Trust the Art

Our friend Ellen is an artist. It is not simply that she paints with oils and creates works of beauty that connect to people in a variety of personal ways. And it’s not only that she can take a piece of furniture, peel back the layers of time, and with the tip of a paint brush, using the moods of nature, create for this piece new raiment that radiates an intuitive awe for the earth. Before any of this, Ellen is an artist because she inhabits the soul of an artist.

The world is represented to her through eyes that see the colours, the contours, the simple wonder of the surface of things. Her way is not the attempt at seeing through properties to any supposed substance of things. Instead, as is the way of artists, her delight is in what is given, in the mystery of what is simply there. Her art comes through delight in playing on these boundaries.

So we listened as she talked about her quandary of wanting the time to create art and still make a living. She described how she had just taken a short orientation and safety course that allowed her to join a union and get on a list to install insulation. She sorted through it out loud, weighing and balancing all relevant forces, finally concluding that there comes a time when you just have to “trust the art”.

Ellen never speaks in declarations, and this wasn’t one; but her phrase had the clarity and force of a good echoing pronouncement and it stuck.

For me, “trust the art” is first of all a fresh way to check inventory. It is a way to begin-to-continue sweeping away any layers of neglect, negative self-interest, and envy; all things that kill creative instinct. “Trust the art” is a way to give myself permission to exercise, test, fail and sometimes succeed at the impulse that burns deeper than others.

For each of us, whatever our vocation, our desire, whatever we come with, the question of “trusting the art” is, at bottom, about trusting the gift given. It is about using the gift and the attendant skills and talent that millions have, but using it in the way that only you can.

Because it is formed in the crucible of all your experiences, thoughts, and emotions, it is your unique gift. A gift, by virtue of the giver, that also recognizes and learns from the gifts and skills of others and creates new things through integrating the past work of others.

“Trusting the art” is also about putting yourself out there in the knowledge that in being true to your gift, you honour the giver and add to the stock of goodness in the world. At the same time, putting yourself out there will mean risking misunderstanding, even unintentionally inviting derision.

Trusting is never easy. It has to do with repeatedly overcoming fear, insecurity, even self-contempt, through great love.

In the end we are either moving toward or edging away from trust. The disorienting moment that trust-the-art brings will always beguile us into falling back to counterfeit ways of control. Trust never becomes static. We bounce between bad faith and good, between security and trust. But the motion itself allows for possibility.

Ellen is “trusting the art”. Her own work has and is being recognized and she occasionally earns enough to make a living. This is a happy by-product of “trust the art”–not given to all. While desiring the “by-product” is right and good, the centre-point not the payoff. I suspect if it is, no payoff is ever enough.

“Trusting the art” is finally about an orientation to life. While the erecting of personal securities finally leave us as hollow as the walls, trust-the-art gives us the only access we have to the great mysteries of origin and things seemingly infinite. “Trust the art” is deep wisdom.

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