Let There Be Beauty and Strength…

I haven’t posted this week because I’ve been tending to some inner work that’s not really ripe for public sharing yet. It is part of this business of re-learning to be human.

One thing I have recently returned to is art.

I am a self-taught artist, such as I am; the disclaimer seems necessary. I do not wish to give any illusion that I am bigger or better or more important than I am. My skills are still pretty limited, but every once in awhile I make something that I am pleased to share.

I do not make art for a living. I make it for me, mostly, quietly in the crowded room in the basement behind the washing machine. I share it from time to time, participate in open shows at the local art association, but it’s no more my deep calling than music is, though I enjoy both. They are release.

I hadn’t been down in the “studio” since before Christmas – the studio is the little storage room in the basement past the laundry machines, overcrowded with boxes of stuff, but it has windows and a worktable (also overcrowded with stuff) and this time of year, a small electric heater. This is where I paint. (It’s also where I make my Christmas crafts, hence a large portion of the miscellaneous Stuff. Papier-mache ornament forms? check. Fabric scraps? check. Bags upon bags of yarn? oh yes. Glitter? Ye gods and little fishes, there is glitter all over everything.) This is my nerd cave. Sometimes I just go sit down there to be alone in the silence.

Part of what inspired me to get back into this neglected practice was attending a workshop at church earlier this month, led by Amy from PeaceLove Studios (sorry, Amy, I have misplaced the paper and do not remember your last name.) Amy spoke during the service that day, about her work with PeaceLove and their mission to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and using creative arts in that process. I admit I went into the workshop unconvinced, but a friend in the congregation had persuaded me to go do the workshop with her… and I am glad I went. It turned out to be exploring a process of using creative expression to access and transform emotional blocks or issues that one might bring in. I’m not explaining this very clearly, probably best you go look at their website if you’re curious: A.R.T. workshop (Access, Release, Transform!)

Making images in that workshop unlocked something that had gotten stuck over the busy-ness of the holidays. Of course, it happened just in time for me to get busy again with my seminary application, which meant not dealing right away with the junk that got stirred up, but the upshot of it is that I’ve spent a bit of time down cellar playing with my paints. It is a release; I feel better for it. Art, like music, is part of who I am and what I do — but it’s something I struggled with for a very long time. I only took it up a bit over ten years ago. The context for that was a little odd, I guess — one of my coven sisters at the time was a working artist, and I’d admired her work and casually wished I could do stuff like that but… I can’t remember how the conversation got there, but it ended up with her telling me that I didn’t need her permission to be an artist but if I wanted it, I had it. (I did need it, or wanted it at least – something in me looks for outside validation, as though the things I see in myself are not real unless someone else can see them too. I don’t know. This goes into the pile of stuff I am working on right now. Every time I think I’ve got it unpacked, I find another box of unsorted miscellaneous baggage.)

When I started painting I worked largely with religious images – earth goddesses, other pagan imagery. It was what spoke to me at the time. I’ve done things in other directions, but I keep coming back to the earth mother image, all big soft abstract curves. There is a comfort in that ancient image of the Holy. I might have to paint another one soon.

There is something soothing to the soul about the slow spread of paint on canvas, shaping a sharp line with a thin bead of gel on a brush, blending colors one into the other so there is no exact boundary between them. I work in acrylics; they dry too quickly for some of the techniques that traditional oil paints allow, but they have their own virtues. You can do things in oil that don’t work in acrylic, say the traditionalists; this is true, but you can also do things in acrylic that don’t work in oils. It’s not a cheap substitute, it is a different thing and worthy in its own right.

The phrase “theology of beauty” keeps popping up in the various places I am reading. I’m still developing a sense of what “theology” means in a broader context than the etymological definition, so I’m not completely sure what other people mean by this phrase. I’m not sure what I would mean by it. It seems to be pointing somewhere in the general direction of the deep value of beautiful things for their beauty, that being in the presence of the beautiful helps the soul draw a little nearer to the holy.

There are days when I imagine this might be so.

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