Push yourself. Take a break. Go backward. Push forward. Tighten up. Loosen up. Add more detail. Lose the detail. Keep working on that painting. Paint over that one.
The process of art making – it’s enough to make you crazy!
And on that note – I don’t think artists are crazy anymore. That traditional stereotype of artists – which a few significant artists in history may have propagated – I just don’t think it’s true. I am beginning to think artists are actually extremely courageous.
So courageous it is scary. And uncomfortable. So we just call it crazy.
I now see that artists have the courage to face their crazy – which most of the time we work meticulously to hide. Artists consistently pursue creating – which brings out the crazy. Artists keep showing up. Artists are brave.
God created our bodies and minds to work together. To flow together. But fear causes our bodies to restrict and tighten up in order to defend and protect ourselves. Fear makes us try to control our surroundings to reduce pain and vulnerability. This anxiety blocks creativity. This anxiety makes us feel crazy.
If you are brave enough to take the risk of art making, it will make you crazy at times. If you have the courage to let yourself feel, you will have to learn to tolerate the feeling of something creative stirring within you and take the risk to see what comes out. To start the process even though you don’t see the end result yet. To go through the struggle to get your hands and brain to communicate. To fight through the pain and your lack of control. To make yourself take a break and rest from the process.
Then comes the breakthrough. Something better than you even imagined at first. Even if you scrap that piece and try something new. I say often in my office – the bigger the breakdown, the bigger the breakthrough.
There’s a lot of value in the crazy. It can show you what you’re trying to control and where you need to let go. It can give you a deeper understanding of your fear, which ultimately can set you free. It can help you learn to live in the moment…trust the process…make peace with your anxiety…enjoy your life.
So embrace the crazy. And then choose courage. Ultimately – it’s what will keep you sane.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Romans 8:20
“Ripping out is part of sewing,” a dear wise mentor shared. A lesson learned from her mother in the art of sewing. Sometimes you have to go backward before you can move forward. It’s just part of it. In sewing. In painting. In life.
Painting over is part of painting.
In art class our teacher often makes us paint back over something in order to do it better. What? What about all the time we spent on that? Precious time. What about the cost of those art supplies? Precious pennies. Noooo. But she asks – do you want an ok painting or a great painting? Fine.
It’s so counterintuitive. Go backward in order to move forward? It doesn’t make sense. However if we keep moving forward in the wrong way, we actually spend more time stuck and frustrated. We move forward with a limp. An obvious problem that really needs attention. Which is actually slowing us down and holding us back as we determinedly try to plow forward. And the further we go without attending to the problem, the more obvious it becomes.
And it doesn’t just impact one area, it impacts the whole piece.
We have to let go of what we are holding on to so tightly and go backward. Go back and fix it. Give it what it needs. The time. The attention. Then we are freed up to move forward – even faster than we could have imagined.
It’s the same with life. Sometimes we have to go backward in order to move forward. Unhealed wounds don’t go anywhere. They cause a limp. They impact more than we realize. We think we can get away with ignoring them. We try to cover over them and think we’re moving forward, but we know we’re not getting anywhere. We feel stuck and frustrated, and we don’t even know why. And the more we try to plow forward, the more difficult it becomes.
If a wound is tended to properly – acknowledged, validated, cared for and fixed up – it is free to heal and the body moves forward without hindrance.
An unhealed wound doesn’t go anywhere because our losses and our pain are important. If we cover over the pain, act like it wasn’t important, avoid giving it the attention or acknowledgement it needs…try to make a pretty painting around it…it stays unhealed. It stays there and impacts the entire picture.
Going back helps us organize our experience and see the details more accurately. Going back helps redefine that area with truth and validates our losses. Going back and seeing the truth brings freedom and healing to the pain. Going back clarifies how the wound can be incorporated as a beautiful part of the entire picture.
So take the risk. Go back. Take the time. It’s worth it. It impacts more than you know.
Then you will move forward with freedom beyond comprehension. A picture more beautiful than you could have imagined.
A video of Laighla and me from her recent trip reminded me of this blog post that I wrote last year over Christmas break but never posted! Probably because it’s about vulnerability – and that video Patrick posted of us dancing that I hoped everyone would quickly forget about. I actually tried to put the video here in this post, but – conveniently I guess – I do not have the technology to support it. But I still choose fun – so here goes!
One of my favorite things in life is spending time with my nieces and nephews! It fills my heart up to brimming over. My niece Laighla and I had the best time practicing a dance to perform for Mema! We videoed it for a few other family members to see. Or so I thought…
When Patrick told me he posted it on Facebook, I thought he was kidding. A video of me dancing is really vulnerable. There’s no way I would allow something like that out there. The perfect snapshot – OK. Every once in a while. But 3 minutes of me dancing – way too much time to see way too many imperfections. I would never allow it. He knows that.
When I realized about an hour later that he actually had posted it, I was horrified. HORRIFIED. So embarrassed. So much shame.
When I looked at the video, I only saw my imperfections. Old body image issues flashed back. Old perfectionism and performance issues reared their ugly heads. If I had known it would be on Facebook, I would have fixed my hair better. I would have practiced more. I would have actually learned all the words.
But it was already out there. And I was frozen. Some people had already liked and commented on it. (which I couldn’t believe!) I was paralyzed. I couldn’t make a big deal out of it now. Then my pride and shame issues would be even more obvious.
I realized I had to hold on to myself. Had to let it be there. Had to press into the shame and work some more on accepting myself. Be ok with my imperfections. Allow others to love me, even with my imperfections.
Coincidentally – I just happen to finally be reading The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. I have been fascinated with the concept of shame for a long time. Even more since sharing my vulnerability and infertility shame on my blog brought so much healing and freedom.
Brown talks a lot about shame resilience, how sharing our shame is what heals it. I totally agree. My experience completely backs that up. I texted a friend and shared how embarrassed I was. I went to the bathroom and cried. And then I resolved to embrace it. And embrace a deeper value represented here that is way more important to me – Fun! I could face and share my shame – and choose fun!
Fun with my nieces and nephews is one of my greatest values. Fun is more important than perfect. Fun is a value I want to pass on to them. Fun is the best! Fun is what I choose.
And I’m actually thankful that Patrick posted it. He sees my imperfections and my shame more than anyone – he has to live with them! Yet somehow he sees through them and loves me deeply. He thought our dance was cute and fun! And that fun is worth sharing.
Yes it is. It absolutely is.
Recently on a trip to Ozark Natural Foods, I noticed a new art display in their café featuring local artists. As I was admiring the art, an older couple started a conversation with me. She was a lifelong artist and upon discovering that I’m a beginning artist, they both gave me some advice. Her advice was “Don’t compare your work to others. Don’t compare your place in the journey to anyone else.” Such a good reminder.
His advice: “Finish your paintings. Push yourself to see what you can do. You won’t know what you can do unless you finish.” I thought that was great advice. I was happy to take it. If you are older and wiser, you can offer unsolicited advice to me anytime.
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but later his advice came back to me in a deeper way. Finish your paintings. See what you can do. You won’t know unless you push yourself. Oh yeah – I have a lot of unfinished paintings and a lot of unfinished blog posts. I mean – a lot. Maybe it’s time to finish some. Push myself to finish. Ugh.
I’m not known for pushing myself physically. My husband, an Ironman – speaking of the ultimate way to push your physical limits – has mentioned a time or two at the gym – “I think you’re supposed to sweat when you work out. Isn’t that the point?” The last 5K I signed up for was a November race, and it was very cold that morning. Too cold – so I picked up my T-shirt, got back in my car and drove home. There’s just no need to push yourself to run in that kind of weather. Or to run at all really.
Also ever since I started to understand this whole grace thing – God’s love for me is not dependent on my achievements – other people can love me for who I am, not what I do – I have been set free from pushing myself constantly to achieve. I got off the performance treadmill! Which has been SO good for me.
However there is a need for balance. There are times to push. To finish strong. It’s called discipline. The difference is the reason. Push yourself to see what’s in there. To see what you can do. Not to gain love or out of fear of rejection. Just out of freedom and fun and for the challenge.
Of course there is fear. What if it hurts? What if I fail? What will people think? What if it’s not good? Well I won’t know unless I push myself. And finish. I wish I could thank them again for their advice. It was more profound than I realized at the time.
I recently finished a couple paintings that have been hanging around for over a year now. I think I’ll finish a few other things too.
Spectra is part of the creative arts ministry at Fellowship Bible Church of Northwest Arkansas. A few times a year an art challenge is given to artists who want to participate based on a particular theme or Bible passage. I participated this time and want to share my painting and my process.
The Sermon on the Mount was the topic for this series, paralleling the current sermon series. Participating artists were given a section of scripture to paint their interpretation of that passage. I thought this sounded fun, so I decided to participate.
Then I got my scripture section – Matthew 5:17-32 – which is about Jesus not abolishing the law but fulfilling the law (which I don’t really understand), and about murder, adultery and divorce. Ummm…
Immediately the feeling of overwhelmed came and the related negative thoughts: Oh forget this. How in the world would I ever paint that? I can’t. It would have to be something abstract. I’m not good at abstracts. I quit. I’m not that good of an artist. I’m not even a real artist. The other people in the group are probably real artists. I’m so not ready to participate in something like this. I’ll just quit. Make up some lame excuse.
So even though I was planning to quit, I would occasionally come back to the passage and try to think of something, jot down some notes, try to understand it more. I would even pray for understanding and inspiration from God because my art teacher Nadine often encouraged us to do this. Still nothing was coming.
I finally shared all of this with one of my very cool artist friends, Brandi, and through our conversation the inspiration struck. I started to see that this was all about love. I went back to the drawing board.
I was really confused by Jesus saying he did not come to abolish the law but fulfill the law. I thought he got rid of the law by dying for our sins because we couldn’t keep the law. Through deeper study, I discovered that the Old Testament law contained many rituals designed to foreshadow Christ, which would ultimately fulfill the law.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is bringing up parts of the law to show that the law is deeper than just following rules, it’s about what is in our hearts. The goals are love, reconciliation, forgiveness, honor. Later in Matthew, Jesus said these are the greatest commands: Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Later in Romans, Paul brings up the same commands and says “all the commands are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
So in my art piece “Fulfillment,” I created the top portion to represent God, the bottom portion to represent us trying to keep the law with mixed media paper containing scriptures from Old Testament law, and the thick gel medium line the barrier between us and God. The purple represents Jesus covering the law with layers of love and crossing the barrier, leading to other colors and reflections in the focal point of the painting.
It wasn’t until later that I started to see the parallels for this piece in my art journey. Throughout my life I have struggled with legalism and perfectionism. Thinking I had to perform and achieve to get love and acceptance, which leads to a lot of control and lack of love. My art journey has provided such a tangible way to “see” my growth in letting go of control. Learning to rest in God’s love so I can relax and just play. This piece was fun for me. I experimented with a lot of layers and new techniques. So much progress! And I love the end result. A beautiful representation of the depth of God’s love.
I guess I’m a Spectra artist now. A “real” artist. I’m really thankful for this ministry. We got to share our pieces on Thursday night. It was really cool to hear everyone’s process and see the final pieces. I wonder what the next challenge will be.
The mystery of the cross. How can the cross simultaneously represent such contrasts? Shame and grace. Bondage and freedom. Pain and beauty. Death and life. Do we really even know what this means?
Understanding the simultaneous nature of the cross leads to truly living in the freedom provided by the cross.
I have been fascinated with the concept of shame for about 15 years. I love how Brene Brown has brought this issue to light and made it a topic of conversation. Her research has exposed the idea that instead of trying to hide and manage our shame, the courageous acts of vulnerability are what bring healing to our shame and freedom to our lives.
Shame is what we feel when we think “something is wrong with me.” At the cross we realize this is actually true. There is something wrong with us. We are not perfect. We can never be good enough to save ourselves.
The cross is the ultimate answer to healing shame. The courageous act of bringing our shame to the cross allows us to stop hiding. We can finally stop trying to manage something that can never be managed.
When we are honest about our sin and bring our shame to the cross, Jesus exchanges our shame for grace. Then – automatically – we are Enough. There. Arrived. Forgiven. Free. Forever.
It sounds so simple – Jesus died to pay for our sin. His death exchanges our shame for life. We take our sin there and walk away with freedom. So simple – yet so complicated.
It does require humility. It also requires death.
So complicated. This death – the letting go – the loss of our selves – is actually really hard. It’s not that easy for our sin nature to die. We still try to do it ourselves. We hate not being in control. We try to control others so we don’t have to change. We cannot wrap our heads around the freedom of the cross or our identity in Christ, so we constantly go back to trying to save ourselves.
Death always requires a grieving process. I’m often in denial that I need the cross. I desperately try to hide my shame. I try to bargain my way into being able to save myself and not need God. I constantly want to blame others or make excuses for my behavior. I’m angry that I have to die to myself and surrender. I feel depressed that I’m not good enough and can’t achieve the perfection of not needing God.
Yet if I can turn and face my shame – and expose it on the cross, I simultaneously get the freedom and identity of Christ. I am free. I am enough. I have nothing to prove. Nothing to lose. And it’s not a balancing act. It’s all of my shame. For all of his grace.
Back to the contrast. Living in the simultaneous nature of the cross every day. Surrendering shame. Accepting grace. Facing the pain. Knowing it deepens beauty.
It’s a daily thing. The cross was a one time thing in that Jesus did it once and for all. Accepting it is a one time thing. But living it is not – I have to die daily. And it seems that the older I get the death gets deeper.
Yet the life gets brighter. The freedom more expansive. The cross daily transforms my soul. How this is possible it is still a mystery I’ll be forever pondering.
And I will be forever grateful.
This is the hard part. The middle.
When you can’t tell what it’s going to be. How it’s going to turn out. Things haven’t taken shape yet. It’s blurry. Undefined.
The parts aren’t yet connected to the whole piece. You can’t see the big picture. Because it’s not even there yet. It’s going to change a lot before we even get to the final picture.
It’s where I want to quit. It seems too hard. Too overwhelming. I don’t know what to do next. I start in one area and think I’m making progress. Then I step back, and it looks like no progress at all. I don’t know what I’m doing. All of my insecurities and negative messages come up. Why am I even doing this??
It’s so hard to push through. To keep going. This learning to paint as an adult is for the birds!
Then we’re back to the parallels between counseling and art. I have so much hope for my clients when they are in this hard middle place because I know it’s a necessary part of the process. I know this is the only way to the breakthrough. No one gets to skip the middle part.
But the middle part is hard. It feels awful. It’s so frustrating. It’s overwhelming. There are so many things to fix. You think you’re really making progress on one thing. Then you go home and see all the other problems, and it seems like no progress at all.
It’s so hard to stay there when you’re in it. It doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere. It seems pointless. Shouldn’t there be a quicker fix? Does this counselor even know what she is doing? Ha! I came here to get these problems solved. Fast. Move on. Not think about them more. Not sit with them in the middle of the process and struggle. Ugh. Hate the middle.
But the middle is so necessary. God could have created an easier healing process. But he didn’t. There’s a purpose for the middle. That’s where change happens. The growth that comes from digging deep. Deeper than you thought you could go.
We have to face the middle. We have to look at our imperfections and stay with them long enough to accept them. Until we start to let go of trying to control everything and see the beauty in the mess.
And while this might not be true of paintings – we can then finally see – that in Christ – our value is the same in the middle as it is in the beautiful finished product.