Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Wake-up

Today begins a new series intended as a jump start to story ideas. Doors, gates, portals whatever you call them lead into new places, and what is behind the door can turn into a story. The door image will be posted here, on Twitter and on Facebook. Write down your idea, and limit it to the main character, genre, setting and a two sentence description of the plot.

Remember, the door is an inspiration. Create new worlds, visit your downtown, or travel back in time. The image is to inspire so I won't add any of the information about the picture.

Have fun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Art and Faith

This past weekend began my last four fair weekends. The first three Saturdays of October are Saturday Artisan Markets at Canalside in Buffalo. I have great hopes for these Saturdays since our September Saturdays were blown out due to high winds. We're expecting rain, but it appears that the cold front will go through on Friday. Here's hoping to decent weather. Honestly, I don't mind the rain so much, it's the wind that can be problematic.

Orchids 2, Linen and Acrylic, Woven Transparency, 2012

Over the summer while I've created items for sale, I tend to contemplate life questions, and many of them focus around my chosen fields (weaving and writing) as well as my Christian faith. Can the two connect in any meaningful way or must I constantly separate the two?

In years past, it has been a struggle especially since I tend toward abstract and less realism in my art work. My art work tends to be feelings and impressions less than actual images. When I approach a theme, I begin with images, and work from there. At my former church, the artwork used in the church were often idyllic scenes countered with scripture references or poems. The art was there to provide a sense of peace as well as a sense of hope, endurance and strength.

It was, and remains, safe as is often the case in locations with high-traffic and variety of people. We do not desire to offend anyone or cause uncomfortable questions to be asked. I understand this, and agree with it. I have younger cousins I want to protect from the harsher realities of life; yet, because I have younger cousins doesn't negate the need for me to at least be aware of some harsher realities. It makes me a better adult.

And in this case, art steps into the fray. Others have gone through difficult times, and they can teach me whether through fiction, dance, music, film or another avenue. Still others have not faced difficult times, but have struggled to understand deeper questions dealing with life or faith. Through their art, I can both be challenged and supported in the quest.

Art, like the woven transparency above, can simply be present to add beauty, or to cause us to look at items differently. My first introduction to Georgia O'Keefe was her intimate paintings of flowers, I love the vibrancy and immediacy of the paintings, and wondered at her attention to detail. I'm still amazed at the beauty to be found in so small a section. Oddly enough, it's through the same love that I like fractals and their beauty.

Books like 1984 challenge us to reconsider our world, both the good and the bad. Music, one of the universal languages, can touch deep parts of our souls in moments of great emotion. Dance, like music, can reach us in moments of great emotion as well since many of us move our bodies naturally when filled with joy or happiness.

Art can be used to uplift and pull down. It can be used to comfort and to challenge, to bring peace or war. Art is, and will always remain, a powerful weapon in the hands of individuals both for good and for evil. Art is an expression of the intangible. What makes one person like a writer or painter, and another person dislike them? No idea, save that there is something that the creator has made which connects to one and not another.

How should the church see art then? As a tool to be used for one message, or as a means to express the hearts of individuals? I'm relieved to see a shift beginning to happen, a sea-change, if you will. For most of my life, Christian Art was exclusively used for salvation in that the primary use was to direct people to accept Christ as their Savior and convert to Christianity. Now, within the church, we see artists and patrons of the arts developing more conversations around the arts. The single focus is minimized for a fuller approach. Still, there are those out there who do not see the full vision, but I do have hope for those within the church to see art for its full beauty: as the means to express and consider beauty and sorrow; joy and pain; hope and fear - to, in essence, experience life.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Appleumpkin Weekend

It's that time of the year again in which apples and pumpkins overpopulate the small village of Wyoming in Western NY. Once again, I will have a booth set-up on Route 19 (South Academy Street) with handwoven goods, hand bound journals and, of course, books to sign.

Everything begins at 10 am and goes until 5 pm both Saturday and Sunday. Find me at the blue dot below. Once in Wyoming NY, I'll be across from the Middlebury Historical Society and next door to the Village Hall.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Walking Through Doors

There is something about doorways that intrigue me. They intrigue a lot of people, apparently given the amount of door photographs on Pinterest which is where all these came from. One of my boards is dedicated entirely to doors.

I like doors partly because you can go through them. Windows are cool enough, but tend to be utilitarian in design. They offer a glimpse, but not an entrance. One of my favorite scenes from the Sound of Music is where Maria makes the comment that "God sometimes closes a door, but he always opens a window."

Doors lead us to new places, new activities, new experiences and new relationships. These doors can be metaphoric or physical. I've had doors slammed in my face, and doors opened to me. Doors protect us, and define us.

Since this week is the beginning of a new season, take the time to evaluate what you do, and the why. For some of us, this is a natural part of our rhythms. I tend to reevaluate my projects and focus around the beginning of October because that's when my birthday comes. For others, we evaluate around major milestones in life: graduation, new job, marriage, new relationship. Others only focus when something bad happens whether in our own lives or in the greater culture.

If you're struggling to write, take a look at the door above or even those around you today. Who lives beyond these doors? Is it work or home? Write a story. Beginning next Wednesday, I'll post pictures of doors that I find whether on Pinterest or out and about. Comment below with a story idea about who lives beyond the door in the post. Maybe someone's idea will jog a story.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hour by Hour

Balance. It's a tough path to follow partly because the older we become the more life forces us to balance on our walk. As a kid, I had school, friends, family and playtime. Most of that worked out well together: I went to school and played with my friends at recess or after I finished my homework. As a teenager, sports (for me at least) were added to mix. I had a job in middle school that required some extra time, but since it was selling Christmas cards, I didn't have to travel to the job.

College added still more layers when I had to start making important decisions and managing my time effectively. Now, as an adult, I have businesses to run, relationships to maintain both near and afar, not to mention the day to day activities.


Then life throws you a puddle in the middle of the walk.

Some will stop there in horror; some will walk around; some will tiptoe through while others will run, splash or dance. It takes all kinds, and it takes all moments. As it nears the end of the fair season, I've had to reevaluate my schedule. It's still busy now, because I have fairs every weekend, but I need to make time for writing.

Hour by hour. For most of my past three years of being a full-time writer, I've focused on writing a novel a month. I did well for six months, then couldn't find the rhythm again. I've written novels in a month since then, but not to the extent that I had.

Now, I find myself trying to write the next two novels with Azure and Orfhlait, while balancing the weaving and trying to edit some other novels for submission. Balance once again comes into play, and I have found that writing an hour helps.

National Novel Writing Month is in November. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. For aspiring writers, this is a good way to jump start the novel you always wanted to write, but finding the time to write can be difficult. If you can, do what I do at the moment: write for an hour.

Only one hour, and stick with it. You'll find the first couple times that your mind wanders, but the discipline of writing for an hour will eventually force your mind to focus. It sounds unbelievable, but it works.

There is a saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. A novel begins with a word, and finding time to write. Take an hour each day, and hour by hour you'll finish.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Saturday Artisan Market

This is where I'm going to be on Saturday. It's in Buffalo NY along the Erie Canal. Actually it's a cool place to visit. If any of you are in the Buffalo area this weekend, come by.

Photo: We are so far from over this season!!  BIG day this weekend and then more events in October. Join us Saturday at SAM, and take in the Buffalo Maritime Festival that is also taking place at Canalside!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Religious Art

So, on Friday, I left you with a question about reclaiming the arts. While I admit this is primarily a Christian concern, it intrigued me if anyone would have any ideas. Perchance you did, but no comments were left. I'll offer some of my thoughts on the situation, and see what you think.


For the majority of human history, art and religion coexist. Think of places like Stonehenge, temples in Egypt, Jerusalem and other places around the world. Many cultures also have skilled artisans creating the items to be used in religious ceremonies. Art was, and remains, the primary way humanity expresses its greatest emotions whether anger, hope, joy, sorrow or worship.

Even into the Middle Ages, art coexisted with religious institutions, in fact the Christian church was the largest supporter of the arts throughout most of modern history, especially in Europe. Buildings such as the cathedrals, as well as the decoration within such as the roof of the Sistine Chapel provide examples of that support. When you look at the images created, religious themes permeate whether it is the daily lives of Biblical characters and saints, or imaginings of the beginning and the end of the world.

Modern Americans cannot quite grasp the concept of power of religion over daily lives partly because we have dissected the two into separate spheres. This separation, I believe, is part of the reason so many Christians want to "reclaim the arts for Christ." They look back onto ages past and see the great cathedrals and paintings supporting Christian themes and values, and wonder where are the great Christian painters today?

Protestants and Art

In 1999, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter directed to artists (here). I first read this letter about five years ago when I began researching the Church and the Arts. The first sentence in this letter touched my heart, because I felt as though there was at least one Christian leader out there who understood artists:
"None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands."
I highly recommend the letter because it gives an even greater overview of art through Christian history. Also, for Christians who are artists, it provides a salve to wounds. Pope John Paul II understood the need for artists in the Church, as well as the calling, as he puts it, to the arts.

While the Catholic Church might understand art, many who call for the reclamation of art are Protestants - some conservative, some moderates, a few liberals, but predominately Protestant. This world made up of Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and many others have an uneasy relationship to the arts. Not everyone, and not for all the same reasons, but there is the underlying fear of the papacy which sometimes bubbles out.

Protestantism began in the Reformation. It started with Martin Luther then spread across Europe and into the New World. In England, a group of Protestants under the Church of England eventually beheaded a king, and took control of the country during the years of the English Commonwealth. We know them as the Puritans.

Like all denominations within the Protestant umbrella, the Puritans had their liberals and their conservatives. During the Commonwealth, and also into the American Northeast, the conservative brand tended to hold power. Cromwell outlawed the theater, though music, dance and painting survived.

After the Restoration of King Charles II, the arts flourished in England once again. Shifting our attention to America, it appears that few people dismissed the arts from their daily lives. Theater remains a touchy subject, because some approved, and others did not.

It doesn't seem to be until the Twentieth Century when art and the Protestant church have a falling out. I will point out that it doesn't appear to be art specifically, but culture generally that the more conservative branch of Protestantism had its falling out. They had a strong power base during the Victorian Age, finally reaching their zenith with the passing of Prohibition in America. From that point, everything went to pot. Prohibition did not turn out like they expected it, the Scopes Trial ended up bringing evolution into schools, and culturally Americans began moving away from Victorian ideals.

Collectively, the conservative branch of Christianity left the public sphere, and retreated into their churches and colleges. They continued to support the Arts, but tended to focus on dead artists. Modern Art was decadent, confusing and ungodly.

The Modern Church and Art

Entering the Twenty-First Century, American conservative Christianity appears to have gotten a second wind. The first inklings of this came with the presidency of Ronald Reagan when the modern Christian industry took root. During the Eighties, we have the beginning of the Christian music, books, and art scenes.

In this world, art became part of a set of tools to reach the lost world with the Gospel of Christ. Drama was exclusively for the promotion of salvation, usually at Christmas and Easter; film had a similar goal, but tended to focus on the Church as did music and literature. In the 1990s, it became popular to have articles about "If you like this big-name-pop-group you'll like this lesser-known-but-Christian-group."

In the past fifteen years, however, conservative American Christianity has lost some of its evangelism, and started to focus more on "family friendly" and "building the church". It is into this world that the new push for reclaiming the arts has come. Christians are beginning to see the arts as a viable option for ministry.

So, are we to "reclaim the Arts for Christ?" Honestly, no. I think we should reintroduce the Arts to the Church, however. Art is a human activity sometimes religious sometimes not. Often, when Christians talk about reclaiming something, it's only to put a Christian veneer over the topic. Sadly, the veneer is simply a bunch of Christians taking a popular topic and making it "Christian" by adding a salvation message to it.

Relevant Magazine did an article on "5 Ways the Church Can Make Great Art Again". It's well worth the read, but also read the comments as well. It's telling that many of us want to see Christians in the art world, not simply in the Christian art world.

We don't have to reclaim anything, we simply need practice our faith in whatever field we choose to be in. If that means to be exclusively in a Christian category, then so be it, but the same is true outside the Christian sub-culture.

When I try to write "Christian" stories, they come across as being preachy. When I write a story without focusing on the Christian part, my Christian faith shines through. We understand the concept of finding one's voice whether in writing or art, part of that voice should be our faith. To be a Christian artist doesn't mean we have to preach the Gospel at all times or in all pieces of art we create. To be a Christian artist simply means to do whatever it is you do to the glory of God, and that knowledge is a weight off shoulders.