Beyond the Spiritual
In many ways beyond the spiritual (is there something beyond spiritual?) becoming a Christian has defined my life. I became ‘born again’ in 1976 in LA, right at the height of the Jesus Freak movement. I started going to the first Vineyard Christian Fellowship, got baptized in the Pacific Ocean and stuck with non-denominational churches and college fellowship groups all through my college years. I met my first wife, Kathy, in a college fellowship group, that brought me in contact with her family, who included the single best example of living the true Christian life I’ve ever come across, my father-in-law Dwight Johnson. Boy, did I learn a lot from that man, I am so grateful for him.
© Elliot Erwitt
Judgment and it’s Offsets
An interesting clarifying moment for me came when I went to art graduate school in Michigan in 1980. One the one side I was in a very intensely free and creative environment at school. On the other I was attending a Baptist church my wife and I had found near where we lived. And what did I find? Both groups tended to be a bit judgmental of the other, no doubt about it. But the art group, in spite of their liberality, were the more judgmental of the two, by far. I thought long and hard about why that was. What I discovered as I watched the two groups was, that in spite of the judgmental elements in the teachings at church, there was an even stronger element that offset that (at least in that church and the other churches I had attended), and that was teachings of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility, patience, kindness, and love.
Now, I don’t mean that no one in the art group had any of those traits, of course they did. But as a group they did not have any focused or guided attention paid to those things. i In this case, it was a very intensely judgmental art atmosphere. We were there to refine our art and that happened by putting it in the fire of judgment. But there was no teaching or guiding on the part of the main professor I had, nor the other professors I came in contact with, that offset that with the qualities I mentioned above.
Judgment #1 – © 2017 Marty Coleman
Many decades have passed since then and I’ve been in the art world and the church world both for all those years. I like both worlds, and there are things I don’t like about them. Church can squash creativity and free thinking like it’s nobody’s business. But the art world, as odd as it sounds, can do the same. The church and art worlds can both make you feel like you don’t belong. They can both define the world and culture around them as unacceptable because it doesn’t fit their idea of healthy or happy. They can both be so sure of themselves that they feel superior and enlightened compared to everyone else.
Cross and Dagger – © 2017 Marty Coleman
Best of All
What are you suppose to do in that situation? What I reach for is to be the best of both as best I can. But how does one do that? By practicing. Just as my artwork is better because I practice it, so is my heart, my mind and my actions in all of life when I practice those things I mentioned above; mercy, compassion, forgiveness, humility (ok, not always good at that) patience, kindness, and love. It also means I practice judgment. Practicing judgments causes me to use it less, not more. It helps me to discern between pre-judgment, a judgment from a place of ignorance and a judgment from a place of insecurity and defense, and the more powerful and good limited judgment based on observation, evidence and necessity.
Art and Witness – © 2017 Marty Coleman
You don’t get better at something without practice. If you don’t want to get better, then…sorry, you still have to practice because you can’t even maintain your skills without it. This is true of creativity and spirituality and indeed, any quality of character you want to have in life. Finding a way to be inspired to practice any these things is one of the essential tasks of a successful life.
What do you think?
Nude Being Drawn – © 2017 Marty Coleman
Recently I had a person ask if I ever have a creative block. I said no, and went on a bit about why. But I this quote explains my way of thinking perfectly.
- “The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.” – Chuck Close
That is what happens with my napkin drawings, with my sketchbook drawings, with almost everything I do creatively. In this drawing I started with the quote. In my napkin drawings the quote is my inspiration point. It is the one that causes something to occur to me. In this case I was on live streaming video talking to some people and thinking out loud about what an illustration of this drawing might entail. The act of visualizing love and war led me to imagine what the participants’ thoughts might be. Then I had my aha moment of the lover and fighter saying almost the exact same thing. But I wouldn’t have come up with that just by sitting around waiting. It was the act of creating the drawing that caused the prompting of my mind.
Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“In love we discover who we want to be. In war we discover who we are.” – Kristen Hannah, American author of ‘The Nightingale’ which I highly recommend. Interestingly enough, her FAQ page has a very telling statement at the bottom, similar to Close’s quote above.
- “Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of writers come and go — published and unpublished — and what I’ve learned is that the ones who make it keep writing no matter what. When life is tough, they write; when the kids are sick, they write; when rejections pile up, they write. Are you seeing a pattern? That’s really what this career is ultimately about. Showing up at your computer day after day to hone your craft. Of course you should take classes and read other peoples’ books and study as much as you can, but none of it can ever take the place of daily work.”
The Woman Who Sucked on a Straw © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
Drawing © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
Purchase the original | Purchase a print
I consider myself to be average level forgetful. Not terrible, but not an iron-clad rememberer either. BUT…just now I remembered I have to be sure to get program shirts for two participants in my running program, something I forgot yesterday. I also have remembered 3 times overnight that I need to bring the car in today for a check up, something I forgot in between those rememberings. I also have forgotten where I have put my gloves or glasses or something, only to find them in a pocket of a coat I haven’t worn in a month.
But does that mean I am disorganized? Not really. It means my organization works well in some ways and not well in others. How does it work well? By having visual reminders. Being an artist, I am all about the visual. If I have a visual signal I more often than not will know what it is I am supposed to be doing, where something might be, when I should be somewhere. Once again, it is iron-clad, but it is reliable. That is why I like having a calendar, writing notes to myself, leaving things out where I can see them.
How does it not work well for me? When I put something out-of-order and don’t give myself a way to later clue myself into what it is I did. This could be wearing a jacket I barely ever wear and leaving my gloves in them when I take it off. It means scheduling something that barely ever happens, like a dentist appointment or car check up, and thinking I will just miraculously remember it a month or six months later. That’s not going to happen.
Of course the ultimate rememberer for me would be an assistant. Then THEY would be the ones who would have to figure out some kind of trick to remember all the things I need to remember!
How do you remember well?
Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.” – A. A. Milne, 1882-1956. English author primarily known for his ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’ series of children’s books.