Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: art

Steven Pressfield on Sin

     To combat the call of sin, i.e., Resistance, the fundamentalist plunges either into action or into the study of sacred texts. He loses himself in these, much as the artist does in the process of creation. The difference is that while the one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.

     The humanist believes that humankind, as individuals, is called upon to co-create the world with God.

     – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Writing in Coffee Shops

     My brother showed me that after he caught me writing in a coffee shop.

     Thankfully, when I write in tea stores and coffee shops, I don’t do it to be watched. I do it to create a place where I can feel alone, isolated and nurtured with a hot drink.

     But art sometimes has that showy temptation to it. That shadowy urge to front and say ‘Yeah, I’m creative and making things that few mortals can make. I’m kind of a superhero that way. No big.’

     We need to ask ourselves an important question. Do we love being called ‘artist’? Do we love the attention we receive because of our product? Do we love the good reviews and the accolades and the recognition and all the other perks that come from making good art?

     Or do we love the creation itself?

     One of those loves is mercenary. The other is born of Imago Dei. One moves us toward becoming celebrities. The other moves us toward becoming creators.

Ernst Fischer on Art

“In a decaying society, art, if it is truthful, must also reflect decay. And unless it wants to break faith with its social function, art must show the world as changeable. And help to change it.”

Ernst Fischer, 1899-1972

Who Are the Music Makers?

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
– Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy – ‘Ode’
Full text here.

     Who are the music makers?

     Who are the dream dreamers?

     Do you want the job?

     It’s not an easy role. You are forced to wander alone by the cold, infinite sea. You will have to pitch a tent in the dark, sacred desert. Your dreams will give birth to Nineveh and Babel, and then you will find your prophecies tearing them down again. You will have to give up the world and be willing to have the world give up on you in return.

     Can you do it?

     Are you willing?

     There is much in store for you, should you take this heavy yoke.

     You will become a mover. A shaker.

With wonderful deathless ditties,
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

     The path turns itself dark. And that makes the light of your music all the brighter.

     Is it worth it?

     The pain? The loneliness?

     Tell me this, instead.

     Is life worth the pain of living?

     Are children worth the pain of birth?

     Is gold worth the flame that makes it?

Innocence Lost

I used to stare at this painting every time I visited my artist friends in Peterborough. It’s the kind of painting that grabs by the throat with silky fingers and demands to be gazed at.

My wife must have noticed, because she secretly bought it for me this month.

Paintings used to confuse me. I can look at stories and film and draw meaning from them pretty naturally, but I couldn’t do that with paintings. Until one day I was asking my artist friend what the rules were.
“What rules?” she said.
“The rules in interpreting art. How do I know what the artist is trying to communicate? Do colours mean something? Shapes? Help me out here.” Can you sense my desperate need to have everything defined and quantified?
“No rules, silly. Don’t try to figure out what the artist was trying to say. What is the piece saying to you.
Sounds simple, eh? Probably something you already knew. But it changed everything for me. I could suddenly see life in an art form I hadn’t understood. I think that’s when I really fell in love with this one.

Go check out Needle and Nest Design. Buy something. Leave an encouraging comment. Pick up some inspiration for your own journey. I sure did. Love you, Ben and Mel.

I looked up at the sky
    for I was innocent and fearless
And the sky opened herself to me and showed me glorious things.
    Things of sunshine
    Things of green
    Things of life and light and lovelies uncountable.
And everything was bright and beautiful.
    I looked with the longing on a child, my scarlet hair flying in the wind.
    I drank with reckless abandon, caring not for the cliche.
    In my hunger.
    In my desire.
    In passion, pure and pleasured.
Oh, it was good.

I looked up at the sky
    feared.
For the sky had died.
    Grey.
    Dark.
    Cold.
Silent stony streams with flowed dryly beneath me.
    I tilted my head to the heavens, lips parted in desire for something loved and lost.
    Hair torn by unknown hands, dipped in oil I could not rinse.
My thirst abandoned me.
    and my hunger
    desire
    blah.

Twit. Twitter. Tweet.
    Red, flitting and flying about.
    It landed before me, upon the crooked finger of a branch clinging to life.
    I wanted to touch.
    I wanted to reach.
    But I remembered the taint upon my head.
Twit. Twitter. Tweet.
    It bore its own mark
    yet was beautiful still.
    Yet was beautiful still.
    Yet loved still.
Am I still lovely?
    (yes)
Am I still beautiful?
    (yes)
I am pale and thin. I am sick and stained. But do you still look upon me with desire?
    (for the good is greater than the taint)
    Yes?
    (and the root is purer than the branch)
    Yes?
    (and dare not say otherwise, bride)
I looked up again, the bird was full of love and taint together.
    May I touch your bird?
    (darling, it was for that reason i sent him)

How to Win

     I’ve been winning for a month. Or nearly a month. When you win it’s hard to keep track of how long you’ve been winning. It’s easier to count the days slip by when you’re losing.
     Are you winning?
     We all seem to have something inside us prodding us to do something. The something is different for each one of us. Maybe it’s music. Maybe it’s film. Maybe it’s cooking or dancing or painting or sewing or reading or praying or humanitarian aid or jogging or karate. But it’s something. And we feel like it’s our thing to do. So we make plans, set goals and sit down to do our thing. And then, as we approach the starting blocks, it fizzles out and dies.
     We feel tired. We feel angry. We feel depressed. We feel like we’re no good a it. We feel like we’ll never accomplish anything. We feel resistance.
     My thing is fiction. There is nothing I like more than a good story. I’ve wanted to create my own for as long as I can remember. I’ve had fleeting successes, but I’ve never really been a winner. Until this month. I’m winning now. Every single day. And I think I know why. Shall I share?

     Know the Enemy.
     There is something insidious that works against anything good, creative or beautiful. It seeks to destroy, inhibit and pervert anything happy and alive. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance. Theologians call it Sin. I’ve come to call it Hate. I call it that because of the way it rails and bites and spits with no goal other than destruction. Have you felt it? When you sit down to write your story? When you wake up early to start your spiritual disciplines? When you think about putting on your jogging shoes? It’s relentless. It’s evil. It makes you hate your thing. It wants to take you down.
     Once I realized it, I understood that every excuse I made for not doing my work was rooted in Hate. And every time I accepted those excuses, Hate won. And my thing was not created. Hate wants all things creative to cease. It’ll do anything it can to kill them. When you know the enemy is there, you realize that every step in the right direction is war. You realize that sometimes you have to work even when you’re hurt (emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically). Because Hate is always crouching at the door, and it’s desire is to destroy you and your art.
     And once you see the enemy, you accept that you must kill it if your thing is to live. And you can take the old Aiel purpose and make it your own: “Till shade is gone, till water is gone, into the Shadow with teeth bared, screaming defiance with the last breath, to spit in Sightblinder’s eye on the last Day.”

     Know the Ally
     Hate stands against you and your work. Love stands with you. Love, the greatest virtue, is primarily a spiritual and creative thing. Love always builds. Love delight in existence. It was for Love that God made the world. It was in Love that he put a part of himself in every human. And, through Love, we can create and achieve.
     All good creativity comes from the Outside. Its root is divine. And when we realize that it is not born within us, but outside us, we see that we can beg for it. We can reach out to the Creator and ask him to send a Muse to kiss our spirit so we can go forward and do what we were meant to do.
     And Love, of course, is stronger than Hate. For Love is, foundationally, something. While Hate, foundationally, is a non-thing. Love tends toward order and peace and life and existence. Hate tends towards chaos and violence and death and entropy.
     With an Ally like the Creator, how can Hate win? With Love we can trample the brats of hell under our feet and give to the world whatever gifts we have to give.

     And so I am winning. And I shall continue to win. And one day you will see the fruits of my victories.

     When will I see yours?

The Silent Screams

Loud.

Crash.

Scrabbling for attention.

We shout and dance and sing, desperate for the eyes of the people around us. We spin and toil, joyless for a reward always in our dreams but never in our hands. We make and break. We buy and break. We break and throw away and nothing is left. More. More. More. And in our noise we forget.

And the mountain stands silent, silently screaming louder than us all, if only we had the ears to hear her. Naked she stands, behind her veil of cloud and frost. She tries to be shy and quiet, though she knows not how. And in her timid stance she declares the glory of the mover and shaker who pulled her from the ground and stood her on her feet. What does she do that demands our gaze? What work does she accomplish that deserves our wonder? Only that she is.

Thank you for the music that you need not ears to hear. Thank you for the sights that do not require eyes. Thank you for beauty. Thank you for glory. Thank you for betrothing me to the carver of the mountains and the painter of song.