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On Art and Oasis

Yesterday I got caught up in a string of related ideas, all involving the role of creativity and art in education. It started with my remembering Jill Bolte Taylor’s wonderful memoir of her experience of having a stroke. Taylor is a Harvard-trained brain scientist who actually “watched” herself having a massive stroke which completely destroyed function in her left brain—the hemisphere that controls the logical, analytical, reasoning, linear constructs—and left her with only the relational, creative, imaginal, imaginative right hemisphere to get her to the hospital! My Stroke of Insight, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a must-pursue. It should be required reading for anyone interested in education, theology, and art. You can read about her book and order it on Amazon by following the link below. I’ve also linked you to her TED talk on the subject.

Click here to read about My Stroke of Insight on

To view Taylor’s TED talk, click here:

So, that activity landed me on another TED talk where Sir Ken Robinson argues that our schools are killing our creativity. We are, quite literally, educating our children away from their deepest and most creative instincts. This is happening not just in US public schools, but across the globe. Our current educational systems, for the most part, arose out of the Enlightenment (when reason and order linear thinking were heralded) and were established to promote and undergird the industrial revolution. These paradigms don’t work in our postmodern contemporary culture. In fact, they’re disastrous. Check out what he has to say about the subject (he is detonatingly funny, by the way):

And then I ended up watching the inimitable John Cleese on the power of creativity and the need to create boundaries of time and space in order to practice creativity.

…which somehow reminded me of John Lithgow’s fabulous children’s book, Micawber, which is one of my all-time favorites.  The story centers around a squirrel who lives in Central Park, NYC and how he accidentally discovers that he’s an artist. Here’s a description of the monumental moment:

          Micawber’s dull life, with its tedious toils,

          All at once seemed a hundred times duller,

          As he straddled a palette and squeezed out some oils

          And discovered the wonders of COLOR! (Simon and Schuster, 2002)

You can see sample pages and the glorious illustrations by C.F. Payne here:

About 8:30 pm last night, I called off the search and watched Food Network, or maybe it was Home and Garden channel. This is what I do when I’m trying to shut down the idea mill and give it a rest. It is rarely a successful endeavor! And as you will note, I can’t even remember what I was watching….

But this morning, it all began to pull together because all of these road trips—to Taylor, Robinson & Cleese—were significantly related to the retreat I led over the weekend, a retreat on finding Sabbaths in everyday lives that are overprogrammed, overscheduled, overwrought, and overwhelming.

A few weeks ago Kathie Collins (a BibleWorkbench writer and editor) and I led a women’s retreat called A Time Apart: Creating Sabbaths in Your Life, and we spent one of our sessions with Picasso’s Repose, painted in 1908. It was a rich time as we speculated what Picasso might have been saying about repose, rest, Sabbath. It also called to mind a story that is told about Picasso. I may not have all the details correct, but the story goes that Picasso was sitting at a sidewalk café in Paris when a woman approached him and asked him to paint her portrait. Right there, on the spot. And she, of course, offered to pay him. So Picasso, with whatever tools he had on hand, painted the portrait. It took him less than 10 minutes. He handed her the painting and told her the price – 5,000 francs. Astonished at the high cost, the woman asked how he could charge so much for something that only took him 10 minutes to create. His alleged response was “But ma’am, I’ve been composing this painting all my life.”

We are artists composing our lives. Is your canvas filled with beauty and order? Growth? Spirit? Or is it chaotic and dissonant? Full of despair? In truth, we are partners with a spirit who invites us to use our God-given imaginations to create the canvas worthy of hanging in our living rooms.  This is a deliberate and intentional act of highest importance. It doesn’t have to match your sofa, either.

Here are some pointers I shared with the women on the retreat:

  • If you have given your paint brush to someone else, take it back or buy a new one!
  • If your so-called art teacher is giving you far too many directions and rules, fire him or her and become your own best tutor. Refuse to take any more art lessons!
  • You get to decide if you want to paint outside the lines and off the canvas!
  • You get to decide if you want to use color outrageously and extravagantly!
  • You get to decide whether to rip the canvas off the frame and stretch a new one!
  • You get to set the sales price!
  • You get to decide when to put the brush down, leave the studio, and go lie in the hammock!

The most successful artists are those who realize that they must leave the studio, stop staring at the canvas, stop trying to manipulate the medium and give it a rest. It is during those times of repose that we can connect with our highest imagination and creativity. This is how we FEED the artist within.


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