Truth is Truer in Narnia or Finding Transcendence in Art

 

I love good art not because it reminds me of reality, but because it gives me hope that there is something beyond the reality I see.

I love Picasso’s Dora Maar au Chat because it reminds me that even what seems broken can be beautiful. I love Van Gogh’s Starry Night, because his stars are the essence of stars the way I imagined them to be almost alive when I was a child – something magical and unearthly. I love C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia because reading them is like lifting the murky gray of our world and shining a light on it. Truth seems truer in Narnia the way the Technicolor version of a movie is more vivid than the real thing. I love Patty Griffin’s song, Making Pies, because the ordinary is the beauty within it.

Stripping away the facade of reality allows me to see the truths beneath the surface – truths I have grown incapable of seeing in the familiar, often harsh, face of world around me. I am blinded by my hurts, my fears, my prejudices, and my cynicism.

I catch glimpses of this transcendence in life and in nature, but usually only if I am looking, and most often when something has become its least ordinary self – a part of itself I have not yet become inured to. The sun at high noon in a cloudless sky is so common that it will rarely evoke any comment or reaction, but an extravagant sunset with cloud strokes patching the sky in yellows and golds and purples and reds? When I see that, I believe that God took up a brush and palette and painted the sky Himself – just to ravage me with beauty – the way a lover hopes his gift will bring his beloved to tears.

A young man walking across a street will not impress, but seeing a young man take the arm of a blind stranger after exchanging a few words, and then watching them cross together? Suddenly, I have seen beyond the ordinary to something beautiful – something that I hoped existed all along, but in which I hardly dared believe.

Too many of us, myself included, usually experience this hope only when something is so startlingly breathtaking we cannot help but notice, and then, we are like children greedily snatching candy from a curmudgeonly schoolmarm, as if God only dispenses these moments in his most expansive moods.

Art and hope have this in common: they both help you to see and believe in the beauty that is too often hidden in the real world. Good art is an exercise in hope – it reminds you how to use it. I also believe that they both begin with imagination.

So what is this hope, and can I immerse myself in it instead of only stealing these flashes of ecstasy and existing in mediocrity the rest of the time?

And here is where the imagination comes in. If I am hopeless, it is because I have stopped imagining a world or a circumstance where things can be better. The hopeless lack imagination.

In the Bible, the word “hope” is often interchanged in various versions with the word “wait.” If I give up hope because I do not have or see something now, I very much misunderstand the idea of hope, because why would you need to hope for something you already have? Romans 8: 24 says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

But there is one more component, and probably the most difficult one: belief aka faith. Waiting and imagining will eventually send you spiraling down in to despair if you do not also have belief, because the longer you have to wait, the less your imagination will be able to sustain you. Ask any adult. And let me be clear – what we are believing for as Christians is not in this world. If we are only living based on the circumstances of the moment and not as if there is something transcendent, then we are living as any secular person.

Have you ever read what is commonly known as The Faith Chapter in the Bible? Hebrews 11 begins: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It goes on to commend those who have lived extraordinary lives of faith. Verse 10 says of Abraham: “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Verse 13 says: “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” Verses 38-40 are so powerful: “…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

I ask you not to skim these verses as we are so often tempted to do when we believe we know them already or we don’t think we care what they say. Go back now. Reread them. Note the phrases:

  1. “still living by faith when they died” – interpretation: they had not received their promise yet and they died. If you give up while you’re still breathing, you’re not gonna make the Faith Chapter.
  2. “world was not worthy of them” – interpretation: when you are tempted to think you must have done something to deserve your hard life or maybe that God is not doing his job, think of these people who wandered in deserts and lived in caves and in holes in the ground and remember that the world was not worthy of them. Don’t give up hope. The world won’t be worthy of you, either, whether it knows it or not.
  3. “since God had planned something better for us” – interpretation: something beyond this world: “…the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…” because we are “…foreigners and strangers on earth.”

In Mere Christianity, Bk. III, Chapter 10 (unsurprisingly, the chapter titled “Hope”), C.S. Lewis says this: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Thank God.

The recipe for Hope: Imagine, Believe, Wait

Or in longhand:

To live with a constant feeling of expectation for a certain thing (Isaiah 40:31), a thing which you have not yet seen or experienced (Hebrews 11:1), you must trust that God is faithful even when this world is full of suffering (Romans 8:18), and you must remain in a state of expectation that His promises are true (Psalm 27:14).

Hope: hōp/ – noun

  1. a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Im·ag·i·na·tion: iˌmajəˈnāSH(ə)n/ – noun

  1. the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced

Be·lief: bəˈlēf/ – noun

  1. trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.

Wait: wāt/ – verb

  1. to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen soon

 

And a song for your parting thoughts:

Imagination

Music by Jimmy Van Heusen

Lyrics by Johnny Burke

Imagination is funny
It makes a cloudy day sunny
Makes a bee think of honey
Just as I think of you

Imagination is crazy
Your whole perspective gets hazy
Starts you asking a daisy
“What to do, what to do?”

Have you ever felt
A gentle touch and then a kiss
And then and then and then and then
Find it’s only your imagination again?
Oh, well

Imagination is silly
You go around willy-nilly
For example I go around wanting you
And yet I can’t imagine
That you want me, too

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My Dreams Are Not Dead

My own post made me cry.  Yes, it did.  In a good way, though.  I went back to read my, “Why the title?” post and realized that I have ceased to enact it.  At least in my outward existence.  It’s like I am hiding what I love (being creative) because I am afraid of it…afraid of being hurt by it as most people are who chose to live in mediocrity instead of chasing a dream.  And that is what I have been choosing. 

I have been in the perpetual state of “overwhelmed” for 4 months, which if you know me, you know is not like me.  I’m usually pretty laid back.  For the past couple of weeks, I have been trying to evaluate what needs to change to get me out of it.  Hence the lack of posts, and then the obviously emotional one.  I have been trying to dig deep.   That’s always good, but sometimes it hurts and takes a little time to process. 

I have realized that I limit myself.  Just like I limit God.  Mostly because I limit God.  I act like I think He is not big enough to guide me somewhere that my creativity can be used, even though He is the one who gave me the heart that is bursting to do just that.  The heart that I squelch and squash down in order to make sure I am also practical and smart.  I have written before (mostly in my “Ambition” post) how my musical ambition was a hindrance to my relationship with God for a time, and how it brought me more pain than joy.  My written response to that problem was correct, I think.  However, my active response was not.  My active response was basically to pretend the dream was dead.  And then that same response moved on to any other activity that I had any desire whatsoever to do. 

The fear of going back to that place has made me willing to try to do almost anything except for the things I really love to do.  I’m pretty sure that is not how God planned for me to respond.  He wanted me to realize that the dreams were superfluous to His plan; that He did not NEED me to do them in order for me to be used in His kingdom.  I needed to stop basing my identity and my self-worth on them.  But I took it to a whole different level.  (I wanted to say “whole ‘nother” right there, but I used to get grammaticized for that – my term for grammatically corrected – when I was a kid even though Luke Skywalker said it to his aunt and uncle.)  I took it to the level of eradication.  God wanted to bring me back to a place of balance.  But I could only really pretend for so long, I think.  My dreams are not dead.  I would love to be a musician, an artist, a whatever as long as it used some of this pent-up creative energy that was the cause (I think) of my recent “overwhelm-ed-ness”. 

When I allow myself to think about finishing a song or my next art project as a reality, as something to do something with instead of something to shove under my bed or record onto my computer, my heart beats faster…my eyes light up.  (I know they do even though I can’t see them.)  I did a research study at a hospital one time where they had to monitor my blood pressure.  I had been talking to the doctor the whole time, and then we started talking about my music…he made me stop because it was making my blood pressure rise.  And this is what I have so tried to shove in a whole and pretend I don’t care about.  I have been killing the most alive part of myself.

I’m sorry for trying to kill my dreams in order to avoid risk and rejection.  This is what I was thinking about yesterday when I said that hope was the opposite of fear.  My fear would not allow me to hope for anything at all.

I don’t know where I will go with all of this.  In the past, I have always tried to forge my own way and this has always led me to desperation.  I want to be prayerful and always conscious of God’s leading.  I never want to get ahead of Him.  But I know that I am not supposed to live in this box I have put myself in, and He never intended me to, so I have faith that He will show me the way out of it. 

OK, I wrote this post last night, but I woke up this morning with a song in my head.  It is not a song that I have heard recently, nor is it a song that I particularly like.  But I decided to look up the lyrics since I could not get rid of it.  It was a 4 Non Blondes song, and what’s funny is that I would have told you I did not know what the song was about, although I would have known the song.  Amazing what your subconscious works out while you’re sleeping, apparently, because the lyrics are incredibly appropos (minus the getting high part – we’ll just say she meant high on fresh morning air).  Here they are:

25 years and my life is still
I’m trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination
I realized quickly when I knew I should
that the world was made up of this brotherhood of man
for whatever that means
And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed
Just to get it all out what’s in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
And I take a deep breath
And I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
What’s goin’ on
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on?
ooh, ooh ooh…
And I try, oh my God do I try
I try all the time in this institution
And I pray, oh my God do I pray
I pray every single day for a revolution
And so I cry sometimes when I’m lying in bed
Just to get it all out what’s in my head
And I am feeling a little peculiar
And so I wake in the morning and I step outside
And I take a deep breath
Then I get real high
And I scream from the top of my lungs
what’s goin’ on
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on?
And I say, hey hey hey hey
I say hey, what’s going on…
25 years and my life is still
I’m trying to get up that great big hill of hope
For a destination.

Finito!

OK, sorry it’s been so long since I updated.  It’s been a while since my brain updated, too, so don’t feel left out.  I’ve been quite busy.  See, I took 5 days off one week, and then the following week, as Murphy’s Law denotes, of course, none of the people who usually require my random free-lance services seemed to need any services.  This resulted in an extra un-planned week off of work, which resulted in Connie scrambling to pay her bills.  It follows that in that state, when work is offered, you take it.  So, for that week I was down on cash, I scheduled every job that was thrown my way, with no regards for how many hours that meant I would be working in the following weeks.  I didn’t count, but it was a lot…for the next 2 weeks.  Then, this past week, I realized I had enough money again, so I didn’t book as much work, but my regular life had fallen into such disarray (shopping, errands, cleaning) by this point that I spent all of my extra time that week catching up.  Besides the fact that I also joined my boyfriend’s mom for a garage sale (meaning I had to go through everything I own, pack it, price it, etc.)  And so we come to today…I was supposed to sing on the worship team at church this morning, so I was supposed to show up at 8:30.  Well, I fell asleep at my babysitting gig last night (after the kids went to sleep as well, of course) with a scratchy throat and watery eyes.  It appears that I was not only exhausted, but getting sick.  I woke up this morning all stopped up and very tired (not at the babysitting gig…I did get up and come home when the parents arrived).  I “called in” to church…skipped out on the worship team.  I stayed home instead hoping that a day of nothing would restore my immune system.  I always get like this…I really am apparently not meant to over-work.  I don’t know how people do it.  I seriously cannot handle it mentally or physically. 

Wow, that was a really long and unnecessary explanation of where the heck I’ve been.  This blog is supposed to be about my completed art project that I have so neglected in unveiling for you.  We have these quarterly art shows here that anyone is allowed to enter a piece in, and so it was in that show this past Friday night.  These shows are not much of a sales venue.  Generally, only about 6-10 pieces out of 60-80 are sold.  So, I don’t feel bad that I’ve never sold a piece there.  It’s still fun. 

Here are a few pictures of my piece.  I was very pleased with the results…fun, yet somewhat sophisticated.  I was almost more excited about building the frame than about the artwork inside it.  But then the frame would be pointless without the art, so, by nature, it must still take second priority.  Anyway, the background of the piece is painted, but everything else on it is made out of tissue paper.

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And this is so you can see a close-up of my framin’ job.

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Have I Mentioned My Cat?

His name is Leo, and he’s kind of a character.  I think he’s pretty smart for a cat…I have to have child locks on my kitchen cabinets, because he knows how to open them and likes to get in there and sleep with my pots.  I don’t like furry pots – hence the child locks.  He goes on water strike if I will not put a pitcher of water on the floor for him to drink, even if he has a full water bowl.  I made the mistake of putting the pitcher down on the floor one day while I was watering my plants, and since then, he will not drink out of anything else, except sometimes the faucet in the bathroom sink.  If I take the pitcher up, he stands in the kitchen and meows when he gets thirsty.  Leo has had many close brushes with death, the most expensive scariest being his dog fight resulting in a collapsed lung and multiple puncture wounds.  He’s also had a severe allergic reaction to his vaccinations resulting in swelling to a size much larger than his already gigantic 16 Lb. cat frame, and he’s been stepped on, resulting in a broken leg and surgery to put a pin in…and follow-up surgery to take the pin out.  You get the point.  My “free” stray cat has literally had more spent in medical expense than I have in the 8 1/2 years I’ve owned him. 

But, as most pet-owners, I believe he is worth it.  He’s been with me through 4 moves, and lived with my brother & sister-in-law for a year.  I taught him how to use the toilet once, and, yes, he actually did it.  But only for a few weeks.  I don’t think he liked it, so he stopped, and being an indoor/outdoor cat, just started holding it until I let him outside, which was also fine with me.  I just didn’t want to deal with a litter box anymore. 

I’m bringing him up because I wanted to tell you how he decided to “help” me with my art project last week…so sweet – him taking an interest in my life.  He is actually usually pretty good about staying out of the way while I’m working, except for the time he stepped in oil paint and then continued walking through the house before I realized it and the time he started chewing on one of my smaller paint brushes, and broke it in two.  But really, he usually doesn’t take that much of an interest.  Not so with my latest project.  Apparently, my materials were intriguing to cat intellect. 

First, he was trying to sharpen his claws on the trim I bought for building my frame (as discussed in my Art Projects post).  This was, of course, dissuaded by me.  Then I had several sheets of tissue paper out, and he thought he needed one.  I gave him some newspaper to distract him, and put it across the room (although across the room is not very far in my house).  This worked for a few minutes.  Then, he decided that in addition to the pitcher on the kitchen floor, the bowl of water I had been rinsing my paint brushes in for two days was a good thing to drink out of.  Then, I had my painting laid out on the floor, and he thought he needed to get on it.  Repeatedly. 

I finally resorted to opening the linen closet, with which he has an obsession, and letting him get in there.  That worked until I got things to a point that I could pick them up off of floor.  I usually don’t let him get into the linen closet, because he likes to sleep behind the towels, and he has been mistakenly closed in there for full days more than once.   Besides the fact that I also do not like furry towels.

So, here are some pictures of my cat, further displaying his quirkiness:

As most cats do, he loves to get into boxes…mostly he likes to attack people from inside them.

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And he likes to get into boxes even if he doesn’t fit into them…I tried to tell him.

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Evidence of his obsession with the linen closet:

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He likes to sleep like this, but it looks like he has full-on rigormortis:

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And he thinks he is a person, and likes to sleep like this, using my headboard as a pillow…ok, ok, I made the bed up around him.  I couldn’t resist.  But otherwise, he really does sleep like this.

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And this is a pretty normal picture of him sleeping in the basket he usurped as his permanent bed after refusing at least 3 store-bought cat beds.  I thought he would get tired of it, but it’s been over 2 years now, and he still sleeps in it regularly.

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And that’s my cat.

Art Projects

It was pointed out to me recently that I seem to enjoy doing the crafty part of art projects more than the painting.  I started considering this, and realized it was true.  I have the most fun with my paintings when I am doing more than just using paint and a brush, like the time I put cheesecloth over the canvas before painting, and then pulled it off when the painting was done, so there is this cool criss-cross pattern on the painting.  I do project-type things a lot, I have realized…the art above my bed is a collage I made from a book of old movie posters, the art in my hallway is a garden trellis with Picasso prints mounted on wooden panels, and hanging from the trellis at various heights.  You get the point.  These are the things I really have fun doing. 

Like the time I wrapped the big bouncy ball I bought for my niece and made it look like a giant lollipop:

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Or like the time I turned this couch:

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into this one:

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Or like the time I made a glass mosaic border with salsa jars & dressing bottles and built the frame for this painting:

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Or like the time I tied these bamboo sticks together with twine to make my dried flower rack:

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Or like the time I painted this kids table & chair set for my boyfriend’s mom’s flower shop (although I discovered later that I need to research painting metal because it ended up all peeling off):

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My point is that I have decided that I should try to incorporate this type of thing into my paintings more, and I think they will be better.  That being said, I am working on a yet undisclosed project which I am super excited about.  All I will say is that it involves turning this trim (which is two different types & full lengths of trim if you can’t tell from the picture):

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into a super silver antiqued frame for a new piece I’ve been working on.  I’ll post a picture of the whole thing when I’m done.  It wouldn’t be the same to show you an unfinished work.  My duplex neighbor/handyman has been rebuilding the laundry room that we share on the back of the house…maybe he’ll have his mitre saw out so I don’t have to use my stupid plastic box mitre saw.  That would be fantastic. 

Anybody Want a Painting?

As I said before, I’m getting a little bored with the day-to-day routine, and trying to think of ways to not have to “go” to work. 

I’ll do commissioned works if anyone is interested.  There are a few samples of stuff I have done in the past at the bottom here.  (Sorry about the weird sizes…I apparently still have no idea how wordpress really wants you to put photos in your posts.  You can, at least, click them for a larger image.)

I would have to charge a non-refundable downpayment up front for supplies, varying based on what you wanted, but this would give you the option to refuse purchase if you were not happy with the final result.  Shipping charges would obviously have to be added as well. 

As far as my style goes, I do not consider myself a “realist.”  You’re not going to get a painting that looks like a photograph.  They are more interpretive, and I can do paintings based on photos or I can do abstracts, given the parameters of what you want or examples of what you like.

I can give you more examples of my art if you would like to see, or if you have a myspace account, I can direct you to mine so that you can look at them there.

Anyone interested?

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Crossing: An abstract painted for my brother & his wife.  Ask about the symbolism if you’re interested.

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Ethereal: Painted for my sister.

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Fishing: Painted for a friend and based on a photo.

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Martha Graham: Based on a photo of Martha Graham, a dancer.  Also with a little bit of symbolism if you’re interested.

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My Niece: A portrait of my pixie-niece.  🙂  Based on a photo.

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My Sky: An abstract horizon, painted as if in wide-screen format.

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Sunflower Bouquet: Loosely based on a photo of the bouquet sitting in front of my mirror.

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Jazz: Painted by request for a friend’s recording studio.