Friday, May 8, 2015

Art in Community

Art at the Center is in a time of transition; to a new space and new ways of working.
Part of this process has been to look closely at what is at the center of our practice.  When we chose the name, the idea was that art was central to community, connection, and sharing. While a physical location provided a space to gather, what made the art central was the people and the connections formed around gathering, making and sharing.
During this time of transition, I have had the great opportunity to work in a variety of settings and to reflect on what is unique about artistic practice in community.
Recently, I have been reflecting on some of the stories and experiences in this blog.  
What I find over and over is a theme of how community supports creative practice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Exploring Creativity and Contemplation

I have been leading a book group for the last few months based on The Artist's Rule: nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom.  
We meet once a week gathered in a circle around a candle and a selection of art materials.  We discuss a chapter and reflect on practices suggested for creativity and contemplation.  Our gathering begins with some quiet time of creative contemplation exploring materials.  The photos below show some of our explorations of natural materials from the chapter on finding inspiration in nature.
What has been interesting to me in this group has been the way our time of exploration and play with materials sets us up for discussion.  The play with materials and the energy of making together really feels to be a part of our interaction.  This is true whether or not participants choose to share what they make.  I enjoy the quiet of making and rustling of materials as much as I enjoy the insights and stories others share about their practices.
We completed the book last week and will break for the summer.  As I reflect on the experience I am thankful for the community that formed around this gathering and this practice.  I am also thankful for having had this space to explore my own creative practice in a time of transition to a new space and way of working in the world.
Maybe because we meet in a church, I have been reflecting more on the connections between artistic practice and spiritual practice.  Both are intensely personal and yet are nurtured in community.  Just as attending church or a regular prayer practice or meditation class can ground a spiritual practice, having a group to meet and share can ground and enrich creative practice.  Creative people need community.  And creative community itself is a spiritual practice.  It requires a safe space to show up, to reflect and to share, to witness and to be witnessed by others on the journey.

One of our final mornings in the group, we explored the idea of names and identity.  We adapted an exercise from chapter 11, creating clay stones with words of inspiration or names inscribed and imprinted in the clay.  This exploration of identity, inspiration and call seemed especially poignant as we discussed the names and expectations that come from outside and those that may seem quieter coming from within.  I was reminded again how we need spaces that see and nurture our sense of our creative identities.  These touch stones are a good reminder of a personal sense of creative identity and inspiration; this transcends the particularities of the roles and jobs we find ourselves in as we bring our creative vision into the world.

Art Day at Roslyn Retreat Center

On April 18 I attended a full day art retreat led by Bishop Goff at the Roslyn Retreat Center in Richmond.  We met in the picnic pavilion pictured below - a great open space, perfect for a mild spring day.

Here's a view of the inside of our studio for the day.

Tables were set with all sorts of materials - scraps of wood and wooden objects...
...many different kinds of paper including different designs, textures and images...
...and a table full of recycled containers and other bits and pieces (imagine a huge junk drawer)...
there were also many kinds of glue, hand-held power tools, books for inspiration, wire, metal, paint, a rich selection of open-ended found materials. 
For the morning I enjoyed the invitation to walk around and find something that spoke to me and then just to play with putting materials together.  In the photo below the lower piece of wood was the first one I picked up.  I liked how it sort of suggested a screen and buttons but in a very low tech way.  I made the screen part into a colorful collage and added additional buttons and collage elements.  
The second round piece of wood was a sort of decorative plate.  Here I returned to a familiar theme and created a color wheel using buttons I brought along for the day. 
The introduction to the retreat included an invitation to bring an object to work with - something from an attic or basement or thrift store.  I brought along a wooden wine box, thinking it doubled as a nice carrying container for materials and might be fun to decorate.
For the afternoon, I worked with the box, adding decorations and a door to create an Art Box.  My neighborhood had two Little Free Libraries within walking distance and a nearby neighborhood plans to install additional sites.  I have been thinking for a while about something similar for an art exchange.  That was the inspiration for the Art Box.

I added one of the pieces I began in the morning to the side for decoration.  The door was the most difficult part.  My initial thought was to wait and make it at home but that felt a bit like procrastination.  Finding hinges seemed to be a good sign I could improvise something so I decided to challenge myself to fashion a door out of what was available.

The sheet of plastic had been rolling around the back of my car for about 6 months, the wood scraps were almost the right size and the metal rulers proved just stiff enough to offer horizontal support while light enough to not add bulk.  In the end it was a good exercise in sticking with a problem and working with what was available.
The inside of the box is still empty.  I plan to add the color wheel mounted in the back along with some small shelves and a note encouraging people to participate in an art exchange.   
It needs a bit of work to be ready for mounting and will live under the covered portico at St Aidan's for starters.  As I tell people about the idea, I get different questions - Does it have to be finished art? What about bags of supplies for kids to take home and make something?  What if someone takes everything?  How will you know who got what you put in?  How will people know they can participate?  
Clearly I have some details to think through but I look forward to trying it and will share some of the stories of what I learn in a future post. 

It was lovely to be in a space as a maker with other makers.  Our reflection at the end focused on the nurturing energy of sharing time, space and materials for this creative work.  I was honored to hear the stories others shared about their creations and to get to share my process as well.