Monday, 4 June 2012

An artist looks at...
‘Seeing through another’s eyes…’

I’ve been pushing paint around for forty-eight years!
One would think that confidence and clear direction would ooze from palette and spill onto canvas with ease. 
Not necessarily so! 
The artist’s of constant adjustment, experimentation, processing and never ending learning. 
One never arrives!
Confidence...that vaporous morning mist that rises off northern lakes, can dissipate and disappear in seconds. An off hand comment by a potential patron can raise question marks...
Is the comment worth consideration?
Is a gallery director always correct in their analysis?
How much response to criticism or direction should there be, especially if two or three gallery directors give conflicting points of view?
Some personalities seem able to plumb the depths of self confidence, virtually taking no account of any opinion other than their own. 
One evening several years ago an artistic sea change occurred in my life. It seemed I had reached the end of the line. Nothing new was occurring in my work. The paintings lacked spontaneity and appeared labored and contrived. The compositions didn’t hang together with focus and cohesion. 
There was very little fruit on the vine given the long husbandry of craft!
Sharing this frustration with a fellow artist whose opinion warranted trust, I invited her over one evening to chat about the work. My expressed thought was that it was over...that I finally had decided to walk away from a life time of endeavor.
Although she listened carefully she didn’t push specific opinion back my way as would have been her normal response. Instead she began to put her coat on and got ready to leave. It was then that I changed my commentary to ask if she saw anything redemptive in any of the work.
Slowly she took her coat off again and bluntly responded, “Are you willing to sacrifice this work?” I acknowledged that I was close to the end of my rope and seemingly at a loss to see or pull off anything of value. She then proceeded to point out that within the larger body of work there were small jewels tucked away among the larger mass of multiple elements. 
Next she took on the posture of a surgeon asking me if I had a matte knife. Would I be willing to surgically cut away the extraneous to leave small settings of value?  After some discussion we set about the task of identifying the valued parts and sacrificing the extraneous. Several large paintings were dissected that night. Countless hours of work discarded in support of a few pieces that deserved a new small stage to themselves. 
That evening was a turning point for me. It was a key to unlock a new vista of ‘seeing’...a new pathway from thinking small and contrived to larger and freer...
...and the journey continues!
Months later one of the gallery owners that represent my work encouraged me in yet another direction. His challenge was for me to begin to pry open my foregrounds from dark moody passages and begin to present the viewer a more hopeful and light filled view.
The dramatic spectacle of mountainous cloudscapes, morn’s early mists and fantasy fog banks that evoke the ethereal and mysterious are still my passion. Today, I am however introducing more light and hopefulness as suggested.
Even though as the artist I ultimately pull the trigger, making the actual brush stroke, the performance is affected by others. Not only do I have the right, but also responsibility to paint, cut out, correct, over paint, or reformat a piece of work to make it the best it can be! I need however to lean into community for encouragement and challenge for ongoing nourishment and pruning! 
The Christian faith journey for me is much the same. 
Due to my autonomous insistence, or beliefs based on declared untruths, the work in me remains only partially completed. One day the master strolls by always seeing hope and new potential. A new vision and redemptive beginning emerges as He initiates and pursues. He picks up the piece of my life, pondering it’s potential. He wants control. The piece can choose to push back, give over completely or guardedly keep it’s crusted dusty layers tightly intact.
He is the consummate chef de cuisine who lovingly, with nothing but grace, makes excellent omelette’s using life’s broken eggs! 
It’s never too late! 
Sometimes the master cuts deep, eradicating dross, remounting the work to new dimensions on revised substrate. Light is layered, dappled, scumbled and splashed, bringing hope where once only drab and dreary passages persisted. Contrast, value and form emerge showing new light source. Dark still remains, as without pain’s memories there is no contrast in values to make the work sparkle! 
Ultimately if it is growth I desire, I need to respond with surrender to my Master as director of my life as he surgically removes and replaces old human perspectives and actions with new paradigms of light, ready to be hung and reflect his creative love and goodness. I’m in the process of learning that apparently the Father always has my best interest at heart. This is not always obvious, as in some areas of life there are no pat answers and his style often remains mysterious.
So, what about my colleagues, the artist and the gallery owner. Both willingly risked while interjecting hope yet insisting on change.
I had and have a choice. My ego could rise up, demanding kingship over my efforts and authorship. Obviously there is a fine line between acquiescence to every outside comment, whim or criticism and remaining true to my own unique vision. I still have to work within the context of who I truly am, come what may!
Just as in my art journey, in my faith journey, I need the body of Christ with their variety of gifts and talents interacting with mine. Sometimes I need to hear the challenge of exhortation that can cut core deep. I also need to hear soft words of embrace, encouragement and hope that draw me toward the light of hope. I need to cherish those who come in safety, ready to share, or leave without comment, having listened well. 
I certainly need wisdom to know that not everyone’s comments are based on encouragement and that some come with abusive, manipulative, legalistic and controlling agenda and should be rejected out of hand. Not everyones opinion Christian or otherwise has earned validity and therefore doesn’t need to be taken and grafted into my life. There are however a few needed and welcome safe harbors that provide sanctuary and help in my journey of growth!
For the painting of my life I need to relinquish control to the ultimate master artist, trusting him to move the paint of my life in a way that reverberates and brings a touch of colour into the lives of a few others.
This is my hope!
Copyright: J. Douglas Thompson, 2012
John 15: 1-8
"I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

"Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. (MSG)