Birth of Venus and Bombs in Brussels

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.




Rough Bellies and Gratitude

One of my most prized and irreplaceable possessions is the Gratitude Journal my mother kept the last year of her life.  My mother was first diagnosed with a rare and slow progressing form of cancer when I was six years old.  She died when I was thirty two.  She was one of the most fierce and persistent people I have ever known.  The week before she died she took my hand and placed it on her belly. Where there had once been soft, pliant tissue there was only compacted roughness.  The tactile sensation was like touching a heavy, solid, earth-red, brick wall.  

Her journal describes the wonders of this ordinary life, the quotidian encounters that have enormous value, and the mindfulness of gratitude for them.  Her journal propels movement:  to begin to create the kind of life most wanted and dreamed about, starting exactly where we are each day.  I am not so much interested  in achievements and accomplishments.  They are important to me, but not so much as in cultivating a life that is rich in experiences with the one resource I can never get back:  my time.

If you have hesitated moving forward with a creative venture, whatever it is, I encourage you to pursue it.  Not only because I believe the world needs you to use your talent, but because of how it will change you.  The ideas that follow us and  that will not leave us alone are wholehearted gifts.  Start small, start gradually, or start big.  However you do it the important thing is to start.  If you are working toward your goal, there is always more right with what you are doing than there is wrong.



On Creativity: Confessions of a College Art Educator

I remember the first time I stepped into an art classroom.  Way before Seth Godin introduced us to the idea of finding a tribe, or before social media became the platform for connection it is today, I remember entering into this space of creativity and of making things and feeling like I had found my home.  The second feeling I had, almost immediately after that,  was that I was an impostor.   I was nowhere near as cool, or smart, or as talented as all the other 'real' art students in that classroom.  I became afraid.

That was a long time ago.  Now I am the art teacher in the classroom.   If I am honest, I still feel the fear of not being enough:  smart enough, cool enough, talented enough.  Not much has changed, except that I have learned that what I do is not grounded in "enough," but in something deeper than anyone's opinion of it, including my own.  

What I know for sure is that creativity is for everyone.  It is something we are all born with.  There is no such thing as creative people and non-creative people.  The only way I know to feel like I am not just skimming through the top layer of my life is to be creative.  I define creativity in the words of Sir Ken Robinson, as using your mind to make something that is original and has value.  It takes on many forms, but it always elevates us into our truest, most whole selves.  

I am still learning, failing, and getting back up and trying again.  It is worth it, though.  There is nothing more powerful than speaking from an undiluted and authentic voice.  I would love to know, how do you dig deep into creativity?  What helps you to connect with your truest voice, and what is its worth to you?