Creativity and failure…

Workshop bench

I spent most of today sorting out my workshop. I began making things out of wood a few years ago as some kind of therapy to assist with the stresses and strains of my day job. There is something about using your hands to create something that is really special- you begin with chaos, work through an idea, and then for good or ill, it is finished.

Well, not always to be honest as I was discovering today. It was like idea archaeology- each layer held evidence of a project, most of them unfinished rejects, bits of carving that went wrong, sometimes hours in the making, now gathered for the fire.

Some of the work could be recycled- bits were still usable. However, the idea, the moment of creativity had gone. All that hope and optimism and quiet excitement had gone from the object- it was just wood again.

As I rebuilt shelves and sorted piles of carefully collected driftwood into some kind of order, it occurred to me that all creativity is like this. It is necessary to immerse ourselves in the dust and dirt of what we a trying to create- but there are no guarantees of the final outcome. Failure is part of the process.

My workshop is still not sorted out- it needs another day of cleaning and tidying, ready for a season of creativity again. I find that I have to have a blank space- so I can stop worrying about what I used to do and get on with something new.

The other reason for having a really good sort out is that this year we are taking part in an event called Cowal Open Studios

Here is the link to our page on the website.

If you are here or here abouts in September, you can take a look into my cave, or have a go at some pottery…

Here is the photography I did for the website;

cowal arts 2

Poetry of protest…

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I have been thinking a lot about poetry that is prophetic- not in the sense of telling our fortunes, but more something that tells what we are- warts and all. Poetry that is an honest, engaged, hopeful critique of culture, and encourages us to think deeper.

There is a horrible danger of poetry like this becoming propaganda in the cause of whatever politics/theology/hermeneutic that we espouse. Poems like this are masturbatory- they pleasure only ourselves.  No matter what skill employed they are empty poems, blind to other perspectives. They claim to have answers to questions that are always nuanced.

I posted a poem yesterday entitled Welfare State which was my attempt to write  poetry of protest.

I had been increasingly angered by the actions of the current government in the UK, as they bring in sweeping changes to our welfare system. It all feels so unjust- making the poorest most vulnerable people pay for the excesses of the richest, and justifying this by vilifying  poor people as work shy, feckless. I wanted to use this anger to write something.

What I found though is that angry political poetry easily becomes exactly the kind of poetry I have described above- shallow self serving propaganda.

How then can we write the poetry of protest, of prophetic engagement, of challenge to empire in the face of injustice? I wonder if some of these principles might be of use (particularly for followers of Jesus);

  • If we are going to fight a cause, let it be for those who are the victims of power- the small people, the outsiders, those who the system has forgotten
  • It has to be honest. It has to be based on engagement with real people, real situations
  • It has also to start with ourselves- examining all that is beautiful and all that is broken in us, so that we can see it too in others
  • I think there is still a place for anger at injustice- but this anger needs to be yoked to love, or we become prophets of the clenched fist, not of the open hand
  • Perhaps the best approach is always to seek to humanise- and never to dehumanise (no matter how tempting this can be in relation to enemies of our cause)
  • It should not flinch from looking at ugly things, or be tempted by simplistic romanticism
  • It should be brave, because any protest will involve confrontation of those in power

This is a work in progress for me, but one that I feel keenly. I have this conviction in me that if we have a voice, we should use it – not just for saying pretty things, although there is beauty in this – but also to saying hard things, difficult things.

Art with nothing to say is simply wallpaper.

Guns into shovels and pistols into pianos…

I loved this;

I heard one of the artists (Pedro Reyes)  talking about this on Radio 4’s Midweek. He described how the guns were seized in some of Mexico’s cities, where the murder rate has sky rocketed.

Previously the group had taken 1527 guns, melted them down into 1527 shovels, and used these to plant 1527 trees.

proportional_620_Weapons-to-Plowshares-by-Pedro-Reyes-8

 

However, this time they wanted the guns to still be recognisable so that the darkness of their past was not forgotten.

And I suppose to make it clear that we are not ready to beat our swords into ploughshares.

Reyes talked about the nature of guns- the way they are flooding on to the market at the rate of hundreds of thousands every day- perhaps bought as playthings by those (particularly in North America) who fetishize the gun. He pointed out that the things about guns is that they are not like computers or other consumable goods- they do not wear out and need replacing after a couple of years. Virtually any gun ever made is still capable of killing someone.

According to Reyes, the music made on these guns (many of which have taken lives) is like some kind of exorcism, or a requiem.

Hear for yourself;

OK, so I am no Picasso…

I have just been looking at some photos of bits and pieces of art that I did recently as part of a retreat. A couple of them I am childishly pleased with and so I offer these to you much in the same way as bringing something home from school to show mum, who will no doubt pin them to her fridge for a while until it gets all curly and finishes in the bin.

The first one was a water colour wash, made when I was thinking about peace. Peace falling like water. As I made the wash, I deliberately left areas dry, almost like islands of anxiety. After the wash dried, I started to fill in the islands with different colours. Blood red and the fear of death. Yellow for sickness. Gold for money. Black for depression. Bright red for anger intolerance and hate.

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A day later, I spent a much longer time making a much bigger piece. In fact I spent around 7 hours cutting out clippings from newspapers, imagining the whole mess of us- the good the bad the glorious. Gathering all the strands of the things that we would hold as important and trying to link it all together.

Next I got hold of some lovely gold acrylic paint and started to paint a tree over all the clippings. I wanted it to be a noble tree, a beautiful tree- to symbolise the Kingdom of God. The tree was not of the newspaper clippings, but it was on them and through them. It did not obliterate the words or the pictures, but it transformed them, illuminated them. It was a totally different medium but it was rooted deep into the mess of it all.

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Oh yes- and I forgot about my red birds. They came from this passage in Matthew chapter 6 (part of the sermon on the mount.)

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[e]?

28 ‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Stained glass…

Here are some photos of the lovely stained glass from the Rock Chapel at St Beuno’s.

The story goes that a retreatant called Claire Mulholland overheard a conversation about a fund raising bid to fit new windows in the chapel, and she offered her services. There is an account of her decisions to use the different colours and shapes to display different moods here.

Winter 20122013

 

 

Creativity and internal conflict…

There was an article on Bruce Springsteen in the Guardian today. I am not a huge fan- but there is one of his albums, Nebraska, that I have played a lot. It is a spare, bleak collection of songs recorded on a basement 4 track cassette recorder. Some of it makes the hairs on your kneck stand out.

It was both shocking, and yet not a surprise to read this;

While he was working on his 1982 album Nebraska, he felt “suicidal”, according to friend and biographer Dave Marsh. “The depression wasn’t shocking, per se,” Marsh explained to Remnick. “He was on a rocket ride, from nothing to something, and now you are getting your ass kissed day and night. You might start to have some inner conflicts about your real self-worth.”…

The Boss was driven, he admitted, “by pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred”.

“I’m 30 years in analysis!” Springsteen said. “You think, I don’t like anything I’m seeing, I don’t like anything I’m doing, but I need to change myself, I need to transform myself.

“I do not know a single artist who does not run on that fuel,”

I was reminded on an old post I wrote, reflecting on some words by David Bailey- he said that he had never known a good artist who did not have absolute confidence in their work. This seemed nonsense to me, as those I had met seemed full of doubts and fears about everything they created, and quite a lot about themselves too.

This may reflect my own skewed perspective of course. Success perhaps belongs to the bombastic.

But then again, creativity does appear to relate to introspection, and no one instrospects like those of us who carry damage. We have been hiding deep inside ourselves, and built all sorts of defences to keep it quiet down there. One of the ways of communication left to us is through art. There is no better example than Peter Howson.

Or Bruce of course.

Ubiquiosity and self curation…

I managed to use two words in the title to this piece that my spell checker does not recognise. Possibly because I made at least one of them up, but also because in many ways blogging (another word the spell checker rejects) is a process by which we construct a new version of ourselves- a cyber me.

I was reminded of this by listening to a radio programme today about how humanity is being shaped by the digital media. It was particularly interested in the proliferation of photographic images that we take to illustrate and document our worlds.

It asked a lot of questions about how when faced with an event, or an occasion, or just a sunset, our first thought is how to record it on one of the many devices we habitually carry for the occasion. In doing this, we not only shape our own interaction with the world, but we also are creating a version of ourselves for other people- we are curating our own self exhibit.

As the programme described…

…imagine yourself in a picture in front of a staggering view, smiling into the camera. The picture was taken to display your adventure, your specialness in relation to the special place. It is taken to show others your uniqueness, despite another million other pictures taken in the same place. Just you, having a carefree wonderful time.

Because you were there, you know the wider story- the blisters on your feet, the tiredness and hunger, the row you had with your partner a few minutes before. Also, all those other dimensions- the smell of the place, the sounds in the liquid air.

But interestingly, when you come to think back on this experience in the years to come, the amazing thing is that your entry into the memory will be shaped by this photograph- it will be a telescopic frame that distorts the reality towards the exhibit you were creating.

You, on a good day…

Sure, this reveals us (particularly if like me you make yourself an exhibit on the internet) as rather vain, rather shallow, rather foolish. We are making a meal of what is ubiquitous.

But more than this I wonder whether we are missing out somehow. If every event has to be recorded and digitally validated on some kind of external hard drive version of who we are then what might this be doing to us?

Do we lose some dimensions of experience?

Does it distance us from ourselves and each other?

I remember a conversation on a small island last year. We were there to get away from all the electronic noise and retreat, seeking silence, community and the voice of God. Conversation turned to the camera. Most of us had one- one us had 4. I suggested that given that we were seeking to immerse ourselves in nature, potentially the camera could be a distraction, a barrier between us and the place of retreat.

I remember getting quite a strong reaction. People fiercely defended the camera as means of looking more deeply, as a tool to aid spirituality, not to get in the way.

Which it may be. Because these things are never simple and straightforward. It is not either/or, it is both/and.

There is an undeniable vanity in recording your life through photography and writing as I am doing here. It is our connection with significance, however minimal and fleeting that this might be in this age of information overload.

But there are other reasons too- and (unsurprisingly) I feel that these are valid, even if we have to acknowledge the contradiction. I write to allow me to think deeply, to live vulnerably and to seek out God in the small things and the unlikely places.

I am away next weekend to another small island with some of my friends. Can I really leave behind the camera?

Perhaps I will take it, and leave it in the bag for one day.

One step at a time after all…