Reflections on a Beautiful Day


This is the only reality:
The ever-present Now.
The sentinels stand with light-dappled leaves.
The watchers drift across the piercing blue.
The witnesses speak and they are not a few.
Their song answers my unspoken questions.
And the gentle caress of the breath of the earth
Soothes my tired soul.

© 2017 Muddart


Transforming the World by the True Word

This week, finding myself hungry to read something that would stimulate my mind and spirit, I pulled Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire off the shelf.

In grad school, I had this book as required reading for a comparative education class. But one seldom has time to give readings the slow, close read they deserve in grad school. Paulo Friere is a writer whose every sentence is so packed with meaning it demands reflection and meditation. We spent only one or two classes discussing him, but I felt like I could have spent an entire semester discussing nothing but Freire’s ideas.

Central to Freire’s educational theory was the role of dialogue in the educational process.  Education that transforms, Freire believed, could not be a one-sided impartation of information from the superior to the inferior. Rather the teacher must approach as a learner, and the student must also become a teacher. For this interaction to take place dialogue is essential.  This dialogue, if genuine (and only if genuine), would have a humanizing effect on both the teacher-student and the student-teacher.  He wrote:

As we attempt to analyze dialogue as a human phenomenon, we discover something which is the essence of dialogue itself: the word. But the word is more than just an instrument which makes dialogue possible; accordingly, we must seek its constitutive elements. Within the word we find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed – even in part – the other immediately suffers. There is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus to speak a true word is to transform the world.

By contrast “an unauthentic word” is one that that neglects either reflection or action, thus is “one which is unable to transform reality.”  “Human existence,” Freire declares, “cannot be silent.”  And to attempt to silence another is, in fact, “dehumanizing aggression.”  Therefore it is only in genuine dialogue, where one both speaks and listens, hears and is heard, that transformation occurs.  These thoughts have profound implications on how we teach, not only in our schools, but in our communities of faith, in our homes, and in our charities and other social service organizations.

What is necessary for this dialogue to occur?  Freire points to five elements: profound love, humility, intense faith, mutual trust, and hope.  Without these dialogue cannot occur.  But these deserve their own full attention at another time.

Author’s note: Speaking of dialogue, my blog posts usually flow out of dialogue.  This one was inspired not only by picking up Freire this week, but also by conversations with my husband as I read him quotes, and exchanges with my fellow blogger Peter here and here.

The Dust of the Earth

Roots Amongst the Dust, © 2010 by Muddart

As I am researching the development of kiln technology in China, one interesting fact I found was the linkage between the yellow loess that lies in a thick blanket over China and the development of high-fired ceramics thousands of years prior to other parts of the world.¹  The loess in turn was blown in from the Tibetan plateau and the Gobi desert.  As I was discussing this with my professor, he mentioned other examples of dust being blown from one part of the earth to another and thus impacting the ecosystems, and thus in turn impacting the cultures that developed there.

As I thought of this, I saw in my mind’s eye dust blowing all over the earth directed by the winds, and I thought of the Western conception of inspiration as breath, and considered both the Hebrew and Greek conceptions of “spirit” which are associated with both breath and wind.  It seemed an amazing idea that the earth’s winds blow dust that result in amazing innovation in a culture, and in our own culture the idea of wind is associated with both inspiration and our human spirit, as well as the divine Spirit.

2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit [wind] of God was moving over the surface of the waters.

¹Finlay, Robert. “The Pilgrim Art: The Culture of Porcelain in World History,” Journal of World History, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Fall, 1998), pp. 141-187

Genesis and the Creative Process: The Concept

When I wrote the original draft of my last piece on Art & Fear in 2004, at the end I had this thought: What could be learned from looking at the Genesis account of creation from an artist’s perspective? At the time, I wrote some notes on what happened each day in the Genesis account, including application of these events to the creative process. It was pretty powerful. However, I think the Roaring Lion (See “Art & Fear” article, where I compare the Creative Process to a savage beast) began to scare me, and I stopped myself.

I mean if there is a God, and He did have some hand in creating this Beautiful World we live in, maybe we could learn something from how He did it. Maybe rather than looking at the story of Genesis as something to argue science and religion over, maybe instead we who are artists, writers and creative people are in a unique position to understand what the author was trying to say about the act of creation, and maybe in turn we can learn something ourselves as well as teach others about what it means to be a creator.

Think about it for a minute. Genesis is saying that God is a creator, AND that we are created in His Image! Do you get what I’m saying? We, humankind, all of us, if we are indeed created in the image of God are also meant to be creators!

When I was a child, my parents enrolled me for a time in free schools. The idea behind these schools was noble, and partly worked. The main idea (at least in the schools I attended) was that children start out right, but we (meaning adults) ruin them. I say “partly worked”, because I do agree we do a lot to ruin children, mostly through selfishness, but what the schools failed to understand is that kids do in fact need some structural framework in which to work. Boundaries are needed. We in the free schools were truly boundary-less, and thus we as children did probably as much to ruin each other as any adult did.

Though the experience was a mixed bag for many of us, I learned some things that I would not have in a more traditional school, among these lessons one is that people are all born creative. So, if we are all born creative, what happens?

What happens is we (all of us: adults, children, society) ruin this inborn creative impulse. We do it by laughing at their ideas, by saying “can’t” “won’t” “don’t”. We do it through school systems that discourage creativity. Sometimes perhaps it’s because we too fear the Roaring Lion, and when we see our children roaring its roar, the same roar we stifled in ourselves years ago, we become afraid. Maybe it will devour them just as we feared it would devour us. We may have caged the lion, but it is still not tame.

Even those of us who call ourselves “creative people”, often don’t let the beast totally free. We may call ourselves “lion tamers”, but just as the lions “tamed” by Sigfried and Roy showed themselves not to be truly tame, so is this inner beast we call the Creative Process. While we may not be able to tame the beast, maybe we can at least learn to understand it.

So back to Genesis, as I read the story of Genesis like an artist studying the process that another artist goes through, it hit me that there’s something there – something rich and powerful. So, from time to time I hope to post my reflections on how each of the 7 Days in the Genesis account have something to teach us as artists.  It’s pretty interesting what I saw there. I’ve only gotten through Day 3 in my own processing so far, and don’t know if the other 4 days will be as rich in imagery for an artist as the first 3 were, but there’s only one way to find out… keep looking.