Living at the convergence of faith and art.

Posts tagged “Motivation

Our Talents and The Good Life ReImagined

Rowboat

Wikimedia Commons

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.

Matthew 25:14-30

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.”

Inconsistencies

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

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“Why”: A work in progress

"Why" Collage Artwork

“Why” / (c) 2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~
Mixed-Media Collage on masonite panel.
11×14 approx.

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.


Lessons From My Art Journal

ArtJournal Bishop - Sm

The Bishop / (c) 2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~
Acrylics & Color Pencil on Paper, 8.5×11 approx.

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.


My Artist’s Journal

"Esther" - Mixed-Media  / 8.5 x 11 / Acrilycs, Color Pencil on Cardstock / (c)2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

“Esther” – Mixed-Media / 8.5 x 11
Acrylics & Color Pencil on Cardstock
(c)2013 Lewis M. Curtiss jr~

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 2013

Curtiss Kids

“Don’t mess with our Mom!”

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.


ReOrdered Loss?

Lew's Art TableA 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!


Digital Withdrawal

Open LaptopHave you ever had a major virus attack on your PC or laptop?  Last week, even though I have Norton 360, I got attacked and it took out my entire C-drive.  Up came a screen – which looked a bit different from the usual – asking for my activation code.  I figured it was nothing more than an update.  Wrong!

Over the next two-hours the virus erased my entire hard-drive literally bit by bit.  Nothing’s wrong with the machine except that it’s had a lobotomy.  It’s quite literally brain-dead. Eventually I’ll be looking for help at reloading all that’s needed to restore it to full working order.

At first, like any normal human being, I was furious.  I couldn’t figure out what was happening.  I couldn’t “fix” it.  There was absolutely nothing that could be done.  After about an hour of fiddling with it I pieced the events together and realized what had happened.  Then I was at peace about it all.  I wasn’t losing anything that couldn’t be replaced.  Any really important stuff is saved in other media, so no harm done.  Here’s the gift in it though, since I lost nothing except the convenience of a portable “use it anywhere” laptop, I was having all the symptoms of digital-addiction withdrawal.  Addiction is something I know about.

Many years ago I tried to quit smoking “cold turkey” and it took three attempts over several years to actually breakthrough to where I didn’t want another cigarette.  I was absolutely free of any pangs of desire screaming at me to be satiated.  It was bliss.

Right now I do have use of a couple of other computers.  That’s why I can continue writing, but – and this is significant for me – this entire fiasco has brought about a serious evaluation of why I use my laptop, how I use it, and what I use it for.

Confession: I’ve been pretty lax about getting to my art-making lately.  It’s a Resistance thing (read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art).  I was putting off working because I was, well, “working”.  No, I wasn’t wasting time playing videos, or watching movies.  I was doing idea/inspiration searches.  With me – because I’m a philomathic global learner – it’s not very focused searching.  I wander from one thing to another in an aimless meandering of utter, total, immersive fascination.  Once I’ve got the “big-picture” the connections all fall into place.  It’s awesome, and addictive; way better than video games!

I love learning so much that I actually hoard bookmarks.  If it interests me it gets filed in my – three-levels-deep – bookmarks in Firefox.  I may actually have more bookmarks than the Lord has angels, although I wouldn’t bet on it.  Anyway, that’s what I was having withdrawals over – wandering searches all across the web, anytime, anywhere.  I was so entranced that my latest batch of handmade coptic journals on my ETSY site had expired.  Much to my embarrassment, it took an email from an interested friend to tell me about it.

So here I am using computers from other family members, but in a highly limited way.  Maybe this is a Lenten thing the Lord’s leading me through, I don’t really know.  What I do know is that my Lord and Master is lovingly correcting me.  After all, I work for Him and I’ve been off “playing” and neglecting my work.  It took a PC virus to bring it all to a halt and refocus me, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:22-23 NIV

This year I am in prayer that God will call me to deeper waters, in life, in faith, and in my art.  I have asked Him for this kind of revelation and here He is delivering what I need.  Aside from the fact that I didn’t lose anything important from the crash, and the laptop is repairable, the single most significant gift in the midst of that wretched frustration is that Father God restored me to my original commission.  He set my feet back on course so that I can grow, dwell in these slightly deeper spiritual waters, and create works of art from a far richer relationship with Him.