What commissioning a painting taught me about the roles we could play for Earth and each other
"The sculpture is being fired today," Melissa told me during our morning coffee call. She was almost giddy with excitement. She and her partner had commissioned a sculpture from a Colorado artist, and the woman was keeping them up to date on their investment.
She'd never placed an order for a work of art before. I hadn't either, until my March photo of a moon setting over the Pacific so captured my heart that I knew I wanted it made into a painting. That led me to track down my favorite Oregon painter, William Selden, who lives in Coos Bay. Charmingly, he's off the Internet grid. We exchanged letters and calls.
I nearly leapt for joy when he accepted.
I sent him the required photos. A few days ago, he called to report that the painting was ready for pickup. My buddy JC and I are going to turn that into a road trip. I want the time with JC and we both want to meet the artist. I am also giddy with excitement. This is the photo that has now become a painting:
I used to create sculptures back in the early Nineties. I walked the Rockies for bits and pieces of bone, fur, smooth stones and much more, crafting them into standing pieces which reflected the unique personalities of people in my life. It was great fun and people were terribly flattered. I'm a passable artist. Good enough to do profiles on Main Street at Walt Disney World back when the place first opened.
That said, I pursued a different kind of art with my writing, which is where I'm heading with this piece.
The other day I published a story and a post at the request of Leo Notenboom, who asked me to consider writing a piece on loss. Leo has just lost a beloved family member, and is facing the ultimate loss of more family members who live in northern Washington. In this way, he was commissioning a piece of art; in this case, an article which would elevate and honor his experience and make it relatable to us all.
We are, each in our own way, God's artist, the creative hands of the Goddess Herself.
I'm sure you understand my broad and inclusive use of the terms God and Goddess. The way I experience the terms, we are all suffused with sacred life and light. What we do with it for the time we are given is very much a part of our journey of developing both awareness and gratitude.
You and I both know people whose lives were works of art. How they live, their appreciation for the time given them are living testaments to giving daily thanks for a chance to be in this world. It is Paradise, even with all that we've done to it. Perhaps because of what we've done to in some ways, for the opportunity to live a life that is a work of art abounds everywhere, all the time.
Melissa is terribly excited about her sculpture. I am terribly excited about my painting. Yet as we talked about our respective treasures, I realized that every time I hired Melissa to do a Thai massage after a trip or a grueling training session, I was commissioning artwork.
Every time my new friend Alice finds herself at my gazebo (her pupper Hazel knows the way now, and she by golly wants her pets), she is giving me the art of a developing friendship. I'm watching art grow everywhere.
And so on.
In this way, in ways that I hadn't considered before, we are all expressing the sacred. That sacred animates us in ways which can potentially uplift, heal, make whole again, or in the unique way exclusive to us, add our art to a world badly in need of more beauty.
I'm just rummaging around here for my materials. I know that tube of ochre is in here somewhere, probably stuck to the magenta. What you and I use in our own artistic expression is unique and constantly changing, for we are unique and constantly changing. To my mind, that's the sacred at work.
Every day, all day, we get to "paint and sculpt" in the world. When someone asks a favor that we grant that's a piece of living art. When we visit the elderly or donate our time or sit with a friend, when we listen to our kids' stories and put the damned phone down to be in life, we are artists. When we speak kind words we create verbal art, which has immense power to heal, soothe and beautify.
In a community when we share resources, if we help when a neighbor is in trouble, that is living art. I shared a story with you about St. Patrick's Day 2017 when the youngest son of a farm family was killed in a terrible accident. The commitment of that tiny town to hold a wake instead of St. Pat's Day revelry was also a work of art. Everyone who stood for that family was an artist, bringing light to grief, comfort to broken hearts.
This aging body now bears the handiwork of no small number of medical artists whose contributions allow me a different and likely better future. Our bodies can be living testament to what happens when we see ourselves as sacred and worth experiencing as art. It's been a very long, slow slog getting to the point where I don't behave like a dour New York Times critic at an off-Broadway opening and greet my morning visage with shock.
Now it's more like awe, which is deserved.
Our bodies deserve our awe. Life deserves our awe.
The endless art we can create for one another, is in the forms of kindness, cooperation, collaboration and so much more. A gesture, a look, an opened door for a distracted mom, doesn't matter. All such are art, in this regard.
Linda R sent me some gorgeous photos from her yard this week. I miss the huge, soft peony blossoms from my Denver yard. Yet every morning the sun paints the firs copper, and every single day I discover hummingbirds sipping from some deep purple (something) which defies definition. Thanks to JC's example I now spend a lot of time in that living art, the forest around my house. It's helping me heal faster. I am watching a great many other shifts, too.
Our ability to appreciate such things is part of what makes us artists. Leo sent me a note about a song, Radar Love, which brought his cousin's memory back. For me certain classical pieces hurl me headlong into the stars, reminding me that by our very appreciation of art we are made artists.
When we joyfully consume art, we become artists by transformation.
Clive Barker wrote some of my favorite fantasy/horror fiction. I'm currently revisiting Imajica, one of his many fictions which explore the idea of alternate worlds. The character John Furie, or "Gentle," is an artist who makes his living by painting fakes of the Masters. When he is reunited with a lover from Imajica, his inability to capture the creature on canvas drives him to distraction.
His predicament underscores for me where we at times find ourselves, if lucky. Sometimes we are caught in a cobweb of such breathless wonder at the sheer notion of being alive, that we are allowed to see and be and experience this world. Like Gentle, we can be left profoundly speechless.
I've had a lot of those moments lately.
That, too. is art. So is how we bring up our children, treat our dying parents, train good manners in a dog, appreciate the warmth of a coffee cup in the morning.
Allow people to love us, if you will.
In the kindest of all possible ways, those who support writers like me, as I support Maria Popova over at The Marginalian for her constant stream of gorgeous and inspirational prose, are all commissioning artwork. When Dear Reader asks me to take on a topic, that's the same as Melissa's hiring the sculptress. That's the same, with a nod to Nalini here, as the way the Goddess enlists us to express Her best in the world, by living our art in our unique and inimitable ways.
With respect to those with vastly more talent than I possess, I've said nothing here that hasn't been said elsewhere. Only putting it through my personal prism as events conspire and invite me to see and experience differently. To that then:
When we make friends, we commission artwork in our lives. Those new faces come to populate the walls of our inner mansions, and we theirs. The time I spend with people like JC is living art, for the quality of the discussion, the flow of ideas and inspiration come to life in the air around us.
Barker used a visual to express this in his wonderful book Weaveworld. He described a crowd people, over whose heads were leaping colors expressing who they were in all their individual glory, rather like auras.
You and I are living art. Every word, every gesture is part of the painting we live each day. I believe that when we can appreciate this part of ourselves, we are far better able to appreciate the art around us as well as invite more of it into our lives. The more we value and appreciate life, friends, love, all of it, the more color we have on our palette from which to create more....
With great appreciation, as always, for the continued support of Dear Reader and for the push, nudge, shove or otherwise encouragement to keep creating more from all of you.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
Thank you so much for taking a few minutes out of your life to read my work. WalkaboutSaga is an act of love and devotion, and I hope that you found value in it.
If my work appeals to you, may I kindly invite you to consider joining those Patreon supporters whose generosity keeps the gas in my tank as it were.
Such articles take time, resources, research and effort. Even a small amount of support truly helps me keep this going. In challenging times, I recognize that even a small amount is hard. Those who can give, I appreciate it. Those who cannot, I hope my words are helpful.
My purpose is to Move People's Lives. I can do more of that with your help.
However you decide to partake of my writing, again, thank you.