I recently took a short course on how to string a pearl necklace. In attempting this on my own for the first time, I was a bit rushed; I ended up with tangled thread and broken needles. Seeing how difficult things became when I didn’t approach the task with enough care made me reflect on what practicing my art and craft is continually teaching me about life in general.   

Daily I learn about how intimately one’s state of mind is related to the nimbleness of one’s fingers and even the willingness of the materials to cooperate!! For instance in stringing the necklace I encountered several pearls with holes too small to push the needle through a second time. Forcing it seemed to create more resistance. Only later, when I had more patience, did I discover that if the needle was allowed to find its own smoothest path inside the pearl it worked: there were some tight fits, but they went through. 

When I got into a flow with the work, I was aware of each pearl shining with a gentle lustre, I felt a sense of care in handling every single bead, and I had attention left over for my posture and breathing. Everything went easily.I realized that when I lose myself in my art or in craft work, there is a sense of timelessness, and oneness with the task and materials.  

Imagine what the world would be like if our children were taught to cultivate these qualities in their work. How much care would flow into the society through people who took pride and pleasure in the tasks they were doing and the materials in their hands?   There is so much emphasis on sports in schools and youth clubs; it is argued that sports teach young people team spirit, discipline and competition. I agree that these skills are handy in the tough world of business. But if there was as much emphasis on art, we’d get kids who could do creative problem solving; people who would never deliver shoddy workmanship; and children who could invent and experiment and think independently.

 Matthew Fox says: ‘If you are awakening ordinary people to their own creativity they are going to become better citizens, better parents, better educators, more imaginative solvers of human problems and conditions…the work world, and neighbourhoods and homes that we live in will be recreated.’

It may have seemed that in the New Questions post I condemned making a living from one’s art. Not really. There are creatives who manage to dance beautifully with the marketplace. I think, though, that they are the ones stubbornly operating from their own values instead of selling out to purely commercial ones.

Joseph Campbell says that a wasteland is where people are living inauthentic lives and the way to heal that is to live an authentic life. In the same way, artists can bring their values into the marketplace to heal it.  In countless (small) craft businesses I see products made with love as the prime motivation. These then find their way into the consumer stream to brighten the lives of people who buy them. These creations have stories, they are bound to the places and the lives of the people that made them. Tage Frid says that when you buy something from  a craftsperson you are buying a slice of an honest person’s working life.

I feel that products made with love and care enrich our lives. And of course, mass-made products, manufactured with the right sensibility can also fulfill this function. In Crofts’, ‘Authentic’, he cites new companies which bring solar energy, coffee, and T-shirts onto the market, but they contribute so much more than just the products. Each of these companies is fuelled by passion and caring so there is an invisible extra which influences the employees, owners and customers and ultimately the society in a powerful, positive way.

Things that take time

May 19, 2007

I just finished reading an English translation of a Spanish novel. It was frustrating because the translation was only adequate. Underneath the words I could sense the poetry of the original language which was not getting through.

The English version of this book could have sung, sparkled, and fizzed. Instead it fizzled.

To make magic happen takes time, the kind of time we seem to be collectively losing the sensibility for. Our quick fix, short attention span society demands instant results and cost-efficient solutions.  We snack on small bites of things and we don’t get nourished.

It takes time…to sit with something and let it ripen. To hold still with a seed in the darkness until it gives the sign that it is ready to push up into light.

Things that take time: growing babies and friendships and marriages; building, crafting weaving thread by thread, creating, living consciously.  Things that take time nourish our souls, create a sense of belonging to the world and connection to others. And ultimately, they heal.

New Questions

May 9, 2007

When ‘making a name’ as a calligrapher and artist became a prerequisite to selling my work, things became difficult for me. I knew that I’d rather spend my time making art than promoting it in order to sell it. But in the 80’s and 90’s  alternatives were few; the concept of the artist also having to be a savvy business person was taking root.

I have always felt that art and commerce were two different worlds governed by opposite sets of principles.
The marketplace runs on outer appearances, quick results, short term thinking, competition and ultimately the conviction that everything has a price.

However, when I was working alone in my studio I would be immersed in an another world where symbols, discovery, renewal, connectedness, and the sacred reigned. The work created was made for the joy of it,  and the meaning it brought me.  How does one put a price- tag on this kind of intimate experience?

My way out was to remove my fine art from the direct marketplace and to make my living with graphic design and other skills. But I have never stopped struggling with the need to find a balance between the soul qualities of art and the need to survive in a commercial world.

I guess where I am now is asking another set of questions that have less to do with the polarity between gifts of the heart and money. I ask,’Where do I want my life energy to go, to build what? Do I want to support the endless and damaging consumer chain? Or do I want to spend my time helping to build new, sustainable forms so that art and heart qualities can flow into the world and help heal it?’  (More on this in the post about Authentic Business,  April 19, 2007  in the category Art and the market).