanted to show her and the other friends round the table what I’d been working on. I couldn’t though.
Then it hit me; How long have I been asked that question? How many years have I been asked about a website of my own? How much longer am I going to keep my talents buried in mere conversation? I mean how tough is FREE for Pete’s sake?
“I don’t have one yet, but I promise you here and now, that I will before the year is out.”, and I shook hands with everyone at the table. I was “safe”, it was late July and that gave me about 4-months to undertake the huge, complex, website project.
Well, it’s been just two weeks since KindlingsFest, and like so many other attendees, I’ve been processing the tremendous wisdom and counsel we received. I’ve also been getting my website together. And today I can tell you that I kept my promise to my friends; more importantly I’ve finally done what I ought to have done years ago. Now I can share the work that God and I do together in the home studio we have. Now I can deposit the talents my Lord has given me and return them unto Him with interest. Now I don’t have to stand around trying to describe with words what I ought to be sharing with pictures. Oh, and one more thing, I now keep a portfolio of my work on my Smartphone as well. I don’t ever want to be asked again, with enthusiasm and interest “if” I have a website, what my work is like, what kind of art I make. I want to show and share the gifts God has built into my very being on my way to becoming fully human and living the good life to His glory.
Here’s the link: http://lcurtiss.weebly.com/index.html
If you’ve been reading any of my blogs, you’ll soon come to know what a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way I am. Several of her books are permanent additions to my Artist’s Bookshelf.
I mention her because of journals, and the process of journaling. One of the three basics (you’re going to have to read the book) of the practice she advocates is journaling, specifically what she calls Morning Pages. This is the first-thing, daily-habit, of handwriting 3-full pages in a journal of your choice to clear the creative baffles, prime the creative pump, and get the creative blood flowing. Words help us to externalize and objectify personal issues and to move on.
As I previously posted (My Artist’s Journal), words are often a priceless means for me to do all of the above, but I am developing a visual vocabulary in my collage / mixed-media art-making and I need to be using a visual journal, an Artist’s Journal. This journaling experience has been teaching me a few things I wanted to share with you.
First, I’ve come to understand just how much of a mechanical designer I currently am. That translates into a left-brain, function-oriented creative (and we need them too) I really am at present. What I’m striving to break out into is much more of a right-brain, heartfelt, emotional creative.
Why? Simply because faith in God and life on earth is all about relationships. It’s all about risking one’s heart in the investment of human relationships. Besides, it is the landscape of the human condition which most interests me in my art-making. I may be influenced and inspired by stained-glass, quilts, and mosaics, but those are physical, material, and stylistic influences. They’re simply a means to an end, and not the end itself.
It’s vital that I breakout into the emotional, relational, and human side of storytelling if I am going to succeed, and the journaling is showing the way.
The second lesson I’m grasping is that I’m far too timid in my creative choices. An Artist’s Journal is a safe, creative laboratory. Messes are de rigueur. I didn’t realize just how deeply in-grained this “fear of failure” really runs in me but apparently it’s going to take a lot of mess making to erode it away. I want the creative liberation afforded by the constant – don’t think about it – non-planned creativity of the Artist’s Journal.
So, it’s working. I’m being released, empowered, liberated, enlarged, and enabled to freely and fully express what’s on my heart and discarding much of what’s merely in my head. The tool; my ArtJournals.
As most of my friends will tell you, I am not a man of few words. Nope, I ruminate through ideas with thorough discussion. I’m getting better though. I work very hard at speaking less and listening more. I think it’s my global thinking and my philomathy that usually get me into trouble. When I get excited about something I could discuss it all day long. Discovery and learning are passions with me.
My art however, is visual, not verbal or written. I’m a visual storyteller. I got my start in theatre way, way back in the late (19)60’s (Middle School). I went on in college to add film and video work to that. Telling stories in linear, visual media is my background. Today, however I’m a static story-teller, similar to a photographer, and the Artist’s Journal has now become my new lab.
I no longer keep an Artist’s Journal simply to capture and store ideas. In the Artist’s Journal I hone my ability to visually portray what I’m ticked off about, what I’m passionate about, or what I’m excited about. Step by step, I’m leaving planning and preconception behind.
These days I’m simply trying to begin to make art with little or no notion of what I’m even going to say, and I’ve got to tell you, that takes a great deal of courage. My training in theatre and film both required a ton of preproduction planning. Most visual art doesn’t. It’s not like I’m Michaelangelo doing the David or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Sure, if I had a public commission, I’d thoroughly plan it out, but I don’t do public commissions.
These days my Artist’s Journal is a lab or a playground where I can experiment, and “waste” materials to learn what I can do with them. Working in my Artist’s Journal allows me to develop and hone a deepening connection with life, story, and visual expression.
When it comes to self-expression, most of us don’t think a lot about what’s on our minds. We simply put it into words and speak our minds. That’s exactly what an Artist’s Journal is helping me to get better at; to portray with few words and very meaning-filled picture(s) what’s on my heart and mind.
For inspiration I’ve been visiting loads of other artist’s websites who work in Collage, Mixed-Media, Assemblage, Altered Books, Art Books, and Artist’s Journals (I love these media!). What I’ve found, especially among the Artist’s Journals, is the cathartic, therapeutic, release of laying out what’s on the artist’s mind in pictures and words. Much of it is really wonderful because it speaks clearly and powerfully, “I’m hurting,” or “I’m totally filled with joy,” or “That really ticks me off!”
My left-brain has been the root source of the disconnection. I’ve been better able to talk about what’s on my mind rather than to simply portray it visually. If I did beautiful compositions only, then I’d be producing a great deal of work without story; for me, nice but devoid of meaning.
My storytelling arts practice demands the presence of the human condition. I don’t care if it’s a gently smoking pipe in an ashtray, or a footprint in the sand. Someone passed this way. Someone with a life has been here. In fact I really love artifacts; the merest suggestion of human presence. I love the mystery of who they were, why they were “here”. That’s probably why I love Archaeology so much – but I digress.
This idea is similar to what I’d tell my casts when I directed theatre productions; out there, backstage, beyond the set is the rest of the story-world. It’s called back-story. It’s our responsibility to give our audience a sense of a full-scale world beyond the walls of the set. They need that full-scale context beyond the scenes of our play, right here on-stage. I want the same sense of back-story in my work; the art is merely a window into a larger world “beyond the looking glass”.
It’s what we, as viewers/readers bring to the theatre when we watch a good play, read a good novel, or see a good film; we see something of ourselves in these story-telling media. I want my art to suggest something larger, a back-story that the viewer brings with them to their own personal engagement of the work.
It doesn’t matter what they bring to the experience, because in reality, it’s their story. They hopefully see/experience something for and of themselves. And I’m finding that the best place to hone my skills to express story in my artworks, is through the safe, never a mistake, don’t think, don’t “fix it” sheets of my Artist’s Journal.