The farmer, the artist and the light and dark side of creativity


Why don’t we go to the American Visionary Art Museum more often? It’s so full of energy and inspiration. The artist biographies alone contain worlds: stories of modest lives, of strange and average families, of being marginalized or anonymous or defying odds. And the art! Inspiration, desperation, madness, direct divine download, obsessive detail, love, beauty and hope. The human condition and human potential laid bare—and then bedazzled with mirror fragments, ceramics, jewels, beads, day-glo paint, and silver balloons. The whole messy reality of life as an embodied human.

AVAM is a funhouse of play and whimsy and joy-in-the-face-of . . . . I used to naively believe that such playfulness and inspired creativity was the reserve of a select few Chosen, and that they get to shine more brightly and be more loved than the rest of us. Of course, such artists experience the other extremes of despair, darkness, and depression more acutely too. There is no free lunch.

“Cynicism is what passes for insight when courage is lacking.” ~ Dame Anita Roddick.

We all have within us the same wild and vibrant inner light. It’s both receiver and illuminator of the great creative life force. The fearless and courageous among us seem to have special artistic gifts, when mostly they forgo the usual shielding and cloaking that we rely on to stay safe and sane. That dark side of creativity is so intimidating that we cling to armor as protection. Yet, work done from safety usually comes out as wooden, banal and unmoving. Safety and control are a sure way to snuff the spark of life.

Creative work is less about trying to be original than it is about stepping into the flow of the creative and being faithful to its expression. A willingness to be vulnerable, uncomfortable, idiotic, wrong, mediocre and judged opens art to the possibility of greatness. Or greatness’ humble cousin, relevance.

The I Ching has many wonderful metaphors and images for how we relate to, harness, and serve the Creative force of life—without trying to control it. Two of my favorites are the farmer and the artist. We all have a bit of both in us. Literally, the farmer is willing to work hard. In Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about working like a farmer on a book project.

“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”   ~ St. Francis of Assisi

Both farmer and artist understand their role as enablers, as servants of the greater mysteries of Life and Creation. If the farmer does not mulch and plant and weed and tend, his crops and yield will suffer. Yet he cannot make the plants grow. He simply does everything in his power to create conditions conducive to growth, and waits. The farmer is methodical, going step by step, season after season, adjusting as conditions change.

“There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.” ~ Hildegard of Bingen

Likewise, the artist does her part and relies on the Creative to do its part. The artist herself is soil and sunshine and rain, her work the tender plants of spring, the flowers and growth of summer, the fruit of autumn. With great humility, the artist trusts that her work serves a purpose greater than she understands, that it helps others to uncloak their inner light and to resonate with the fire of Creation.

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