The New Year brings the opportunity to simultaneously expand and focus our awareness. I have chosen creativity as the star that will guide my soul’s navigation through 2017. In light of that choice, I am reviewing Christine Valters Paintner’s book, The Artist’s Rule.
My experience of reading Paintner’s book reminds me of my excitement the first time I watched “The Wizard of Oz” on a color television. I had already seen the movie many times and I knew the story by heart. Nevertheless, I was awe-struck when the scenes in Kansas, which were filmed in black and white, burst into brilliant reds, yellows and greens as Dorothy lands in the new world of Oz.
Similarly, in The Artist’s Rule, the familiar subjects of creativity and spirituality explode into a kaleidoscope of connections when the reader enters the liminal space where these topics converge. Paintner achieves this effect as she quotes and comments on the understandings of artists, poets, mystics, psychologists, theologians, Scriptures and other wisdom traditions.
The book, which reads like a stimulating conversation with a soul friend, “began as an online course called Way of the Monk, Path of the Artist.” (p. 3.) It maps a twelve-week journey that blends sparkling elements of creativity with rich values of spirituality. The bones of the book are practices such as contemplation, praying the hours, obedience, humility, hospitality, community, asceticism and service. Paintner fleshes out the content with teachings from Celtic and Cherokee traditions, insights from early Christian, desert fathers and mothers and the intelligence of the Earth’s seasons.
After discussing contemporary perspectives on ancient wisdom, each chapter offers contemplative practices that include questions for reflection and a reading to ponder. Then Paintner presents two creative explorations, generally using visual and written forms, with some opportunities for movement. Rather than focusing on artistic products, the exercises foster transformation. Paintner encourages the reader to “give yourself permission to make ‘bad’ art. By ‘bad,’ I simply mean art that is purely for self-exploration . . . and for honoring the beauty found in truthfulness.” (p. 103) This style of artistic play can uncover the splendor that dwells in our sacred depths. Poetic gems from participants in the online class shimmer at the end of each chapter. The structure of every creative activity provides support for timid novices while launching bold oficionados.
Written for those interested in spirituality and creativity, Paintner’s book cultivates awareness of “the sacred presence beating through the heart of the world.” (p. 16) Readers can enjoy the book from cover-to-cover, or by engaging with random excerpts. They can be successful alone or in a group. Perhaps they will find that the content, reflections and creative explorations carry them over the rainbow to the place where “the monk and the artist are one.” (p. 161)
Happy New Year and Kunghei fatchoy! What star will you choose to guide your soul’s navigation through 2017?
The Artist’s Rule: A Twelve-Week Journey Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner; Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2011; 173 pages