Tag Archives: Interdisciplinary

All who wander are not lost

Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts speaks of Organic Spirituality, “where I listen for what is unfolding, what is the thread drawing me forward, rather than planning the next step.”

This is the faith I have practiced for many years. It is a flow of teachings from many faiths and poets that inspire my life. I learn from reading and discussing and listening to the path other people have travelled and over time, this informs my belief, my thinking and my creativity. I do not have a ready-made life map to consult, the elements I glean from others and the discoveries I make along the way inform my map and in turn, in talk or word, I share the twists and turns with others who may choose to venture onto parts of the road I have travelled or who are guided by my experience as I am guided by others. So I wrote some lines inspired by the poem by Spanish poet Antonio Machado (1875 – 1939) which I share with you.

 “…wanderer there is no way, the way is made by walking.” Antonio Machado

I had some thoughts on this
line from a wise man
and modern technology
got me lost
by deleting my words
my wise thoughts
they were lost
I was lost
and I know they
were really good
gold nuggets
so I’m back on the path
abandoning the thought
searching for bread crumbs
to try and reconstruct
the way
it won’t be the same
not the same at all
full of frustration
win some lose some
there you have it

“…wanderer there is no way, the way is made by walking.” Antonio Machado

notice he says
that the way is made by walking
not running
not skipping
not jumping
not meandering
not moseying
the way is made by walking
not with direction
but with purpose
to make a way
that is strong and good
to make a way
that will sustain
that is serious stuff

have I given my way
the stern look it
has asked for
time and time again?

well… no
I have looked but
like a puppy chasing a butterfly
in the park
and suddenly seeing
a cat, a child, the hot dog vendor
I have looked away

“…wanderer there is no way, the way is made by walking.” Antonio Machado

and so it goes and so it goes
the way is bleak some days
and the thought
of taking one
step is really
more than I can bear

but then I close my eyes
and take a breath
and then another
and when my eyes open again
I am revived
to move along
perhaps a little slowly
but moving nonetheless

Image – Sacred Trees by Annis Karpenko

Only God is Perfect

For the most part, we artists like to show the works we think have turned out at best, spectacularly and at worst, wonderfully. But because “only God is perfect” is one of my favourite sayings, I thought today I’d illustrate for you A Day in the Life of an Artist as a Possible Failure. I have no problem with this. My self-esteem happens to be intact today. And I know there will be other opportunities for me to show you some stellar creations. So I would like to share a failure, because I can.

I have been creating mandalas as part of the Soul of a Pilgrim course (see previous post). And I have had in my possession for some time now, a pile of white tea towels. I had considered making prayer flags out of them but today I got an idea to put a mandala onto cloth. I also happened to have a brand new set of 24 Sharpie pens so I was kind of excited about the possibility of it all. As I was ironing the wrinkles out of the cloth it occurred to me that I would like to see what would happen if I let the pen ink bleed through to the next layer. My idea was to Symbolize how our Words and Deeds leave an imprint on the Other as they are executed or spoken and that often, that imprint is permanent. They can not be taken back or washed away.

So I folded the cloth into quarters and began drawing out the first mandala with Sharpie pens and no concern of the ink bleeding through. And for my first mandala I used shapes to Signify the Many Shapes and Sizes we All Come In. And I did not measure the spaces between so some of the shapes ran into or over one another and that was ok too. This Symbolized that We Only Have So Much Control of our Lives and Mistakes Happen. I outlined and colored in and to be honest got a little high off the Sharpie fumes. Eventually I pulled the collar of my turtleneck shirt up over my nose fearing brain damage. Fortunately I was the only one home, no one saw me.

“It takes great discipline to be a free spirit.” – Gabrielle Roth

So I carried on and when I was finished I pulled up the first layer and found that the ink had only bled through one layer and the other two were still white. And Sharpie’s are permanent and fast drying so they weren’t going to bleed any more. No Problem! I’m an Artist! I flipped the cloth over and began to create another mandala on the other side and this would bleed into the facing blank quarter. Now I would have Two Symbolic Images leaving imprints. For the second mandala I decided to move away from haphazard geometry into nature. This mandala has flowers and leaves, Symbolizing Nature’s  Sacred Impact on our Lives and how the golden moments gazing at a flower or watching a leaf fall from a tree are Moments of Grace and those moments will also imprint on our souls.

As I continued with the flowers, I decided I didn’t really love the white of the cloth and thought that dying it a different color would be fun. I’m a big tea dye lover and thought a black tea would muddy the work but a green tea would give it just a subtle shade and age the cloth a bit. This would Signify and Symbolize Nothing At All. So after I finished the flower – and was not completely satisfied with the bleed through on that side either, I brewed a cup of tea for me and a bowl for the dye bath. I scrunched up the cloth into the bowl and let it sit there for a while. I was tired now and a little spacey from the Sharpie fumes so I placed the damp tea bags over my eyes to refresh them. Artists do stuff like that.

When my eyes were refreshed I threw the tea bags out and put the mandala cloth and tea water into the washing machine and gave it a spin. Then I dried the cloth for 10 minutes in the dryer and assessed my days work as I ironed it out. Alas, it did not work as I had hoped. The colors were nice, the mandalas fair, but the bleed through was vague and the piece as a whole was not good art. It was Failed Art. It did however make a fine dish towel for our kitchen. The kind of dish towel all artists should have. So all was not lost and I am not perfect and I’m OK with that. Now it is definitely time for a nap.

New Old Friends

Art is capable of bringing into sharper relief emotions associated with the most profound experiences of human existence.
Robert Wuthnow (23)

I am an artist. I am a self-taught artist. I was brought up in a Christian faith tradition. I no longer go to church except for weddings and funerals. I have had a difficult relationship with a God that hangs out with old Anglican/Episcopalian theology. I have spent my lifetime seeking spiritual solace outside of church, turning my back on my roots by doing so.

But I was born a creative being, an artist. My earliest memories of self include performance, a love of books, poetry, writing, art, music. I did not choose to be baptised and confirmed. I did not choose to be part of the church choir. I did not choose to be Episcopalian. Those choices were made for me. When I was given a modicum of choice, I chose to attend the evening “Experimental Worship” service. My friends and I (of all ages) sat on the floor at the altar, made our own bread for communion, sang our own songs, recited our own prayers and as far as I knew, God did not mind. But when the young assistant minister who organized us left for a new church and a new more traditional assistant took his place, Experimental Worship stopped and my interest in church waned.

Still, the choice not to go to church has dogged me. There are other choices I have made in my life that took me far from my roots, and I have never regretted them. But this space that defines my worthiness in the face of God still niggles me; still fills me with questions.

If God is within us all, does that mean there is more than one God?
Is being a spiritual being enough? Enough for whom?
As an artist, is the divine gift from God our deep desire to create and question?
How are Art and God/Spirituality and Self intertwined?

It was a great delight to dive into a book recommended to me by Ruth Wallen, my Goddard advisor. The book is Creative Spirituality: The Way of the Artist by Robert Wuthnow (2001, University of California Press). Reading it over the last week has been like visiting my Self through the experience of strangers. Wuthnow interviewed over 100 artists “candidly about their work, their lives, their spiritual journeys, and their aspirations and hopes. (ix) Through Wuthnow’s thoughtful and illuminating book, I have discovered deep kinship with many of the artists; their questions are my questions, their responses my responses, their emotions my emotions and collectively their stories have offered me the opportunity to revisit my humanness or Berrisford Booth calls it “personhood”. (91)

In my own life, I have questioned my relationship with God, art and spirituality. I have grappled with feelings of inadequacy, the desire to be more, questioning the choices I have made, especially if they were against the hopes and dreams others had for me. I have dug deep down to unearth the old messages that undermine my confidence. And reading about the twists and turns that other artists have taken filled me with a great sense of community. I am not alone. If I bumped into any one of these artists on the street, we would speak the same language.

In one story after a bout of breast cancer, Sharon Thomson writes about the changes that came in her spiritual life which had been heavily weighted in the Christian tradition.

“I felt terrific, and I discovered a whole bunch of thinking about the ways in which we create reality…it is possible to reinterpret, to make a choice about the way in which we want to perceive reality… I wasn’t even concerned at that point about whether this works with Christianity or not. I was much more involved in experiencing the spiritual life, which for me is really about the essence, the point of contact with something greater than myself, the moment when I know that there’s something more going on than this moment that I can perceive with my senses.” (88)

After my own breast cancer experience, I went back to church fearing that my absence had been part of the reason I got sick. It was perhaps an irrational thing to do, but my first instinct was to return to my roots and try to make meaning of this new experience. My Sunday visits to church were no consolation. They filled me with sadness and even more questions. I hated the concept of original sin, the patriarchal voice of condemnation. My spiritual and emotional needs were being stifled there. When I stepped away again, I received a pastoral visit from the priest who wanted to know why I had been absent.  After listening to my story and my decision not to go to back to his church he asked me incredulously, “But you were sick,” he said, “and now you are well. Are you not grateful for that gift from God? Don’t you think you should come to church and show your thanks?” I felt like I was being blackmailed by God himself.

I got some therapy and retreated back into my art (photography and writing) to find solace and spiritual acceptance. Booth’s experience in his own life resonates strongly for me.

“In my art I was trying to ordain myself instead of being ordained from the outside. That’s what I was looking for, the ability to ordain myself with the knowledge that I’m doing this not because it’s running away from anything or running toward anything…but the ability to accept my spirit, the sum total of all my experiences.” (91-92)

My personal quest led me to other forms of spiritual practice. I began to meditate and practice loving kindness and mindfulness in my day. I wrote an article Already in God’s House about my faith, lost and found. I realized I could have a spiritual practice outside the church that was just as viable for me as one inside was for others. From Wuthnow’s book:

Ann Biddle summarizes spiritual practices as “learning how to live your life creatively…It’s about reaching your fullest potential. It’s about creating artistry in any area of your life, through your practice. It’s about opening up your mind to the possibilities of who you are and to see the uniqueness of who you are. It’s about making an impact on the world in a creative, innovative, forward-thinking way.”  (111)

As a self-taught artist, I have searched for my own meaning in the books of Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, Nirmala, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama. Each has brought a spiritual message that has consoled and defined me. Through them, and my spiritual practice, I have created a strong connection with the universe. I believe in angels and saints and mystery.  But Wuthnow’s book brought me more. His almost ten years of interviews and writing brought me a community of shared experience and a renewed faith in art as a viable and important spiritual practice.

Lions and Tigers and Study Plans – oh my

Each semester students must develop, in conjunction with their advisors, the Study Plan. This is a detailed outline of what you will be doing over the 15 weeks we are at home and how we will manifest your study and practice.

There is a link on the sidebar to Brigitte’s G1 Study Plan so you can get some idea of what is expected. I’ll post my study plan here once it gets signed off on by my advisor. We lucky G-onederfuls are also expected to have an Overall Study Plan for the next 2.5 years – the questions are similar. Each advisors’ requirement for this to be completely complete is a little different but from what I understand they would all agree that this document will change over time so we should just do the  best we can. I’ve been advised to work the study plan out on paper first in Word and even just write one long piece about your thoughts and ideas. Then you can cut and paste pieces into the Study Plan where they fit. Once you’ve got your pieces ready,  paste the responses into the Study Plan form on my student file (SIS) – gnet.goddard.edu and SAVE them there. Once you get the OK from your advisor, you can then hit the SUBMIT button to have them permanently in your file. With all Study Plans remember to check in with the Degree Criteria so you know they all fit in to that piece.

As I go through finding books for your semester plan, I also make sure to hit the button to send the citation over to RefWorks. This will compile all my resources in one spot, let me save them in MLA (Modern Language Association) format in a Word doc or html. This has already saved me tons of time from a bibliographic perspective although looking up all the books and articles I might use takes some doing.

Here are the questions, the italics below each question is to help clarify the questions:

1. What are your overall learning goals for the semester? Describe the areas of inquiry, central themes, concerns and/or questions that your learning activities will address. How do you envision your creative and intellectual work evolving? How do you anticipate this work will move your practice forward?

1. Overall learning goals:
 Areas of inquiry, themes, questions:
 How will the work evolve?:
 How will the work move the practice forward?:

2. What creative projects will you undertake and what products do you envision emerging from your creative work this semester? Describe how this work will be documented and how it may contribute to the development and rigorous exploration of your interdisciplinary practice.

2. Projects undertaken, products emerging from:
  Documented how:

3. What critical discourses and theoretical concepts will you engage with this semester? Identify the artists; theorists; movements; fields of study; cultural, social and political frameworks; or other areas of knowledge that you plan to explore and describe how you see this work in conversation with your creative projects and/or contributing to your overall creative development. How will you document this activity; what written or other products-such as critical writing, essays, annotations, etc.-will emerge?

3. Critical discourses, theoretical concepts:
 Areas explored (artists, theorists, social, political, etc.)?:
 How is this in conversation with your work?:
 How is this documented (essays, annotations, etc.)?:

4. What specific resources do you plan to use? Include a bibliography, as well as other resources you plan to use. In addition, please describe how you envision co-learning with peers this semester.

4. Resources used (bibliography):
  Co-learning with peers:

5. Practicum Proposal: (During Practicum Residency) NA to G1 Plan but be thinking about it for the Overall.

6. How will the work you are planning for this semester advance you toward fulfillment of the MFAIA degree criteria? How does this semester’s study plan build upon previously identified areas for growth? (For students in the G4 semester, specifically identify any areas you need to address this semester to prepare you to enter the portfolio semester.)

6. How will work advance toward degree fulfillment?:
  How does it build on previous work?:

And we’re off…

How lucky am I? I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and later today I get to drive down through my favorite state, Vermont. The ground is covered with new snow and the sun is shining – always a good omen. I am familiar with the territory and know the landmarks, but going back to school, especially one as unique as Goddard, will be new.

And today I consider duality. We all have a dark and light side. Masculine and feminine qualities. My blood is mixed with Italian and British DNA. I am an American and a Canadian citizen. I have lived and loved on both sides of the border.  I don’t find the duality as difficult to navigate as I find the effort of social constructs to demand I be one or the other. I am blessed in my freedom to choose because of birthright and design. I am blessed because I do not have to fight for my freedom, though others – my Dad included – fought for mine. I am blessed with an open heart that allows me to look into the hearts of others, no matter their color, culture, religion, or orientation. I am biased against meanness and injustice and yet, I have been both in my time. I love sunny days and cloudy days, rainy Sundays and winter storms. I love driving through the hills of the Eastern Townships and Vermont. Today will be a darn good day.

One more sleep…

Well, tomorrow is the day I will head down to Plainfield, Vermont to begin my new life adventure. For those of you interested, the MFAIA Schedule   for the 8-day residency is chock-a-block full of inspiration and creativity. Goddard College has a beautiful, idyllic Vermont campus. The grounds are beautiful and the town is lovely. You can see more photos on Bridgette’s site. I am looking forward to hiking over to her favourite spot in the summer time. I am almost all packed and I’m probably bringing too much stuff but I will know for the next time.

For anyone considering the program or who is an incoming new student (known as a G1), here’s the link to the Graduate Student Handbook, as well it has been recommended that we always keep in mind the Degree Criteria as we craft our study plans. I am glad I took the opportunity to visit the campus and attend the conference in October. I don’t feel like I am arriving for the first time to the geography, but I know this experience will be unique. This time I am not merely an observer but a participant as well, and I’m not even sure what that means! Sweet dreams all.

If your journey is indeed a pilgrimage, a soulful journey, it will be rigorous. Ancient wisdom suggests if you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred, it isn’t the real thing. The sacred, in its various guises as holy ground, art, or knowledge, evokes emotion and commotion.
Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage

Interdiscipilinary What?

So what is an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art? Good Question. I am an artist but I have resisted the urge and pressure to label myself. I wrote in my application to Goddard, I witness beauty in nature and music, in colour and texture and art, in myriad human faces and gestures, images, scents, kindness and laughter. Each separate element merges into the influences on my eclectic artistic output as a weaver, painter, photographer, mixed media artist, poet, writer, dancer, singer and thinker – there are no boundaries between my curiosity, bearing witness to daily life and creative inspiration.

I have occasionally referred to myself as a multidisciplinary artist feeling it was an adequate description of my artistic output. Is multidisciplinary the same as interdisciplinary? To me, Multi means many, while Inter feels more like an emotional response. An internal interpretation of an emotional response that results in an external action. At the Goddard conference in October 2011 – Making, Meaning And Context: a radical reconsideration of art’s work – participants were asked to consider What it means to pursue an art practice or identify as an artist and What is the potential for interdisciplinary practice to contribute research and knowledge production that will support daily lives, diverse ecosystems, and the expansive realm of human imagination?

In my own work,  something would touch me deeply or intrigue me – and my natural response to that experience was to create an art work or word work. I recently showed a series of acrylic paintings I had completed that were inspired by the paint test strips I had driven over on a stretch of highway. Those 500 white, yellow and orange strips and lines that magically appeared over the long stretch between Toronto and Montreal never ceased to please me. And I drove over them every two weeks for 18 months! It took me three more years to interpret the pleasure into an art work and once I started I completed six canvases. At other times I have been moved to create affirmation bottles, a burden jar, to paint wee stones, collect rocks and drift wood, weave scarves, photograph people, scenery, animals, objects, decorate my house, paint furniture, write poetry, journals, news stories, letters to the editor. Or it was enough to just sit before a sunset, a sun rise, the waves on the lake, the ocean, a blade of grass. So collectively, these moments, these unrelenting urges to make beauty or a statement or a thing… is that interdisciplinary art? Am I making meaning and context for my own life? And is my work any different from any other’s work, a chef say, who creates culinary masterpieces full of flavour and colour and texture and scent? Is my artistic quest a spiritual journey? Does the work I produce reflect the transformation of my soul, byproducts of aging, childbearing, health crises, emotional turmoil, contentment, love, lust, hunger, thirst?

“For the free person final answers are a form of slavery. Learning, imagining, deliberating, choosing, making mistakes – these aren’t burdens, they’re not the cost of living; they’re signs of life itself. A human being is what he or she has learned to become.” Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990)