Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Creativity and the Faith Experience, Bud Hensgen

From Sunday, June 1st Dinner and Communion Service
Artist, Bud Hensgen, Vice President, the Arlington Artists Alliance

During the next few minutes I will try to describe something of what for me is the process of creating an abstract painting. I will talk a bit about how I experience this creativity. And then I will try to relate it to how I experience faith.

I believe that creativity comes from many sources, or paths, within us. I would like to talk for a few moments about two of those sources – inspiration and desperation.

What I mean here by inspiration is fairly general and straightforward and I think is something that everyone experiences in life, whether they create art with it or not. It is something that comes from outside us and moves me. For instance, if I am painting outdoors walking through a field and I come upon a woods with the light at dusk reflecting onto the shapes of a row magnificent oak trees, I am likely to be inspired. I am forced to stop, to look, to be silent, to absorb what I am seeing and feeling around me. So inspired, I may try to express that inspiration with my paints.

Desperation, no doubt a word insufficient to express what I want to say here, is the inverse or the opposite. It is something inside me, lying hidden, waiting to -- or crying to --- or demanding to -- be expressed. It has no words and feels rather opaque. Often it is actually nothing at all until I actually begin warming up to paint. Then it may become a wordless energy in my body that wants to be expressed.

It is much harder for me to describe or talk about this second source of creativity, this desperation. But perhaps the word, desperation, is appropriate after all, since it is often unclear to me where I am trying to go. I know there is a path and I hope it will reveal itself to me as I work. I am familiar with what I am trying to do. I know my paints, my brushes, my surface, and I have an idea that I want to develop. But I sometimes find, once begun, that I must take a different path and follow it. I have to stop, to look, to listen.

What is happening inside me may be something delicate, gentle and beautiful, like a tiny green Mayflower shoot one stumbles across and uncovers from the winter’s leaves in the woods in March. Or it may be dark and powerful, like an angry and sorrowful storm that howls somewhere within me. It may be like a storm that whips up leaves and blows scattered papers in every direction. It lifts up sticks and thorns and even rocks and heaves them to a new place, then soaks them with a pounding rain.

My job is somehow to respond, to let go, to get it out and then to look to see if it makes any visual sense at all.

And of course very often it doesn’t, and herein lies yet another sense of desperation, because what if my expression, my creation, doesn’t work on canvas, doesn’t work at all! And I have to move the paint, push it, scrape it, cover it, start over and over again. I look at this formless junk, this undecipherable mess of lines and forms, this patchwork of irrelevance, this meaningless mess, will it ever come together? Will it say something that is authentic, that is real? And it won’t come together, it looks like crap, and then I tire and I have to stop.

Sometimes I find I have to rest and wait, sometimes in silence, sometimes in solitude and sometimes in the midst of a turbulent city throng. I hope the artistic sensibility will return and that I will be desperate enough to get it out and onto the canvas and that it will come together.

But sometimes it does work. It appears before me, perhaps gradually, perhaps suddenly, often unexpectedly. How did I get
here, to this place? What made it come together? Perhaps the images of yesterday’s forms and shapes percolated overnight -- or over years. Whatever the sources, it feels to me to be real, to be engaging, to be authentic and I know it is time to stop.

When I reflect on this rather bizarre and frequently turbulent process, it occurs to me that when I am working to create something, when I am listening to both inspiration and attending to this desperation, I am living in a part of my inner being that may be right next door to religious experience – to faith, hope and charity, if you will.

After all, when I am painting thus, I am working from a source that seems to me to be a mystery, like seeing through a glass darkly. I am on a path that is sometimes dark and sometimes revealed to me and in order to express it I must turn myself over to it and follow it wherever it takes me, and I don’t know where it will lead. And when nothing happens and the path remains dark, I must hope that tomorrow the path will be clearer and that something will emerge. And I hope that what emerges will be authentic, at least to me and perhaps to some others. Finally I desire that this work, this expression of my own personal being will connect me, bring me into a closer relationship with others in this universe that I may never see and know, because I desire with a great desire to be a part, if only a tiny part of the mystery of this universe -- that envelopes you, that envelopes me and contains us all.

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