Thursday, February 03, 2005

an invitation

My friend Ken (see yesterday's post and his comment below) is an artist. I've been aware of his abilities since high school; I used to watch him hunker over a sheet of newsprint and produce uncanny likenesses of himself, or me, or any number of unknowing subjects in the halls and classrooms of Cascade High. I didn't know how he did it, but I suspected it wasn't at all hard for him. I assumed he'd reached out a tiny finger as a three-week old and been met with a touch from God, just like the reclining naked man in Michaelangelo's The Creation of Adam. My suspicion seemed confirmed after high school when he mastered "pointillism," which, loosely translated means, "the creation of dot art by one with crazy-fast wrists." My own wrists ached as I watched him slap those miniscule dots on the page. The images that emerged seemed to arise from nothing--and they were beautiful.

I didn't attempt anything close to art until Dave's Christmas gift in 1995. I was 34 years old by then. The reason I never tried before that is because I never received The Invitation. You know the one. It's the gold-embossed invitation; the one printed on ivory parchment with the deckle-edge; the one with a single line centered inside in script letters: "Congratulations . . . you're one of us." These are given to art teachers the world over, along with strict instructions to horde them faithfully and dole them out sparingly. Ken had received one; I was sure of it. And when an errand sent me to the far end of "that hall," the one which housed the high school art classroom, I'd slow my steps and grab a wide-eyeful of the honored few on the other side of that door. These finger-of-God touched few were Artists. You either had it, or you didn't. And I didn't, so I kept obediently to my side of the door.

Imagine how startled I was, all those years later, when no one barred my entrance to the art classroom in the back of my local craft store. I wasn't asked to produce credentials or references or a portfolio. And no one mentioned The Invitation--not even once. So I stuck a canvas on my easel, pulled the crinkly wrapper off one of my brand new brushes, squirted a big glob of cobalt blue on my palette--and started painting.

On Terry Whalin's site there's an article by James Scott Bell entitled Putting the Big Lie to Sleep. In it, he tells a similar story. After reading that article this week, and then recalling my own initiation into the art world, I wondered how many of you believed that same lie. I wonder if you're tiptoeing down a hall somewhere, slowing as you pass that open door and fearful you'll be called out for staring. Are you convinced you can't write--or create anything artistic at all--simply because no one has yet told you you could? If that's the case, let me be the first. Let me put that big lie to sleep, once and for all.

Artists are not born. A few, I'm convinced, do stick their little fingers out of the crib to meet the finger of God. I'll always believe that, if only for the fact that I know a boy who, at eight, drew pictures that looked purposefully Picasso. He hadn't had time in his young life to develop that ability, so it had to be a gift. But what does that mean for the rest of us would-be artists? It means we need to put pen to paper or brush to canvas. We need to enter the classroom, find our seat, and start the journey.

You can learn to write. I promise. You'll need to develop your craft; I won't lie. You'll need to read books about writing and attend conferences and allow other people to lay eyes on your work. You'll have to toughen up and accept rejection. You'll have to toughen up even more and listen to the inner editor when you hear, "Change. Slash. Rework." But if you do all that, and you keep on doing all that, eventually you'll look down one day and find that good writing has emerged from beneath your pen.

If you have even a spark of desire toward writing, and you're just waiting to hear the words, let me be the one to tell you: You're one of us.

Now get busy.


5 Comment:

At 2/04/2005 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

Good afternoon Shannon:
Once again you have inspired and encouraged me.I am seeking God as to whether or not I am to pursue writing on any level.The spark of desire is definitely there.I am asking HIM if this is just a pipe dream or if it is truly inspired by HIM.In my childhood elementary school teachers said I had a creative writing style.A report I'd written for the one and only college class I've ever taken said"well written" on it...I got an"A" on it as I recall.My husband says I have alot to say and that I should write a book or something.....anything......which jogged my memory of another thought.....as a youth I was extremely shy and quiet.Someone in our church singles group said to the class one day"Sharon has alot to say if only she'd say it".Who knows;maybe there is a book or a song or something in me that needs to be written.I am sorry my replies to you are always so long Shannon.I can just get so wordy at times.Keep writing for HIM Shannon.God bless your day!
Sharon(of Oregon)

At 2/06/2005 3:33 AM, Blogger Ken had this to say ...

It's interesting to me that, as you explore writing and art and the processes of developing, I'm on a similar journey. As I take it that many of us are.

The "touch from God" and the discipline to develop whatever it is that you elect to develop are tightly interwoven. How much of that "touch" is the talent itself, and how much of it is the drive or motivation to push yourself to succeed at your chosen field? I believe that it all comes from God, but I'm not sure which one plays the larger part.

As a reformed teacher, I do feel that a lot can be learned. A good teacher can provide tools and instructions on how to use them, insights, history, critiques, ideas, etc... A great teacher can motivate and inspire. An amazing teacher can do all of this and stay with you through the rest of your life.

But, the teacher can't turn the student into a writer. Or an artist. Or a top-notch auto mechanic.

Only the person willing to devote the time into learning her craft, and with the self-motivation to excel at it, can become a great writer or artist or auto mechanic or parent or whatever...

And is it truly "self" motivation? Or is that the gift that God gives us? The motivation itself. I'm beginning to believe that that plays a bigger part in our successes than the talents themselves.

I guess we'll see. As I push myself to successfully master the C and G7 chords on this guitar that Laurie bought me for Christmas, without feeling like a contortionist, I'll see if I'm right...

Thanks for stretching my brain, Shannon.

You fall into that "amazing teacher" category.

At 2/08/2005 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous had this to say ...

I love cobalt blue. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the name cobalt that just sounds cool. Maybe 'cause it's the color of heaven, or it might be because it's the color the sky would be on a perfect spring day as I take a quiet stroll through an empty cemetery. Somehow or other, since I was a little boy, I've always loved cobalt blue.

At 2/08/2005 8:36 PM, Blogger shannon had this to say ...

I know exactly the color of sky you describe. It's blue like a promise--like a down payment on heaven. You can't help but smile under a sky like that.

At 2/11/2005 2:56 PM, Blogger Maurice had this to say ...

Thanks for the encouraging words. I love arts of all kinds and my desire is to be the best I can in each one I undertake. Writing is not my strength but it is something at which I desire to be better. Hopefully one day the passions inside will be able to flow from my pen as they do yours. Keep writing for Christ and encouraging others.


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