On Reading THE GIFT OF ART

Though my latest read was written when I was just twelve years old—in other words, decades ago—it speaks so profoundly to my interests today. The Gift of Art: The Place of the Arts in Scripture by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. celebrates the biblical purpose of art: “glory and beauty.” At the same time, Veith considers art’s place among the more practical aspects of life: food, clothing, shelter, customs, etc. Veith says, “All of these are valuable gifts of God, essential parts of our humanity.” As I learn more about art and marvel at all of its forms, I couldn’t agree more.

The book cover also describes The Gift of Art as having a “liberating spirit.” I remain convinced by Veith’s arguments that God encourages creativity with very few, but very firm, boundaries. Here are a few of my very favorite key points from the book that support this theme and others:

[God] is the original abstract artist.”
In His making of the world, God also invented shapes and colors and concepts. No models or patterns to follow, just His good and perfect will. The ultimate creative process!

“Art is powerful because it heightens perception.”
Veith continues, “It does this partially by lifting an object or experience out of its normal context so that it can be apprehended freshly and more fully.” I expect to take this insight into my next visit to an exhibit—to appreciate even more the subject matter of an artist’s work and to stretch my understanding of the subject as to see it differently later in its “normal context.”

Art can never replace the Word of God.
Some Christian artists may feel pressured to portray the Gospel in their works. However, it’s essentially impossible—the Word is the Word is the Word. Art can definitely be inspired by it and founded on it, but the Word’s power is intrinsic to its medium and form. I love how Veith describes art as having the capability of being “sacramental,” communicating portions of God’s Word “not simply as an abstract doctrine but as a living and concrete reality.”

Art can help us understand a concept in a revitalizing way.
Veith offers this insight in a section titled “Recovering meaning.” He opines that art can help us recover in our hearts and memories the significance of our faith. The crucifixion. The resurrection. These, for instance, may be contemplated anew when observed in art.

“When art and religion are distinct, they can reflect each other.”
It all comes down to this: Enjoy God’s gift of art, be it a blatant expression of one’s faith or a whimsical seemingly unrelated experiment in color, texture, dimension, etc. God delights in it all, as long as they remain distinct—”…for the artist as a person, faith in his or her art alone leads to spiritual death,” says Veith.

Furthermore, Veith encourages our interests outside of religious doctrine; such interests actually help illuminate its relevance and timelessness and necessity. This is liberating indeed, just as promised at the beginning of reading The Gift of Art. So I plan to continue to immerse myself in any art and all art, trusting that it is one of the most divine gifts we are given in this life. I gladly receive it.

On Seeing NATURE: HINTS OF A NEW WORLD

As part of a spontaneous outing with my friend Judy, we stopped by the Opening Night Framing Services & Gallery for the artists’ talk on “Nature: Hints of a New World,” an exhibit featuring the works of Hazel Belvo and Marcia Casey Cushmore. Who knew we had happened upon such a momentous occasion! The exhibit was not only a grand representation of the women’s travels all over the country and world, but also the very last show to grace the walls of Opening Night—its owner is retiring and closing the business’s doors after forty-four years. Yes, we stepped into something very special.

It’s apparent that both Casey Cushmore and Belvo revel in the gift of color. Their works range from painterly renditions of bold and bright flower gardens, to gnarled and textured trees, to modular landscapes, to all-out abstracts. I loved every single piece in the exhibit—and even more so after learning more about the artists and their perspectives on art, life, and our precious natural surroundings.

Looking closer at “Gratitude” by Casey Cushmore

Marcia Casey Cushmore
Casey Cushmore’s portion of the talk was a tribute to the beauty and necessity of trees. She helped us consider how trees not only sustain our lives, but also serve as our best examples of community as it should be. Life-giving. Sheltering. Concerned about the wounded. Trees embody these positive qualities, and we humans can pay homage to trees—and, in all likelihood, save the world—by reflecting this kind of beauty ourselves.

My favorite works by Casey Cushmore were of trees painted with incredible texture. On closer inspection, the paintings were composed of small shapes and splotches of various colors, some of which were outlined with darker hues. My takeaway? I would love to try this technique using knitted items as my subject matter.

Belvo filled an accordion journal with drawings inspired by The Overstory.

Hazel Belvo
Belvo continued the conversation with musings on the “Spirit Tree;” it’s located among the forests of Minnesota’s North Shore and has inspired much of Belvo’s work. Along with Cushmore, she recommended The Overstory: A Novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning and tree-inspired book by Richard Powers. Belvo showed off a delightful hand-drawn accordion journal showing the progression of seeds to sprouts to seedlings to full-out trees—her tribute to The Overstory.

“Seascape Triptych I” by Hazel Belvo

I obviously have another book to read. In addition, I was intrigued by Belvo’s triptychs, each made up of one abstract landscape paired with two complementary paintings showing the detail of tree rings or another related pattern or texture. I’ve added a similar triptych to my list of assignments

What a treat to be in the presence of both of these women—through my meeting them and seeing their art, it was apparent they bear timeless talent and big hearts for the future of humanity and the system of which we are a part. Theirs is a noble pursuit indeed.

p.s. Hear from the ladies yourself! Listen to Ampers interview>>

On Trying POLYMER CLAY

Thanks to a sweet deal on Groupon, I attended the “Intro to Polymer Clay” class at Clay Squared to Infinity with my friend Sara. Located in “Nordeast”—the artistic center of the Twin Cities—Clay Squared to Infinity is equal parts tile showroom and creative studio.

The raw, gray warehouse walls provide the perfect neutral backdrop for the ecclectic samples of clay-covered teapots, vases, buttons, and beads. I spent an evening here with about twenty other students in exploring the basic techniques of color blending, pattern making, and project completing. My discoveries about the world of polymer clay were numerous…

IMG_3727
Rolling out “blankets”

Fun & simple vernacular
Forget big, unfamiliar, technical terminology when it comes to working with polymer clay. To create a Kandinsky-esque design (see above), we rolled “worms” out of our “canes” of clay, then wrapped the worms in little worm “blankets,” then cut squares from our multi-colored worm “loaves.” To achieve the effect of “fluffiness,” we formed “bacon” strips from our clay. No joke.

So many surprises
An element of mystery characterizes all of the methods we tried in class. There was really no way of knowing exactly what we’d end up with. The magic happened when we took a razor blade to our layered loaves to reveal the miniature designs inside. Some were dazzling, some were disappointing, but most were useable in way or another.

IMG_3728
I chose a frame as my final project—and notice the multi-colored “worm” beside it here.

Projects galore
We learned that you can cover just about anything with clay to achieve a finished project—anything as long as it’s bakeable at low heat (275 degrees Fahrenheit). Wood works. Glass works. Metal works. Some sturdy plastics work, such as the kind used for switch plates and ballpoint pens (to avoid an epic mess, be sure to remove the ink barrel before baking).

My project for the night? Applying the results of my mixing and rolling and cutting to the surface of a wooden picture frame.

Practice makes presentable
I laid out the little sliced rectangles upon my frame. When it looked fairly decent, I picked up the rolling tool. That’s when things went horribly wrong. My cute little round worm shapes morphed into mush, a lumpy and ugly mish-mash of mush.

Imagine barf topped by green olives with pimentos (I applied green and orange clay circles in hopes of redeeming the most unsavory background). Barf—yep, that’s what it looked like. My final project was not at all presentable and exactly why you’re not seeing a photo of it here. Believe me, you should thank me. I have no regrets about destroying the thing as soon as I got home.

Despite having nothing to show for it, I loved the experience and am willing to give it another try. Sometimes a person just needs to enjoy the process as the prize. There are no losers among courageous creatives!

On Learning PATCHWORK IMPROV

Despite my many attempts at sewing over the years, I’ve never been able to shed my frustration with puckers and crooked seams and all sorts of irregularities. Enter “Patchwork Improv,” the possible antidote to my feelings of defeat and disenchantment with precision patterns.

improvquiltThere are three “Patchwork Improv” classes offered through Creativebug and presented by Sherri Lynn Wood, an award-winning author and “improvisor.” I watched the series on working with shapes—the other two installments deal with angles and strips. Given what I experienced through the videos I’ve watched so far, I also can’t wait to pick up Wood’s book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting & Living Courageously (Abrams). Improv. Creating. Living courageously. Sure, I’m all ears!

The best part about patchwork improv? No measuring! It involves all free-hand cutting and trimming! No more aggravation with one piece not quite matching up with another, with the result looking kind of kitty wumpus—in fact, the more kitty wumpus, the better, with this art form. The process? I learned that you begin by cutting out a variety of “squarish” shapes from any old fabric —Wood loves tearing apart men’s shirts for her fodder—then determine your “filler fabric,” then rev up your sewing machine and go to town!

Not long ago, I purchased a funky geometric painting from one of my favorite local art centers. Now I can’t help but think of how I could make something similar with fabric using Wood’s improv methods. Stay tuned for an update!

 

On Reading I JUST LIKE TO MAKE THINGS

IJustLikeOn the recommendation of a creative friend, I picked up I Just Like to Make Things: Learn the Secrets to Making Money While Staying Passionate About Your Art and Craft by Lilla Rogers. The author is both an artist and an agent who has secured contracts, licenses, and other agreements for herself and others who have a knack for modern illustration. The book is filled with testimonies and tips on how to make a mark in children’s books, textiles, craft papers, and other goods that carry color and design.

 

I most enjoyed the bookends of I Just Like to Make Things, first Rogers’ use of a bird analogy to demonstrate how we artists can visualize our life’s work:

 

…for every person on our planet, there are fifty birds. Wow! I would love to meet my fifty birds. They are all out there, and we don’t even know which ones are ours… If you think of the life of your career as having fifty birds, what would they be? Let’s let them equal fifty meaningful events or highlights in your career. They are out there, but like your birds, you just don’t know what they are yet. You won’t know until you reach the end of your life and look back; but in the meantime, they will happen. 

 

I love this visual. I love that my success doesn’t have to be defined by just one epic moment—a sum of many makes up the whole. I also love that, like birds, my art can boast diversity and color and merry tunes of all sorts. Yes, this imagery will indeed stick with me as I discover my artistic identity and calling. 

 

IMG_3739The other bookend? One of the concluding exercises of I Just Like to Make Things is to consider the many different turns an art career can take. Rogers presents forty-plus ideas to help “garner some self-awareness” and arrive at “what you really, deeply want to do next” in the creative realm. As she suggests, I photocopied the page, cut all the options into little rectangles, then drew five pieces randomly from the pile. I was skeptical of this assignment at first, but in the end, I gained some valuable insight:

Open an Etsy shop
I attempted this about a year ago with some scarves I made, but I think I definitely need a lot more stuff and a more defined personal style. I plan to work on the latter to arrive eventually at the former.

Volunteer to help creative kids
I love this idea! My dream of dreams would be to facilitate a kids’ knitting and crocheting group. My daughter is attending a fine-arts interdisciplinary school this fall, plus my church is starting a free after-school program for grades K-5. Perhaps I could start groups at those venues?

Sew for fun
Another option that piques my interest! It was at a Fourth of July parade that I became aware of the efforts of Iowa-based Dress a Girl Around the World, and I’ve been thinking about making simple little dresses for charity ever since. I also came across a few fun videos on Creativebug on “Patchwork Improv.” I’m in!

Start your own company including manufacturing
I began my own company about twelve years ago when I became a freelance writer. I changed the name of it some time later to make sure it could grow beyond communications. My next steps? To honor my intentions from long ago! To get creative! To make stuff!

Make jewelry
This option wrinkled my nose at first, but it grew on me when I thought about how I can use my current skills, know-how, and supplies to make small items for sale. I plan to experiment a bit with crochet and buttons and yarn and beads in the weeks ahead.

 

I know I’ve read a good book if it motivates me to some kind of action. Boy, do I have a to-do list from this one! Stay tuned as I get to work.