Drawing from life

This is a photo I took of a piece of art that hangs in the new apartment my friend will be moving into today.  I've been looking at it off and on all week: I'm very drawn to it, and I've been trying (on the one hand) to see what I can learn from it about what kinds of composition I find pleasing, and, on the other hand, despairing (don't artists do despair well?) of ever having the ability to come up with ideas like this one.

But this morning I had a wee revelation, as I continue reading Trust the Process.  And it's a revelation that has SO much to say about the spiritual life... So here's the deal: I don't have to come up with it alone. I am not separate from the world.  Anything I create is essentially the result of an encounter between me and not-me; together the world and I can become a boundless font of creativity.    It is the interaction between us that generates beauty.  I don't have to generate the messages; I only get to offer my own translation of the messages that are already there.

I've been thinking there is this sharp dividing line between photo-realism -- the work I've been doing for my past 20 years as a photographer -- and abstract art, the work that's beginning to emerge in me over the last two years.  And I've been quick to assume that abstract art has to come from some sort of well of creativity inside me -- a well that frequently runs dry.

But look at this piece: Couldn't it have been inspired by something as simple as watching a moonrise through a window?  I am surrounded by a world of constantly evolving compositions: the interior of my home provides a steady framework for the ever-shifting colors, shapes and textures of the world outside my home.  Isn't that also true of my soul and mind -- that the interior becomes a sort of processing framework for the varieties of experience that are taking place outside the boundaries of my body? Couldn't the interaction of the two serve as an infinite source of inspiration? 

My younger daughter is spending this month working on her senior project, doing camera obscura photos in the rooms and homes of her friends.  This involves blocking off the windows of a room and allowing the outside world to project into the room through a pinhole onto the walls, and I find the results utterly appealing.  (With her permission I hope to show one of her images here at some point).

How could I, watching the evolution of her project, not have realized how important -- and potentially creative --- that interaction is between what goes on inside our relatively stable internal structures and the ever-evolving world outside us?

Well, duh!

I just had a flashback to a college art class assignment: we were asked to find a flower and draw it.  I ran out of time and drew one out of my brain and memory.  I wasn't particularly pleased with the results, and neither was the teacher -- who realized immediately that I wasn't working from life.  I don't remember his exact words (it was, after all, 40-something years ago) but he said the drawing had no life in it.

I can't believe it took me 40 years to figure out that he didn't mean I wasn't creative enough; he just meant I wasn't drawing from life.  And I mean that in both senses of the word: as artists, and as spiritual beings, we are meant to draw sustenance from life itself -- not just our own lives.  The cup of our creativity -- which can so quickly become an empty cup if we rely solely upon ourselves -- is filled and fed by the world and spirit that is all around us; we only need to be open to it, aware of what's happening outside our own little windows, willing to see our lives and beings as a stage on and through which the glorious dance of the universe can be uniquely performed and presented.



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