Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Recently Donald Miller wrote an article regarding Core Values that got me thinking. One thing I appreciate about Miller's approach to spirituality is the direct connection he makes between spirituality and creativity. When theological points are brought up he always seems to uncover not only how they interact with his own doctrine, but how they interact with his talent and drive as a writer.

As an artist, this interests me so when I read his article about how to go about finding your own Core Values (read it here: http://donmilleris.com/2010/06/03/knowing-your-core-values/) I was interested in how my own core values might be impacting my creative work. Miller argues that the creative artist is doing his best work when working in line with his Core Values. Any work that steps outside of those Values begins to feel hollow or less "authentic". This in particular is something I've been curious about since my MFA thesis show in 2003. After laboring over average work for several years I suddenly turned a corner and fell into an exciting body of work. The ideas flowed freely and the sculptures were constantly getting talk of feeling "authentic"....whatever that meant.

And I needed to know what that meant. Years later after lots of rear-view mirror thinking and lots of doughnuts (doughnuts help everything) I began to realize that my work changed when my attitude about my work changed. At some point I stopped trying to make sculptures that looked like "real" sculptures. I stopped trying to emulate other artists and stopped trying to impress my mentors and I started having fun. I began to make the things that came naturally to my mind and I no longer cared if anyone else thought they were goofy or stupid ideas. Fact is, they were/are goofy and stupid and that's part of what makes them such an honest perspective. Perhaps someone like Miller who artfully arranges words for a living could do a much better job of explaining this, but one of the better explanations I can give you is this: It's almost like I took off all the filters and stopped being afraid to make what I saw in my head.

For any aspiring artist who may read this I should also make sure to point out that I dropped the filters and fear after doing lots of study, lots of research, and lots of practice of skill and craft. This approach follows Paul Klee's philosophy of a circular study in which an artist learns the skill and craft to a professional level (half the circle) and then takes that knowledge back to a point of naivety to make art as freely as a child (completing the circle). You simply must do your homework before you attempt to throw off your bonds.

End of sidetrack, back to Miller. In his article Miller suggests that his readers try an exercise that worked for him. Wanting to know his Core Values he took a friend's suggestion to try to think about the things that made him angry. Those things, he discovered, helped to identify what was truly important to him and eventually helped him put labels on his personal Core Values.

I thought about his suggestion for days. I asked myself what made me angry and I wasn't sure I was uncovering any inspiring information. I even made the mistake of asking my wife what made her angry. Apparently people who ask her what makes her angry make her angry. Who knew?

I didn't get angry much on vacation. OK, there were some very loud and very inconsiderate people stomping above us a few days, but no real anger to speak of outside of that. And it was on vacation that I had a thought about Miller's suggestion. I believe Miller's suggestion could be helpful in discovering what inspires you to do your best, most meaningful work, but I wonder if it could only represent half of the questions needed to discover your Core Values. If we ask ourselves what makes us angry in an attempt to find what strikes deep in our belief systems, shouldn't we also balance that by asking what makes us happy? I cannot believe that we are driven only by our strong negative reactions. I believe our strong positive reactions also come from that deep area of our being.

I've mused in the past about having a very happy childhood and great parents and wonderful opportunities. You can imagine that those things do not lead to authentic angst-ridden visual art. Don’t get me wrong, I'm not claiming that it's all peaches and sunshine over here, I've had my share of not so great circumstances, but my personality is such that I've realized that dwelling on positive things leaves me much more fulfilled and happy. I'd rather laugh about it and move on.

Somewhere there underneath the laughing and silliness lies my Core Values. At least some of them. My work feels honest and authentic when it begins in that goofy area. If you've seen my work you probably realize that it doesn't stay in that area. There's always something else going on. There are always some of the darker elements of experience seeping in but the origin is almost always in the positive.

To be clear, I am not disagreeing with Miller on this topic. I am simply adding on. I mean, how could you disagree with anyone who references the movie "Red Dawn" in a spiritually based article?

So if you’re looking for some introspection give it a thought. OK, rent “Red Dawn” and watch it first and perhaps grab a dozen doughnuts, then give it a thought. What things make you angry? Not the little things, dig deeper than that. Then balance it by asking what things make you happy. You may just find that the answers inspire you to get up and do something.

No comments: