See Art Everywhere

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Together we read the local paper every morning. Yesterday there was an essay from the executive director of a new ‘creative space’ making a case, financial and otherwise, for why the community should value and support the arts. Everything he wrote was true. Everything he wrote has already, as Kerri likes to say, fallen into the moat.

Fifteen years ago I might have written that essay. I am an artist and need no case made for the necessity and essential nature of “the arts.” However…. In a past life I consulted with schools and many times found myself in the position of lobbying the school board to support arts programs. I jumped up and down making a case for the arts and rarely achieved my desired result. Until, one day, a word-angel grabbed my tongue and instead of using that mystical word “arts,” I replaced it with the phrase “experiential learning.” Doors blew opened. Angels sang. Kids made movies, painted paintings, held poetry slams, wrote musicals, made plays…came alive. And learned.

Our mistake is “to make a case” for the arts. Our mistake is to define it narrowly, relegate it to museums. It is not a separate thing. It is everything. It is everywhere. The design of our cars and blenders is an aesthetic as well as an engineering process. The apps on our phones (the very design of our phones) requires artistic as well as technical skill. Every piece of marketing that clogs our streams requires an artistic sensibility. We live in age of narrative, of artificial intelligence, of imagination run rampant. We story ourselves on Facebook and Instagram and share our pins on Pinterest. Step back and listen to the competing narratives we call The News. Listen not to the content of the question but how it is asked; these things are not accidental, they are designed, targeted to influence and move our imaginations. The “arts” are not lofty nor dusty, they are throbbing, vibrant, and central to every nuance of our lives. Why do we insist on  keeping them in such a tiny little box?

Stephen asked me more than once, “Why don’t people value the arts?”  He is a prolific painter, brilliant, and exhausted from living on the margins. “They do,” I’d say, “they just don’t know it.”

Kerri and I said goodbye to a few more paintings yesterday. They found their right home and that is more than gratifying.  It is the moment of completion of the painting (or the play or the composition…or the car, couch, and coffee mug) when it finds an audience or its home. It’s a life cycle, deeply connected. It is everything. It is everywhere.

Make Quiet

A sanctuary

A sanctuary

It is Thursday night. Kerri is attending a meeting at the church and I have tagged along so I might sit alone in the sanctuary. I’ve always loved entering the quiet spaces. Once, a lifetime ago in Sedona, John called me “guru dude” because I sat for hours nestled in the quiet of a vortex. It felt like minutes to me. I think it unsettled him that I was so completely settled. I know it unsettled him that I would rather seek quiet than make noise.

Sanctuaries, I’ve learned, are everywhere.

My task, my mantra, and my delight of a few years ago was to realize that all the world is my studio. I had some amazing help and more than one universal dope slap before that realization sank in. I used to believe that in order to create I had to escape the world to find the refuge and quiet of my studio. I felt like I had to go to my studio to find my creative place just like I felt like I needed to go to a vortex to experience deep quiet. I had it upside-down. A studio, like a meditation practice, is meant to bring us into communion-with, not reinforce our isolation-from. It is not a place of escape. It is a place of joining. Quiet is not something we find as much as something we allow.

To me, the word “studio” and the word “sanctuary” are now equivalents. They are the places that creating happens and creation is a quiet process: the inner chatter stops, channels open, and something comes through. A few weeks ago, in the second performance of The Lost Boy, we stepped onto the stage and everything was quiet inside. There was no past and no future; there was only the moment – and it joined us, audience and performers, in a single, shared story. Something came through us; together we created. There was no effort, there was no striving; there was, as Jim Edmondson used to say, “a dance of giving and receiving.”

This “joining” is the dirty little secret and great power of the arts. It is something that school boards will never understand but something that dictators across the ages have feared. Artists are the vortex of joining, of shared identity, of explosive quiet, of laughter that crosses lifetimes. The arts do not separate; when at their most potent they unite. They clarify. They delineate substance from chatter en route to a powerful common center that is as holy, as quiet, as it is creative.