Tag Archive for art

Lifting the Veil

karenprior

Our collective imagination is haunted by a certain image of the artist: a solitary bard, brooding alone, awaiting a burst of inspiration from a mysterious and magical muse. We see the person with the creative spirit as one who stands above and apart from the common lot, a secular priest who mediates between regular folks and the transcendent, delivering divine revelation from his mountaintop hermitage.

Poppycock.

Certainly, some folks are more creative than most. Yes, the true artist, in the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley in his Defence of Poetry,lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world.” Surely, inspiration plays a part in the creative process—but only a minor role to labor and sweat. And, yes, the writer, the painter, the sculptor, the musician writes, paints, sculpts, and plays endless hours alone.

Yet, the fact is that the artist is an ordinary person who carries with her into those lonely chambers of toil seeds germinated in society, fruits formed by fellowship, ideas incubated in dialogue. Only God creates out of nothing. Human beings create from the materials given—and received.

In other words, creativity comes from community.

The true artist bears witness to the works of those who have gone before, whether those works come in the form of the collected wisdom of philosophers over thousands of years, or an enchanting painting by one of the great masters, or simply an insightful post at our favorite blog. Yes, the fires of creativity spark within us, but they are stoked by the winds from the world around us.

In my own field—writing—it is a truth universally—and unironically— acknowledged that a good writer is a good reader. The gifted writer is less likely born than she is well read. And what are books but a community of words from which the writer develops curiosity, nurtures wonder, tests ideas, and practices the craft of expressing well? Both reading and writing—even when performed alone—are acts rooted in the community of other readers and writers. Sartre famously depicted hell as other people. Well, art is other people, too.

So good writers read. But not all books are inked and bound. The book of life—whose chapters contain hope, expectation, love, delight, disappointment, loss, growth (in other words, people)—provides, too, the words from which we create. Endless asking, telling, listening, debating, learning, regretting, cursing, pontificating, apologizing, lamenting, lying, confessing give birth to the words we carry into our solitary writing rooms.

And when we write—unless we write only what is fit for a diary with a key—we write for readers. We write with some one, or some community, in mind.

And once we offer the gift of our creativity to others, they return the gift: through their accolades, their questions, their criticisms, their amens, and even their silences. These are all gifts—even the coal of disapproval. And if we receive them, truly receive them, they become our Muse—and our chisel, too.

So we whittle away at our craft, ever refining and sharpening, because while we might labor in solitary, we never create out of nothing or alone.

Come, let us create together.

Come read with Karen this summer at The Glen Workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she will teach a seminar on reading as spiritual formation.

Carving Words Into Bones

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about mortality—specifically, my own. Perhaps it’s because my husband is in his mid-forties now and his mind is grappling with aging and ageism in his career field. Maybe it’s his sudden concern for our future, for what legacy he’s leaving behind for our sons. Perhaps it’s because I just turned 33, and I’ve been having my own “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING WITH MY LIFE” wrestling matches the last 3 months, because you know, the whole Jesus Year thing. Perhaps . . . perhaps it’s because my non-neurotypical children are getting older and as I advocate for them and their care, I’m coming to terms with the fact that I won’t always be here to help them navigate this world. I feel an urgency to appropriately model what it’s like to be an empowered patient so that they can learn how to be in charge of their health and wellness. Maybe it’s because I see their limitations and I see my own, and I’m scared illness with take me from them before I’m able to fully be the kind of mother they need.

So . . . I . . . I can’t point toward what exactly has triggered this recent preoccupation with mortality, but I do know, after David Bowie’s passing, I suddenly became all too aware that my days of inhabiting this body composed of flesh, bone, contracting muscle, blood, and oxygen are limited. The weight of not knowing the number of moments/days/weeks/months/years that I have left settles like a weight of bricks on a scale in my gut while I’m going about my daily living as wife and mother. It presses my hands deeper into the canvas while I paint and pushes my hand further and faster across the page as I mark line, shape, and form.

I’m not afraid of dying, at least not completely. It’s not the idea of only existing in a loved one’s heart or long-term memory that scares me about death. What terrifies me is passing on to whatever is on the other side of living before I’ve wrung every last drop out of my current existence. I know as Christians we’re supposed to long for eternity and desire to be in God’s presence. I know I’m supposed to hate this deteriorating body and long for my heavenly one. I know I am supposed to long for a world unlike this one that’s full of evil and sin.

But the truth is . . . especially as an artist . . . I don’t.

Instead, I yearn to create like He does, unabashedly, fully, and wonderfully. I long to live a life of expression that leaves no story untold, no emotion resting in dormancy. My desire is to spend every waking moment excavating what He’s put inside of me to put back out into the world. Carving words and images into bones and being on canvas and through a myriad of colors is what my soul pants after day in and day out. Creativity is something that consumes me like the fire searing Jeremiah’s bones. I know that in pursuing it, I’m ultimately pursuing Him. Like David Bowie, I want to be on my deathbed making an artistic statement about the dying process or injustice, or motherhood, or faith, or humanity or about anything I have left in me to express. I don’t want to wait for heaven and a perfected heavenly body to worship the Creator with what He had in mind for me when He first called me into being.

I don’t want to die with words and abstract visuals still waiting patiently on my tongue, queued up in my mind, or pooling at my fingertips. So I’ve spent the first month of this new year fully committed to getting it all out as it comes, on canvas, on paper, with pencil, paint, matte medium, and ink. That yielding has pushed me to make and do regardless of whatever stress I’m under in other areas of my life, and considering my own mortality has helped me commit to no longer holding back. It has also brought me freedom, deliverance from expectations, clarity about purpose, and a renewed faith that the one who saw Hagar in her struggle has also seen me in mine during this season. Here’s to a creative 2016.  

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