Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What makes something art?

Why are some things art, and other things not? Art can be anything, so what is the difference? Art is more than a description of something, it is the result of a process, and is first of all—an expression of its medium, of the materials with which it is made. I believe it is the relationship we have with those materials that determines how something becomes art. Does the resulting form of the object fit the materials we choose for it, and the way we are wanting those materials to be in that form? These seem like big questions to ask when looking at a drumstick made from driftwood, wool and tanned hide. Yet since art can be anything, the fact that I consider this drum stick to be art is a good place to ask why?

In my way of working, it is an equal, and equally elegant, attention to all the parts that makes the resulting object art—whether that art is a painting of nature, a reading of oracle cards, or the interlacement pattern on the back of a drum. Many years ago I listened to a lecture about Christopher Alexander’s pattern language, and on my way up to the front of the room to congratulate the speaker, I stopped midway and wrote these words from the lecture:

Every part, and every part between the part, is whole. And you are artist enough to call forth their riches.

I have never forgotten the shimmer in that idea—that every part is whole. Whether I am needle felting plant-dyed wool onto the felted head, or arranging the alternating lacing according to the smooth and rough surfaces of doe skin, the quality of every gesture I make with the materials, and how those gestures have good fit with the nature of the material—determine moment by moment how art-filled the results will be. I believe I owe the materials this level of attention, because I am asking them to leave their destiny as wood and wool and skin, and enter into my intention. Becoming art seems like the least I can offer, considering what I am asking them to give.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Holiday on Hawaii Island

Seems we need a brief rest from our holiday on Hawaii Island, the big island in that magical chain of tropical warmth relief for cold Cortes Islanders. I made wonderful discoveries for future blogs: why make a cover for Oracle cards, and how working with the I Ching has changed how I read my own Journey Oracle cards. I am excited to be negotiating the sale of a new drum , and have taken orders for felted drum sticks , but right now I`m planning a bit more napping, or I am likely to stay on the goofy side of vacation snapshots.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stories of making shaman drums

My ideas for making shaman, or journey, drums usually comes from some unexpected experience or insight—which is how most of my interactions with the spirit world occur. Something happens, I notice the something has a special shimmer in its timing or meaning, I make something in response, later I realize the entire process was directed without my conscious control or planning. These three drums are good examples of spirit directing the making, finishing and painting of my shamanic drums.

The pebble drum was made by a committee. Two women arranged a drum making workshop on Cortes Island, and as the days unfolded, we found ourselves all working equally on two hides, so in a way that feels inherently female, no one owned the drum skins, yet each was responsible for stewarding its becoming a drum. The little pebble inside the smoke tan pouch honors the value of small parts that are also being a part of a larger whole.

The eight-fold path drum didn’t want to be a turtle. When I completed the interlacement pattern on the back of this frame drum, I began pushing the lacing into various arrangements, and decided I could wrap the strands into the shape of a turtle. I spent many months trying to make this pattern into a turtle; each time only to be stymied by thongs that had nowhere to complete, or knots that couldn’t be hidden. Sometimes a drum knows who it is long before I do.

The star drum received its name in a magical experience of concordance that I tell on its purchase a journey drum page on my Journey Oracle website, but the painting came in response to an invitation to exhibit a piece of my art in a show titled, “me and my shadow.” Because I never know who or what is going to appear when I gaze into a drum, and because I have a contract with the spirit world not to control or edit what I see—I don’t paint very many drums. At first I found this image quite unsettling, and yet the more I looked, the more I felt the protective kindness of the spirit animal guide, especially in its willingness to share its eye with a human. I wonder how many of us humans offer an eye to an animal in this reality—given the necessity of equality and generosity that this would require.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A different kind of book illustration

When I was a student of Martin Prechtel at his school in New Mexico, he would challenge our modern technique of scholarship: taking notes. He claimed that this only really allowed us students to forget what was important, because since it was written down we no longer needed the discipline required to remember. I have recently received a copy of Martin’s new book, The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic, and found myself wondering how to highlight personally significant teachings without underlining, which in my view serves the same function as note taking. Both represent selecting what is important in the moment, which allows the remainder to sink from view. Later, when the student has learned more and differently, the notes and underlines act as barriers to new layers of insight, by missing what was also heard, and by emphasizing what may no longer be special. So what to do?

While on holiday and away from my oracle card readings and shamanic painting, I like to go sketching, but the rainy Puna coast near Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii, is not always supportive of working outdoors. And so I discovered a different kind of book illustration. I began using my watercolor pencils to embellish meaningful passages in Martin’s book—as a way of re-finding their wisdom, but more importantly as a way of feeding the Holy in his words with my efforts to make something beautiful for them to wear.

Of course this different kind of book illustration takes a long time, since I first read the chapter in its entirely, and then re-read it, feeling for those passages that have a sparkle like the ocean does when the sun has climbed high enough into the spring sky to fox trot over the watery mirrored dance floor below. Next is finding an image and colors that have good fit with the passage—without being reduced to an illustration of it.

As it turns out, this kind of book illustration is turning a rainy day in paradise into lots of fun.