“I have required great order in my habits to counteract the great disorder in my mind.”
– Christian Wiman, He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, The Faith of Art
It’s curious, the force it takes to create a structure that clears from my mind the chaos of information onslaught. The might it takes to stay with my work, not allowing distraction or interruptions. There is a fierceness needed– and yet, within the structure, I know if I stay with it long enough, play will spontaneously arise. I am experiencing this now, having ten days alone, and painting. Play in making does not happen at this deep level without there being a structure for it.
Play is the blossoming forth of meaning. …It has all its meaning in itself.
– Brother David Stendhl-Rast
I can be over-serious about this “making” thing. I can get lost in my own preoccupation with purpose. It brings to mind something William Stafford, the poet, said: Poetry is the kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye. You can be too well prepared for poetry. A conscientious interest in it is worse than no interest at all... It's like a very faint star. If you look straight at it you can't see it, but if you look a little to one side it is there.
I can be too solemn, too direct with my painting. Serious mind is soon followed by his critical sister, judgement. I know you know who I am talking about, and I know the futility of banishing her. Instead, I give her a chair on the other side of the room where she can sit quiet for awhile. Rather than going straight to my paint, I wander around the house, and into my studio. I discover things I haven’t seen for years: A journal from my year in Paris where I turned 21, and a dream I had there that still has a hold on me. I wander outside and discover a gingko tree, they call her “Maidenhair”. She suddenly seems to have grown several feet and is covered in golden splendor. I am caught off guard– being both shattered and delivered by this tree– its presence, and the simultaneous freedom I find in losing myself. A tree that has been there these last ten years, and never fully seen.
Once I establish my structure– easels, canvas, scraps of paper, notes, paints and sketchbooks– I vanquish the adult from the room… the one who has all kinds of restrictions on what I should be doing, or what is possible. So, for example, instead of playing classical or contemplative music, I fill the house with my old favorite soul music and pagan blues. Love songs. Van Morrison Did ye get healed? This, in combination with canary and crimson suddenly bursting from the trees, has opened me. At moments the opening feels more like a tear, as in ripped open. Anything can come through this opening– grief, regrets, loss, joy. There is risk in fanning the fire inside a maker, and the possibility of rescue.
This is where I paint from, not knowing the object, why I am doing this, or if anything will ever come. I only know that I feel the rise and pull of something that is in me, but does not belong to me, is something “other”. I make room, give an invitation, (or perhaps more an invocation) for grace.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.