There are weeks that fall heavy, sharp, and cold, like an icy rain in a winter of unusual warmth. There are thoughts reverberating about our brains that crush our ideas, pick apart our dreams, and dissect our hopes until all what is left is skeletal and lifeless. I don't know if I believe that the critic inside is our harshest, but I believe it is the loudest. It is sneaky and cunning, reminding us of all our fears, repeating them over and under our ache to create. Isn't there enough art out there? Enough poems? Enough created, made things?
Sometimes I wonder if there is. Are we simply adding to a materialistic world more materials to be bought, displayed for a few years, then packed into an attic to decay? Does making things matter?
My instinct croaks a quiet, but certain yes.
Yes, because the purpose of creating is not make something infinite.
I don't know about you, but for me, creating is both instinct and discipline, process and product. It is easy and hard, and it can be hard because we want it to be good, to be lasting. This is not a terrible desire. But I struggle when the creating seems "in vain." Deep in my soul I believe that creating is the opportunity to bless people. And that can oftentimes be very brief, therefore humbling. I want the art I make to add to the world something good, something lovely. But all our creations don't have to be grand or permanent. Our creative work does not even have to be remembered to have value.
My family has a tradition that has developed the past couple of years. Living in the southern shadow of the mighty Great Lakes, I love to go to the shore. Some of you know that feeling that comes when standing next to a a lake, a vast bowl of water keeping a rhythm we cannot imitate, coming and drawing back and stretching to another shore. We go, at all times of year, bearing the cold wind or picking our way among the stones at summer dusk.
We make beach art. We move driftwood, rocks, twigs, sand. We arrange the possessions of the shore into patterns. Mostly for the sake of practicing creativity. But for other reasons, too. Reasons we barely know. It can be wonderful to find what someone else left on the shore. An array of items that point to something else from a slightly different direction.
You see a line of white stones I left behind for a brief second, and now in the jumbled strip of rocks down the beach, you notice the white ones, soft creams among greys and greens. Then the tall driftwood pieces placed on end in the sand point above to the bluff. As if for the first time, you see the way the land sits beside the lake, and look at more than just the water. I will never know what you saw, will never be able to measure what my abandoned art has done.
Created things are not made to be measured. Created things will always be worth more than market value. So when I feel discouraged, disillusioned, I make art to bless people, I make art that will never be in a museum.
So make something simple and finite. Something that will not last. A post-it landscape? A napkin story? A hand-lettered scrap? A pile of stones arranged on the beach? Twigs arranged in the forest?