Practice of the Week
Category: Might Be Your Thing (This practice is not for everyone -- but may be just the thing for you!)
“The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been concealed by the answers." --James Baldwin
Adapted from Julie-Ann Silberman, "Art," in Everyday Spiritual Practice
I was a painter and an art major in college, but then my focus changed, and I left that behind. When my father died, I was sad and lonely and wanted to express the feelings raging inside me. I could feel an aching in my arms and heart. I could see images in my head, but I wasn’t letting them out. I needed a vehicle for the day in and day out process of grieving. So, I returned to the tried and true longing of my body. I went into my basement and dug up some old pastels and oil paints.
Buying new art supplies is part of the spirituality of art and one of the first steps to take in making artwork a spiritual practice. Buy supplies that excite you and that will work as a vehicle for your self-expression. The next step is to put your supplies out in a place where you spend a lot of time! If you spend time at your kitchen table, put the art supplies there. If you spend time in front of the TV, put them there. Initially, you are more likely to be able to tap into the creative aspects of your everyday spirituality if you try to create in the places where you usually spend time. Eventually you may want a special place for creating, but in the early stages of developing your spiritual discipline of creation, it is important that your practice be a part of your daily existence.
Spirituality is not about separating myself from my life. It is about getting more deeply in touch with the sacred in my daily living. Human life is sacred; therefore, what we do and how we fill our lives is sacred. So when you are doing your ordinary things, tap into the sacred. Listen to your soul. Use that to make your art.
Don't try initially to create representational art; rather, try to use color to express your feelings. Often I begin by closing my eyes. Usually in that darkness I see colors, and I begin with what my inner eye has selected. As I continue to work, I will frequently close my eyes and explore the image in my mind's eye, how it changes and develops. It is easier to change things in your head than it is on the paper or canvas. Perceiving images guided by inner awareness is important to understanding creation as a spiritual discipline.
Art as a spiritual discipline is the chosen need to find center. Finding center in an emotional sense is vital to the quality, depth, and meaning of your work, whatever the medium.
One of the pitfalls of art as a spiritual discipline is that others often expect us to display our work or to share it with them in one way or another. Creations that come out of an inner listening are intensely personal. They are every bit as difficult to share as journal entries, personal prayers, or the content of meditation. The advantage of those other disciplines is that very few people expect them to be shared in a public way. To keep your artwork for yourself takes some strength.
There may also come a time when you are ready to share your creations, and this too presents questions. Choosing to share your creations requires you to be comfortable with the work and its place in your life, so comfortable that the responses of others do not change the meaning or the place of the work in your own life and practice. When you are at this point, then you can decide how and with whom to share your work. We must remember that creativity is about the process, not the outcome, especially when it is being used as a spiritual discipline. Creativity is about the experience, the identifying and releasing of feelings and core responses to the world around us.
I have found artwork to be a very powerful spiritual discipline, one that has allowed me to reconnect with parts of myself that I had long negated and devalued. Having integrated artwork back into my life, I feel a sense of wholeness that I had lost. I have also chosen to share my work through a public showing and found it to be a powerful affirmation of the balance in my life. That balance was brought about in large measure for me through the spiritual practice of creativity.
No matter what media or methods you explore, or how you choose to share your art with others, personal authenticity is the most important aspect of art as a spiritual practice. Listen to yourself. There are no limits. Use what you have, experiment, and eventually find what you like. This spiritual practice is based on tangible, tactile responses. If you do not feel in touch with the medium, if it in any way holds you back from self-expression, get rid of it and try something new. If you don't like painting on canvas, try painting on rocks. If pastels on paper don't work for you, see if crayons on fabric do.
The most important things are to find yourself and to let it out. Pay attention to your dreams and the inner workings of your mind and even to the colors you see. The more you pay attention to what you see and how you respond to it, the more material you will have for your creative endeavors. Artistic expression is from the soul, and no one else knows what yours contains, so let it out in your own way.
* * *
For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week"