Talk back to darkness with song and dance and praise. No matter that such acts may
seem incomprehensible, for “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” (Rabbi A. Heschel)
(The following is the text of my welcoming remarks at TEDxBend Women on Saturday, December 1, 2018. What an honor and a privilege!)
Do you identify as an artist or creative sort? Yes, no, maybe? If not, then within the next 20 minutes, I want you to be able to say hell yeah. If so, I want you to feel fully affirmed in that big YES. Because when you harness the creative impulse, you can talk back to the darkness that’s disabling, that enforces silence, that makes you wonder if what you do matters.
There’s another sort of darkness we can keep faith with, one full of promise and fertility. Consider that embryos, carrots, tree roots and dreams are nourished in darkness. I’m talking about the pregnant void of all possibilities , from which the creative impulse emerges and returns for refreshment. Artists draw from this source, responding to and also influencing their inner and outer worlds.
I want you to exile self-criticism and self-diminishment so your artistry has a fighting chance to be born, ripen and evolve. I want you to take seriously the creative impulse throbbing within you. I want you to grok that creativity isn’t something you do, it is what you are. The way you express the creative impulse, that’s your artistry.
There’s nothing extraordinary about our inherent capacity to create; it’s as natural as breathing, yet it’s an incomparable treasure. Creativity, artistry and art are given their due when we stop reifying these ideas. But there’s a caveat: you have to name, claim, honor, explore, use and hone your creative impulse.
I’d love to know what you’re an artist of, what mark your creative thumbprint leaves. This matters, but only if you want to talk back to joy-robbing fear and despair. Or, if you want to transform the blistering fire of personal rage into a fire of steady, passionate resolve and illumination. You with me?
Let’s try on other words for art, artistry or creativity: flair, innovation, skill, proficiency, virtuosity, finesse, style, gift, giftedness, talent, genius, brilliance, aptitude, imagination, inventiveness, ingenuity. These words apply to you, unless you insist that they don’t. Please, don’t do that to yourself.
My mama, for instance, is an Artist of Wonderment, a Genius at seeing beauty in all creatures. My siblings and I were gracefully taught that horseshoe crabs aren’t ugly, spiders are fascinating, mice are precious. You get the picture. “Worms think they’re beautiful, ” she said as we watched one wriggle in the grass decades ago.
Know this: your unique artistry enriches. We are awakened, enlivened, consoled and fed by the creative impulse given expression. Artistry is a revelation of something deep within that is often ignored or downright dismissed by people who nevertheless hunger, without even realizing it, for what the artist offers.
Everyday I read this inscription found on a headstone in Green River Cemetery where Jackson Pollock, Elaine de Kooning and other artists are buried: Artists and poets are the raw nerve ends of humanity. By themselves they can do little to save humanity. Without them there would be little worth saving. This affirmation knocks out any stupor, self-doubt or complacency I might be mired in.
Recently in a Creativity Playshop I offered on the subject of Talking Back to Darkness, a group of us reflected on art, artistry and creativity. We investigated what it means to be intimate with the creative impulse and the power it endows to talk back to the bleakness of fear and doubt. Here’s a sampling of what came from our deep dialogue:
Creativity is the outward expression of an inner impulse that is universal and intrinsic to creation, including but not limited to the human species.
Creativity is surprise, the hand moving in a way it hadn’t before, before the mind defines and limits the movement.
Creativity is the life-force expressed by the artist until final exhaustion, while the life-force itself, continues on.
And what is the artist? Usher, ambassador, explorer, parent, breast-feeder, storyteller, baker, painter, dancer, gardener, bee-keeper, yogi, poet, writer, daydreamer, sculptor, traveler, organizer, administrator, listener, lover, cook, assembler, dismantler, designer, mind-bender, architect, ritual-maker, music-maker, singer, blogger, somatic healer, giver of warmth and hospitality, friend-of-silence. A short list, I grant you, but we made a great start.
So what makes you an artist? George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, brilliantly writes: “The indispensable interior voice of ‘I’m doing it because I want to’ makes you an artist.” Say it loud, say it proud: I’m doing it because I want to. Let this be a motto.
Then there’s the imperatives of the artist. These vital directives were framed by Kathleen Dean Moore, author and explorer extraordinaire. The imperatives are to Love and Celebrate the World, to Warn and Witness, and to Re-imagine the World.
Allow me to share an example. This prayer-poem came to me just before Thanksgiving. I felt compelled to talk back to darkness in service of these imperatives. You may feel free to share this if you like:
To Be Woven Of Beauty
I am up to my elbows in dish water and gratitude, even as I lament
that gangsters and thieves stand at the helm of our troubled nation.
In closing – a story: a couple months ago I was in line at the grocery store. The woman in front of me said, I know you. You’re the poetry lady. True enough, though I couldn’t place her. I asked how we met. You gave me a poem once. I did a memory scan and said: Ah! Poem In Your Pocket Day, two years ago during National Poetry Month. I stood on a corner handing out poems! Bingo! Right, she said, you gave me a poem that day. I was surprised by the impact it had on me. I still have it and I still read it. What you’re doing…don’t stop. Duly noted.
It’s not your job to know the outcome. The job, should you take it, is for irreplaceable you to be faithful to your artistry, in whatever forms it takes. Love and harvest your deepest yearnings, give them birth. Let them shine as lamps in the dark. Bless you and thank you.
Invitation: Give yourself permission to claim your artistry and how you give expression to the creative impulse. Hint: tune into what you love deeply, what gives you joy, the gifts are you are called to offer.
Now complete these sentence stems. Do it again tomorrow. And repeat.
My artistry is expressed by or through _______________________.
I am an artist of _________________________________________.
Find people to share this with, and for goodness sakes, take the next step. Hone your artistry, offer your gifts. If you can’t think of anyone to share with, reach out to me. I promise I’ll respond.
Avec amour, always, Krayna