Tag Archives: artists

Get Courageous

When I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa, I read in the college newspaper an interview with the director of the Playwrights’ Workshop. The reporter asked for his advice to would-be playwrights. His response was so outrageous, I remember it after a bunch of years.

He advised, if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, get rid of them. If you’ve got a husband or wife, disown them. If you’ve got kids, drown them.

I suspect he was practicing dramatic hyperbole. Yet I, like Saint Paul, agree with the basic principle: lovers and dependents can get in the way of our work.

If you dedicate yourself to writing, at some point you’ll suspect people are conspiring to stop you. They will demean your efforts overtly or by lack of appreciation. Your family will fail to hide their resentment of the time you spend dreaming over the keyboard and the fact that you don’t make as much money as you could if you applied the same effort to pulling weeds for minimum wage.

And when you’re having a creative reverie, or even if they catch you transcribing directly from the spirit, they will interrupt.

We can’t blame them. When pursuing our art, we’re lost to the world. We’re remote, boring, often cranky. We’re loners who may elicit jealousy when our loved ones begin to doubt we really need them.

But most of us do need them, at least in times when we’re not creating. So, if I were asked for advice on this issue, I might suggest we try hard to be extra good to our loved ones whenever we break away from our art. And we might try putting a lock on our office door.

In practicing art, we risk alienating family and friends. That’s a fact. Artists aren’t recognized as the best husbands, wives or parents. But neither are soldiers, policemen or preachers, other occupations that require courage.

As Olga Savitsky taught me, King David was “a man after God’s own heart” because he was both a warrior and a poet. I imagine David composing his psalms with the same focus, zeal, and courage as he used attacking Goliath or the Edomites.

Read on in Writing and the Spirit

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Angels?

An anecdote about the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke tells of his being invited by his friend the psychologist Karl Jung to undertake psychotherapy. Rilke declines the offer, saying “I’m afraid if my demons go, my angels will go with them.”

In legend and literature are a host of characters who have bartered with the devil and traded their souls for creative powers.

William Blake, especially in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” portrays the angelic and the demonic as equally powerful and necessary. A Christian reading Blake may wish he could ask the poet, “Hey, which side are you on?”

Blake might explain that he roamed like a foreign correspondent through the spirit world, in the midst of a heavenly battleground, surrounded by firefights and war cries, reporting on what he saw and heard. He may have simply felt called to write what he witnessed and leave judgment to his readers.

Suppose a spirit gives us strange words, wild combinations of words, lines rich with meanings we have never consciously meant, and suppose they make us feel wicked, cruel or severely deranged, in a fearful way.

Just because inspiration strikes doesn’t mean we’re obliged to accept it. Perhaps Hitler was inspired to massacre people, Eric Rudolph to bomb abortion clinics.

Artists are called to partner with the spirit, not to be any spirit’s pawns.

Inspired?

I go to a church where people occasionally stand (or remain sitting) and bring a prophetic word. And I suspect the inspiration they receive that prompts these outbursts may be of identical substance to the inspirations that seem to compel us writers to feel what people call “in the zone,” as if the words we write are coming from elsewhere.

I was having lunch with Charlie Gregg, a pastor and pastor’s kid. He’s witnessed probably thousands of what church folks call “words of knowledge” and also written plenty of sermons, devotions and stories. He agreed with my comparison and added, “I feel most convinced that the promptings are from God when I’m in worship.”

Perhaps that’s a universal experience. If so, and if we could all find a worshipful (or thankful or open-hearted) attitude to write within, we’d likely be more open to the spirit’s instructions.

Spirit?

Morty Sklar founded a publishing venture called The Spirit That Moves Us.

That’s the spirit I mean.

As most earnest writers would agree, we write because we have to. We get depressed when we don’t. Something tells us to write down what we see, feel or imagine. After we’ve followed that direction, something tells us, “Develop that more, you haven’t told the whole story.” When we ask, “What’s the whole story?” something says “You’re only going to learn that by telling it well.”

In the end, when we’ve created a story or poem or essay that seems to transcend what we know and what we intended and that teaches us something new, we probably feel closer to the joy God knows in creation than anybody other than creators can feel.

Maybe the something that urges and compels us is what we Christians call the Holy Spirit. If so, we should pay more attention to that advisor.

On ChristianityToday.com, I read: “I’ve puzzled over a riddle for some time now. It goes like this: Those who call on Jesus for salvation are given the Holy Spirit. It’s through the Spirit’s power that we, simple jars of clay, are able to shine golden and do wonderful things beyond our human capability. So, why do Christians, who claim access to the original creator, so often produce poor art?”

One reason may be that Christians tend not to value their imaginations as much as they value order and discipline. Art can be messy.

I suspect most artists could get diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. But, at least in most cases, I wouldn’t consider that condition a disorder. I’d call it a blessing.

When I start to pray, after a few seconds, my mind drifts, and the prayer gets left behind. I’ve tried meditating. My mind refuses to shut down, or even relax. Now, “prayer warriors” and avid pursuers of meditation would no doubt assure me that practice would bring control over my wandering mind. But so far I haven’t felt God urging me to dedicate myself to lengthy prayers or daily meditation. I have, though, sensed him telling me to write most every day.

I suspect we artists were created to scatter more readily, to be more self-propelled than other folks, and to resist imposed structures. So, maybe our best road for inching or rushing closer to God is the same road that will lead us toward better paintings, songs or stories. Maybe, since God appears to have designed us to make art, we’ll never find peace or please God any other way.

Or maybe I’m nuts.

A selection from Writing and the Spirit, by Ken Kuhlken