Life is like an octopus. The minute we get one flailing arm nailed down to the turf, another one comes bounding up from the dirt, madly swinging its suction-cups of distress into mid-air with no hope of any serenity or control.
My great-grandmother (who we called Nana) used to say, “There’s never the perfect situation, dear.” Or, as I like to put it, nobody escapes.
Our humanity is constructed in a particular way—a way in which, it often feels, life is showing up to test us. And that’s just the way the world is wired. And though it’s been a popular spiritual idea to say that we’re all here to learn lessons—and of course we are—it’s annoying as hell to hear that on the days when life has slammed us to the turf.
And that’s where art comes in. The thing about art is that it’s nonlinear. It’s not a multiple-choice, check off the box, A to B to C experience. It requires us to get comfortable with the amoeba-like shapes of early efforts. It requires us to get good at working through failure. It requires that we try, and get up and try again. It asks that we look beyond the regular, and the average, and the conditional thought processes, and see something else—and then keep going and keep looking even when we think there’s no place to look. It asks us to trust.
Making art means that we don’t “know” before we begin. Oftentimes we still don’t have a clue when we’re halfway through, or even near the end of a project. But we work anyway. We work to discover the intuition and the grace that comes from trusting ourselves, from trusting that doorways appear, even when we think they won’t.
Blasting the abstract canvas with sun-drenched yellow and fiery red and topaz, when you think you’re going to finish with gold hues, means you have to trust your own sense of composition. Sculpting a four foot high hammered metal sculpture, even when you have no idea how you’re going to make the thing stand, means you have to trust your artistic vision. Constructing an eight foot high wooden installation piece, when you have no idea where you’re going to put it, requires listening to what’s calling you, and then applying your courage to the work. In other words, art teaches us to trust the process.
Then, when we’re back in the whirring blender of life, we can remember that doorways appear. They often don’t appear where we think they will appear, or where we want them to. They often look completely upside down and backwards—they appear in different textures, and land in our face-front visual-fields in unrecognizable structures. But even when we don’t know how they got there, there they are.
Doorways that open to a new place—an unseen and unknown place— materialize for us time and time again in art, just as they will for us in life, simply because we are willing to keep walking, and to trust. And that artistic lesson is a real-world, faith-foundation we can build a life upon.
Life shows up. Doorways appear. And all we have to do is show up.