Tag Archives: Jesus

Paradox: Self-Promotion and Humility

If artists do not promote themselves no one else will. In fact no one else will even know that his or her work exists. Yet for a follower of Jesus, the example is humility, and oh yes, Jesus always promoted himself. What? Or did he?

Jesus often told people who he was and why he had come. He taught people about his Father. In fact his main focus was on the Father’s love for people.

Jesus did not promote himself for selfish reasons. I have to admit that Jesus revealed whom he was in ways that made him unpopular. Where am I going with this? I am not sure.

As an artist I need to sell my work. My work is often not easily accessible and needs to be explained. To explain I need a platform. To get a platform I need to promote myself and my work.

I find myself wondering what Jesus would have been like in his decade or so of working in the carpenter shop. I know the workmanship would have been superb. His dealing would have been honest. The work would have been on time and under budget. But, how would he make sales?

Perhaps the world as he knew it then has changed dramatically. (He continues to know it as he is still with us through his resurrection.) In the village, there may have been a carpenter’s guild. People would have known him and his work well because of word of mouth and the reputation of Joseph’s work. The work probably came to him. Jesus, I imagine, would have worked humbly without promoting his work or himself. In fact, his work, by its nature may have been self-effacing, yet he is the Creator of the whole world.

As a carpenter in a village he would have created functional items from time-tested designs. He did not work then as a wood artist or sculptor. What is the difference between making functional items and creating original work that is experimental, ephemeral, conceptual, thought provoking or just plain beautiful? I do not know the answer.

My work is more like the latter. In a tough economy people buy what they need to function in daily life: plates, cups, and bowls. Their focus is on survival. In these days of fake news, and especially real news, paying the bills is paramount.

Galleries suffer in down times yet art is deep and creative in a culture under duress. I think of the Dada movement of WWII. Art was made that deliberately made no sense – and it helped the artists to keep their sanity when their work was declared an affront to the state and they were deported or left.

Actually it was an affront to the state. That is why it was created. The state had gone wild. Artists had the courage to reflect this.

Anyway, that art did not sell then but now is literally worth millions. The German artist Kurt Schwitters, known as the father of modern collage, created small collages out of whatever crossed his path as he lived in a prisoner of war camp in Scotland. Work that would now be worth millions was thrown in the garbage by the guards. I saw a small collage he made one year in the Vancouver Art Gallery, 8 x 10, browned with age, bits of ordinary paper. I ask, how could this be worth millions?

It brings me back to the big questions, what is art, what is the artist, who is the viewer, what makes someone buy art? Is art worth dying for? I ask here for your answers, tell me.

 

LifeStrife

“Life/Strife” Mixed Media Collage DS

 

Advertisements

Failure: the Doorway to Success?

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015

Photo of Iona and Labyrinth under new ownership 2015 DS

Government programs fail to deliver; countries fail to provide for their citizens; ghost towns form. Movements fail or decline, new ways emerge. Countries like Syria are struggling for survival. The Yukon was the sight of failed gold mining. Planes fall out of the sky (Malaysia Airlines, EgyptAir, Indian Air Force), again.

Wars are lost. Boundaries are changed. Peoples are displaced.

There are failures on a global scale to protect air, water, and land. Species have become extinct. Some failures may just be the natural ebb and flow of existence.

The iconic Iona Building at UBC had to be sold although the theological college still exists apart from that grand space. I think of the Highland Clearances of Scotland (to make room for sheep), to be a failure, as well as the Potato Famine of Ireland. The wildfire of Fort McMurray is a failure of sorts but the town will be rebuilt. I hope.

We fail to rehabilitate, to resuscitate, to reinstate, to collaborate, to meditate. We are unsuccessful in love, in business, in losing weight, in baking a gourmet cake. I do/am.

Friendships are lost. Cars are crashed. Our bodies are injured or break down with disease. Mine does.

Everyday failure is real. It is not the end of the world though it may seem like it at the time. Failure may be a chance for change, or just sorrow to be endured.

How would Mother Teresa have measured success, or Picasso, or Matisse who created from his bed, or Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr.…? (How do I – by mission statement?)

Sometimes our failures catch up with us. We stand in need of forgiveness. The making of amends, as in AA, can rebuild relationship success.

Success can be illusive or inconclusive. It can be fleeting or misleading. True success in life – who can define it?

I just received 2 ‘declines’ from an art jury. I have received many of these over the years. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I say. Do I take their refusal as permanent – or as fleeting?

Is it them or me, their judging or my creating? I have never actually kept track of my declines or failures. I change goals. My work has been exhibited in over 70 shows.

A Business of Art course instructor once told us that some artists have commercial success and some critical success. Juries love my work. Yet the fact remains, that I have a high ratio of donated paintings versus those I have sold. By which criteria do I judge my own work?

Much of what I create, I will admit, does not fit well in a living room above a couch. It is too raw for that. The colours are anything but subdued. The techniques are immediate, layered, direct and even messy. My style does not have the requisite consistency. But there is an internal rhythm. In my latest jury submission of 33 paintings (one for every year of the life of Christ) each has a cross or stripe pattern.

The truly difficult thing is that the work has to be created, the materials purchased, the time set aside. Years of work needs to be framed before one applies. One has to get the paintings onto a gallery wall so viewers can consider buying them. One has to have the space to store unsold paintings. New paintings have to be imagined and realized for the next jury, to fit the next art space requirements.

How, I think now, can any artist really keep going to achieve success? There are so many barriers, so much competition, so many people who ignore art totally.

It seems to me that each artist must define success differently. Each artist must hone and redefine the definition to fit the circumstances, must see benefits where they seem invisible.

Creating art is similar to being a mother. Our paintings incubate and are born. Success, I realize now, is to have children leave home ready to meet the world and to have paintings leave the studio to find their niche. My children and my paintings are offered to the world as the best of me. Adult children forever at home or paintings lying dusty in the studio are the true failures. But success often calls just when we are ready to give up.

In the meantime, children may struggle, paintings gather dust, but independence is close and my oeuvre is being built for that day not too far away.

How can one achieve success when accolades come for just the opportunity to show? What can assuage the echoing sting of ending an exhibition with few sales? How can one go on year after year financing one’s own – what – ego? When the paintings pile up in the studio why do I apply to more juries? This art-making refuses to die. It becomes like a form of addiction. That first flow of colour off the paintbrush at 7 years old had me hooked. As with all addiction there is grief.

My paintings need a home and I want money for them. There, I have said it. Maybe after I am dead, success will come in memorial. Perhaps it is my children, my estate that will benefit from my collection. I have now got it: my legacy will be my success. My part is to enjoy the process of creating.

One thing about achieving a degree of success is that one asks what do I do next? Where can I go? When can I say, it is enough? For now, I decide I will rest with gratitude.

I know that if I get that show for my 33 paintings my desires have not changed. I want people to attend the opening. I want a decent write up in the reviews. I do not want to carry those cumbersome paintings out of the gallery, into my vehicle, and back to my studio only to begin over again next week. I am tired. I need success now and I need studio space. My body feels broken. My mind and spirit carry it trailing behind like the tin cans tied to a wedding car.

Jesus’ death on the cross: failure it appeared.  Was his goal to live three score and ten years? The Resurrection 3 days later proved the success of his mission.

When I think of failure and success after all this, I ponder two questions:

  1. What do I want?
  2. How will I know when I get there?

As I wait to see how sales have gone at my latest exhibition, I receive a message that my painting “VanDusen Gardens” has been chosen by the art committee at Lions Gate Hospital for their permanent collection in ‘The Healing Power of Art Program’. It will hang with the greats – Molly Bobak, Sylvia Tait, Gordon Smith… Am I there yet?

 

VanDusen at home

“VanDusen Gardens” Acrylic on Canvas, 32″ x 48″, Deborah Stephan

Rivendell Cross

IMG_0476

“Window at Rivendell” iPhone photo DS

On retreat at Rivendell this morning, I particularly noted the 18” wooden cross on the centre table. It was smooth and brown. I felt like holding it but I sat on my gold and pink textile bench and looked out over the fuchsia foxglove and tall trees to the white clouded sky. It was 8:00am and the spiritual day was well on its way.

I thought that in my burned out state I would be recovering passively but already a choice was upon me. The words: take up your cross and follow me, arose unbidden from my heart. I thought: this table cross would not be hard to carry. I remembered the movies I had seen with Jesus carrying his cross along the Via Dolorosa and this one in front of me seemed so easy.

The things that were my cross to bear came to mind. They were heavy – too heavy for me. I was on the verge of panic.

I began some meditative breathing, eyes closed, repeating the Jesus prayer. My thoughts went to a situation that had gone badly before I left home. It was not solvable as there was no cooperation. I sensed the words, let it go, and felt an opening of possibility. It came to me that in this area I was trying too hard. I was trying to control the outcome. What I needed to do was to support the process.

A bicycle entered my reverie. There were training wheels on it. You are the training wheels, I thought. The training wheels do not decide where the bicycle is going. They merely provide subtle yet strong support for the rider.

It became clear now, that I had gone too far. The situation that had brought me to the edge was actually not mine although I was required to play a part. I had fallen into the leading part, perhaps like the handlebars on the bike. I need to change my position, my viewpoint and get back to being the training wheels. The outcome was not mine.

Others at the retreat entered the round holy space sitting around the perimeter one by one. A candle was lit, a bell rung. I resolved to pick up that small hefty cross but it would have been disruptive. I would lift it; perhaps cradle it, another day this week. This is my cross, lighter than the one Jesus carried.

Then he told them what they could expect for themselves: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. 

Book of Luke

 

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

Book of Matthew

 

The Most Unpopular Topic Ever

 

Acrylic on Gallery Canvas8” x 8”

” Burning Hearts” Acrylic on Gallery Canvas DS

The Spirituality of Sin

Luckily I will keep it short if not sweet! (Oops, not short either.)

Sin is a bad word now. It is worse than all of the other bad words of swearing, cussing, foul language or whatever the term of the hour. The word ‘sin’ is so bad it is unmentionable. You will never hear it pass anyone’s lips, of any age, young or old – perhaps not even in a sermon if you hear one.

The Book of Romans says: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” All – wow. Surely some of us are good. Sin in the Greek means ‘to miss the mark of perfection’. “Well”, we say, “no one is perfect.” Yet the Book of Romans continues: “The wages of sin is death.” Surely not really, we think.

What to do, what to do, we worry. Indeed, what is there that we can do, even if we wanted to? Sometimes life is like that. We get stuck. We become trapped. Like the web of addiction and denial, are our myriad failed ways to cope, to be free of pain. We need help from the outside – an intervention, of sorts – actually on a cosmic scale. Also like the person addicted to drugs, alcohol, sugar, porn or unhealthy relationships, we must say: “I need help.” and, “I need an interventionist.”

Through the love of society, community, family, we enter detox and treatment, then recovery of a life of freedom from addiction is possible. Through the sacrificial love of God sending his Son Jesus, we can be delivered from sin. We cannot do it ourselves but we can choose help. We look up and heaven sends deliverance.

The Spirit cleans, fills us and teaches us the things of Jesus. It is instant detox. Yet we must enter treatment – a public declaration that we need help and are surrendering to it. Some treatment facilities provide 30 days, some 90 days; some are entered for a year or more. Yet the wise person knows he/she must be in active recovery for a lifetime.

So it is with entering the Kingdom of God. This is the true Easter story. In baptism we symbolize dying with Christ and rising with him to become a new creature. Discipleship, mentorship, the contemplative life, the spiritual journey, the Way, are each labels for this lifetime process of learning to live a new life.

In a community of like people, the church, as members of AA do, support one another, socialize together and pass on the message to those still living in bondage to addiction or sin. We can live clean, free lives, trusting in the power of God. God’s love sustains us. What is it the AA big book says – We admitted we were powerless and became willing for a power greater than ourselves to restore us?

They say that addiction is a disease marked with relapse. As we learn to walk the new road we find ‘good Samaritans’ along the way to companion us. No one chooses to walk the Camino de Santiago alone. A life of pilgrimage is always walked in community even if there are periods of being hermits together like some of the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the 4th century. Even they would leave their cells and meet several times a year.

Sin; missing the mark – what is the mark we are missing anyway? The mark, I proffer, is the sign of the cross and a person living in peace with one’s Maker. This true peace is it the de facto opposite of sin? Life in the Beloved may be a life of continuing freedom to forgive, to love – even the seemingly unforgivable and unlovable. We are not puppets, we choose. We are persons made in the image of God.

Yet, as the newcomer to AA discovers, I relapse. I regress at times. I fail to pray, to forgive, to love, to be humble, to be a maker. Also true is that I now know how to be high on life – to sing and to dance, to have fun meaningful conversations, to smell flowers, to see a newborn child or view my completed painting. I find myself pondering the greatest high of all – Is it not to taste the very sinless, perfect, presence of God and to be the very person we are made to be, to love as we are loved? Once experienced can we be happy with lesser freedoms?

 

That same day two of them were walking to the village Emmaus, about seven miles out of Jerusalem. They were deep in conversation, going over all these things that had happened. In the middle of their talk and questions, Jesus came up and walked along with them. 

Book of Luke

Redaction and Collage

IMG_2994

“Scripture Fragment” 2016 DS

The penny has dropped. The light bulb has gone on. Redaction and collage are the same. One pieces together the writings of others. The other gathers and glues found images. The author/artist unites them with a few of her own ideas. What could be better?

These seem to be very postmodern pastimes. Yet they are each ancient practices. DeSilva a Bible scholar and Rauschenberg a prolific artist of found objects may make strange companions but have worked in similar ways.

Redaction criticism of the Gospels pays particular attention to the differences between each fragment of text preserved. These differences cannot be collapsed together without losing the authentic voice of each of the four Evangelists. They serve an important purpose. That said, in piecing together the Jesus sayings, the redactors see that they form a related whole.

In my mind, the redactors of the ancient texts are actually like collagists. They take what is there and fit the pieces together like skilled artists use binder. The Spirit helps the redactors of Scripture like rabbit skin glue or synthetic medium promotes the harmonization of disparate images do for the artist. Authentic meaning is both discovered and made:

Presentation of the passage often connects directly with the themes or topics that are of greatest interest to the Evangelist.

Taken from (An Introduction to the New Testament by David A. deSilva)

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) took 2D and 3D fragments of everyday life: a bed, a goat, a tire, or a bird, or a newspaper item, mixing together elements of high and low art to present to the world his unique skill in portraying both art and life. Memories of childhood fragments influenced his masterful work:

His mother, Dora, was a devout Christian and a frugal woman. She made the family’s clothes from scraps, a practice that embarrassed her son, but possibly influenced his later work with assemblages and collage.

http://www.theartstory.org/artist-rauschenberg-robert.htm

Redaction must be one of the most basic activities of life. Go for the gold then, when a surfeit is received. The opposite venture leads to a ‘less is more’ way. We gather and we purge, write and redact. We create paintings and we sell them. We birth children, then we say goodbye to them. Art and life are collaged by the Spirit.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

(Book of Ecclesiastes)

Three Images and a Poem

As I rest in a pre-dawn reverie a series of images emerge layered upon one another. The first is one of my favourite paintings of William Holman Hunt: “The Light of the World”. The glow of the lamp extends to light my tanned, blue pedicured feet. The thought comes: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119). I am walking the seawall at night. As I look up, stars dot the night sky. Behind me the ‘pearl necklace’ of the Lion’s Gate Bridge shines across the dark water. The stars turn into tiny orange fires from a poem by Denise Levertov. This is how some of my best paintings have come about. A narrative emerges from a series of images collaged in my mind by the Spirit.

This may not ever become a painting. I have more ideas than I could possibly get enfleshed in paint. But I know why I half dream today as turn over again. This is a nodal day; a day I waited for: a rare meeting with a professor about my future after graduation in the spring.

The years of workshops and book study groups that have been my praxis to balance my academics have all but dried up. In this time when I could look forward to planning new series of workshops there seem to be no open doors. My last book study group had to be cancelled for lack of attendance. Both of my creative expressions of painting and writing are mostly solitary activities, whether in the sunlit studio or the dark room and lamp lit desk. These are both my default and my scaffolding undergirded by the Spirit’s inner work.

Just when I will graduate with a Masters of Art in Spiritual Formation, all that I have worked for seems to have disappeared. The Shellseekers Art + Soul contemplation and creativity workshops are my passion. It is not like I can now just look in the newspaper and find a job. The path of an artist is an organic thing. Yet the path is lit for a little ways ahead. I will paint and write. It is what I do. That does not change. A door ahead will be opened for me to pass these on to others I am sure. Faith and fear are opposites. I have a choice.

Life Interrupts Sleep (DS 2015)

The middle of the night again

Life interrupts sleep

Much to contemplate these days

Oh to stave of the desire to weep

 

The poetic and the mundane

Compete with images of fear and pain

Traffic noises and bumps in the dark

Arise my fair one and see what is stark

 

A list is made

To empty the mind

Of worries real and of future cost

I must retrieve what was lost

 

A degree almost earned

Benefits of two decades fall away

A car scraped

An iced driveway

 

Painting is a thing of the recent past

Writing is slow and creaking

To mask the grief

Of your absence

 

william-holman-hunt-the-light-of-the-world-circa-1851-53_i-G-23-2364-H53JD00Z

“The Light of the World” 1851-53

William Holman Hunt

Future Directions

Paintings donated to BCWH placed above cans

“The Angel Meetings above the Recycling and Garbage at BCWH”

While preparing for “The Abundant Life” art show at The Carey Centre, UBC, it seems God had in mind for me to do a review of my life, so far. Art and life mix together, as is the case for a narrative painter. Recently I had occasion to visit B.C. Women’s Hospital and to see the paintings that I donated a few years ago. I noticed that now they are accompanied in the space by the recycling and garbage. My first reaction was outrage and to plan a phone call to the hospital foundation to ask that the garbage be moved.

As the day went on, I thought about the image. The paintings are part of a series of six that I created called “The Angel Meetings”. I had imagined that angels met to discuss how to handle us humans here on earth. They would strategize ways to help us. When I looked at the paintings today it came to me that just like Jesus’ cross being his way to provide cleansing for the detritus of the world, so his angels would be dealing with us and our garbage in his power. God’s ways are not mine, but are higher (Isaiah 55:9). So be it. They were offered up to God and given.

I have been concerned about many things (Luke 10:41): art sales, workshops, people. Yet, I choose to sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary (Luke 10:42) and wait for his next steps for me and leave the results of my work up to him.

DS, June 2015.