life faith art
Three things that everybody has and three things that frustrate us all because they take so long to get right, and then tend to go wrong anyway. Three aspects of our lives which require nurturing and cannot be hurried. Three common denominators of our race that reflect our human consciousness and our diversity.
As a graduate in geophysics (geology with electronic gadgets) I worked overseas in oil and mineral exploration for two years after finishing university in 1996. I was fortunate enough to visit some wonderful countries and to work with some amazing people. From a busy office in Milan to the coast of Labrador, and from the Libyan desert to the mountain forests of Indonesia, I began to get to grips with what the job demanded of me. After leaving three companies, however, I realised I was unhappy with myself, was letting people down and needed to review the situation. Something was bottled up inside me. It was a difficult time and I looked longingly at my sister studying art in London. `I can't take time out to study art. That's irresponsible, I'll enjoy myself too much', I thought. But in the end I did, and it was the best decision I ever made.
OK, I blew my precious savings but it was such a valuable investment. The year was a revelation; I was hardly Rembrandt born again, but for the first time that did not matter. I rediscovered an aptitude for photography and printmaking, and uncovered a whole new world of observation and self-discipline in life-drawing class. I felt a buzz of creativity and had the space to express it. I learnt that discipline is a source of freedom and that to judge someone or their work is to misjudge them, guaranteed. The work I was doing felt like a learning process, and did not have to hang on walls, which took the pressure off and allowed me to enjoy it.
While working in Oxford in 1998, I realised I needed to express the faith I think I've always had in a new way. Sharing a house made it difficult to be silent, and so it was I found myself in a Society of Friends (Quaker) meeting on a sunny Sunday morning. As a child my mother had attended a Quaker school in Yorkshire and had told me of their method of silent worship and their down-to-earth approach to life. The hour's silence was powerful; it was the first time I had shared such an intimate experience with anyone.
With so many flavours of religion available to those who are free to choose, it can be hard to find a meaning in any one of them--especially if it negates the others. And besides, what about that which is inside you, individual and unique? It takes courage to develop an independent faith, but it is an important step. You say to yourself, `I may be wrong, but this is the truth as I have experienced it', which is unique and changing all the time. The extra dimension I experienced in the Quaker meeting was a sharing of that individual faith and the discovery that it was part of something bigger. It was magic to acknowledge my faith in God to others, not through words, but through attendance at the meeting. I have no idea what God is, but my faith and its results are real enough. I was brought up in the Christian tradition and believe it is something wonderful that creates with love. That goes hand in hand with suffering, which is legitimate, but different to evil, which creates with self-pity, bitterness and hate.
Each of us can be creative with our life, faith and art, and be empowered when we treat them as our own. That's art, not the picture hanging on the wall. It's the way that picture was made and the way we look at it that matters. Life, faith and art go hand in hand as creative processes in which we are all engaged. They are expressed through questioning and observation, in such a way that we have to be creative and risk everything we have. After all, it is only on loan anyway...
Mike Carpenter, UK