creativity and spirituality, part one
This Sunday, I'm presenting a talk at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Eau Claire (Wisconsin) on the topic of spirituality and creativity. With such a broad topic, I thought of a number of interesting approaches, but in the end I decided to start with the text from a similar talk I gave at the same church back in 2006. When I looked over my old speech, I realized that the intervening years had given me plenty to add and clarify, but that the basic ideas still held true. Not that rewriting and tweaking were easy--I have spent quite a few hours revising the original in the past week. It's a bit long, so what you will read below is just the first part.
CREATIVITY AND SPIRITUALITY
I would like to say first that I regard creativity as an essential human quality. Defined broadly, we all create in order to live. There is no aspect of life into which creativity doesn't enter in some way-the necessity to order and structure and to problem-solve, the urge to make more beautiful or more efficient is universal. Creativity manifests in each of us, in our relationships, in our vocations and avocations, and in how we meet the challenges of daily life.
I believe the same thing is true about spirituality, that it is an essential human quality, however we each define it. Whether we believe in God (in any of God’s many manifestations) or in a universal life force or energy, or in only the concrete and definable; whether mysteries and questions are at our centers, or strong core beliefs. All are individual expressions of spirituality. The ways in which these basic attributes of creativity and spirituality intersect and flow together are as unique in each of us as any other combination of characteristics in our human souls.
Those of us who work in the arts have a special focus on the meeting of creativity and spirituality, since we are intent on creating things of meaning and beauty with which we hope to connect with other people. Most of us seek not a superficial connection, but one that evokes emotions, recognition, memories, associations, and experiences beyond words. Our ideas come from deep within our own experiences and memories, and to express these is an act of faith that others will understand and respond. A professor of art once told me, the more personal your work is, the more universal it will be, and this gets to the heart of the artist’s quest for self-expression as a path to communicate with others and to find common ground.
What I want to talk about today is first, a little about my work, both the paintings themselves and my process. And also how my work intersects with, arises from, and contributes to my spirituality. I am very grateful to have painting in my life as a means of self-discovery, which includes spiritual discovery. Some of the most important lessons I have learned have come through my work, and they are continually reinforced and deepened by it.
I offer all of this in the hope that there are parallels to your own creative and spiritual endeavors, whatever they may be, and to encourage you to explore creative expression if you feel, but have resisted the urge.
I would like to begin with the paintings themselves. First, they are abstract in style, a way of working that for me offers the greatest range of self-expression and depth. An abstract artist develops a personal vocabulary of marks, colors, compositions and textures that can be endlessly manipulated, and draws upon subjective material from personal experience, as well as from what is observed in the visual world. I have gravitated to abstraction because for me it is the most inclusive expression of life, encompassing both inner and outer aspects of perception. In my case, my work has evolved from painting the landscape, which I did in a more realistic way for years, in combination with many other sources of ideas, and aspects of pure abstraction such as color fields and geometric divisions.
My paintings are carefully worked, multi-layered, and dense with subtle texture and color shifts. Built up through numerous layers of oil paint and wax medium, the surfaces are subtle and nuanced, yet complex. The end result is work that I hope and believe has a calming, peaceful presence for the viewer. I want these to be the kind of paintings that over time, reveal more of themselves, rather than ones that can be taken in at a glance. So, my aim for the paintings themselves is to bring some aspect of spirituality into the environment in which they hang. I hope that they inspire contemplation, a pause to look deeply, to clear the mind, and to offer relief from daily concerns.
Interestingly enough, the act of painting itself creates a kind of meditative or spiritual state of mind for me, and perhaps this comes through in the work. When I paint, I'm both inside and outside of my work—I’m aware that it comes from deep in my consciousness, and feel connected with its very personal roots--but I also know that others will view it without access to this understanding, and see it through the filters of their own perception. So I am an observer of my paintings even as I create them, aware of their source but also slightly detached from them as I imagine viewing them from another’s perspective. This non-attachment and observation of the self has the effect of bringing and keeping one in the present moment, since there is a necessary detachment from ego and daily mind. When I am painting, I can be absolutely present in the moment for long stretches of time. The ordinary mind in which events and conversations are rehashed, to-do lists are created and various speculations and emotions are given free reign, is often transcended. In this way, painting can be very much a state of meditation.
Being present in the moment is basic to a wide range of spiritual beliefs and practices, beyond the scope of this talk or my own knowledge. I will simply say that this state of mind is calming and centering, and it is part of my life almost every day.
There are other spiritual benefits in the process of painting. For example, my thoughts and emotions are always focused on the journey itself, the search for the next step as the painting is created, not on the end result. This focus enables me to let go of piece after piece of my personal history as my paintings go out into the world, because once the process is complete, I feel that my part is done and I am ready to move on. This resonates with universal spiritual teachings that advise against attachment to the past and to material objects. There is a continual letting go, releasing, and putting aside of the past inherent in the process.
(To be continued...)