NOTE: I apologize for the lack of open space between the paragraphs. WordPress is having problems just now. Thank you for your patience.
The new goals I’ve set for myself this year is to [try and] read a new book every two-weeks; so far so good. The latest I’ve finished is by musician, worship leader, and author Manuel Luz called Imagine That: Discovering Your Unique Role as a Christian Artist (2009/Moody). This is not a book review but more of a sharing of a couple of his most nourishing points.
I love how Luz reminds us that the life of an artist, and the daily act of art-making has a transformative effect on those artists for whom Christ is Lord. “In my own life, I have found that my music – and art in general – is a means by which I am drawn more closely in communion with God. God has formed me through the discipline of music. The discipline of worshiping while rehearsing… the discipline of songwriting and song journaling.
“And this should make sense if one understands that to grow as artists is, in part, to increase in our Christlikeness.” Luz / 127
To my mind this is another example of the purest essence of the convergence of faith and art; it not only affects those who engage the work but the artist as well. I love the Presence of God wherever I am. I love knowing that He’s not far off, up on heaven listening at a distance, but through His Spirit is literally with me 24/7. I love our discoveries in the process of making art, at whatever stage of the work. I love those discoveries which enrich my relationship with my Lord God.
I don’t usually talk about art work that I’ve not finished, let alone haven’t even begun. A powerful thing happened to me a while back as I was reading Matthew 9:20 / Mark 5:25, the story of Mary Magdalene being healed by merely touching the edge of Christ’s shawl.
There I was in the middle of my daily Bible readings and up came this story, with it’s beginning, its middle, and end; complete in every way. Heck, it even fits the 5-sentence story structure of a good Western world tale.
So, there I was reading and as I savored each word, something built up in my heart. Here was a woman who’d made mistakes (don’t we all) and who was seeking full healing. Mark’s verse 27 tells us that she’d heard Jesus was near. She resolved to merely touch His shawl or tunic – that’s all, just touch his clothing. That’s all, the merest gesture, and she knew that she’d be healed. To my mind she got more than she hoped for. She got salvation, redemption, a whole new life in that single experience. What a powerful story. Then I heard it, I call it the silver bell. “Dinggggggg”; there it was, that resonance of recognition that this was an important story. My heart quickened, as itProcess as Transformation always does when that “bell” rings. I know I’m in the Presence of His Spirit and being offered a gift if I’ll just listen and receive it.
As I began journaling about the encounter, something I often do in preparation of making a work, God was right there, revealing one level of meaning after another; a simple story, a single, brief encounter but layer upon layer of relational / spiritual significance. The practice of even preparing to make art was transforming me. I was growing and being nourished in the experience. I was savoring the Divine Presence of the living God whom I follow and serve. I was enjoying a deeply personal, intimate, private relationship with Him.
It’s this self same experience Manuel Luz was on about in his book. Art making, for the artist who is a follower of Christ, can (if we’re willing, open, and receptive) have a transformative effect on us – it ought to. Then the work itself goes on to affect the lives of those who engage it elsewhere, as long as they too are willing, open, and receptive. And I know I’m repeating myself, but I assure you that it’s deliberate repetition – process is an art-maker’s transformative journey. There is no destination, only journey, ever changing, ever growing.
While I am fast approaching my 60th birthday, I still feel as though I am as naive as ever; that I just don’t get it, and that I really don’t have anything worthwhile to say. I must try however. I must still struggle, though I may look the old fool. I must still share the good, share the right, and share the solid things I actually do know about. Pastor John Piper once said, “The older I get the less I trust myself to know the answers.” While that’s a paraphrase, it conveys what he meant. It conveys my own sense of self. I too trust my own answers far less and God’s own wisdom far, far more than in the days of my youth.
Who am I that I have answers for others? At best I can only point toward the truth of a matter realizing that anything I convey may be accepted or not. It’s a free-will thing, as it ought to be. Who am I that I have answers for others? That’s God’s job. At best I am merely a devoted messenger, who, even then, may not fully comprehend the message I carry to whomever it is to be given.
That’s why I make art. That’s why I cling incessantly to the presence of the living God, for if I have no real answers for others, where are my own answers for me? It’s a matter of realizing that I’m a servant of God, and not God Himself. It’s a matter of letting go of the belief that anything I could do might remedy the need(s) in the life of another. It’s the realization that the Earth and all its people are God’s project, not mine. It’s a matter of fully surrendering to the task of dealing with the beam in my own eye, instead of the dust in another’s.
That is why I make art. That is why I cling to God in my inmost being, that I might grow into someone whose use, value, purpose, and worth rest in living out God’s divine plan for my life; surrendered, yet ever alert for His instruction(s), counsel, and guidance. He is the one and only reason I swing my feet out of bed in the morning, and in an act of faith and serendipity, rising to meet the purpose(s) of the day.
Who am I that I should have plans or schemes for “success”, or ambitions for “advancement”, when my Lord has already laid these out for me before the world was even made? I’ve come to accept that the best laid plans, plans to prosper, to fulfill my best purpose(s), to become all He has designed me to be in His service, come not from me and my own mind, but from Him who made me. That is why I write (pray) in my journals.
“I have considered my ways,” it says in Psalm 119, “and have turned my steps to Your statutes. I am a friend to all who fear You, to all who follow Your precepts. The Earth if filled with Your love, O Lord; teach me Your decrees.”
Thank you for listening.
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
I don’t usually write much about what I’m making, but with this work I’m venturing into some new territory. I’ve been on a journey lately to discover and develop a visual storytelling vocabulary I can use in these kinds of art pieces. I’ve made some good progress, which is why I’m rather excited about sharing it with you.
I’m inspired by stained glass, quilts, and mosaic artworks. They’re all segmented art-forms and offer a great deal of creative ground for all sorts of collage work. I’m also gaining experience with copper wire; using it as line and physical divider.
The stained glass window is made of segments of my hand-painted papers. The window frame and structure is being done in hammered copper wire.
The “stone” wall is made of handmade paper my daughter created years ago in our homeschool. It’s heavily textured and highly absorbent, so it has a great look of stone and takes all kinds of water-based pigmentation. The work is mounted on masonite temperboard,
The working title is “Why”. For me it’s that eternal question we ask grown-ups when we’re little. When we become adults, believers or no, most of us ask this same question to God. I dislike artworks which tell a viewer what they’re about, or what the story is. I like it better when you, the viewer, bring yourself and your story to the experience of reading the piece. So it’s up to you what’s on his mind.
I’ll be finished with this in the next few days and will make either a floating frame or some sort of shadow-box for it. Then I catalogue it and we’ll see where it goes from there.
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.
Mother’s Day is a kind of broad experience for me because in effect I have had three mothers bring me into the world and raise me. My “mother” is a person of collaboration; three people who have done their part and handed me off to the next to continue the process. This went on from my birthday right up to mere days before my 18th-birthday.
For eighteen years these three women, my birth-mother, her sister (a maternal aunt), and their mother (my maternal grandmother) all worked hand in hand to provide a home, protection, and life-guidance. All three of them have passed on now; my mother when I was 7-years old, my grandmother when I was 17, and my aunt when I was an adult and married to the love of my life, and a father to our three children. Only my aunt got to see her “grandchildren”.
It’s on mother’s day that I miss them most because I know that my mother and grandmother would have fallen in love with my bride, Emily. If there was ever any truth to the saying that a man marries his mother(s), it’s right on the money for me. I married a wonderful woman who characterizes much of what I valued in both my aunt and my grandmother. It’s uncanny, but Em will often make gestures, stand, or make facial expressions just like my aunt. Em’s sense of generosity, hospitality and elegance all remind me of my dear grandmother. They’d have gotten along like family.
The best way I can repay them all is to heed their counsel well, deeply honor my own covenant of marriage, and to raise our children the very best way we can. These three mothers have all invested their lives into mine, as do all good mothers into the well-being of their own children.
I hope that in some way this will be a special day of gratitude from you toward your mother(s). Mums everywhere, I hope you will be blessed by the families, yours or surrogate, in whom you’ve invested so much of your own lives.
Thank you and bless you all.
A few weeks ago (Feb 17) my laptop crashed, and it did so pretty hard. That’s why I’ve been rather scarce in the social media conversations. For the last month I’ve been popping onto the internet to check FB and Gmail, and that’s about it. No more searches for articles involving the conversation of Faith & Art. No more researching reference images for projects I’m developing. Just FaceBook and Gmail, and that’s all, period.
This experience has been far less difficult a digital downsize than I ever imagined. I mean, this laptop is a very important tool to my arts practice. I use it, in addition to Gmail and FB, to manage my blog, manage my ETSY site “Fingerprints”, and need I so I can develop my own website this year. But it can also become a brain-sucking monster for me, especially when I’m fresh out of ideas and should be taking a refreshing walk, sketching, or taking photographs rather than trolling the internet.
However, this experience has been a great example for me of less truly becoming more. In the last few weeks I’ve come to an enlarged understanding of the mixed-media/collage art I’ve been making. I’ve turned a few creative corners and am incredibly excited about what’s cooking.
This choice has opened an entire universe of creative possibilities to me; new materials, new methods, and how I can use them. Why I didn’t make this decision to explore assemblage before now, I’ll never know. I even put out a call for unwanted/free cigar boxes. Sure enough, an artist friend was looking for a new home for her abundant collection and graciously supplied me with a wonderful variety. Thrift Store searches have changed because I’m looking at the materials available to me in a whole new light. Collage/mixed-media is usually 2-dimensional. Assemblage incorporates a broad variety of found objects and 3-dimensional elements.
I am sincerely hoping that new habits, productive habits, continue to develop and stick even as I repair the damage to my laptop. Oh, by the way, it appears that I wasn’t the victim of a virus getting past my Norton 360. It’s seems to be a matter of a failed hard-drive instead.
Right now I’m running my laptop on a CD loaded with Ubuntu, a “flavor” of Linux. All’s well except that I cannot upload Ubuntu (nowhere to put it without a C:/ drive) nor can I regain any of the other software I use; LibreOffice, Gimp, NitroPDF, etc. But that’ll all return when I get a new hard-drive installed and formatted. Right now I’m grateful for my Google Drive and being able to post and store everything on the web.
In the meantime I am actually enjoying these “limitations” by getting a boatload of new journals made, and developing new works in collage/mixed-media. I’ll keep you posted as best I can, but right now, I’m really very (happily) busy!