Child, invite your dear, problem-solving brain, to rest. Now.
Child, invite your dear, problem-solving brain, to rest. Now.
I wanted to make a series of abstract paintings for an exhibition this fall, but the figure kept coming into the composition. You may not be able to really see the figure yet, it's partially cropped out, and not clearly articulated. This image began to emerge after hours of painting and wiping everything away, and starting over. Again and again.
After I got past my own trying, this movement came, and I knew it was the beginning--it just felt right. It's incomplete now, in the raw, unfinished. But it's real. I plan on keeping things unrefined for now, but we'll see where the process goes.
Here is a start of a series inspired by my daughter. Who says that the only place she feels safe is at home with mom. I've wanted to create a space for a seven year old who is smart and sensitive, who somehow has figured out why she and her classmates have lock down drills at school, and understands things I wish she didn't have too.
I don't have answers for all of her questions. Just an endless amount of love, and encouragement to persist with a messy grittiness. I tell her over and over that she is innately good, and loved just the way she is. That the whole damn thing is one bittersweet gift. Except I don't say damn, she's only seven, after all.
Now that I've stated working on this series, I realized that there is an ache in all of us for this. Hemingway wrote about it in "A Clean Well Lighted Place." Dillon sings about "Shelter from the Storm." Many artists have tried to articulate what shelter looks like. Or what the absence, or lack of shelter feels like.
So here is the beginning of the Safe Space Painting Project.
As a child, I prayed for God to make me one. Growing up, I admired other kids. Happy, well-dressed kids. It was as if they had an aura to them. A continuous light that followed them, glowing all around. Like the light contained inside a fire fly, or a spotlight that’s held on a lead character in the school play. My friend Amy was one of those kids. I always wanted to be invited over to her house. Her family had been a part of our small town for generations, and in our community having her last name meant something. Her house always had the good kind of food in the pantry. Chef Boyardee pizza mix in the cupboards and Oreo cookies on the shelves. Amy didn’t seem to understand why I wanted to come over to her house, but I never wanted her to come over to mine. It got awkward after a while, and we stopped hanging out as much. I can see why now. Kids have an innate sensibility when it comes to relationships.
In the absence of my friendship with Amy, I started to look for other places of connection. This was hard, because I already felt not good enough. I’d already become a kid that none of the other kids wanted to hang with. I was an odd ball. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so my mom would get me hand-me-down clothes from the neighbors down the street. I was excited to wear them because they were really nice and expensive. So it was hard when those neighbor kids, who were older than me and the previous owners of the garments, rode the same bus. They made a point to let everyone else know exactly where my clothes came from. If it wasn’t hand-me-downs from the neighbors, it was hand-me-downs from my older brother. I often wore boy jeans and t-shirts to school. Definitely not helpful with the previously mentioned bus situation.
My grandmother had a subscription to Good Housekeeping Magazine. Inside it was filled with glossy images of houses that were well-manicured, filled with tidy spaces and beautiful people. “This must be what ‘good’ looks like,” I thought to myself. The word good was even included in the name of the magazine. All I had ever wanted to be was good, and now it seemed I had found my breadcrumb-laden-path that would lead me to my destination.
I become a connoisseur of beautiful people and houses. Spaces that were well maintained, clean and inviting. I’d sneak away and with precision, I’d rip the pages out. I’d perfected my technique. I left no dog eared paper trails and my process made no loud tearing noises. When I was done nobody seemed to notice what was missing. I’d carefully place the magazines back on their rack and hide my contraband images under in the bottom section of my suitcase for safe keeping. By the end of my stay, I had collected page after glorious page of beautiful people and homes. I had created a virtual world for my childhood soul to inhabit.
After school I would run upstairs to my room, close the door, and take out my visuals. I’d spill them around me in a giant semi-circle. Then, I would assemble them with precision. When I was done, I sat quietly, observing the patterns, shapes, and colors the images made. I imagined myself with deep steel-blue eyes like Lady Diana, and with the long blond hair of the Romance Novel Heroine. I crafted a house with soft pillows stacked on buoyantly lush couches, and walls covered with soothing, earthy colors. I would picture myself with my new body in my new dwelling and feel safe.
Somehow, sitting inside the space that I had made, I understood things were going to be okay. I had constructed my own home, made from a scaffolding of imagination. I no longer felt lost or alone. I felt like a good person. I felt loved. Deeply, fully, loved. As odd as it sounds, looking back I think that something met me there in my childhood bedroom. Something that gave me the skills I desperately needed to get through that season of life. Something gave me a heart to continue on.
Everything I imagined in that collection of images I’ve made happen—I have a home and a family—a family so wonderful that I can’t even tell you in words the depth of my love for them.I did not realize it at the time, but protecting myself as a child had a cost. What I built then keeps me from love and being seen by the most important people now.
I've enough experience at this point to know when I'm terrified, often it means I'm getting into the process that I need to grow and move forward. It's terrifying, but it's where the good stuff is. I’m going back to that girl and holding her with steady, strong, arms. I’m thanking her for that piece of childlike wonder she held for me for so long. I tell her she did a good job. That, just as she believed, we turned out okay, and now it’s time to change.
I’m not praying for goodness anymore. If anything I’m praying to keep my raw edges and tender spaces that I’m uncovering. That scaffolding I’m disassembling becomes a bridge that leads me to the vulnerable spaces of others.
We find each other. We share our stories.
Every time we do, we bring more wonder back into the earth. We cultivate more of the good that has gotten distorted or just plain forgotten. We rework it and put it back together. Piece by piece. Word by word.
That we can meet each other in our experience and when we do, it doesn’t make the suffering go away, but it does create love and peace where once only pain and aloneness resided. I think all of us can hold onto that piece of childlike wonder, and let it transform us into adults who can create a different, more vibrant and alive world. I think this is where the best, most life giving work comes from.
It’s a question that has been following me around lately. It’s become helpful in all sorts of unexpected and compelling ways. It has taken mental and soul weights off of me, if you want to know the truth.
The answer was always the same: I would live authentically. I would love myself and others well. I would make things and share with others. I would pursue a life well lived.
Instead of taking weights off and finding freedom to pursue a good life, I felt elevated pressure and anxiety. The question was unrealistic, because failure is always part the picture of being human. It is unavoidable. So the question of ‘not failing’ never gave me peace of mind.
“I should not be worried about failing.” I’d say to myself in quiet moments. Then worry that I was not living up to being a loving wife, or mother, or artist. That I was not being authentic enough.
Recently I’ve begun to ask myself a new question:
When I started asking this question, immediately, my heart got lighter. I felt a new shift in perspective. It was as if I had been walking around with large weights tied to my feet, and I was able to take them off.
Because failure is part of living fully. Living fully is what I wanted all along.
One assignment I have my art and design students complete is a large Compositional Study. It starts with specific, limited, guidelines. It allows only for specific line widths, thicknesses, and shapes. These strict rules are placed on the design process so that important Organizational Principles are explored. As the series of compositions develop, the limits are gradually released, culminating in a large composition that has none of the beginning parameters or restrictions.
The beginning of this process is frustrating for my students. But the thing is, without those limitations, my students would never know how to complete the large final composition. There would be too many options. They would have no idea where to begin. If they skipped any part of the process the end result would not be as complex or compelling. I tell them the frustration is worth it. That working within limitation is their friend. I tell them the story of Michelangelo, who carved the David out of a stone so flawed that no other sculptor wanted it. I remind them that some of the best music is based on a simple-three chord progression structure. Sometimes serious limitations can lead an artist to their best work.
It got me thinking about how design limitations in creating art are similar to limitations I perceive in my life. I have frustration when I think about limitation. About not getting the results I want. I see limitation as a lack of imagination. An absence of inventiveness. A villain to wrestle with until I get my way.
When it may just be what gets me to the larger, more compelling movement in my life. What if lack was pulling me into a larger imagination?
That’s hard to believe.
Because we all have limitations. The partner who left. The dream that died. The once close friend we can’t forgive. Illness that is never going away. Full time caregiving that leaves us exhausted and without creative outlet. Some days my list of limitations are too many to count. Limits outnumber the stars. My creative vision becomes lifeless and blurry. I question what the point of creative ambition is.
Nobody likes working within limitation, but artists who embrace limitation make better art. I think this principle is true in life, as well. Individuals who embrace limitation tend to be more inventive, optimistic, and lead more fulfilling lives.
It’s tough. I’m trying my hardest. My identity as a creative is rooted in a connection to life, to a divine ground of being I call God. This belief that I connect to is not grounded in fact, but mystery. It is where I pull my sense of optimism from. The long narrative that exists from the beginning of time whispers that there is always creatively more. There is more abundance. There is more life. Some really bad stuff exists, too. But if I can shift my attitude in the midst of challenge and limitation, to awe and wonder, how will that change me?
My rebel heart is learning to embrace an attitude of limitation. I’m using it to make art that sings within its bounds. Despite flaws in stone and life, I see my David. I pick up the chisel and begin.
I am at the orthodontist. Before the assistant presses the clammy clayish mold into my teeth for the second time in sixteen years, she asks, “What do you do?” A giant heaping mass of nothing fills the oxygen between us. I inhale and suddenly need more air. Something comes out.
“I’m a writer.”
“Um. A blogger. Well, a freelancer.” I pause, “Sort of.”
“What do you write about?”
“Courage, compassion, and creativity.” Does it sound memorized?
“That sounds cool.”
“It is,” I say, trying to convince myself I believe it. Can she detect the uncertainty?
Shoot. She isn’t saying anything.
She’s onto me. I might as well tell her the whole truth.
“I don’t get paid for my writing really, but it’s fun.” She’s for me to say something writerly.
“I get to make my own schedule!” I add, attempting to cover my pseudo-career with a stamp of fun and freedom. Instead, I singlehandedly short-change my own words and worth in a few short sentences.
I am grateful when she presses the mold into my mouth so I can just shut up already.
I sit fraudulently in the chair, and I am relieved.
It’s a toss-up, figuring out where this conversation will go and how my worth and work will sprawl itself under the examination lights, naked, pink and shaking in its blinding blankness.
Culture grooms us to categorize each other as what we do rather than who we actually are. Typically it goes like this.
“Hi, I’m Christina. I’m a writer.”
“Have you written a book?”
(Cue the crickets.)
I wonder who this lovely, kind, obliging, still miraculously-interested orthodontist tech is. She has asked me more questions than my kids do in an afternoon. Who is she behind her ability to wire teeth and press cold molds into the roofs of mouths?
The reason I am in the orthodontist’s office is this: the two front teeth I had braced and straightened sixteen years ago had moved out of place. So we went back to the process of shifting and molding my central incisors to a more pleasing shape.
None of us is defined by what we do completely. We are a complex web of dreams and struggles, motivations and misunderstandings, movement and stillness. We are lovers and hypocrites, hippies and control-freaks, honest free speakers and selfish liars.
We are a mess.
This is the tension. Where grit meets glory. Where quiet kisses noise. Where push meets a good night's sleep. We sigh and cry, write and wrestle, wonder and worry.
This is who we are.
My friend Elizabeth has a solution to the awkward intro:
“Instead of saying I'm writer or artist or an Adjunct Professor, or anything that has a ‘thingness’ to it, I say, ‘I've noticed a lot of people have a hard time incorporating creativity into their daily lives. I have developed a process that helps them further this skill both personally and professionally.’’ This opens the conversation up for deeper levels of connectivity.”
Her intro acknowledges none of us is just one thing. You are not a job. I am not a title. We are transforming into new creations, constantly adjusting and being tweaked as we offer our work to the world.
A few years after I got my braces off for the first time, a co-worker called me shy. It burned me because it wasn’t true. I whispered, “I’m not shy, I just don’t have anything to say.” Not yet, anyway.
not a party-animal like the neatly buttoned co-worker doing the labeling. I desired to be a mom and a writer, but I was neither yet. Although I couldn’t see what, I was becoming someone.
Christina Hubbard is a poet who writes memoir. Her work has appeared at (in)courage and Proverbs 31. She cares for writers as a group leader through Compel Training. A wife and mom to two creative kids, Christina dreams big and believes words can change hearts and, ultimately, alter eternity. She loves doing yoga in the sun, reading heady books, and burying her face in flowers. Find her at CreativeandFree.com.
Essay Published with Permission from Christina Hubbard.
I'm back on Off the Page today...writing about one of my favorite works of art. check it out. Leave me feedback. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
There is a painting that grounds my spirit every time I see it. I have bookmarked the image on all my devices. I have written about it, researched it, given lectures about the painting, but I have yet to put my finger on exactly why the Isenheim Altarpiece, an early Northern Renaissance image created by Mathias Grunewald, has the ability to move me. The artwork is currently displayed quietly in a museum in Colmar, France. Sometimes, it is studied in silent Art History classrooms, distilled with soft light. I wonder if these spaces are too controlled and quiet? When I look at the artwork, and the emotional agility it provides, I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to scream? I have to ask myself why I so easily put on a shelf my own emotions—try to contain them in a quiet space? Why do I place such a high value on being comfortable—when I am really created to learn to suffer well? Let me show you a painting that puts a full frontal on rich, deep, emotion. That teaches me to be accessible to dark and vast spaces. Paintings like the one Grunewald made provide a vehicle that understand, and make space for, visceral feelings that I tend to bury until I can no longer bottle them up.
To continue reading the article in its entirety link here...https://offthepage.com/?p=5372
I played on a golf league once. It did not go well. I joined on the invitation of some good friends, because, the "league we play on is not a competitive league. It will be a good place to learn."
If you have ever played any sport, friendly or not, you realize that all competition is, well, competitive.
This league was no different. It didn't take long for everybody to know how terrible I was. There were many individuals who were helpful and positive, offering advice and encouragement. But for others, playing with me must have been really annoying. I had a terrible handicap. On the rare occasion when I pared a hole, (and when I mean rare, I really mean...once, when I pared a hole...) It must have been challenging for my opponent. In those tiny moments of personal victory I could see the furrowed brow on my opponent's face growing and taking shape. The lines on their forehead deepening the same way the Colorado River etched out the Grand Canyon. When I won a hole from my opponents, their faces often looked like 40 miles of bad Texas road. Nevermind that they were handedly winning all the other holes, my small win probably meant that they were going to be ridiculed for the next week, (at least) for loosing that hole. Golf is a sport after all, and even the kindest of sportsman is still a competitor.
I wanted to be a good golfer, and I wanted to have fun, but it didn't take me long to realize that I was in no way prepared to reach my potential as a golfer. I had jumped in head first. Which is really great. I'm happy I had the courage to do it, but I had so much to learn. Today, I've taken lessons and occasionally play, but I am still a hack golfer. I have experienced just enough playing time to be dangerous, but I am far from the top of my potential.
Which is why when Sergio Garcia won the Master's Golf Tournament, I found myself tearing up and cheering for him. It took Sergio 74 starts, but he finally won a major tournament. He had spent most of his career in the top ten, according to world golf rankings, which for most golfers would be considered really good. But Sergio had started is career as a favorite, a golden boy, if you will. A player who had potential to go down in history as one of the greats. So the fact that he had never won a major--in the world of golf--was disappointing. In the last twenty or so years he played the game, he has had his fare share of critics, his fare share of opponents with furrowed brows.
I often wonder what it takes to reach my full potential, not as a golfer, but as a person. If I've learned anything from Sergio, it's that consistent, continuous, forward movement is the best way to find out. I want to reach beyond what I am capable of today, but I can find so many obstacles and reasons to stop. And the stakes are high--what kind of relationship I have with the people I love most, my husband, my kids. I would die for them, but do I have the courage to truly live for them? What sort of legacy I leave all comes down to slow, continuous, tedious, uncelebrated, forward movement.
It's worth saying that no one may know the inner places where we choose to either recede or reach out. The world is a hard place to remain optimistic, to continue to reside in a space committed to forward movement does not come without a cost. It's just the way it is here. We have opponents, both internal and external. We have challenges. It can, no, scratch that, it will eat away at your heart.
But wins, small or large, are still possible. I'm choosing to keep holding on to the small wins, writing them down here. Because I think that our circumstances are more pliable than we think. Jumping in has its costs. But as far as I can tell, jumping in, taking a chance, trusting forward movement to make the next right choice, tends to work. It doesn't work instantly. It may not be pretty or correct.
But it is forward movement, just the same.
So even if it takes me countless imperfect strokes to get to my green, I'm still committed to playing my game. I'm staying committed to continuous forward movement. I believe that you can, too.
I am excited to introduce you to my new friend, Tom Eggebrecht. Tom's new book Fully and Creatively Alive is available on Amazon, but he's giving away a free copy today on the blog. To enter, like this post and message me with your name. I'll draw a winner at random on Wednesday, April 12th.
Here is a part of Tom's story, a story committed to the creative life:
The Power of On-Line Positivity
It all started when our son went to college in Nashville to begin the pursuit of a career in music. I had spent very little time in Music City. When we began to make frequent visits I was immediately enamored. It wasn’t the honky-tonks or the Grand Ole Opry. What I fell in love with were the neighborhoods away from Broadway. More specifically, I began to notice Nashville as a buzzing hub of creative entrepreneurs.
The longer our son lived there the more I began to meet some of these fascinating people. They made jewelry, sold handmade pottery, designed web sites, took photographs, ran sound for bands, and even started businesses doing accounting for all of these people. I knew that one day I wanted to interview them and learn from them. More than that, I wanted to write a book about them.
So that’s what I did.
Over the course of almost a year I made phone calls, jotted down notes, and began to write an outline for a book. It would feature people who pursued their passions, chased their dreams, and made a living doing so. They say that you should write the book you would want to read. The final result was my book, Fully and Creatively Alive.
Not only did I want to learn from creative entrepreneurs. I wanted my readers to, as well. So I wrote each chapter around an inspiring characteristic of a particular artist. And each chapter would end with three questions to move the reader toward a more creative life.
But what I really discovered is that at the heart and center of all creativity is a creative God who created us with a creative gene. As my book says: “At the beginning of all things, Scripture tells us, God created the heavens and the earth. He did it by simply speaking all things into existence. That is, until he made the crown of his creation: human beings. When God created Adam and Eve he did more than speak them into existence. He formed them from the dust of the ground. Like an artist using clay, God lovingly formed his most beloved creatures, paying attention to every detail.”
That’s you. Whether you know it or not – whether you believe it or not – you have been created to be creative. If you dig down deeply enough you’ll find a creative spark in there somewhere. It’s my life’s mission to encourage everyone I know to discover her or his own creativity. So here’s some encouragement for you to do just that today.
What creative spark has been placed inside you and how can you use it and share it with the world?
Tom Eggebrecht is Senior Pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church in Casselberry, Florida. He’s also an active blogger (http://www.tomeggebrecht.com/free), bicyclist, and music lover who enjoys encouraging people to pursue their passion and chase their dreams. Amongst the greatest joys in his life is the blessing of the time he gets to spend with his family, and recently becoming a grandfather for the very first time.
When I was completing my Master’s Degree in Fine Art, I studied abroad in Italy. What I learned there changed everything. I had come with the idea that I would encounter an ancient culture, and by ancient I mean a culture that was less advanced than what I knew. I found just the opposite. As I was walking through the remains of the city of Pompeii, I realized that we have not done things better than in Renaissance Italy. Partially because of the intelligence, the design, and the innovation. But mostly because of the hand-made craftsmanship that is everywhere. The handles on cutlery found in a Pompeiian home are painstakingly well crafted. The quality of the marble floors and intricate detail of the mosaic walls, the expanse of the architecture, it all holds up and surpasses anything that would be made today. In a postindustrial, information saturated age, the cost of such craftsmanship is irreplaceable. We couldn’t afford it.
When St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that, “…We are God’s handiwork…” I consider his words in the context of the culture Paul was writing in, a culture similar to what I observed in Pompeii. I am not talking about Religion or a Christianity that is overly Westernized or simplified. I am searching for what it means to be fully alive and human. The Greek word Paul used for handiwork is “poiema.” It is where we get the English word for poem. Some researchers would go so far as to say that Paul is describing humankind as God’s Artwork. In Paul’s day, artwork wasn’t in some quiet museum waiting to be observed, it was all around. A part of everyday experience. Everything was handmade, and considering what I observed in Pompeii, handmade extremely well. Paul was a craftsperson, financing his travel through work as a tent maker. I imagine craft would have meant a great deal to him. Considering where Paul lived and traveled, he would have been exposed to Etruscan frescoes depicting beautiful landscapes and Roman Architecture with grand and expansive columns and ornate reliefs. I wonder if Paul was thinking about a particular work of art when he wrote this passage, and if so, what kind of significance did it have to him? I do know that he asks me to remember my identity is a beautiful, one of a kind, hand-made thing. Maybe he knew something about creativity and craftsmanship that we have forgotten today. Maybe this is how we are designed, to make and invent things. Innately, just because…
I used to think my value as an artist came from what I did, but now I know that the real flesh and blood matters are found in my artist’s heart. The heart I was born with. I used to put the mantel of financial success on my work. Or how popular my work became. Or praise I got for its uniqueness. Because if I am honest I have a real fear that…when it’s all said and done that I will have missed it. That my life will pass and that I won’t make a significant contribution, that I screwed it up—my one chance—and now I will dissolve like a vapor into the unknown and nobody will notice or care. There is this primal longing within me to matter. I try to get a handle on this fear by performing.
We live in a culture that affirms the idea that people who work hard enough, who are smart enough, invest their money well and don’t buy expensive jeans, that keep that twenty something appearance well into middle age, or who get all A’s, who exercise when they are supposed to, and who have a diet of only greens and lean protein. That they are the ones. They are the ones worth it. They are the ones keeping all the rules just right. Those who reject this social norm we label dilatants, slackers…they are shamefully insignificant. It’s probably why we don’t value our elderly like we should, or our mentally challenged, or even our children. Because when you get down to it, we find a person’s real value resides in the status of what they do.
But we are poems. We are artwork. It sounds too good to be true. It sounds like a lie that dreamers believe who don’t live in the real world where results matter. But what I have observed is this: Those who are truly doing creative work, who have the kind of lives that everybody else wants, they know this. They let this belief reside in their bones. They don’t do work chasing anything, they do work because they already have it to give. They have changed the dynamic of life from one of a transaction i.e. you do this to get that, to one that starts and ends with joy. It is life changing. It is changing me. It changes the space from which I make my work, whether it is work that supports my family financially or not. I no longer work for money, I work for money that supports a life well lived. Money is a means, not a master. It creates more opportunities to be grateful on all kinds of levels. And when I get a chance, I break bread and wine with others, and maybe cry and then laugh, and then cry some more. Because poems we are. Every one of us.
If you like the ideas I have shared and would like to take this information to the next level, sign up to my News Letter to receive a free digital download on Creativity and Finding Your Individual Voice, here.
When I was a young art student, I stumbled upon a drawing that changed the course of my life. I wrote about it, and today it is published on Off the Page. You can read the full essay via the link below:
But sometimes mother nature has other plans. But I'm grateful.
1. We're environmentally conscious, so this new green roof with additional ventilation is going to be awesome.
2. No one is hurt or injured. We're all good. This is just stuff. It can be replaced.
3. I still find the wind mysterious and beautiful--and the Great White Pine, although a bit more gangly than it was, is still majestic. And Bonus, it will continue to grow. How about that?
A reminder on how to be in this world brought to me by life.
It was a small fishing boat, a khaki-colored, weighty vessel we dubbed The Brown Hornet. A nod to our childhood when Fat Albert was cool, and Bill Cosby was the world’s best father-figure. It was tiny, not more than twelve feet long, made for rivers and small lakes. We christened her with a graceful tip from a can of beer over her bow, which was held together with screws, duct tape, and what was left in a tube of industrial strength adhesive. We set out to the inland channels that spilled into the expansive blue of Lake Michigan.
It was barely summer. The water was still numbing and cold. But the day was splendid and warm. We followed one small river into a larger river, than through a large no wake channel that flowed into the big lake. The water was calm—a personification of glass as far as the eye could see, and the Brown Hornet skidded along its surface gracefully. We stopped to watch the sun go down—the horizon filled with color. I jumped in, my body shocked by the sudden cold, but I took one moment to ponder, to look at the boat above me, the expansive water around me. I held this beauty in my heart.
It was when we left that we noticed the leak. In our moment of calm watching the sunset, the v-shaped hull had steadily taken on water. The boat had an outboard motor, and the hand held throttle was open as far as it could go, but the boat could not get on plain. I realized the water was inside the boat. It was past my ankles, and rising. We were close to going under.
With night coming and a boat almost submerged. With miles between us and our car with no plan B, I fell in love. I fell in love with the messy, vibrant, wonder. With the thrilling need to be together. To watch the sunset by any means necessary, even if it meant going down with the ship. I fell in love regardless, in the most beautiful place on earth, with the one person who was worth giving up the certainty of my solitary life for the mystery of two being one.
Listen to the story told on The Story Gathering Podcast here: http://storygatherings.com/podcast/
Was there anyone not blown away by Lady Gaga’s performance in the Super Bowl? It didn’t matter if you were a Patriot fan or an Atlanta Falcons fan. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like football and had just tuned in for the commercials. What we all saw in that stellar half time show was art. It was daring. It was beautiful. It connected us all.
I don’t know about you, but after the half time show, it was a relief to check my twitter feed. After weeks of social media outcry about Betsy DeVos’s nomination for Secretary of Education or Donald Trump’s latest rant, what I saw was a united front. Everyone, it seemed, was singing the praises of an artist.
I think there are terrible, horrible, nefarious decisions being made in our country right now. But what may be even more horrific is how this divide is scaring our minds and hearts toward each other.
And Lady GaGa’a performance was beyond socio economics, race, ethnicity. It was beyond identity as a Republican or Democrat. It was beyond the constructs of identity often used to classify and divide.
What I know for sure is that an artist brought it last Sunday night. God Bless America, she sang. Land that I love. And I felt a little better about being a human being. I felt a little more hopeful after feeling shattered for weeks.
It is cliché to say that what unites us is greater than what divides us.
But still, I believe it is true.
There are things that unite us.
We are more the same than different.
It seems to me that we are all hanging out together in one Big Super Bowl. The question is, are we going to get up and dance? Or are we going to remain in our seats and choose not to move toward each other? What if we focused on the music? What if we leaned into our universal-creative-kind-of selves?
If we as a people, are ever going to figure out this democracy, this crazy and deeply flawed experiment that we know as the United States of America. If it is going to survive, a new set of communication skills will need to become dominate. A communication skill set based on what is common among us, but that still leaves room for the complexities of our differences. This is the universal language that art taps us into. This movement is going to be led by artists.
And if Picasso was correct, we were all born artists. The only question is how to remain artists once we have become adults.
Beauty is a form of protest. At least, I’ve come to understand, it is my protest. My survival technique. A necessity to meaning. An essential component to living well.
When I speak of beauty, I’m not talking about perfection. I’m not trying to cover up the grit or the narrative of vulnerability that sits right beside. I’m not interested in perfection—in fact, I think perfection is boring. Perfectionism as an approach to artmaking or living has never taught me anything other than to play it safe. To not take risks. It taught me to lean into performance as a way to be accepted. It taught me to hide myself. It was corrosive to my soul. And living a creative path requires risk. Faith is an art form, a love story. And it demands imagination.
I’m trying to make something of meaning with my life. Making space here and now for art and beauty. A space for whimsy that somehow holds tension and gives it a voice, too. It’s what good art has always done. I also believe I have place for Wisdom, A God Shaped Wisdom, in my life.
I don’t often talk about my faith. I find that the ways I experience God tend to be outside the realm of traditional Faith Orthodoxy. But if I could describe it to you, I would say that it is an in-process, imperfect art-form. Sometimes when I pray, I question what the point of praying is. Or why God would listen to me when I talk about my fears when there are people in the midst of more unspeakably harsh circumstances. (The refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, for example). St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that, “…We are God’s handiwork…” The Greek word Paul used for handiwork is “poiema.” It is where we get the English word for poem. Some researchers would go so far as to say that Paul is describing humankind as God’s Artwork. On my good days, I believe that I am a poem, and I believe that my God loves me. I am trying to embrace this definition of my identity as a living, breathing, art form. This belief shapes how I see beauty. Beauty that exists side by side with pain and challenging complexity. I am trying to love well in everyday ordinary awkward circumstances. When I get a chance, I break bread and wine with others, and maybe cry and then laugh, and then cry some more.
Poems we are. Every one of us.
Picasso famously stated that, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” It’s true, I believe. I’ve never met a child who sat in front of a box of Legos worrying about what they were going to make, or sat with of a bunch of crayons or markers wondering what in the world they might do with them. In contrast, more often than not, a common response I observe when people find out I am an artist is this, “Wow, that’s great. I couldn’t even draw a stick figure.”
For some of us art become a problem to figure out, some kind of elite challenge only for qualified experts, or a certain kind of people. A select few of creative, talented, skinny-jeaned and trendy-glasses wearing people.
But here is the deal: The arts are a conduit to tell a story about what it is like to be a human being. That’s it. If you are a human being, this stuff called the arts is for you. There are parameters to be sure, of design principles and critical discourse, and they are important. But this thing, this deeply inventive notion that we can engage with, is for everyone. It is perhaps the most democratic of agencies we possess.
Here is what I think happened for some of us: Think back to your elementary school experience. There were probably a handful of your classmates that did well in art class, and even fewer who were celebrated or recognized for their talent. The reality is, unless an adult, most likely an art teacher, recognized and pointed out your creative potential when you were young, you likely stepped through your early development believing that you were not creative. This can leave a gap in understanding of the arts, and a longing to reconnect with the part of ourselves that engages with creativity.
Here are some suggestions that may help from being an observer of the arts to actively engaging in them:
1. Trust Your Curiosity. You opened this article to learn more. I believe that creative experiences are tangible in everyday, ordinary life. While in the midst of running errands, going to work, and other standard necessities of day to day, a sensitivity can be cultivated to engage with and experience wonder. In fact, it is often during times of mindful idleness, experienced in ordinary tasks, that our minds can wonder and daydream. This is an important component of engaging with creativity. One of my favorite poems is by Gregory Orr, the inspiration for which came to him while he was washing dishes. Let wonder engage with you by following your curiosity in the midst of routine tasks.
2. Accept That Beauty is an Everyday, Common Occurrence in this World. With so much of technology culture and news cycles relying on negative stories to generate ratings and “clicks” it is easy, I would argue likely, to be overwhelmed with the heaviness of the news content in our modern society. Art reminds us, and makes us more sensitive to, the beauty that surrounds us every day. I’m not saying to live life with blinders on, just live with a more balanced and nuanced perspective.
3. Realize that You Have Been Changed by Art Already, and Make Room for More of That Experience. I bet you can think of at least one song, photograph, movie, or play that connected with you. Maybe the idea that life is a rich and varied experience that is meant to be enjoyed was somehow communicated. Or perhaps it was the loss of something wonderful that needed expression. Whatever it was, you encountered something that made you feel more alive. There is room for increased amounts of that kind of experience.
The good news is, you will not have to go far to find art in your community, so choose an event and go. Which leads me to a shameless plug alert: First Friday Gallery Hops are coming this November 4th. If you live close to the Grand Rapids Area, I would love to see you at this event. First Fridays happen every month on the Avenue for the Arts on South Division. There you will find artwork by local artists, handmade goods, and food and drink specials at local eating establishments.
For the upcoming First Friday, I have been involved in coordinating an exhibition at Spiral Gallery, located on 44 Division Avenue, which will be showcasing the work of Kendall College of Art and Design of FSU (KCAD) Painting Alumni. The exhibition will feature the work of five artists, all graduates of KCAD’s Master of Fine Art Program in Painting. The work of these artists is distinctly different and varied. Some working within the boundaries of realism, others working with more expressive techniques and subject matter, while others are using unique and diverse materials in their work. This variety of processes makes this exhibition an opportunity to engage with the varied medium of painting in new and unexpected ways. The opening is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. I would love it if you stopped by and said hello. I would be interested to meet you, see your perspective, and continue this conversation.
Artists Included in KCAD Painting Alumni Invitational: Katie Moore, Nancy Oaks-Hall, Dustin Rogers, Beth Siewert Purdy, and Michael Breakiron.
To follow Spiral Gallery on Facebook and view the Invite for the KCAD Painting Alumni Invitational:
For more information on Avenue for the Arts First Friday Gallery Hops:
To Read the Poem: After the Guest, by Gregory Orr:
In 1968, George Land conducted a research survey to test the creativity of 1,600 children. His results were astounding. Here are his test results: Children age 5, 98%, age 10, 30%, age 15, 12%. That same test given to 280,000 Adults: 2%. "What we concluded," wrote Land," is that non-creative behavior is learned."
I believe we are wired to be engaged and connected to our world. You can stifle it, you can even deny it and shut it down for awhile, but we are meant for it. In this blog series, Story to Spill, I am connecting us to people who are pursuing the fullest expression of themselves through the work they do. Just to be clear, this does not necessarily mean the job they do to make a living and pay the bills. But it is true work just the same. So what are some unexpected ways to stay connected to creativity? Here are a few I find effective, but they are not as obvious as you might think.
1. Know your identity is not in what you make or do, it's how you make or do. Here's what I mean: When somebody asks me what it is I do, I no longer say, "I'm an artist." I say this: I have found that some people find it difficult to stay connected to their creative selves and to find meaning in their work. So I have a process that helps people to be more authentic and connected in their daily lives." I find this a much more accurate statement of my work. I've also seen this description lead to stronger and deeper conversations allowing me to elaborate further.
2. Find the place where your deepest curiosity connects with the world's greatest need. Doing creative work is about service. When you pay attention to what really brings you to life and begin to pursue it, you'll find that you will naturally want to spill that talent into the lives of others. I love the Howard Thurman quote," Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that. What the world needs is people who have come alive."
3. How do you know what your deepest curiosity is? Find the thing that you would do no matter what, even if money was not as issue, and pursue that. I would never say not to take care of your family, or to not provide stability and opportunity for the ones you love. Never. I will say the moment you can introduce into your life work that makes you curious and connects with others, head toward it. Because the longer you stay in an environment and work that you are not curious about, the more ordinary you will become. Start small, start with 20 minutes a week if that's all you have. But start.
Stay tuned, in the next few weeks we will be meeting some individuals who will inspire us further. How about you? Are there unexpected ways you have found to stay a creative adult? Just curious...
Today I painted the canvases thick. Red, Yellow, Blue. Zinc White. Galkyd Gel. Mix. Repeat. Gradually. Slowly. Until the deep rich darkness of the three primaries coupled with white blended down together and began to take on the appearance of think black ink. Not too purple, not too brown. Dark and heavy and viscus. It’s the color of black tar, of murk, of lurching echoes underneath the Milky Way night sky.
It longs to become clear fresh, crystal clean water, but for now ink it remains.
I have come to believe that it is not a mistake to sit in the dark ink places. Maybe, as Sister Glennon says, it's a response to being a sensitive soul in a messed up world. The veil of time that keeps us suspended in the ink needs to find expression. And that's okay. In fact it's a healthy and wholesome act. A vehicle to truth telling in a world largely more comfortable with glossy and perfect and presentable. Especially from a girl.
Because that girl has been called beauty. Skinny jean and hip enough to play a part with the arty girls, wearing oversized eyeglasses and dyed hair. Or she's felt that she needs to be jock enough in a man’s art world, speaking all moxie and bravado to be heard. And/or smart enough for the Deconstructionists, the philosophers, the smart people in the know. Or how about just sexy enough for plain good old fashioned advertising, let's just start there. Edited enough on Photoshop. A body with all the right proportions, a vehicle to sell. I would be remiss if I did not add a curated Facebook feed, complete with memes and updates at just the right times with just the right about of content. And on. And on. And on.
I’ve wanted to be something other. But what I’m finding is to be the dark ink. I want to look like the water. But that would be dishonest. Pretending. Because it’s not a mistake to be the ink. In the light, water may get the attention. It may speak to perfection. But in the ink is where the Know is. It's good soil for creativity if you let it be. And there is power in that.
Because I’m tired of putting on roles that don't fit, and never did.
Today, in the studio, a small dismantling of those roles took place, leaving me to speak from my voice. In writing these words, too. I need both paint and words just as much as the ink to make them.
If this is you, if you have been feeling like ink when all you want is to be the water, then let’s find places to dismantle together, you and me.
Because that is where the life is.
For further resources and reading, and to connect with others who are finding their voices through dismantling, I recommend:
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton, Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue, The Artist's Way by Julie Cameron, The Poems of Mary Oliver, especially The Journey. Shauna Niequist quotes this poem in her new book Present Over Perfect, which is wonderful as well. Anything written by Brene Brown, especially Daring Greatly. These authors have taught me so much about being brave. It's possible to be in this world and do the work that brings you to life. In fact, I believe we are wired and created for it.
I have found myself endlessly curious about what it means to be fully alive.
I have begun to be compelled to tackle this mystery. You see, I chose to go into art as a way of being in this world--of being present in the moment, as a way to connect with others, and as a way of being fully alive. But I found that making paintings in a studio was not the definition of fulfillment that I thought it would be. Now you can imagine making paintings is hard enough, but couple that with a motivation that started to go away, and you get frustration. What you get is the death of a dream. I started to feel vocationally homeless, wondering why I didn't quite fit in at art school. What I had worked so hard for began to feel barren and lifeless, like ashes left over from an enormous fire.
Which started to remind me of my old college professor, Mr. Bippes. This wise and endlessly voracious art professor with a red beard and a limp, who who had once extended everything he knew about drawing and life to me as a student took the time to read one of my essays. He found me later, and as he so often did, seemed to have the gift of prophecy. Liz...(he is one of the few people who I allowed to call me Liz). "Liz, you're a writer. You're really a writer." That was it. He turned around, walked out of the classroom, and was gone. He left me to stand there wondering how I was supposed to finish my undergraduate thesis exhibiton with THAT particular bit of teaching. Not helpful, Mr. Bippes.
Except that it actually was the thing that I needed to hear. It's a testiment to my strong will or ignorance that it has taken me an additional 20 or so years to act on what I knew: that he was right.
I'd like to invite you to a journey with me. Because what I know for sure is this: what we all are looking for is to find something that makes us come alive. That makes our hearts beat just a little bit faster. That is compelling enough that we would do that thing no matter what. Something that latches on to a larger idea in the evolution of humankind: that engages us in the larger story and invites others along.
But how? That's the hard thing. Because your work can and often is different from your vocation. Because we have families, and health insurance, and lists of the next 'right' thing to do. But what I am starting to see is a pattern. People I am meeting who are actually living this 'aliveness' for themselves seem to be following a different way. I'd like to introduce you to a few of them. Together, maybe we can learn and start to establish unexpected patterns in our lives. A new way of being in the world. Maybe even something that looks like being fully alive.
Art and the pursuit of making things has always connected me, especially when things in life get tough. In recent weeks our world has seen terrorist attacks in Brussels, Turkey, and Yemen. Today is Easter Sunday, and with it the tradition of spring and new life. As a faith seeker, I embrace Resurrection, but today I find my heart grieving.
There is a multi-paneled painting on my bucket list to see in person: The Isenheim Altarpiece, painted by Matthias Grunewald in the early sixteenth century. I imagine the artist as a rebel painting away in a German Monastery, a true expressionist when it was most likely uncool to be one. The altarpiece was created, scholars tend to agree, somewhere around 1515. A painter of Matthias's stature would almost certainly have been exposed to the ideas of the Italian Renaissance. For reference, Botticelli's Birth of Venus was created around 1480 and Michelangelo had completed the Sistine Chapel Ceiling around 1512- idealism and perfection were all the rage in art at this time. Ah, but look at Grunewald's image--the distortions--those hands how they wring and twist, the body of Christ in his suit of flesh--greenish blue--skin that looks as if it is peeling and falling away from the bone. It is unflintchingly gruesome. Botticelli and the other artists of the Italian Renaissance, they lift my soul to great heights, but Grunewald connects me with the wounds that I struggle to put to rest. It is honest about the horror that exists in this world--and for that honesty I am grateful.
Despite this, I have to believe that there is more this Easter Sunday. More mystery and connection to the All in all things. There is a rootedness that darkness cannot touch or take away. I will say a prayer and creep my heart on to Resurrection because I find that it pursues me. "Put it down, it is not yours to carry," I've heard whispered to me. In the voice that is not my own, whispered, "not mine to carry." I like to think that Matthias heard similar words spoken to him, too. So now, to you I say the same: Whatever heaviness, grief, or loss that you may be carrying, it is not yours and you can set it down now. If you pick it up again, that's okay, because there is always an open invitation for you to put it down again. Resurrection, this amazing newness and life, it pursues us. It pursues us, and again, and again, and again.