art

The Creative Process – Extracting Beauty From the Void

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Your deadline is now. Actually it’s tomorrow morning but your project or presentation is a mess. Something has got to happen or you’re toast.

Feel that panic? I do.

What is it that causes us to pull it together and deliver the goods in the 11th hour?

The creative process is perhaps my favorite topic to write about. I’m reminded of some great principles extracted from Genesis 1, that help me manage my creative endeavors, whether for work or personal.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void; and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Genesis‬ ‭1:1-2‬ ‭

In the beginning of a creative effort, we find it formless and void. We are shocked and even panicked at its lack of form. The vacuum can be overwhelming.

“…Darkness was over the surface of the deep… ” The lack of light – even life – is everywhere. This reminds me of when, too early on in a project, we are looking for life, a spark, and it is off-putting when we don’t find it. God, in His most notable creative work, creation itself, indicates that darkness was everywhere.

We are invited to emulate God in His creative method, to brood over our creative works until they become transformed, bearing Light and Life.

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” Genesis‬ ‭1:3-4‬

Creative endeavors come in all sizes shapes and colors. Regardless of what it is, it is necessary to say what it’s going to be.

A teacher creates a lesson plan against a curriculum. An architect works against a blueprint. With my line of work I have a functional design and deliverables. A writer produces an outline of what he or she will write. Every line of work has its own commitment of what the creative effort will be, or not be. In doing so we emulate God’s method when He says, “Let there be Light.”

The words we use to define a project are often packed with meaning. My teacher friend often cites how a curriculum she has compiled meets the requirements of ‘Common Core’. Among teachers and parents that phrase is packed with meaning. God’s reference to Light is packed with meaning too, in His first words He is creating a way for the Son to be made manifest in the natural realm, His Son who is already present with Him at Creation. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are all present there in that moment.

The creative process is multi-dimensional but we break it down by realizing that every endeavor is, at first, formless and void. It only begins to become when we declare what it will be and what it will not be.

Enough for now. Go create!

Ciao!

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Entering the Creative Process

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The bird also has found a house and the swallow a nest for herself

where she may lay her young. 

Psalm 84:3

With a singular focus and deliberation the bird circles and circles until she finds a safe place in which to nest. She is stirred and on a mission until she finds what it is she is looking for: a place. And then she broods, rarely if ever leaving until her eggs hatch.

A woman intuitively looks for safe places in which to lay her young, whether it’s for the children of her womb or the artistic endeavors of her spirit. She longs to give birth to the verses and the stories and the melodies but until their appointed time they remain hidden deep within … taking form, growing, nourished through her until they are able to sustain life on their own.

Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered into the heart of man,

All that God has prepared for those who love Him. 1 Cor 2:9

Scripture talks about how the way of the Spirit of God is mysterious. I would venture to say that the way of the Spirit is not unlike the mystery of conception and birth. A baby is a twinkle in her Daddy’s eye … he’s got a great idea. But from the point of where the idea begins until he bounces that sweet-faced child on his knee … we can only marvel!

When we enter into the creative process we are partnering with God to bring the stuff of the Spirit into the natural realm. The miracle of birth is always God’s doing but every time His own DNA mingles with that of the child’s parents. And let’s not forget about the heart. God always mixes in love, an ingredient He never forgets. Whether a creative work or the much hoped-for wee child: all that originates in His heart bears His image, His thumbprint.

As women we are utterly consumed with the birth process: awaiting the day when our knowing look will give us away; carrying the planted seed within, stretching out our lives to prepare for its presence; yielding to the transition and then the inevitable, unavoidable birth process. If a mother does not give birth she will likely die and certainly her child will die. Birth is not optional. Her body literally changes structure, her emotions are all fiercely protective and locked in on one objective: to bring this child into the world. And so it is with the creative works that He plants into our hearts, designed to come from us. Beautiful and yet ugly; awkward and yet perfectly orchestrated, red-faced and slippery our little ones come into this world.

Just as a mother has a core-level connection with her infant so have we with our creative works. Nothing is so wildly beautiful to a mother than the face of her son or daughter. From the outside we observe and critique but a mother never hears friend or foe call her baby ugly. Her role and calling are to lovingly carry, lead, discipline and cheer her child until he reaches full maturity.

Revision upon revision, reshaped until it stands on it’s own. One day the song will sing its melody in hidden places throughout the earth. The story will tell itself to the nations                      … until the day in which the melody expands and the story’s seed is flung to the wind.

And Father’s heart will have expanded once again.

With dove’s eyes the Creative will again find a safe place in which to lay her young.

Ciao!

Juxtaposition: Science versus Art

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A few years back I was working at a large corporation and, for those of you who care to guess, the company had the largest payroll in the world, outside of General Motors. We were a tightly knit software development team; some were from Canada, another from Rochester, and I was from Detroit. Colleagues and friends prior to the project, we had all been shuttled in to do a pretty sizable re-engineering project. We had been working with some vendors to put in a high availability system with RAID 5, I think. I’ll omit the actual date to preserve my youth, but at the time the combination was complex bordering on impossible. I’ll never forget a conversation with the Sun and Oracle guys who were on site. We had been working through the configuration of the new system for several days when one of the boys chimed in and said, “You know, this isn’t science anymore, it’s art.”

Well, I’m no genius but I often get the opportunity to work with folks who are. And the jist of that comment was this: There is a funky, invisible line where science — with all of its binary zeros and ones: 01010011100 ceases to be strictly science and it flows into something that is quite exotic and beautiful. Remember how beauty is in the eye of the beholder? When disparate pieces of technology ~ code, configuration, hardware, some fiber, a few firewall settings ~ can be thrown together and a system somewhere down the line begins to chug, chug, chug! Sweetheart, there ain’t nothin’ more purty than that. Smile.

There are many concepts in my world, which pose a juxtaposition:

– work versus rest

– hope versus presumption

– opportunity versus impossibility

– spiritual versus religious

How about you?

Beauty Demands Engagement

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Have you ever wondered about the subjects in a painting or a photograph? Truly great artists have developed the ability to capture their audience’s attention beyond a single, cursory glance. So aptly will they have portrayed their subject’s expression, the activity of the moment or even the stillness that we, as their audience are compelled to lapse into storytelling. No matter where we are, time seems to stand still for a moment and like small sailboats we bobble away from the shore for just a moment and we wonder…

How is it that I can feel the community in this painting?Edward Henry (1857-1927), A July Day Edward Henry Potthast was particularly gifted at capturing the simple connections between people. The women have their arms around one another and you can almost feel the intimacy of their chatter. The children are splashing and giggling together, entranced with the kersploosh! they can make by tromping in the water.

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) - The Girl With The Pearl Earring (1665)

I can’t help but wonder at the way in which Johannes Vermeer, the 17th-Century Dutch Painter who created Girl With a Pearl Earring captured his subject’s expression. Was it really as Tracy Chevallier described in her magnificent novel by the same name? Tracy’s story is so well written that you step back into time with her and perceive how a young girl might have come to be a model for a renowned artist in the city where she lived, and all of the ensuing conflict that occurred. R.Z. Sheppard reviewed Chevallier’s book, Girl With a Pearl Earring, and offered the following review for Time Magazine:

“Chevalier is especially adept at character studies: imperious burghers, butchers, biddies and crones. It’s as if, after scrutinizing Vermeer’s masterworks (and doing the required reading), she began to think and feel like a 17th century Delfter.”

Tracy most certainly did her research of Vermeer’s art. But even she gives evidence of the way in which Vermeer’s art compelled her to see the paintings in person, and to understand more about why he painted the subjects he did.

Our culture demands detachment and isolation. Beauty demands connection and engagement, no matter how tragic the underlying story. Enter into a moment this week. Really see something beautiful. Ask questions. It’s analytical, to be sure, but it’s restful as well.

There are a couple of exhibits occurring at the Joslyn Art Musuem presently through the mid-part of September. Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism and Beyond Impressionism

T is for Technology

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Recently I began a new project at work. The purpose is to design a document management, collaboration, and workflow system using a platform comprised of Microsoft SharePoint, Workflow Foundations, and SQL Reporting Services. Nice. Fun, actually! I haven’t been this excited about something at work in a while.

The combination of technologies is somewhat new for our department. I’m not sure why, but it seems like my name is associated with phrases like, “We’ve never done this before” or, “We’re the first in the industry to attempt this.” and my favorite, “This isn’t technology anymore, it’s art.” Yet, implementing new technology and automating business processes are what make my world go around so I’m game for trying something new.

So, technology as an artform. Discuss.

The thing is, technology is art… except that it’s beauty is nearly always hidden. A well-designed system or application rarely gets much attention. A poorly designed system gets negative publicity and rarely recovers, like Vista without service packs, for example. Or what about the systems that we use everyday, i.e., Internet Explorer 6 or the new 7 (slick!). Mozilla Firefox and the latest version of iTunes — will they ever reach a steady state? I digress…

I’ve heard it said that many do not acknowledge beauty in their work because they do not perceive themselves as artists or their work as art. Engineers, architects, programmers, and a myriad of others in the geek squad, daily make bridges stay put when I drive over them, make buildings stand up, and make things work when I click the [Enter] key. But the thing is, I expect the bridge to be there. I don’t know why but I expect Starbucks to have an ambiance that invites me to sit and chat…never realizing that the midnight oil was burned in order to achieve it’s design. And, lastly, I’m not interested in artistic aspects of my online banking system when I’m checking my bank balance. I just want it to work. And yet, the crisp fact that it calculates my withdrawals correctly implies that a DBA has been hard at work. For all you techies out there… there are fewer things more beautiful to behold than a good ER diagram plastered across your wall.

I would say that we fail to perceive the beauty of our work because our work lacks exposure as a thing of beauty.

And beauty is still found in the eye of the beholder.

Dancing Before The David

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This morning I had a picture of myself dancing before Michelangelo’s David. The high ceilings and marble walls of the gallery proved an amazing setting for perfect pirouettes and pas de bourrée. The beauty of my dance was perfected in my thoughts, and it became something akin to Viviana Durante in the Rose Adagio of Sleeping Beauty, … a wordless contribution of beauty for beauty.

It wasn’t long before I pondered not the perfection of my dance ~ this is my dream, after all ~ yet why dance before The David? An online travel guide for Florence, Italy so aptly reviews the sculpture, “Its position, though expressing perfect balance, alludes at movement, … The attitude is strong, arrogant and, above all, filled with inner life like no other similar classical statue.” 1

Balance. Movement. Attitude. Inner Life.

Isn’t it interesting that the reviewer detects these qualities, in a sculpture? That is part of the mystery of beauty. Just like a masterful pirouette depicts the paradox between strength and delicacy, so a marble statue depicts movement and inner life.

Reviewing the flawless dance in the presence of unparalleled, sculpted beauty, I was reminded of the nearly spontaneous combustion that can occur when individuals come together, in unity, to produce something more significant than they can produce individually. Musicians demonstrate this when their skill takes them collectively away from the written score to a breathless improvisation. Each one has submitted their skill, even rescinded their individual identities, to the greater purpose of the collective. Only mutually agreed-upon, non-verbal expressions lead to a change in key or tempo. Each musician not only participates, but also cooperates. No one person leads throughout, and no one hides. Eventually, each one takes his place to lead out into the unknown with precision. 2

1 http://www.italyguides.it/us/florence/michelangelo_david.htm

2 Bents, E. Identity