I intended to write more this evening, but instead I got to paint.
My friend Doug is in town and he is an artist. I asked for a painting lesson, so tonight we sat down in the dining room and he constructed a still life centered around a ceramic Winnie the Pooh I have (at Ginger’s suggestion) and we painted. First, he painted a study to show me how to do it and then he instructed me as I did my own version. Here are the finished products. (Mine is the one on the left.)
The experience was full of so many good things for me, not the least of which was getting to hang out and do something creative with my good friend who is really good at painting. I got to learn something new, too, which is always worth the trip. What I loved most was listening to Doug talk about how a painting comes to be. He talked about values and colors and light and shadows. His instruction was about painting and was also parable for me because it led me to think again about how the creative tensions in our lives are what make us grow and thrive.
Painting is full of polarities: light and dark, cool and warm colors, translucent and opaque. When Doug talked about the colors, he even spoke in opposites. When we started painting, it was the collusion of the opposites – the mixing of colors, the grasping of shadows – that brought the image to be on our boards. Our creativity was fed as we worked with the tension between the poles instead of choosing one side or another.
The point of this little painting parable is one I think you can see coming, but I’ll say it anyway. A big part of what stagnates us as a country is we, as Americans, deal with most issues as either/or: we are attracted to the poles in most any discussion. We take our sides on either end of whatever the discussion and then yell back and forth at each other as if that counts as conversation. Rather than moving to a more creative place, we end up hoarse and hostile.
I’m not saying the answer is some sort of middle way that “tolerates” everyone and accomplishes very little. I am saying we have the possibility of being creators when we are willing to listen to both poles and live in the creative tension that grows when we don’t move too quickly to claim our values are absolute. Whatever the issue — global or local, institutional or relational – we all have something to learn, something to teach, and room to grow.
The art of painting means learning how to integrate the opposites in a way that creates something beautiful. The art of living is not so different.
P. S. — There’s a new recipe.
Yeah, the weird polar thing that has been messing with our political world for so long. I’ve noticed the people at the ends of the poles tend to grow more extreme in case they have to give up something. So that any compromise might be more on their side of things. They will even say things that aren’t true, but become mantras to protect them.
The problem is, people like this. Lots and lots of people in our world think rather simply and seem happy to keep on doing so. Were the world made of Miltons, I’d expect better. I confess I despair a little because I’m not sure it is going to get better.