After creating art for many decades, always wedged in between other full time employment, these past few years can best be described as emerging as a professional artist. Thanks to the Central Minnesota Arts Board (centralmnartsboard.org), there is an art grant that imitates life, known as an emerging artist grant or “Individual Artist Award”. Grants and award do imitate life and I submitted the required paperwork and the following six art works created over the past five years for my application:
This is mostly just mud/clay, taken out of a 5 gallon pickle slop bucket that I dump all my white and brown clays into, recycling them. The theme of our Artist’s Guild Art Crawl Exhibit to be displayed at The Gallery Saint Germain this past August was “On the Edge!” And I’m thinking of this woman on the edge of a cliff, ready to either throw herself off, or escape into flight! Here’s the drawing for that:
And if you look closely at that “ooze” below you can see her form beginning to take shape:
But it’s all so blurry and mushy and ‘formless and void’ as Genesis 1 talks about (‘tohu va bohu” in the original Hebrew language). I was trying to convey the deep swirling emotions flowing around this desperate, depressed, hopeless woman….though maybe she was going to fly???
I’ve created art for many years and art certainly does imitate life, but this is a work of art that mostly dictated to me what it was going to be and become by nature of it’s subject and it’s process to be completed. First of all it was too big to be fired in our electric kilns at the Paramount. I knew I was going to have to break it into three pieces to fire it:
Secondly, the relief sculpture was difficult to clearly see the kind of strong, stark image I wanted to create and convey. I began carving into the clay and beneath the mass of grey and brown homogeneous mud there emerged an amazing, beautiful marbled clay relief that changed and deepened each time I carved more away. I didn’t know what to expect – every part of the clay surface was unique and revealing. My greatest surprise was at the bottom center where a portal was revealed ~ like an empty tomb. It made me better define my title: “On the Edge of Flight or Destruction ~ A Way Out, or a Way Through?” For many, self destruction may be their only way out….but for others, there’s a way through our pain and shame toward healing and a recycled life.
Our very talented members of the Artist Guild of Central Minnesota chose the theme “On the Edge” last year for our current month long exhibit at Gallery Saint Germain in downtown St Cloud. It’s a provocative and very “pregnant” theme that evoked creative responses in painting, sculpture, and photography. Everything from embracing and painting the emotions surrounding a recent diagnosis of breast cancer, to addiction, and animals on the edge of extinction.
This will be part one of two blogs processing the seven new clay creations I presented for our exhibit:
PART 1) “On the Edge of Addiction”
PART 2) “On the Edge of Flight/Self Destruction?” “On the Edge of Claustrophobia”
” A D D I C T I O N ”
We all have addictive behaviors, some healthy while others self-destructive. I am learning to replace my self destructive acting out behaviors with healthy ones. I have been clean and sober from alcohol for almost 9 years, still attending two meetings a week, encouraging sponsees and meeting with my sponsor. I chose another addiction that many struggle with ~ gambling. These four creations are divided into three parts: “Pre-Addiction”, “Deep Addiction”, and “Healing Recovery”.
A) “Pre-Addiction: Hidden Within the Box.”
The “perfect” platter and similar life, with a “ticking time bomb” in the box, closed tight.
I am not here to judge anyone’s life or their potential “addictions”, but to speak from my own recovery and working with hundreds of others who have struggled to maintain a healthy balance in their lives and have often come up short. My AA sponsor, a former chemical dependency counselor who is enjoying active sobriety for the past 42 years often says, “If alcohol (or other addictive substances) have caused repeated problems in your life, it may be a serious addiction for you.” I don’t know when that “addictive switch” got turned on for me where one drink was too many and one hundred was not enough, but I know it got amplified when I needed to escape from job burn out and feelings of guilt and shame. Left unchecked, even gradually over the years, deep addiction can manifest itself.
B) “Deep Addiction ~ The Box is Overturned!”
We begin to rationalize everything and believe our lies, slipping deeper into denial of what’s real and healthy: “Whats wrong with all night long” gambling??? Nothing, once in awhile for a social gambler, but EVERYTHING for one ready to throw in the car keys and bet the house! I have friends who lost everything through such addiction, ‘everything’ that goes beyond physical possessions, including, family, friends, and reputation.
C) “Healing Recovery ~ “Beyond the Box”
Yes, the platter was broken, the addictive box overturned, and life was out of control!” Living was a shambles and there seemed to be no hope with few options left . . . but there can be healing recovery for many. There’s a beautiful Japanese word: Kintsukuroi (Japanese: golden repair) is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
And finally, a healing truth in lasting recovery is that the only way one can truly recover and move beyond the place before their destruction, is to freely give it away to others: “Freely receive; freely give!” Therefore the bowl of dice is joined to this third part in recovery. I made over 100 die simply to give them away to others. It was a joy to see kids and adults up and down the street with dice in hand, playing with them, and for some, jostling them as a kind of therapy.
Art imitates life and lasting healing recovery is a special gift of grace from our Higher Power ~ God as we understand God. That has been my healing and so many other walking miracles I have been blessed to know and to grow beyond the box of self destruction.
~ A few key links:
A work of art is such a personal and subjective experience…..how then can we judge that work??? I joined three other art colleagues over the past two days serving as judges, commenting on 200 art works at the annual Granite Ridge Art Festival. It was a challenge on the one hand, but on the other it was actually quite easy, and can be summarized by my favorite quote from last week:
Just because I critique your work doesn’t mean I know more than you, it just means I’ve done a lot more art than you!!! For many decades we as judges have been creating, teaching, and sharing art….in fact it was brought out well today when students and judges shared favorite art entries and an art teacher said that often growing up we hear how great our art is, but seldom do we have the chance to have our art critiqued by other professionals.
Perhaps one of our more difficult assignments as judges was to agree on the “Best of Show” student art piece, that grand prize winner! But even that fell into place as we all realized the advanced design and execution of Emily’s painting below as she commented on her work of a submerged man and the difficulty in visibly portraying that concept;
Today each of us as artists were able to demonstrate our expertise (photography, sculpture, painting, and ceramics) and it brought the kids out of the woodwork! All of them had expertise in one or more of these areas and freely engaged us as we worked!
John began speaking with me as I threw pots on the wheel, and I realized it was his giant well executed handled vase that I and my colleagues gave first place in the ceramics category:
As in life in general I could only share, and we can only share and “judge” (lovingly critique growth and deficiencies) because of what we have already experienced. We get into trouble quickly when we try to go beyond that!
I had a great teacher in high school, and excelled in drawing, painting, and pottery, with wild reviews by friends, but outside of my teacher, I never remembered getting constructive criticism and honest ‘judging’ by other professionals. I am thankful we could be a part of this process and perhaps gained even more than those we critiqued!
Here a just a few of so many amazing works of art that were a part of the Festival:
One of the most amazing things about whatever and whoever anyone understands as “God” or their “Higher Power” is that the Spiritual Life simply becomes “One God Moment after another” when we keep “coming home” coming back to that source, that strength, the stuff and place that matters most deep in our core. As we do, we can see and sense in a growing way the miraculous all around us—realizing daily miracles that have always been here in the ordinary, the sacred, and we are beginning to perceive it once more since childhood. And it throws me back to that C.S.Lewis quote that we’re not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.
This happened again to me a few days ago…..I had been “drifting” for some time, caught up with “the things of the Lord, and not the Lord of the things”, not meditating, reflecting or reading my inspirational literature. One acquaintance said to me, “You seem so unsettled, what it is you’re missing?” My first thought was defensive, and then I just thought about it for a few days….and the answer came easily: I was missing being thankful and giving thanks for all the amazing blessings and gifts I have been given every day.
As I took account of these riches, I began to give thanks and wandered back to my roots, returning to my daily reflections and that day’s entry echoed the wrestling match I had just weathered—the “God Moment” just surfaced! Not only was there the perfect reflection about a dream from Carl Jung that could have been mine, but later that evening, so I would not forget, the two recorded songs that played right after each other as I was driving home both “drove home” my lapse and re-centering in returning.
Carl Jung wrote of a dream he had, and I paraphrase: he was in a thick, dense jungle hacking away with a machete, feeling overwhelmed and drained as he came upon a clearing, housing a simple small cabin. He walked to the cabin, looked through the window and saw a man praying, he walked through the open door and realized that man was himself who while praying had a dream of a man cutting through the woods searching. We spend so much of our lives hacking through the dense undergrowth, thinking we will find what we’re looking for when all the while it’s there waiting for us as we come back to the source and of our core being….coming back home where we belong.
The two songs were “Feels Like Home” by Chantal Kreviazuk from the movie “The Notebook”, and “Welcome Home” by Wendy and Mary. If you’re like me, listening to love songs over the years certainly do speak of the love of a woman and man for each other, but the best love songs seem to be most complete when the LOVER is God and we are His Beloved. And we are finally home, where we belong.
Here are the links:
“Feels Like Home” ~ http://youtu.be/hjky7v7JIow
“Welcome Home” ~ http://youtu.be/1mumcipTCZQ
I have always been fascinated by the power of the printed word, transmitted through books to us, in us and through us to others, as the lyrics of “Ancient Words” state, “Ancient words, ever true, changing me and changing you….”
This is certainly true of all texts, be it written, printed, digitized, spoken, and acted out—lived! But it is taken to another level and dimension when it is a sacred text, a place where its’ readers can be changed now and for eternity ~ now in part, then in full. And what makes printed words sacred or otherwise? Who decides? And why should anyone believe these words, or my words? Stupidity, gullibility, blind faith??? No, the only reason to believe anything written or spoken by anyone, is the evidence of changed lives: lives not changed in abusing these texts to harm and destroy others, but to heal, re-create, becoming walking miracles on a daily basis, empowered and changed by the living, inspired (God-Breathed) Word.
You can decide for your life which words are sacred and what has changed you eternally in the present. I have been transformed by so many “sacred texts” at different ages, from “See Spot Run”, to my eagerly awaited book order from my “Weekly Reader” in elementary school, to young adulthood and the Bhagavad Gita, as well as Herman Hesse’s eastern thought discovered in “Siddhartha”, “Damien”, “The Glass Bead Game” and others.
I have poured over the original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Torah, Old and New Testaments in college and during my seminary years. And my heart leapt as these texts came alive in visits to Qumran by the Dead Sea and “The Shrine of the Book” museum in Jerusalem, seeing the scrolls of the copied texts that were a thousand years older than the oldest ones in existence, with very little change in transmission.
While there are so many miraculous words out there, I can only share the ones which have enlivened and changed my heart, mind, and soul, and the majority of these have been from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. I look forward to feedback from others from these words about other Words that have changed their lives.
Ray Bradbury’s early 60’s book “Fahrenheit 451” has stuck with me for decades, a futuristic society where the firemen do not put out fires, but burn the books which foster freedom and growth in order to sustain ignorance among the masses. But there are those who escape beyond the river ~ these are the “Book People” who do not have to read words but have ‘read, marked, learned and inwardly digested” these sacred texts in their memories and hearts. It is their calling before they die to pass on these living words to another, and so on, to multiply changed living in others, never lost.
~ We are the Book People + People of the Book ~
And the main reason my sacred scriptures are alive “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” is because the original Word became flesh. God spoke and all things came into being out of nothing. Scripture records that everything was created through Christ the Word, “by Him and for Him”, and that this Word became flesh and dwelt among us. By the gift of faith, we can graciously choose this living Word, and thereby live forever!
Can this be true??? Can simple scriptural words change our lives and hearts, heal us and flow through us in healing others? Again, not my words but those of my Higher Power ~ Christ in me, the hope of glory. Jesus spoke the word and the lame walked, the blind could see, and freedom was given to the captives. It is this same, inspired, healing Word that lives in and through us, changing us and others.
People say, “Well, good for you Kenny, but I don’t believe this “Word” that was written so long ago!” There was a time when no one believed the Word, but when it was spoken there was creation and a newness of being. You don’t have to believe the Word, just don’t be afraid or run away from it ~ be open to it: “Ancient Words, ever true, changing me and changing you, we have come, with open hearts, oh let the Ancient Words impart.” I don’t have to defend a lion, I simply let it out of its cage. I can say I don’t believe in guns or bullets, and act foolishly, but when those are used, lives are changed.
We are gifted to be book people, not simply in words, but in changed lives that literally-change-others.
We can’t escape the LIGHT!
The LIGHT shines, even through—especially through—our cracks and brokenness! Darkness is only the absence of LIGHT. We can often feel imprisoned: by our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, our past, present and future.The LIGHT shines through all of that . . .
A good, wise friend of mine recently said, “Everyone has a story, and each of us in recovery often keep telling the same story over and over again.” My story is that of allowing my Higher Power’s LIGHT to shine through me, often in spite of me. Recently the underlying words of my story have been the closing of the Twelve Promises:
“We suddenly realized that God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
My current display for the coming months at Recovery Plus shares a variety and diversity of wheel thrown and altered pottery, but the heart of it all is that even though we may be broken, battered, bruised and powerless . . . WE ARE HELD
We are not only held and carried, but as we are empowered, we are blessed to carry others. “He/She ain’t heavy . . . He/She is my Brother/Sister.”
Therefore, as we heal, grow, and change, we are like stained glass windows, allowing the LIGHT to shine through us, enlightening others. Even through–and especially through–our cracks and brokenness.
K E E P + + + S H I N I N G
It was just this past year at the Paramount Visual Arts Center, while examining a beautiful large metallic green platter that was just taken from the kiln, that I noticed a deep crack all the way through on the bottom of the piece. Though immediately bummed by the crack in this time consuming large creative piece, I quickly shook it off as ceramic artists must always stay detached from their creations which often do not materialize as desired, though sometimes better! As I was pondering the crack, fellow artist and Paramount Visual Arts Director Melissa simply said in a matter of fact way “In Japan, when a special pot cracks or breaks, they restore it by filling it with gold or silver.” I loved that idea which became magnified recently when I saw this photo:
Though ‘brokenness’ due to any cause in our lives is tragic, its too easy to give up, or simply throw away that piece of our lives or our dreams or our goals…..thinking it can never be the same…..when in reality, it can often be better! This is the heart of true healing in recovery from anything we have experienced.
I heard an NPR program today on “The Takeaway” which reported on the ability of the scientific medical field to be able to go into people minds and thoughts and take away their most tragic memories, as if they never happened and the individual would never remember them. My first thought was “this is my life ~ this is who I am ~ this is what has shaped me and I don’t want to forget where I came from and how my life has miraculously changed. I want to remember to share with those who are now going through the same living nightmares.” I felt there certainly could be a place for those with severe PTSD issues/memories as well as abuse trauma and much more. But I am thankful to be recycled from my most traumatic experiences.
I know we can’t completely recycle our brains and all we have been through, though many people try various means . . .
. . . . I am simply thankful that God’s Spirit can and does take all the broken pieces I am able to give . . . and make a brand new creation . . . something I could never have become if I had not been broken.
As I read my morning reflection I was captivated by a phrase attributed to Lao Tzu, and how it applies directly to my Christian faith and understanding of the Spiritual Disciplines:
I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These are your greatest treasures. Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the Source of Being.
1. The Inward Disciplines: MEDITATION, PRAYER, FASTING, STUDY.
2. The Outward Disciplines (inward realities resulting in outward lifestyles): SIMPLICITY, SOLITUDE, SUBMISSION, SERVICE.
3. The Corporate Disciplines: CONFESSION, WORSHIP, GUIDANCE, CELEBRATION.
I love this simple, profound, biblical, and across the board summation of many world religions. But the simple quote of Lao Tzu’s, an ancient Chinese philosopher and poet who lived 600 years before Christ, encompasses the inward, outward, and corporate disciplines.
It’s confusing to me how so many are willing to embrace and use a quote by Lao Tzu that doesn’t sound too religious or spiritual such as:
But yet conservative Christians ~ even parish pastors of my own family and extended family ~ shout heresy if I quote a non Christian spiritual source that shares strongly what Jesus and the disciples taught and lived. I understand the “slippery slope” of the camel getting it’s nose under the tent and before long he is inside the tent when it comes to compromising ones beliefs. I understand because I’ve been “way into” both sides, from attending Christian Lutheran worship services and Hindu Hare Krishna temple services on the same Sunday when I lived in Hawaii. And the theological pendulum also swung the other way for me as a full time Lutheran Church ~ Missouri Synod pastor for 25 years.
Even recently, family members feel that if I post a Hindu truth on FaceBook, though it strongly parallels Christ’s teaching, well then, maybe my salvation is to be questioned. Or, from another family pastor, if I post on FaceBook a compassionate response to a gay NFL football player by a newscaster from Dallas, well then, I’m questioned as to how I can support gay rights. My AA sponsor has a great statement and creed which he lives by: “Take what works and leave the rest.” Here’s another quote by Lao Tzu that can be interpreted from the conservative right as me-god-centered, and I understand that, as I used to think and preach that way, but as I am growing spiritually, it speaks of the Spirit of Christ in me, transforming me:
Thank You God, Thank You Holy Spirit that we can truly take all you give us to reach out with love and truth to as many others as possible ~ especially those who are not like us ~ believing differently, and use it to be personally changed.