Art is What Everything Else Isn’t

Marcia - Portland, Oregon
Entered on June 1, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: creativity

I believe in the redeeming power of making something out of something else, for the pure joy of it. The impulse I feel to create order out of chaos, to make sense out of confusion, to see the potential for beauty in disparate elements and have the courage to realize that beauty, is an expression of love for the world and the best part of me.

Each time I enter my studio I realize how much courage is involved. All artists I know will admit that frustration, panic, and even despair confront them every time they strive to create fresh beauty. And yet we persist, knowing what is waiting on the other side. Sometimes the result is good, sometimes it is only a stepping stone to something good, but the effort is always worthwhile.

I believe in the Creative Spirit, in God as the original Artist whose likeness we bear, who made us and everything else out of that same impulse. On the seventh day God surveyed the result and, I believe, was delighted.

This creative impulse was passed to us and is part of our hard wiring; more than any characteristic, it sets us apart from other living things. While plants and animals have the stamp of beauty as a gift from their Creator, only we humans go beyond the pragmatic business of survival and bring beauty into being for its own sake. Animals preen, certainly, for mating purposes, and camouflage their nests for protection, but they do not color or otherwise embellish and then step back to admire their handiwork.

My earliest memories involve gathering leaves, twigs, feathers, flowers, adding them to whatever else fell into my hands, and arranging them in some kind of pleasing order. This was how I coped with an unstable family life that could erupt into chaos at any moment, a dependable way of touching base with harmony beneath the surface of daily confusion. In the midst of life’s unpredictability, making orderly arrangements soothed me and, over and over, made me happy.

Theodore Roethke has said that “Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It’s what everything else isn’t.”

Haste is what gets us into trouble, because it keeps us from listening to natural harmonies. It makes us think that other things — necessities of survival that can so easily be twisted into power, acquisition, and domination — are more important.

The gift of later life is that haste is no longer necessary, if we can only learn to set it aside. Today I have a studio full of objects, materials, and gifts from nature. I have an infinite supply of words waiting. I have a lifetime’s worth of experience with ways of putting them all together — some lasting, some ephemeral — and the job every day is to start, to take up the promise and challenge of beauty, and to make something that wasn’t there before.