a.new. art journal

The past two weeks have been filled with many memorable events.  It's been hard to find time to write and, even more so, show-up to what is (I plan on writing more on this topic soon).  Although this month has been packed, I did find a moment to move on to my new art journal.  I started art journaling in 2007 and just finished my first journal at the beginning of this month.

Sure there were a few pages left in it and the perfectionist in me thought for a hot second, "You need to go all the way to the end."  But then the recovery voice showed up and gently spoke, "Those pages can stay empty.  It's a new season; time to start the journal you've been staring at for five months."

This is the journal:

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Hobbits, Vampires, and Wizards: How Should Christians Read?

What we read has an important effect on who we are -- both for good and for bad. How can we think through what is helpful and what is not helpful for our walk with Christ? Using St Paul and C.S. Lewis as guides, Dr Ordway explores ways to think in a Christian way about the choices we make in our reading. Rather than just presenting a list of "good" or "bad" books, she helps us find ways to think through our choices in a Christian context.

A Source Of Boise State's Inspiration

We are huge Boise State football fans. Mark’s father was Dean of Engineering for many years at the school. It was only natural that I became a fan after marrying into the family. It’s fun having a wardrobe full of blue and orange and hanging out with friends to watch the games.

Our respect is not just for the school and the team – it’s also for Coach Chris Peterson and his coaching staff. They see their job as not only winning games but building men of integrity who will lead, create and fulfill their commitments. How can you not love that?

Since Coach Pete has been at BSU, the team has grown in popularity around the nation. We’re the small town team known for trick plays and coming back from behind. The creativity of they playbook amazes me. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, another surprise play emerges. It’s crazy yet oh so fun to watch.

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Reframing "The Creativity Crisis"

The most recent edition of Newsweek Magazine is bannered with the title, "The Creativity Crisis."  The feature article describes a scientifically measured decline in the collective CQ (creativity quotient) of American children and adults.  According to the article, "With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling."

The article goes on to describe the necessity of human creativity, an "undisputed" need that goes far beyond the artistic connection—it affects our ability to sustain economic growth, to deliver health care, to even bring peace to Afghanistan.  Creativity is a valued attribute, and yet, the United States' collective creativity is declining.
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Creativity and Getting Old

Recently, a friend sent me a technical paper entitled, "Optimum Strategies for Creativity and Longevity" by Sing Lin, Ph. D.  Now, I'm always looking for a little light reading, so I dove right into it.  The paper cites Dr. Leo Esaki, a Nobel Laureate, who claimed that:

"...Most of the great discoveries and innovations by the Nobel Laureates occurred at the average age of 32 even though the Nobel prizes were awarded 10 or 20 years afterwards. Furthermore, Dr. Esaki indicated that the peak creativity of most scientists occurred around the age range of 20 to 30 years. As one gets older, the experience increases but the creativity decreases steadily with the age. "

The paper concludes, "The most precious, creative and innovative period in your life is the 10-year period around the age of 32."  It goes so far as to imply that one should plan for one's creativity to wane and to be prepared for other roles as you mature in your career.
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The Red Elephant (Part Two)

What was your Red Elephant?

What first summoned you into concentration, and inspired in you a desire to create, to build, to lose yourself in impassioned work?

Something led you to pursue, say, medical science: the desire to understand a disease; the elaborate name of a virus; the feeling of your hand on the shoulder of an ailing parent. Something summoned you.

What is it about architecture? Editing? Law? Poetry? Beachcombing? Cross-country skiing? Sculpture? Violin repair? Beekeeping?

There is something in this.

Adam sees animals in the garden — look how they crawl, slither, strut, and swagger! — and their wild beauty and variety compels him to make something of the situation. He is driven to name them. He awakens and sees the woman, and he feels an even more particular drive — not merely to observe, but to engage. Jacob has a dream about a ladder that touches heaven. Revelation. Moses walks around a corner on an ordinary mountainside on an ordinary day and suddenly a shrub is blazing without a puff of smoke, and he perceives the presence of God.

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The Red Elephant (Part One)

I don’t remember the other animals. Only the elephant.

Over my mattress and my baby blankets, a mobile slowly revolved, drawing a merry-go-round of animal shapes to a jingling nursery tune. Without a word in my head, without names to call my parents, without any capacity to help myself, I lay there, wide-eyed and drooling, watching for the Red Elephant to float by again. And again.

It was hypnotic, mysterious — this parade of pillowed characters in primary colors, drifting around and and around. And every time the Red Elephant came around, with his jolly smile and his dark shiny eyes, I felt a surge of desire and reached with all of my might to grab for it.

When I was old enough to wrap my fingers around crayons, I went for the reds. I scribbled shapes with jolly smiles and dark, shining eyes. I wanted now to go beyond reaching for and seizing the Idea that had triggered something in me. I wanted to become a part of it. I wanted to ponder it through the vigorous act of imitation. By focusing on particular parts — a body, a nose, an eye — I was familiarizing myself with elements that were Important.

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Revisiting the One Size Fits All Education System

I bought a sweater once that was "one-size-fits-all," but I quickly discovered that "one-size-fits-all" is a bold-faced lie. When it comes to clothing, one size most definitely does not fit all. I am a size four, and the sweater practically swallowed me whole. It was supposed to be one of those items that stretched and retracted to accommodate its wearer, but instead it was bunchy and bulky and unflattering. It quickly moved to the back of my closet, only to be donated to Goodwill for some other gullible shopper to get suckered into buying.

One-size-fits-all is a lie when it comes to clothing. And, I am coming to learn, it is a lie in pretty much everything else. When the IAM staff first got our iPhones, mine felt clunky and large in my smallish hands, while my coworkers who are men with much larger hands did not find it awkward at all. When I go somewhere, I slide easily into my Nissan Sentra, but when I recently gave my friend Allen a ride, his height and girth made my small car a bit of a challenge. For him, a truck or larger sedan would fit much better. The more I think about it, one size does not really "fit" all. Rather, "all" adjust or accommodate or simply get used to using something that doesn't fit all that well. The more I think about it, life depends on "all" adjusting to the "one-size." I suppose, in some backward way, that is how manufacturers can get away with saying that "one size fits all."
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Waiting for Inspiration

Traditionally, I take the week off after Christmas.  For a worship pastor like myself, this is a bit of a sacred time—to spend with family, physically and spiritually refuel from the long fall and Christmas schedule, and do a little reflecting on life.  This last week, I also fired up my project recording studio, collected all the odd and unformed lyrics I have jotted down over the past six months, and gave my right brain an opportunity to play a little bit.  (I also snuck onto my daughters' new Wii a few times, but that may be irrelevant.)

Every songwriter works in their own way.  Some like to start with a melody; others begin with a lick or a lyrical phrase or some chord changes.  There are no rules, no procedures, no single formula for writing a song.  There is only this inexplicable thing called inspiration—that seems like luck and works like magic and feels like madness.

The most gifted and hard working artists seem to be inspired all the time, but that is not true.  When there is no inspiration, it is then that skill and gifting can carry you.  A gifted songwriter can write a song whether or not they are inspired, simply because they understand the craft of songwriting.  A gifted painter can create an amazing work of art simply because they have a canvas in front of them.  And a gifted writer can write a great article simply because they are under a deadline.  All of this begs the question: Is inspiration a requirement for creativity?

As artists, we are obligated to steward the gifts God gives us, through diligent discipline.  Artists must be attentive to their craft.  In other words, having talent is not an excuse for not working hard.  Quite the opposite—the greater the giftedness, the greater the obligation to steward those gifts, to work and hone our craft.  It is a matter of the parable of the talents, applied to our talents.  And so, because I understand and practice the craft of songwriting, I can write songs that are creative.  But I don't always write songs that are good.  In fact, I am really quite good at writing mediocre songs.  So where does the inspiration come in?

Jeremy Begbie states that "art is...inherently dialogical."  And I believe that includes a vertical dialogue, a transcendent and spiritual component to our art.  When we are inspired, it feels like we are tapping into this wholly other thing.

This last week, I was feeling inspired.  And for me, this inspiration—that seems like luck and works like magic and feels like madness—took me somewhere I don't think I could have gone by myself.  

As a Christ-follower, I believe that all true inspiration ultimately comes from the Spirit of God.  I also know that the Spirit of God is a much better songwriter than I am, so I am often reticent to give him credit for the stuff I write.  But this week, I walked into my studio with a some unhurried time, a few scratched-out ideas, and an attentiveness to the Inspirer of things—and I walked out of my studio with three new songs.  And so far, they still sound pretty good.

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Nurturing Creativity

So I'm on this artist, creativity, "unblocking" kick, mostly in part to experiencing the flip-sides herein. And two noteworthy mentions of the hour are:

1) "The Artist's Way," by Julia Cameron. It's fantastic. Challenging, but fantastic.

2) Lecture at the TED awards by Elizabeth Gilbert ("Eat, Pray, Love")

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