As I sit reading my new book, Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro, I’m thinking about my own level of craft in Father’s and my artmaking. I’m thinking about the creative journey we set out on 10-years ago. I’m thinking how Father and I go at some aspect of the art we make and how much I need to grow and learn in order to achieve the skills needed to make what we’re after.
One reason I have minimal respect for over educated creative people is because what they’re thrusting in my direction is their intimate knowledge of mere craft. They don’t compose. They’re not artists who compose. They may not even be artists at all. They’re interpreters and collaborators who are largely incapable of an original action of their own. They rely upon their knowledge of mere technique and method and have little or no inkling of personal expression.
Am I comparing myself to these artless technicians? Not at all. I am simply stating that method and technique, without a heart for deeply original creative expression, is no substitute – that’s all.
My wife and I were once gifted with tickets to a concert in which an arrogant little nitwit with thousands of hours of training stepped out to play Gershwin’s American in Paris. I love George Gershwin’s work and was very excited at this rare opportunity to hear this performance. I didn’t give a wit about this self absorbed kid who was going to play for us. I loved the music itself, and in the hands of an artist, the interpretation had all of the emotion of a hustling, bustling metropolis in sound. In the hands of an artist, Gershwin’s city had life and it can be palpable.
What I heard was absolutely nothing of what Gershwin had written on the page. The performance had nothing of what flowed from Gershwin’s artist heart. This kid beat all of the life out of this magnificent work of original music because he was only interested in showing off his technique. He was an insipid robot sitting there at the keyboard obediently hammering out each and every note with perfect technique and nothing more. I was actually somewhat depressed, certainly disappointed, at what I had been offered. In fact, I hoped that this person would either get over himself and play from his heart, or be drummed out of music altogether. I didn’t care which, but please don’t let this kid ever again butcher another great composer’s work of art.
Making art is far too precious a thing to be lorded over by mere craftsmen. It is a deep and abiding connection to the unseen, invisible universe where the artist draws something really special to bring back and share with the rest of humanity. Craft, while vitally important, is but a nest or foundation into which a new creative piece of expression is born.
This is one reason why I’m so proud of Father’s and my being self-taught. Yes, I certainly do need to develop a great deal more method and technique. I expect to be at this growth all of my life and beyond. What I don’t do however is hide behind a wall of method and technique as my credentials, nor do any of the many artists whom I admire so deeply.
I once thought that it would have been wondrous to be born in the Italian Renaissance, but no longer. One reason I’ve lost much of my awe and wonder regarding the Renaissance is simply because it was largely peopled by competitive show offs. These were people possessing celestial gifts, and certainly they created many celestial works, but much of it was created in a world of mere arrogant show and competition between the artists and their patrons. What was seen as “great art” was often a measure of how many perfectly rendered figures could be crammed onto a wall, or how large the work was. Like so much of today’s modern film acting, much of the work is about how popular the actor is through the films they make. Whatever art there is in the work is often buried beneath the veneer of the various self-centric personae of the so called stars. At times it seems that deep creative expression shows up by mere accident.
Whatever is left of my once deep admiration for the Italian Renaissance remains in the works themselves, not the composer artists who created them. I receive the expression which is so often evident and available to me for engagement, but I could care less about the name at the bottom right of the work.
I deeply admire composers in any media who are self-discovering adventurers on a journey into the invisible realms of creative expression. I am in even deeper admiration of self-taught artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Jack Vettriano. If you need to know of whom I speak, I invite you to look them up. And these are just two of a host of creative composers who buckled down and conquered whatever it took to become excellent at what they did and do.
In short, what I admire in the arts – all of them – is gumption, self-directed gumption. I admire those artists who collect their craft along the way, who don’t brag about whatever schooling they endured, or how much practice they put in. Show me. Show me what it is that you’ve nurtured in yourself. Show me your work, because in the end that’s all that really matters.
I am remembering a recent spiritual encounter. I was on a journey in the spirit. I don’t recall where it was I went, but in this vision, I received my Book of Destiny from Father God. What I received was an infinitely long scroll, a large and wide one. When it was given to me, it unrolled off into the distant heavens. On that scroll I saw dozens of images which I perceived to be the artworks that Father and I would be making in the forever more. Suddenly those images rose up off the face of the scroll and began a storm of pictures flying round me. It was as if I was in a gentle tornado of art encircling me. The images slowed and finally stopped. They just hung there in space. At the bottom of each image embers began to form and to slowly consume the artworks, right up to the top. The images vanished each in a beautiful glowing line of embers. Then I saw a fragrant smoke rising up from the artworks, rising above me to Father God. I suddenly knew what this vision meant. Father was speaking to me, spirit to spirit, while I was in that vision.
The scroll, instead of a book, was a sign of an eternal journey. Father and I will now be on an eternal journey of creativity. The images, of course, are the art that He and I will birth and release unto the world, and quite probably the heavens. The rising of the images from the face of the scroll represents their release. Once completed, they are released unto Father, and unto the world. Their burning was a deep reminder that the art, in the end, is a gift of sacrifice to Father.
Just as Bezalel, Oholiab and the other Charashim (artisans) completed their work, they quickly disappear from God’s word to be forgotten. There is a very good reason for this. The work wasn’t about Bezalel. It was about the people’s relationship to and worship of Father God. At God’s command, Bezalel was chosen, filled with the Holy Spirit, and created a body of work comprised of Heaven on Earth, just for Father God. We know it as the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.
So too am I to be forgotten by men, but not by Father. You see, it is Father God who is to be seen, praised, and worshiped through the art, not the artist. My artmaking is not for my personal fame and fortune. It is not about me at all. This art Father and I make together is all about Him and the relationships He wants to establish in the lives of those who will encounter that art. It’s as if His Spirit speaks to those who engage the work. It’s as if the work is somehow a window into something Father wants to share with us as individuals, a personal message from Him.
I do this work because I love Father. I love our relationship. What I do, who I am, what I become is all a gift from Father. Those gifts are then returned to Him with interest. I am one to whom much has been given and from whom much is required. There is nothing I can be offered in its place that I would value more.
I will always remember that vision. I will always ruminate upon its elemental, relational significance. I savor it because my Lover has chosen me, has honored me to become one of His Bezalel artists, one of His Charashim. I am one who dwells in His Divine Presence 24/7. As one of His believer/tabernacles, as all believers are, I am filled with the Holy Spirit. I have a hard-wired spiritual connection with Him and together we co-create in that Mystic Union to give birth to art.
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.
Maybe it’s because I’m a Philomath – I love learning, but I do love a good book. I tend to gravitate toward non-fiction dealing with faith, art, faith & art, and creativity. The latest I’m doing a deep-reading on is Gregory Wolfe’s Beauty Will Save The World.
This culturally engaging, faith-driven, affirmation of creativity has got me by the ear-lobes and I’m so excited that I want to share just a few brief thoughts.
“My own vocation, as I have come to understand it, is to explore the relationship between religion, art, and culture in order to discover how the imagination may ‘redeem the time’.” Gregory Wolfe /pg-2.
Last October as the guest of Dick Staub, Nigel Goodwin, and Jeff Johnson, I attended a special gathering of thoughtful creatives and, like everybody else, was asked to give a 10-minute talk about my art practice; who I am, what I’m doing, and where I’m going. As I prepared my talk it occurred to me that; “What essentially interests me is the power of art, in all media, to alter the course of culture to the glory of God. I am searching for how art can communicate God’s love to the world without the trappings of mere religion, either to the Body of Christ (His Church) and to the world.” Lew Curtiss / Oct-2012
I was not many pages into Gregory’s book and realized that, here in my hands, lay much good instruction to that very process. This is why I couldn’t wait to write about this book even before finishing it.
“Just as Christians believe that God became man so that He could reach into, and atone for, the pain and isolation of sin, so the artist descends into disorder so that he might discover a redemptive path toward order.” GW / pg-6.
Further; “If art cannot save our souls, it can do much to redeem the time, to give us a true image of ourselves, both in the horror and the boredom to which we can descend, and in the glory which we may, in rare moments, be privileged to glimpse.” GW / pg-8
More and more do I encounter affirmations regarding the very high calling of faith-driven creatives of all media. More and more do I read and am further convinced that faith-driven art is the second voice of the Church (the Body of Christ), right alongside ordained clergy; that faith-driven artists – serious artists – share the same heritage in the tribe of Levi, and that we are sanctified and consecrated as God’s scribes and messengers in this world. More and more urgently – and Gregory emphasizes this in his book – is the need for serious, deeply rooted, faith-driven creatives to get to the work God calls each of us to do within His giftings and missions to each of us.
When I am finished with this first reading, this book will be annotated, highlighted, underlined, tabbed and tagged as it takes its place alongside the other reference works on my Artist’s Bookshelf; Walking On Water / L’Engle; Culturally Savvy Christian / Staub; Purpose Driven Life / Warren; The Artist’s Way / Cameron; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain / Edwards; The Creative Habit / Tharp.
New Year’s is just around the corner. This year didn’t see the completion of most of my goals, but I’ve been blessed in many other, often unexpected ways.
The On-Going Conversation
I’ve made my way into the conversation of Faith & Art here in the northwest, and am very glad of it too. I’ve met more new faith-driven creatives in this one year than I have in the last ten. I am really excited to find such a vibrant community of faith-driven creatives who share common needs, challenges, and aspirations.
Seattle Art & Coffee – We meet approximately every 2-weeks and discuss a broad range of topics. It’s one of the most nourishing bi-weekly feasts in my creative life. Look us up on FaceBook.
IMAGE Journal – I was very recently invited to participate in a vision casting conversation regarding the Journal’s on-going role here in the Pacific Northwest. It was a wonderful glimpse into the offerings of IMAGE Journal as a focal point in the Faith & Arts community.
Kindling’s – Top of the charts; highlight of my year – Last October I was given a life-changing invitation to attend a Kindling’s Hearth. It’s an intimate gathering of thoughtful creatives in a beautiful lodge above Cle Elum, Washington. We shared where we’re at, what we’re doing, and where we’re going as faith-driven creatives.
We were a gathering of performance artists, singer/song-writers, album producers, movement artists, and visual artists. What joined us all was our deep and abiding faith in God, and the common challenges we all face regardless of the medium in which we thrive. I came away from that experience a very different creative person.
Breaking New Creative Ground
Creatively I’ve broken through -again- into new territory. As much as I’ve enjoyed making them, I’ve grown well past the single panel Collage Quilt-blocks I began with and now am making works 2-foot square. These pieces have opened me up to many new ways of working with the 9-patch collage squares and has lead to an understanding of my inspirational media; quilts, stained-glass, and mosaics.
These 4-panel works continue to present new and exciting visual beauty as I work with the infinite arrangements of visual and physical textures, geometric arrangements, and myriad colors.
The brand new body of work I’m starting this next year will be influenced by these media all in the context of Collage/Mixed-Media works. I’m moving into story narratives. There’s going to be lots of new processes and new work as a result.
Personal Website – I am often asked, and rightly so; do I have a website? I mean, I am a visual artist after all and I ought to have work up for people to see. So I’m doing my homework to find out what I need to make this happen. It’s vitally important to the work I’m doing and it’s about time I just bite the bullet and get it up and running.
New Show Bookings – You know, when you make visual art, and especially if it’s for sale, it ought to be out there on public view so potential buyers can have a good look at the work. This is another area of my arts practice that I’m going to develop by working to stay way ahead of the curve.
New Studio Space & Work Practices – Now that we have a new in-home studio space that’s 2.5-times larger, complete with small workshop, restroom, and wash-sink facilities, I’m going to be able to produce more work far more easily.
My Artist’s Journal is full of new ideas for works this year, so there’s no shortage of new pieces to create.
And most importantly; All of what I do in my Arts Practice is faith-driven – period. God has revealed to me that the entire purpose of my life is to bring Him glory by becoming all that He has created me to become. That person is an artist, making meaning everyday and offering it to Him to do with as He will.
I hope you’re as excited about the New Year as I am.
These last 8 or 10 months I’ve been looking. I’ve been searching for a clearer, more focused creative voice in my art-making. I’ve taken both bold and baby steps in an experimental, somewhat blind search. I’m sure all creatives do so. Our lives and the work we make develop over time, and it takes an investment of wonderful, hard work to make anything of it.
In my own art-making I am drawn to story. Even the hint of it attracts me. Human struggle is the stuff of good stories; not contrived fabrications of careless craft, but rich back-stories of motive and motivation, the “why” and the “how” of human-life.
The quintessential element I look for in a work is some sense of the presence of humanity. Even if a piece has no people in it, if there’s even the slightest evidence of people having been present, I am drawn to the work. I want to know them, to know their story, their journey, and where they’re going.
I want to know what they value, what they’re willing to defend/protect, and why. I want to know what is sacred to them, what they believe in.
For example, I can look at piles of shoes and know that they’ve protected feet. The shoes might be nestled in colorful nooks in a classroom. Each contains a single pair of shoes, one for each young student. Just looking at them, I might hear young voices at creative play in the classroom just beyond.
The pile might also be in a museum of remembrance, the shoes having been gathered from victims of the Jewish Holocaust of World War II. In such a pile, devoid of life and color, I don’t need to see the victim’s bodies to feel the senseless discard of each person represented in the jumble. Just the bent and flattened leather can become a metaphor for how the people, who once cherished these shoes, must have been treated; their life-stories snuffed out in an instant.
When I engage a piece of visual art, I hope for the presence of some artifact of humanity, and I listen to the work for its story.
In the media which make up my visual lens(es), I am drawn to stained glass, mosaics, and quilts. All three can be rendered, in some way, in collage/mixed-media. All three are about story. All three have very long, even ancient, heritages.
What used to merely influence me in my personal search for a voice of expression, has now become integral to a way of seeing. These are lenses through which I am learning to peer into the human condition to discover stories to share. These lenses can even suggest to me a way I might go about composing a piece.
I sense another wonder-filled corner being turned. I sense that, beyond being merely prompted (inspired), I am growing to actually see daily life through these lenses. I am growing toward the visual fusion, which is collage/mixed-media, of seeing disparate story elements flow into the visual harmony of complete works.
I hope I’m making some sense. For me, the ability to see the world in terms of possible artworks is a step I’ve searched for these last 5-years. It opens a whole new chapter for me in the creative process I am working to discover and develop. I relish the journey, and I am looking forward to seeing what becomes of it all.
No surprise: I’ve found that to develop creative muscle takes time, and that this process is at the very heart of life for the faith-driven creative. Actively investing in our creativity, produces abundant, meaningful, purpose-driven inspiration. This walk with God, like any cherished relationship, is not a six-step quick-fix. We won’t find any simple bandages here. Change and deep spiritual growth is an on-going process wherein we literally reap what we sow. So, let’s dig in!
Simply put: a dream is: Something you want to have, something you want to do, something you want to become, someplace you want to go. The question is, what is the source of your dreams?
For the faith-driven artist, the source of dreams is God. He’s begun a good work in each of us and will faithfully see it to completion, if we cooperate. Our art is an expression of the deeply personal journey of fulfilling our dreams; our life-walk. It’s our way of sharing who we are, where we’re at, and what’s important to us. Our art is God speaking through us to the world.
Different from a dream, a vision is long-term, big picture stuff. Visions are fulfilled through the completion of many dreams. Dreams are smaller, short-term projects. Visions are long-term, life changing strategies often taking an entire life-time to realize.
A Purpose-Built Relationship
As I wrote in Creative Self-Motivation: Making Art Anyway;
“Without a strong pull at our heart-strings we’re adding nothing to the symphony of humanity and just waiting to expire, and that’s not God’s plan for us at all. Scripture reminds us that God has plans for our lives, not to harm us, but to prosper us. [Jer.29:11]”
Discovering and developing our God-given dream(s) is to find our creative voice. We’re looking for what’s meaningful to us so we have something to say. This quest takes some real soul-searching.
Rick Warren / The Purpose Driven Life
The search begins with knowing who we are and why we’re here. I can’t think of a better tool than Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. This is the only God-driven “self-help” book I’ve ever found. Warren reminds us that we’re here for God’s glory, not ours, and he helps us get this often misunderstood concept into a healthy perspective. Without this God focused, Christocentric perspective, nothing in life (or art) will make any sense.
Get a copy, take notes, highlight it, and do the exercises. A book is a tool, so mark it up and use it. Absorb what’s written. I encourage you to revisit and rewrite the exercises once a year to fine-tune and update where you find God leading your faith-driven creative life.
Dick Staub / Culturally Savvy Christian
If we’re going to be a creative voice making a difference, we also need to know the cultural context in which we live.
Dick Staub is a cultural watch-dog. In his book, Culturally Savvy Christian, he deftly untangles the cultural muddle we currently find ourselves in. Especially meaningful to artists are his themes of our being both image bearers, and culture makers. Staub is so committed to the power of the arts that he focuses an entire chapter on precisely how faith-driven artists can make a positive, powerful, counter-cultural difference.
Madeleine L’Engle / Walking on Water
A huge challenge for most faith-driven artists is how to reconcile their faith and their art: What does that look like, and how does it work?
Madeleine L’Engle was a deeply grounded Christian, with unquenchable interests in art, faith, and science. Encouraged by her friend, poet Luci Shaw, L’Engle articulates what so many artists of faith could not for themselves; that to make art is to worship the Creator. Her book Walking On Water literally saved my life.
If you’re absolutely serious about making meaning-filled, purposeful art of faith, I urge you to read these three books. Tag them, label them, and turn them into life-long reference tools to which you can quickly turn at a moment’s need. They will posture your spirit as a faith-driven artist working for God’s glory.
To nurture and nourish our creativity, we need process. Now that we understand for whom we work, let’s dig into how we can become inspired and stay that way. Read on!
Julia Cameron / The Artist’s Way
Writer, artist, playwright, Julia Cameron has given us tools to prime our creative pumps and keep us constantly inspired. The Artist’s Way was born from Cameron’s own crisis of creative recovery. As a solid, doable method, she offers us a set of fundamental habits to nurture and nourish the gathering process we artists must engage in daily.
Through this book, my journaling (the first of her creative habits) has gone far beyond a mere diary. It has become, literally, conversation with God. I write – in stream of consciousness – about whatever comes to mind and I do so almost every single day. In these personal pages, I grapple with frustration and celebrate joy. I pray. God and I connect, and I intercept His gifts of meaning-filled creativity. You should get a copy. Mark it up. Do the exercises. I think you’ll find your own fount of creativity over-flowing.
Twyla Tharp / The Creative Habit
To understand the need for and develop your own creativity habits, read The Creative Habit: Learn it And Use it For Life by Choreographer Twyla Tharp. Like Cameron, Tharp is a no nonsense writer. Her main theme is about what she calls rituals. We all have rituals; habitual processes we follow everyday without question. Yours differ from mine, but to the health and well-being of our creativity, they’re essential. Tharp will lead you to develop and use your own creativity rituals.
Creative habits are what I find so harmonious about the writings of Cameron and Tharp. And both are speaking from their own hands-on, life affirming experiences. They’re the real deal, which is why I respect them and their advice.
Now you know where faith-driven artists get their dreams and how to nurture and nourish yours. I’m not a PhD in anything. I’m a working artist who, like you, struggles to find meaning and purpose every day. You can probably tell that I read – a lot! I take copious notes. I tag and label books I own. They become tools which I revisit for further growth or as a pick-me-up, reminding me what I’m doing and why. I take what I learn from God, through these authors, and I put it into fruitful action – you can too!
It’s my firm conviction that the more I show God how willing I am live this creative life He has planned for me, the more He will enable me to handle all that He gives me to do. [Matt. 25:14-30]
I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what books you read which inspire your faith-driven creativity. What practices, habits, or rituals do you use to prepare to make art? How do you use what you’ve learned?