Nicholas Roerich

This is the 3rd post based on Lewis Hyde’s book, ‘The Gift’.

Another insight brought by reading Hyde’s ‘The Gift’ is that we artists, by identifying solely with the market limit the circulation of the gift. I mean, that by painting with the idea of selling that painting solely in order to make an income we are limiting the nourishment and gifts that painting could bring us.

In Hyde’s discussion of gift exchange in tribal societies, there is always a greater force involved in the cycle of giving and receiving of gifts, it might be the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of the forest or rivers,  or the greater community.

He then makes the connection to an artist ‘labouring ‘with a gift. When we are deeply into our work, something happens- time evaporates, problems recede, all that exists is this sense of being at one with the work and with the world. This state is known in modern times as ‘flow’. At those times art reaches beyond the personal ego and touches something universal which is then embodied in the artwork.

For anyone who has experienced this, there seems to be a magic to it, as if ‘it wasn’t me who did the work’. The feeling is as if we have opened and received a gift.

What Hyde has made me think about is this: if, through my art making I have been blessed to touch on such a gift, then there is something bigger than me at work here. That means that if I work consciously with this gift element and am grateful and humble in its presence, I let this all expand beyond my own personal ego boundaries. It isn’t mine alone, and it doesn’t need to nourish me any more beyond the experience of the making.

If I don’t demand from my creative gift work that it also earn my living, I am not limiting it to being a mere product.I release it into the larger domain, and from that domain I will in turn be nourished.

I have experienced this countless times, when working on non remunerative art, suddenly a windfall will appear from an entirely unrelated area.  As if by putting clear and true energy out there in one form it almost always comes back in another.

Russian artists Nicholas Roerich said something to the effect of , ‘Create, create, create, and don’t worry about the bread for the morrow, in creating you will nourish and be nourished’.

I’m not saying it is easy or instant. It is never easy. But by using this philosophy as a point of departure for making art, I come into a state of trust rather than one of worry, stress, scarcity and competition.

Giving up the struggle

August 5, 2011

Last month I participated in a Tai Chi workshop given by Rob and Erich Völke with the focus on relaxation.

One of the exercises required me to stand across from another person with my hands on their chest. The goal was to slowly push them off balance without taking a step or exerting any force. The only way this worked was to relax deeper and deeper vertically while still maintaining a strong upright posture and structure (ie, the bones and muscles were working but not tensed), and slowly moving forward from your centre.

My partners tended to be large, muscled men!  I couldn’t budge any of them.
The first time I got it, though, when the guy keeled over, I thought he was putting me on.  Yet, I had also felt the shift in myself. It was a state of total trust and letting go without the least bit of forcing. It was gentle, and it overcame the full resistance of a man tens of kilos heavier than I.

Interesting I didn’t make the link with other parts of my life until recently when I tried the ‘You can try (or give up) anything for 3o days’ challenge. Read the rest of this entry »

Mahogany and cherry nesting tables with maple inlay by Rende Zoutewelle

As an artist/craftswoman, I’ve been watching sadly as craft skills disappear from normal life. Hand written, hand formed, hand stitched objects are the exception to the machine made things we surround ourselves with.  We are geared to  buying inexpensive quick fix products or highly priced design objects to fit with the latest consumer trends. Then we throw them out when the next fashion wave hits.

Handmade things take time to design and make. But they also get better with age and last longer. In his article, ‘Let the artisans craft our future’, (Resurgence Issue 263) artist Grayson Perry says (partly paraphrased):

‘Craftsmanship is no longer central to our quick fix service economy. Craft used to be integral to many walks of life.
People were proud of what they made- it was valued. To be a craftsman in Britain was to be working-class nobility.

 ‘Handmade’ is often  a byword for ‘pricey’ and  ‘local’ means unadventurous or a lack of choice. But what about when the oil runs out and the forests are all cut down and we can’t drive to Furniture Barn and buy a table designed in Scandinavia, made in China with wood from South America for the price of a round of drinks in the pub?’ 

‘Maybe in the future the distinctiveness that consumerism promises will be concentrated not on choice but on customisation’. 

‘Maybe ethical concerns will force us to turn to local craftsmen/women  to give added value to our status-defining objects’.

‘Maybe it will be all right again for local labour to be the major cost factor instead of importers, distributors, fuel and marketing. Read the rest of this entry »

In praise of a craft economy

February 21, 2011

embroidered denim shirt

A little funk & flash

felt work

Craft love

Several years ago, there was a European project to promote tourism in our area. They invited all the artists and craftsmen to see if, together, we could come up with some ideas for getting funding by developing the arts and crafts more in the region.

The mind-boggling result of the meeting of 400 creatives who attended the first meetings, is that the majority of the professional Artists flatly refused to work together with ‘just craftsmen’ and walked out.
Craftspeople, including wooden clog makers, weavers, potters, etc. were seen as somehow inferior to the artists and they felt that being associated with these crafts would devalue their work.

The stigma around handwork is very strong in Dutch intellectual society. I have run into it repeatedly. Crafts are seen as dabbling hobbyism. Sometimes, when a craftsperson is doing groundbreaking work, she or he can be admitted into the upper art world echelons. But this is rare. Luckily, with the rise of craftivism, crafting (the rise of old craft skills in a hip context), etc, this is starting to change. But very telling is that the Dutch version of Etsy will be called something to the tune of ‘cutesy stuff’.  Sigh.

I have been advocating the virtues of working with one’s hands to produce excellence and beauty for all my adult life. So I find that living in Holland sometimes feels less than craftfriendly.

I was so heartened recently to run into the work of Satish Kumar and others connected with his magazine Resurgence.  This loose community of environmentalists, artists, craftspeople, intellectuals, educators, writers, poets, nature lovers, etc. has a philosophy where the arts play an integral role in leading a whole, healed life. The magazine spends equal time on education, ecology and craft and explores creating small, sustainable local economies based on spiritual values.

Here is a quote from one of Kumar’s editorials in the December 2010 issue of Resurgence:

‘Being an artist is not a hobby: it is a livelihood. Moreover, a craft economy is a truly sustainable and resilient economy: indeed a, peace economy.

The sooner we embrace the arts and crafts as an integral part of our daily lives, the sooner we will be able to address the economic, environmental and spiritual issues of our time. The industrial economy is a growth economy- never enough and never satisfied-  whereas the craft economy is a dancing economy-  always active and always joyful.

 ‘The way to a fulfilled life is through the arts and crafts. They lead us out of consumerism. The practice of arts and crafts is a spiritual practice through which we honour the material world, and while we do that we develop a sense of beauty and generosity in our lives’.

Tending the soul life

August 20, 2009

Continued from previous post (Re-Enchantment of art)

Heart angels

And  few quotes from Thomas Moore:

A re-enchanted art would once again use materials and craft as a way of housing spirits that go beyond just the artist’s intellectual or emotional life or ideas and ideologies.

‘In this context it isn’t difficult to see a role for the artist in tending the soul life of a community by giving it powerful images of needed spirit in music, dance, food, painting and architecture- in all the arts.
We might also expand our notion of therapy and see that in presenting objects full of certain spirit for a community’s absorption and consideration, the artist is a therapist and a magus…….

Through a magical, spiritual use of images, the arts nourish the soul creating a richly varied atmosphere, an environment that is not only practical, but spiritually nutritious. In this way, the arts also might enjoy a central role in the life of a community and would not be made marginal, as is the case almost by definition in a disenchanted culture’.

Peace Pilgrim

October 15, 2008

from the book,’Peace Pilgrim, her life and work in her own words’. ‘photo taken by Jim Merrill, courtesy Linda Ann Scott’

Mildred Norman Ryder, AKA Peace Pilgrim
Spiritual teacher, Non-violence advocate

Peace Pilgrim crossed the US on foot 7 times, covering 25,000 miles before she stopped counting. 


While I’ve been in bed sick this past week, I’ve picked up my old Peace Pilgrim book. I have always been  intrigued by this incredible, joyous woman who at age 44 set out alone across America to walk for world peace. 

When I lived in Pittsburgh in the late 60’s and 70’s, everyone knew who she was.  I may have actually seen her walking along the highway there, I’m not sure. I do know I carried a newspaper clipping about her with me wherever I went for years.

The thing is, I have something about Peace Pilgrim; there is a part of me that secretly yearns for the courage to do even a fraction of what she did- ie trade a self centered cluttered life for a clear, one pointed, spiritually centered one.  Oh, we all do it theoretically in parts, but she unequivocally chose a path of service, and the difference between that choice and half-measures is exponential.  

She walked briskly along America’s highways and roads carrying no baggage except the few items she could fit in the pockets of her tunic like a comb, a pen and paper. She followed the warm weather north in the summer and south in the winter. Everyone she came in contact with was touched by the simplicity of her message and the commitment of her pilgrimage to,

‘remain a wanderer until mankind has learned the way of peace, walking until I am given shelter and fasting until I am given food’.

Just imagine this small elderly woman walking next to highways day and sometimes night – often sleeping out in the open on the ground, or going without meals!

She confided to a good friend  on the eve of leaving her old life, that she was doubting whether she could really give up all her physical comforts for the kind of impoverishment she was about to undergo. But she admitted that even though she had all the outer signs of comfort and success, she felt impoverished in that life. As it turned out, impoverishment is the last thing she felt:

When I began my pilgrimage, I left the Los Angeles area without a cent, having faith that God would provide me with everything I needed….Without ever asking for anything I have been supplied…When you have spiritual security you no longer have need for material security. I don’t know anybody who feels more secure than I do- and of course, people think I am the poorest of the poor. I know better. I am the richest of the rich. I have health, happiness, inner peace- things you couldn’t buy if you were a millionaire.

So how does a middle aged woman, living a conventional life like you or me, arrive at the point where she sets out penniless without even a blanket or coat, to walk alone across a vast country? See next entry.