Adjusting the Sails to Catch the Wind

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Early Sunday Morning in the Gallery at Redlands

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes . . . 

The Gospel According to John 3:8

Thirty-two years have passed since I pastored a church, nine years since I stood behind any pulpit. Nevertheless I still read with fulfilment from my Greek New Testament, grateful that a seminary drilled the fluency of that language into me. And on many Sunday mornings (and other mornings as well), I open those pages and pore over the texts, always finding passages that impact my life, though the orientation has profoundly altered.

A week ago, I stood before the Society of Watercolor Artists in Fort Worth at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and was warmly received as I tried (I never feel that I have hit the mark) to address this inspiration aspect of making art.  After months of pressure, I felt sudden release when that public event was over, but knew that I would not be able to lay to rest this curiosity about the nature of inspiration. And now this morning, waking at 6:00 though the alarm was set for 7:00, these thoughts about the creative impulse continue to visit me and will not rest. The clock now says 8:45, so I have now surged for nearly three hours with these notions, have scribbled unceasingly in my journal, and will now see if I can make any sense as I pour this windstorm into the blog.

From childhood I have been visited by a restless surge to create. Drawing was the only skill I possessed (rather, it possessed me), and I held on and rode this mustang all the way through my Bachelor’s degree. But then my life took a different tack, the Protestant pastoral ministry, and I rode that one all the way through completion of the Ph.D., ten more years. Soon after, I returned to the visual arts, but had to make a living. Twenty-eight years later, retiring with a pension, I at long last have found luxurious leisure to slow the pace and gaze more fixedly at this phenomenon.

Prior to the pastoral ministry, I used the word “inspiration” to describe one’s impetus to create. In church circles, I found that word to be charged with an unfortunate flavor that restricted it to writers of the biblical texts. So I had to lay it aside. Preachers weren’t inspired; to say such while in the “fellowship” would be heresy. So, I had to find other words to describe the compulsion to preach, to testify, to witness, etc.

Now that I am back in the artistic community, it is OK to say artists are “inspired.” The word for “spirit” in the New Testament writings can also be translated as “wind” or “breath”, and the verbs describing its action are “move”, “blow”, etc. I love the richness of these metaphors, and quoted one of them at the opening of this entry. A reference in 2 Peter 1:21 addressed those who were “moved” by the spirit. As an artist and a student of art history, I am always stirred when I read journals left behind by the likes of Delacroix, Gauguin, Henri and others who spoke of this stirring that they could not flee; they had to make art. I know how that feels. I understand that restlessness. I don’t know when the winds will blow, but I know I want to adjust my sails to catch the forces once they stir.

In ministerial circles before, and artistic circles now, I have heard, and continue to hear those who address their work merely as a task. For the task they have been trained. For the task, they have been equipped. And for the task, they simply do what is expected of them. And I am bemused every time I hear someone speak of that task as though it were merely work, drudgery, a means of earning a wage. I simply cannot identify with that. I have known employment in the past when I felt indifferent and sometimes abhorrent of what was demanded of me. I simply cannot feel that way about making art. There is a force, a wind, that drives me to create, and when I cannot fulfill that drive (either because I have other things that demand my attention, or when  actually making art I am clumsy in my technique), I feel genuine, deep-seated frustration and failure.

I have a circle of precious artistic spirits that I meet with periodically for the purpose of discussing our art and encouraging one another. And I will never be able to describe the profound joy I feel when in their presence. Aside from that small circle, I find the artistic enterprise a solitary one, and since I am for the most part an introvert, I don’t find that a lonely existence at all. However, I hope one day I can find the key to speaking publicly about this inspiration that blows through the artist, compelling him/her to create, whether it’s visual, literary, musical, performance or oratorical. I overwhelmingly love the notion of that creative wind that blows through personalities and makes creation possible. And as I once hoped to be a worthy vessel in the ministry, so I now wish to be worthy when making art or called upon to inspire other artists as they engage in this precious endeavor.

The abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock is laid to rest in a cemetery on Long Island. At that location is an inscription that reads:

Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving.

The time now is 9:40. Perhaps I can now return to making art. Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

 

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8 Responses to “Adjusting the Sails to Catch the Wind”

  1. Margaret Parker Brown Says:

    Beautiful sentiments, I fail trying to express how wonderful it is to read your post. Blessings!!!

    Like

  2. Sandra Conner Says:

    Oh, David, how powerful this is! So beautifully written and so very true. My heart echos everything you’ve shared here – as a minister of over 40 years myself, while also being a professional writer and an amateur painter. (My painting is purely for the purpose of de-stressing, but even in my amateur efforts, I feel the power of inspiration that you’re referring to.) And I truly do believe it is the same kind of inspiration the scripture writers experienced – God breathing into the artist/writer and then drawing forth from him what has been deposited.

    I always try to impress on my creative writing students the value of connecting with other creative people – regardless of the medium or genre they work in. Often, as a writer, I’ve drawn deeply from artists, woodcrafters, jewelry designers, music composers. Creativity begets creativity, and when in the presence of others who have such gifts, it’s like being in a sea of inspiration. One can’t help but respond.

    And I was blessed as well by the quote you shared by Jackson Pollock. It reminded me of a free-verse poem I was inspired to write a few years ago about the purpose and process of poets. I’m not prone to free verse, but occasionally, it is very fitting, as in this instance. I’d like to share it with you because I think it will bless you, and rather than leave a link, since it’s short, I’ll just paste it into my comment here, and you can always delete the long comment after reading it if you like.

    Gardeners of the Soul

    We plant seeds from our souls
    In earth packed with emotion and
    Watered by the passion we feel for words;
    We wait for germination with impatient breath;
    Then, suddenly, the buds are releasing
    And speeding our hearts to double-time
    As we await the birth of the full flower.
    We are the gardeners of the soul:
    We are the poets.

    Goodness, I wish you didn’t live so many hundreds of miles away, so I could have the opportunity of visiting with you personally. But your posts are a blessing. Even on days when I’m quite busy, I find that I can’t seem to pass up your posts for very long before I have to stop and read. Thank you for being such an inspiration to me – and to so many more, I’m sure.

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Sandra, thank you! I love your writing, and REALLY love the poem you attached, thank you. I salute all those with that gift for poetry, and thank you for nurturing the creative spirits that surround you. It sounds like you are living the dream with all you experience in the creative realm. Thank you for taking my blog seriously and for taking the time to respond to things that matter to me. I wish you all the bliss imaginable as you continue in your explorations.

      Like

  3. anna warren portfolio Says:

    I very much enjoy – and empathise – with your words. I too know of people who regard art making as a chore, something it should never be. If it becomes one, it’s time to move to another occupation. Also, constantly thinking about ideas, approaches and philosophy is an equally important process as the art making itself. Your posts give me food for thought, thank you!

    Like

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