Posts Tagged With: art

Words and Wonder-ings to Hearten the Creative – Who Is, and Serves, Art

For those who would serve the work of creativity – who must, in order to be true to their life’s (or this moment’s) call – there is a wonder in this serving and seeking.

art-heartsWhether one’s work is with words or mixed media, paint or clay, glass or stone, metal or cloth, threads or tonalities, human movement or drafting, musical instruments or voices, drafting boards or firing ovens, food stuffs or growing things, human interaction/dynamics, the knowledge or wisdom of the ages and ways to educate, or the soul’s own journey – the process of seeing and creating and collaborating is rife with amazement and not-too-few tears.  Carnage is done in shaving off what once seemed precious and necessary to an end product, in seeking what is at heart and truest.  Materials and words and worlds fall at the feet around the tables where we create, as we chase and name the fleeting glimpses we see sideways and fabricate textures with our media that approximate our visions.

If each of us is “God’s work of art” (says Paul’s epistle), I wonder what truth we express in flesh and sinew.

Is it love, most of all?  Are our different textures of temperament and giftedness reflections of the color and variety of goodness?   What were the remnants cut away in our creation, to get at the truth that resulted in each of us?  Our core is important to the Artist, and is a delight to be treasured in this large Creation’s art show.  There we are, displayed next to the Milky Way and the intricacy of a butterfly’s wing.

God’s art in human form is functional too and participates in creating more beauty and spreads the circle ever outward.  We are makers too, splashing life and color with our work and selves like spin art at a carnival which ecstatic children whirl and splatter paint everywhere.  Thus we continue the efforts begun by God and stamped in the hard drive of our hearts, not entirely knowing what we are about, but recognizing when the art we serve approximates in its process or product more closely some element of who we most are, and what is most true about life-love-work-suffering-joy-the human-the divine-the journey.  We often do not know what we set out to name or visually represent, but we know the creating itself is a good and serves.

Our beings and our efforts then are art-in-process.  And we have need of a muse, a companion, an inSpiration to carry us.  Our art-ing often comes forth from the vulnerable and most sensitive centers where we see and feel and breathe and fear and dance and seek, and we need still points and words and ways that tell us that this ‘hunt’ is ‘worthy of all tears’.

And so I share these well hewn words from Carmelite poet Jessica Powers to hearten those involved in this journey which gives joy and also costs the journeyer.   May we know ourselves accompanied, and find our seeking draws us home.

Since the luminous great wings of wonder stirred
over me in the twilight I have known
the Holy Spirit is the Poet’s Bird.

Since in a wilderness I wandered near
a shining stag, this wisdom is my own:
the Holy Spirit is the Hunter’s Deer.

And in the dark in all enchanted lands
I know the Spirit is that Burning Bush
toward which the artist gropes with outstretched hands.

Upon the waters once and then again
I saw the Spirit in a silver rush
rise like the Quarry of the Fisherman.

Yet this I know: no arrows of desire
can wound Him, nor a bright intrepid spear;
He is not seen by any torch of fire,

nor can they find Him who go wandering far;
His habitat is wonderfully near
in each soul’s thicket ‘neath its deepest star.

Let those who seek come home through the vain years
to where the Spirit waits a shining captive.
This is the hunt most worthy of all tears.
Bearing their nets celestial, let them come
and take their Quarry on the fields of rapture
that lie beyond the last gold pendulum.

– Jessica Powers

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Categories: Art in Life and Work, Carmelite, Poetry | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

IF Work and Life are Art…

…very much like the art of giving something/someone birth or flesh – THEN we should expect to spend a lot of time pregnant, at the edge, on the verge, hungering for odd things, perhaps cranky, wonderfully hopeful, terrified, thrilled, tired, focused, experiencing, kicked, part of something magical and stupendous, at the service of amazement and mystery, wanting to share the wonder, needing support, surprised, glowing, crampy, bloated, a part of creation in a whole new way, expecting pain, anticipating birth, in search of experienced companions and caregivers, in touch with the small in life and the huge in existence, amazingly practical, full of vision, doubting, celebrating, dancing, crying, and plodding along day by day in anticipation, certain of life wriggling and reaching within which will one day burst forth with its own needs and gifts.

I have been reading a good bit of Madeleine L’Engle’s work (again) of late on art and creativity.  (See especially Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art and a lovely collection compiled by Carole Chase titled Madeleine L’Engle: Herself.)  Madeleine eloquently tells us that if we are given a work, we are invited to be a servant of this work, humbling learning a little of what it would teach us.  The work that is our life and our lifework has gifts for us, if we would be open to being learners.

Try these examples.  If you are a teacher, your teaching teaches you.  A writer is taught by the process and characters and images, and finds herself written.  A musician is tutored by the notes and progressions and feel of music and quality of sound and tone.  A painter finds himself painted by the colors and shapes used and emerging.  A parent finds him or herself in the child and in the expression of the ongoing relationship that is mysterious.  A physical therapist is entranced by the wonder of body and movement, and the process of freeing that calls to her in others and herself.  A mathematician joys in the logic and mystery of numbers, and their description of the universe, and finds himself counted and measured.  An architect uncovers truth in the process of design and the ways things combine and create, and the ways various components support and make beautiful each other.

In spirituality studies, we say that the study of spirituality implicates the student.  Of course it does!  Are there other ways your life and your work tutor you, as they emerge?

We are all artists and creators, and we are engaged in the mundane and meaningful everyday duty and privilege of serving the life and work we have been given, that emerges through every moment of our story’s unfolding.  We often don’t know the ultimate direction or flow of our life or work but we can awake to the wonder of what’s really going on (most religions call this awareness or recollection or waking up).  We can find joy in serving the mystery of new life unfolding and can even sometimes shape to varying degrees, with due respect for the rules that govern our art, the expression and direction of this gift with our agency, our physical and mystical fingertips!

Today my musings lead me to wonder how our perspectives would change if we understood ourselves truly as artists in this way, engaged – with God – in every moment in the creative process that is the dynamism of life, giving and creating through our living and our work.

  • How would I understand when I feel blocked, stuck, unable?  What would tell me if the block is a normal response to being inbetween and something not being entirely ready yet to emerge – or if it is the result of a practice that keeps me from taking care of nurturing the life and gift I have been given?
  • What new compassion might I have on my own – and others’ – struggles in acting in new ways or taking new paths, given the complexity of the process of ‘birthing’?
  • Where would I find the best midwives for various aspects of my life and work, who would help hearten me as I go, yet keep me moving and nurturing, breathing and pushing, and leading to new births?
  • What systems and practices would I create, or reinforce, that enable me to reflect on my living, so that I don’t lose track of what my life and work would like to teach me?  (journaling? theological reflection? praxis exercises? right brain creations? lists and records?)
  • Who are my immediate ‘family’ of fellow journeyers, and how can we encourage and challenge each other as life-work artists?
  • Who is the God of the artist’s journey – of yours and my journey? Does this lead to any new or sideways glimpse of God-with-us, or reinforce other images?  What images of God are we invited to explore, or to leave behind, as we meet the living, loving, creating and creator God?
  • What are the everyday, mundane, practical, pragmatic, consistent practices that will support you and nurture the creative process?  What one thing might we add?  What one thing might we let go of?  Need more sleep?  Less rich food?  More quiet, reflection?  More time in nature?  More time with ‘midwives’?  Less cluttered space?

IF WORK and LIFE are ART….     how do you finish the sentence?  What question for the rest of us would you raise?

Categories: Art in Life and Work, Coaching, Spiritual Direction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Pottery Lessons

Something I read years back pointed out that clay needs to be centered on a potter’s wheel, else when the spin cycle comes (!), it splats all over the place. Okay, that’s my translation, but you get the point.  I’ve used that image with individuals and groups.  Clay – and life’s raw materials – call for respectful handling and sheltering, and humbly-entered shaping processes.  Today that seems an apt image to consider for individuals, groups, cultures and countries.   I invite you to consider how, with a bit of prompting.

I took a pottery course two springs ago. And wasn’t that a kick?! I really looked forward to it, as I’d always wanted to try my hand (turns out, hands) at it. With two friends I signed up for a 12 week series of 3-hour lessons and production.  I expected to love it – really love it!  I had even written as an undergrad a ‘screen play’ that used a pottery class as a key setting and image for a character’s wrestling and maturation.  Anyway, in less than an hour of the first session, I wanted OUT, and OUT NOW! 

So, what was the problem?  Well, there was the ‘teacher’ who told us too much too fast with no checking on whether or not anyone knew what she was saying.  She showed us how to do it from her level of skill instead of starting from ours.  Then there was the fact that my two friends are both artists in their own right, and so what entirely drowned me in the instruction sequence either didn’t for them or was not a big deal.  I had no idea what I was doing or how to do it, and felt as if I didn’t know how to add and was being asked to do calculus, only worse.  It looked so simple and easy when others did it – and I felt not only stupid but like an ox trying to shape something with hoofs.  I should be able to do this… I can’t.  Don’t you hate that feeling? 

It took me forever to even get to the wheel from preparing the clay, as the instructions made no sense to me, and the clay fought my efforts.  By the time I approached the wheel, I was  frustrated and angry.  I had really expected to love this experience, and the let down was unexpected.  I felt – and was – so incompetent before I even began.  At the wheel next to me, one of my friends happily played with his mound of clay and learned about it.  Picking up on my ill-disguised frustration (and heavy breathing!), he looked from me to my clay and whispered/advised that I think about the people I nurture or work with one on one and how this effort is like that.   He urged me to consider what growth felt like for them, or new steps.  As the wheel spun slowly at my hesitant prompting, and the pot-to-be was just an ugly mud pile with its own ideas, I told him between clenched teeth that I didn’t care about that-them-advice, thanks, and I was going to get out of there.  Wisely, he let me be.

I’ve learned over the years to just dial it down when frustration is that high.  I put my hands around the clay and spun the wheel slow, then quick, then slow.  I didn’t want to speak with ANYONE, thanks.  The instructor, who had been absent with any assistance through all the moments before, came by.  She picked up on my frame of mind and stepped back.  I needed time… time to breathe and to see if I would stay… time to see if I would allow myself to be more comfortable with being so uncomfortable.

We sat in a large square of about 15-16 wheels, all facing inward.  It seemed my friends and I were the only newcomers to this Monday night timeframe.  People around me were making beautiful items on their wheels, and the clay of all kinds responded to their gentlest touch with pleasing curves and shapes.  It was wonderful to watch, and I hated my ineptitude.  I said to myself, “Well, you had to choose an art that talks back!”  If you put your thumb or fingers in the wrong place, squeeze too hard, or do not center the clay, it reacts directly in proportion to your actions or errors.  It doesn’t matter if you meant to do something wrong…  it just all shows up.  After about 50 minutes of just playing with the clay and seeing how it worked on the wheel, I began to just see what it would do to my various interventions.  I wasn’t ready to be happy with the process, but there was something VERY remotely comical.  I admired some of the others’ work aloud.  They were gracious.  One woman, creating gorgeous items, seemed to look at me with understanding and compassion, saying something like “it takes a while”.  I said, loud enough for a few to hear, “It’s not at all like Ghost – and it’s not romantic either!”  This got some small laughs, and I felt better.

I did stay. 

Over those 12 weeks I made some things.  The first – a lopsided ‘pot’ I cut the bottom out of by accident in trimming.  In an effort to have some positive result, I then punched holes in its side in a design so it could be a vigil candle holder.  When I glazed it, the holes filled in!  No candlelight would show up, but it’s a great prop for the truth of my story!

Some of the items turned out pretty well – they are basic, but I like them.  And I did come to have some fun with the process, and even enjoy the messiness of the effort some.   I did not experience the excitement and pleasure I had anticipated, but I did experience first hand the respectful relationship an artist should have with the materials that consent to be used in art.  I learned from the process… about clay, about centering, about interacting, about feelings, about me, about creating, about shaping and being shaped, about courage and the new.  I’d long since had those experiences and learnings with words and language as art.  Still, nudging raw materials literally with thumb or fingers or hand palm – this was a study in dialogue with the stuff of creation for me in a new way.  I learned that the clay needed the sensitive sheltering of my hands to take shape, and that I could help it move in directions or start anew with little fuss.  I admired how others related to the clay before them, and how the materials responded to their skilled attention.

The reason for all this story?  It seems to me that each of us are invited every day to lots of action around lots of wheels.  Because there is often so much globs of stuff going – issues, work, relationships, commitments, fears, joys – it is easy to either just spin all the wheels at once (as if that works!) or to not approach with play and respect the raw materials, or the new or at first strange and not-understandable elements/people/involvements, of our lives.  I think there is something here for how countries and neighborhoods, churches and schools, agencies and families operate too.  

Here are some learnings from my pottery lessons that I believe can have implications for individuals and groups.  I invite you to make your own connections.  In the midst of your own living – and in the midst of where we are as a world these days, where the momentary acts of humility and centering and pausing and breathing and dealing with the real of life’s raw materials is called for… here are some thoughts:

  • All clay is not the same, and the amount on the wheel changes how it should be handled.  Be careful of too much or not enough.
  • Keep the clay wet enough to be molded, but dry enough not to just be sloppy mud
  • Centering is essential – and every small adjustment of every small amount towards center matters
  • Sheltering the clay with one’s hands is essential – so the clay both ‘feels’ safe and can, when potter and clay are both ready, move into form/s
  • The speed of the wheel must be proportionate to the holding and shaping
  • Let the clay teach you about how your touch influences it
  • Restarting is reality
  • What one sets out to create often changes with the process
  • Creativity happens in the middle of the effort much more often than at the beginning
  • Art is a partnership and requires the service of the artist
  • Excess clay can be cut away for reuse
  • Judgement of depth and breadth happens as much by feel as it does by external measures
  • Too thick is clunky, too thin is fragile — the shape is served by a dialogue between bulk/strength and fragility that lands at the place in between that serves the creation’s message or task
  • Frustration and anger when entering a new process/new place/new culture are about a desire/perceived need to be in control, or disappointment with life’s unpredictability or step-by-step-ness
  • Glazes and finishing looks one way in the sample, and another in actual application
  • If you are willing to play with color and shape, you may discover and create beauties you could not have anticipated
  • Engaging the raw materials of art (and life) is about real encounter, touch, influencing and being influenced by — and NOT about assumptions
  • Learning to stay through the emotions or stages one wishes could be by-passed with patience and honesty is to develop a compassion for oneself and a humility before one’s next interaction with the art

I’ll meet you, as we all keep learning.

Categories: General | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

En Route

In-between and en route…  that’s what we all are.  We leave moments, move towards others.  Experiences are anticipated, happen in expected or surprising ways, and fade behind us.  Like the view outside the road-trip car window when we were children, the scenes approach, are here, go by.  In the midst of this human ‘en routedness’, we might learn the fine art of traveling.   Travel as an art…   hmmmm….. 

In these days after Palm Sunday and just before entering the liturgies of the Triduum, I reflect on Jesus’ experience of his human journey.  And I wonder about bringing an artist’s eye/an artist’s way to inform an approach we can take to journeying.

What do we know about art and creativity?  Artistic engagement is not a spectator sport, and it’s not for wimps.  It’s not always warm and comforting: being faithful to a creative path demands from and nudges and tutors the artist, and requires that who we are be poured out while still messy or incomplete.  It looks for choices of color, of word, of note before we’re quite sure where that choice will lead us.  And art has something to do with vision, intuition, perseverence, skills, practice, play, seriousness, discipline, flexibility, a light touch, a willingness not to grasp, rhythms, forming, and being formed by.  

Madeleine L’Engle, whose writing I’ve loved since childhood [anyone remember A Wrinkle in Time?], explores her experience of the art of writing.  In Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art she describes the characters in her books as periodically picking her up by the scruff of her neck and shaking her and teaching her.  What an image – that which we ‘create’ shakes us up and draws us to learn and stretch!  She is eloquent about the invitation to humbly serve the work (the art) that one has been given, and to learn from that in which one engages. 

If we’re given a gift – and the size of the gift, great or small, is irrelevant – then most of us must serve it, like it or not…

It is a joy to be allowed to be to be the servant of the work.  And it is a humbling and exciting thing to know that my work knows more than I do.

…This puts me in my proper place as a servant struggling (never completely succeeding) to be faithful to the work, the work which slowly and gently teaches me some of what it knows.

In this way, the work is not simply completed, it is discovered.  It is not recorded, it is engaged.  And, like any relationship, this one is never exhausted and can continually become a source of surprises and learnings.  The gift is also not something necessarily chosen.  It is given.  It is the potential creator’s option to serve or not.

So, this being en route thing is a gift.  The way we experience life invites us to enter into a relationship with creativity (and the Creator!) that parallels L’Engle’s insights above.  Life travel itself can be entered in the same way as any artistic endeavor, as we are not designed to be unconscious passengers, like some sack of potatoes on a truck!

Jesus, the Eternal Word made flesh, was also an artist of human sojourning.  At this point in Holy Week, I am mindful of how his traveling through life – and others’ lives – was a masterpiece of its own.  Yet, while he journeyed, he was just as ‘up front and personal’ to the vagaries of travel, the excitement and doldrums, the seeming wins and seeming losses, and the piecemeal feel of a life in construction that would create a tapestry upon which we all reflect. 

I imagine him a couple of days after waving palms at his entrance to Jerusalem and wonder what his own musings might be in reflecting back over the shape of his life… the form that faithfulness to the art of sojourning had produced in him.  He had been given a gift – this human life spent traveling and being with us – and he served this gift, this work that was his to do and be.  He approached sparrows and wheat, the hurting and the overconfident, family and friends… with gentleness and curiosity and questions.  And he grew in wisdom and grace on his journey, and from the art of travel.  

We can look to Jesus to discover the best of what it means to be human to its fullness… for he has been that with us.  On the days after palm waving, he certainly knew Jerusalem was a very dangerous place for him to be, and that his journeys forward – just beyond this day’s horizon – would likely lead to confrontation and more.  And so his learnings about life-traveling’s art, as he looked back over his own life’s canvas, are all the more valuable.  These are just my imaginings of some of the lessons learned along the way.  Perhaps you might add more! 

  • Time provides a structure with rhythms for prayer and rest, celebration and fellowship, teaching and talking, reflection and easting, fasting and creating, singing and dancing, day and night.  Notice these.  Seek balance.  Be nourished and nourish.
  • Value who and where you come from – Mary, Joseph, Nazareth, Galilee. 
  • Learning from Joseph how to work with wood’s contours and textures, strengths and weaknesses, prepared me well for the variety of people/s I would encounter.
  • Listen to the drawings of your heart and mind, and follow them.  They may lead you to baptisms and deserts, and new ways to understand and hold your identity.
  • You don’t have to know where you go to start going there.  Mission is embarked upon, and companions are drawn to assist in the effort and learn on the way.
  • Life companions are important, and the everydayness of being with them is holy – in the joys and the frustrations.
  • Creation shouts of truth and beauty, and tutors us if we listen and see.  “All I needed to know I learned in kindergarten”, a future author will write.  It seems much that I needed to share can be seen in God’s handiwork in creation.
  • God is not distant, and desires closeness.  Pray.  Notice.  Bring.  All.  Of.  You.  Of.  Life.  Of People.  
  • When God is trusted for daily bread – all that is necessary has been available.  
  • When you are really in touch with yourself and with God, you will know when someone taps your energy or life.
  • Take joy in the real life stories of others.
  • Have the courage to care deeply, to be impacted at heart.
  • Tears are sacred.
  • Places of refuge – in the homes of friends or by seas or on mountains – are necessary and help us be who we are and give who we are.
  • Rest, heal, proclaim, touch, celebrate
  • When there seem to be boundaries beyond which we are told not to care or to trust, the boundaries should be questioned.
  • The most loyal and faithful friends, and committed disciples, can emerge from those who have experienced much, perhaps failed often.
  • Really seeing another and really caring about them makes a difference larger than can be measured.
  • Give all of yourself everyday.  Do not hold yourself in reserve for some large gift.  Develop self giving muscles.
  • Do not be afraid.  Trust comes from your experiences of God with you, loving you.
  • Emotions come and go – and are part of life’s utter richness – but we are not them. 
  • Amazing rivers of living water well up in everyone, if we can all just tap them.
  • Good news must be shared.
  • Good news and its corresponding energy can threaten some. 
  • Do not be in competition for a high place, but for a servant’s place.
  • Rituals are important.
  • Helping others be healed, and then put words on their experiences of healing, is important work.
  • Teaching is an art which begs for stories and images and a person who loves those being taught.
  • Pain can be expected.
  • Thankfulness can be a way of living.
  • The praises or curses of others are not reliable compasses.
  • Children are very VERY special.
  • Following life’s journey, in touch with God and the root of one’s identity as God’s beloved one, may lead one to sometimes scary places – but, in any moment, we are safe. 
  • All will be well, even if this moment is very hard or difficult.
  • We are to have life, and have it abundantly.
Categories: General | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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