Being An Artist

We are at an inter-generational art conference this week. Last year was our first year here and we had a blast. The conference strives to enforce the notion that we are all children of a creating God and each of us has incredible creative potential inside, waiting for us to recognize it and grow with it.

The conference opens with a worship service Sunday evening. Tonight, the worship leader asked us to close our eyes and think of a creative person we know. Hold an image of that person in our minds. She then described possible images we were holding: a woman in a paint splattered apron in front of an easel, a shaggy-haired man bending over his guitar, a writer scribbling away in the corner of a coffee shop.

The first image that came to my mind was one of myself, sitting in front of my computer, writing this blog. I immediately began to analyze whether this counts. I’m not a novelist, creating a story out of my imagination. I’m more of a journalist blessed with amusing children. At best, I’m a storyteller. So my mind searched out further and I gazed at my husband in his clay-stained apron leaning over his pottery wheel. There’s a good image. I’ll hold on to that one.

When she told us to open our eyes, she asked, “Did any of you imagine yourself?”

Silence filled the room as one small hand was raised in the chair next to mine. In a room of over 50 people, mostly adults, Daryl was the only person to think of himself. The speaker’s eyes lit up. “Daryl did. Daryl knows that he is a creative person. He is an artist. Children know these things. They are born with the ability to play. And creating art is about playing. Being able to try something different and not worrying about failing.”

I thought about how I had pushed my image of myself out of the way as inadequate or not quite fitting the profile. It was still haunting me when the other worship leader asked us to stand and set some intentions for the week. We confirmed that we would help create a loving, safe, and supportive environment. We confirmed that we would strive to grow and try something new.

And then she asked us to commit to silencing that inner critic, the one that told us we weren’t good enough. Not creative enough. What we created wasn’t beautiful, wasn’t worthy. Convicted, I choked up as I tried to say “I will”. And even as I forced the words out and wondered how surreptitiously I could wipe the welling tears from my eyes, I wondered if I really could. Then, as the chorus of “I will” completed, I heard a husky male voice add “with God’s help.”

Of course. She wouldn’t have mentioned the problem if I were the only one with it. Nearly everyone in that room has an inner critic. Perhaps not all as vocal or harsh as mine, but they all have one. Even Daryl. So as she invited us to come to the front and draw something on the cloth that would serve as our communion tablecloth at the end of the week, I resolved to not be scared of that simple invitation.

I stood back as Hal and, well, most of the people, traced their hands and colored them in. I din’t want to trace my hand. That had been her suggestion, a jumping off point. A place to stay for the very young or the scared or the rushed. I wanted to go further. I saw someone draw a beautiful tree with gorgeous leaves and thought, “Oh! I want to do that!” But to do that would be to copy. Just wait. Think. Wait.

Finally, I reached over Hal and drew a simple shape. I divided it up with lines and used the colors available to fill in each section. I was pleased with my creation. It was simple but colorful. And unique. And mine.

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I showed Jane and she responded, “You drew that? Really?!” Hah! I told my inner critic. Who needs you? I’ve got a daughter! And then I realized that she wasn’t surprised because she thought I wasn’t an artist, although that was probably, realistically part of it. She was surprised because she’s not used to seeing me create anything and doesn’t see the things I do create as art.

I headed off to my beginning jewelry making class feeling hopeful. That hope carried me through the panic that rose as the teacher told us to begin sketching out designs for our pendant. I stared at my stone. I turned it over and over. I backed off and thought of what was important to me and how it might look with the stone. An idea began to form.

“Can we use wire to make a shape in front of the stone?” I asked. It took her a minute to understand what I meant but then confirmed that I could. But what to do with the back? When an answer didn’t come, I let my mind wander. In a rare moment of peace for me, I allowed the emptiness to be comforting. I just waited and tossed images and words around in my mind. There’s a tree in front of that stone and I like how it looks. What if the backing was a leaf? I drew it out on the paper and saw that it was good. And so was I. Not perfect. Not the best. But good enough.

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