The Power of Story

I can remember many years ago as a teen in our church youth group we read through a book entitled The Life of Christ in Stereo.  It took the Gospels and combined them into an easy-to-read, chronological narrative.  A significant part of the strength and power of the ministry of From The Top over the past 25 years, by God’s enabling, has been our highlighting of stories and themes from the Bible in an artistic way – through sight and sound.  To complement my ministry and leadership with From The Top I have read the Bible chronologically.  Now, from September 2017 until June 2018 I’m going to be working through the recent book The Story by Max Lucado and Randy Frazee (link: http://www.thestory.com/what-is-the-story/).  The Story is the story of the Bible, God’s great love affair with humanity condensed into 31 chapters bringing together the stories, poems and teaching of the Bible.  I’m embracing this opportunity for study, reflection, growth and service, and artistic expression.  As the President and Artistic Director of From The Top Arts, I want to invite any of you who are interested to join me on this creative journey.  I’ll be posting my responses as an artist to this book as I read through it, and Scripture.  I invite you to write with your responses – in text or via whichever artistic medium you create.  Please let me know if you would like your responses shared here on my blog The Restless Artist.  More details to come in the next few weeks.”  (‘The Story’ can be purchased off Amazon for under $18 [Kindle for $15]).

Exercise, Emergence & Expression

I recently read the following words by Janice Elsheimer in her book ‘The Creative Call’: “Our gifts are not from God to us, but from God through us to the world. When we fail to use these gifts, we suffer the same way a person accustomed to regular physical activity may feel pent up, out of sorts, and off-balance after going for several days without exercise. When we try to live without exercising our artistic gifts we may feel RESTLESS [emphasis mine] and empty. Life lacks fullness. Something buried deep within longs to emerge.”  I’m looking forward to the increased opportunities I’m going to have in the next 12 months (more to follow in my next post or so) to express myself as an artist.  May each of us as artists exercise our talents, gifts and strengths, ensure that we have avenues for expression.

A Mere 5 Words

How far into the Bible does an artist, or anybody, need to read before he or she finds something relating to the arts? Not far at all. A mere 5 words. “In the beginning God created…” Reading Genesis 1:1-2:2 reveals an interesting process of creation and at least 7 interesting observations. 1) The heavens and the earth were the canvas that God created and the earth was “formless and empty” and dark (New International Versions [NIV]) – a blank canvas (1:1). 2) The Spirit of God was present from the beginning of the creation process (1:1). 3) In the words, “God saw that […] was good” we see that he paused, ‘stepped back’, evaluated his creation, and was able to give a positive self-review. The 7th time this phrase appears in this passage the significant adverb ‘very’ is added – “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (1:31). (4) As artists generally do nowadays, God was the 1st artist to name his works of art – “God called the light ‘day’” (1:4), before he gives names to other parts of his creation in following verses. 5) Regarding sources of inspiration, and degrees of realism in art, God made humanity in his image (1:26). 6) The variety of God’s creation is indicated in the words, “The heavens and earth were completed in all their vast array” (2:1). 7) God set an example for artists when he rested on the 7th day. Further, he blessed the 7th day and made it holy “because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (2:3). Following my Creator’s example, having shared these 7 observations in this blog post, I will now rest.

The Restless Artist

I once apologized to a pastor of mine for being a “restless artist.” This was in reference to myself as an artist seeking to find my place of worshipping and serving in the local church, and also advocating for more artistic elements in worship services. As I’ve reflected over this moment in time and my pairing of these words – “restless artist” – I have realized there was no need for myself as an artist to apologize. Each artist should indeed be restless – eager to express through their art. I also think of my artistic ministry with the charity From The Top with which I serve and how I’ve been realizing that not only is my work with From The Top not done but that there is still a great need to facilitate church leaders (some of whom are artists themselves) and artists to collectively learn about the biblical and theological place of the arts in local churches and our surrounding communities. I look forward to continuing on this journey of study, research, writing, teaching, and artistic ministry.  (As part of this journey, I have registered the domain TheRestlessArtist.net – which is pointed to this site also [FromTheTop.ca]).

“Measure your possibilities”

I can remember Marcel Marceau periodically saying to us as students, “Measure your possibilities.” Like most of his ‘quotables’, this phrase is packed with meaning and wisdom. First, Monsieur Marceau was encouraging us to be realistic in what we expect of ourselves. This includes not being too hard on ourselves relative to our artistic gifting and aptitude. Just as there will always be people who are more talented than ourselves, each of us are perceived by some to be more talented than others. Having taken stock of our capacity, we need to be at peace with artistic reality. In this light, it’s important that we be humble regardless of our relative place in our part of the artistic community. Second, embedded in the words of Marceau is a non-judgmental attitude. It’s essential that we don’t look down or think less of performance or visual artists who are not as trained, experienced or proficient as ourselves or others. Third and finally, for now, being able to measure our possibilities includes being increasingly self-aware and evaluating our art on an ongoing basis. Our individual and collective artistic possibilities must be critiqued by both ourselves and others.

Be Aware of Self-Assessors

When I was first introduced to a not-for-profit organization I heard the CEO comment, “We’re leaders in the field.” I can remember thinking at the time how commendable that was. However, as I got to know the agency and the respective field better I respectfully differed with the executive’s assessment. This is why I now primarily ask, “What do respected and reputable sources say?” As the saying goes – ‘Consider the source.’ Winning a talent competition at a local fair, as good as that may be, is not on par with winning a Grammy, Oscar or Pulitzer. Promotion will often include external third party endorsements in the form of quotes, a listing of awards rewards, and so forth. I try to not self-assess but rather let commendations, endorsements, recommendations, referrals, and so forth come from sources other than myself. A former colleague with whom I have not worked in 15 years recently said to one of my siblings, upon realizing they are related to me, “He’s an advocate for the people that he supports.” These words have stayed with me as I serve because they were unsolicited and came from a person who I respect very much. Finally, it is important to promote with integrity. The best way to explain what I mean by this is to ask, ‘What would people think of you or your organization if they investigated the claim?’ For example, a person’s assertion that he or she has worked in theatre for 30 years may be questioned if the reality is that the theatrical involvement consisted of volunteering as a stage hand for one weekend each year. Overall, self-assessment is a healthy exercise if it is for evaluative and not promotional reasons.

Own It

Just as it’s important to not expect perfection of ourselves or other people, it’s also essential that we own our shortcomings. In the past several years I have been baffled by how a significant number of leaders whom I have observed have not acknowledged missteps. To take responsibility for malfunction is a sign of strength and not weakness. Discussion of deficiency with followers or subordinates is the setting of a good example by a leader. In the same way, addressing of incidents of breakdown shouldn’t include over-apologizing. It can include such statements as “I didn’t explain that as best as I could have”, “It wasn’t fair of me to expect that of you”, “I forgot”, “I dropped the ball” and so forth. It is healthy for leaders and followers alike to own shortcomings.

The Two Types of Mentoring

Mentoring is a training tool that is very much under used. There are two main types of mentoring – active and passive. Active mentoring occurs when there is an understood relationship of teaching between mentor and apprentice. The teacher must be aware that she is imparting and the student needs to know that she is receiving what is shared. In order for mentoring to be effective the learning must be welcomed and wanted by the understudy. Further, good tutelage doesn’t just happen. Both the trainer and trainee must do their best to ensure that planned mentoring sessions and meetings do not get squeezed out of their schedules due to the busyness of life. The second type, passive mentoring, occurs when there is not an understood instructional relationship and acquisition on the part of the person learning is primarily achieved through his observation. In fact, the two people concerned may never meet. A musician (or – dancer, videographer, singer, actor, painter and so forth) can learn a lot by observing, dissecting and reading about the art of others. Some mentoring relationships may involve both active and passive mentoring. However, nothing can replace a veteran musician intentionally sharing with a novice artist through a developing relationship how to be proficient. God created us to be in relationship and relationship is more important than any creation of art.

© Kev W Wood 2014

The Shortest Lesson I Teach

I sometimes lead in to teaching on ‘How to Receive a Compliment’ by saying that it’s the shortest lesson that I teach. That’s because all that a person needs in responding to hearing praise are two simple words – “Thank you.” However, it’s often difficult for people to accept adulation for at least two reasons. First, and unfortunately, many people are more accustomed to hearing destructive criticism than positive feedback. Second, it is natural for a person to want to clarify and justify any perceived shortcomings in herself or himself – why something was not A+, 100%, and so forth, and basically – perfect. In this way, the principle consists of two words and not the three of “Thank you but…”. As artists we can be extremely self-critical and hard on ourselves. We can almost always (quickly) point out how we could have done things better. However, we need to practice resisting this urge. It’s important to find our worth in who we are and not what we do or create.  It’s also important to do our best and to be able to leave it at.  The maturity of a person, and an artist, includes developing the skill of receiving a compliment with the two words above, and not three or more.

© Kev W Wood 2014

How Long Does It Take?

My post last week, ‘The Marinating of Art’, was regarding how created art needs to have time to ‘marinate’. This week I will address the question, ‘How long does it take for art to marinate?’ The answer is that it depends since different types of art require varying amounts of ‘lead time’ for preparation, and possibly creation also. A worship leader leading a song which both she and the congregation are familiar vs. a musician creating a new arrangement. Actors preparing execution of an existing work vs. a script being written and then performed. I encourage church service design teams to plan as far ahead as possible to allow for as many creative options as possible with different ideas and artistic disciplines needing different amounts of preparation time. How nice it was once to be booked at the beginning of September to minister in a Sunday morning worship service at the beginning of December with the pastor being able to tell me not only his topic and text but his main points as well. The advance notice and information helped me to prepare very well. In contrast, some excellent and creative ideas are conceived when it is too late to implement them, or to execute them with excellence. On this note, respecting volunteers (or even compensated artists) includes inviting them to be involved with sufficient notice. As I wrote last week – a commitment to excellence may result in an artist turning down an invitation to serve when there is not enough time to prepare well.  We perform for an Audience of One. As we prepare a feast of artistic worship for him, may we take the time, effort and care to ensure that it is as seasoned as possible.

© Kev W Wood 2014