Saturday, June 25, 2011

The rhythms of a flourishing artist: Or "how I get things done"

The Good Samaritan

My friend Jim Janknegt is one of the most prolific visual artists I know. This is not because he's got a stash of pirate gold sustaining the lifestyle of a landed gentry, nor because he lives in New York City or London in the thick of the high art world, nor because he works full time as an artist. He's prolific because he retains a careful rhythm of life and work, and has done so for many years.

Flight into Egypt
The fact that of late he's able to work extra hours a day owes to the fact that he's semi-retired. Even when he worked full time at the University of Texas's PAC, however, he produced an uncommonly large amount of work. Why? Because he (implicitly) takes Tony Schwartz's advice seriously, as we all should. According to Schwartz, courtesy of the Harvard Business Review:

“The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to ritualize them—build specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.”

This is a way of saying that our will and capacity for discipline require the aid of daily rituals in order to serve the ends to which we apply them.

Recently Jim wrote an essay called "How I Get Things Done." It includes ten things he does, simply because that's what an artist does. He kindly allowed me to reprint it here. While his circumstances include plenty of contingent factors, many of us as artists have good reason to read and heed.


1. Blew up my TV. Not literally, but I did disconnect it from everything (cable, satellite, antenna) except a DVD player. Now we only watch TV intentionally via Netflix.

2. Get enough sleep. I go to bed between 10:00 and 11:00 (usually closer to 10:00) and get up at the same time everyday except for Sunday at 6:00 am. I set my alarm. That is close to eight hours of sleep.

3. I start my day with quiet. Everyone else in my house is a night owl. So when I get up at 6:00 I am the only one up. I start the day with a good breakfast, coffee and some spiritual reading. After breakfast I pray the Divine Office. As an example, the last year I have read The Imitation of Christ, The Divine Comedy and am currently reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Judas Kiss
4. Have a schedule. During the week I keep the same basic schedule. After my quiet time, I feed the chickens and dogs and do a few other chores. I then proceed to my studio and paint from 8:30 to 10:30. I eat lunch, get ready to go to work and drive from Elgin to Austin. I work at the HRC from 12:30 to 5:15, then drive home. My lovely wife usually cooks (she is an awesome cook) and we eat supper around 6:30. After supper we visit, walk around the farm, swim, watch Netflix or read until bedtime.

On Saturdays I usually work on projects around the house from 9:00 to 5:00 with lunch and a nap thrown in. Sundays: no work. I fix breakfast for the family, teach religious education and go to Mass; then rest.

5. Show up. I generally stick to my schedule even when I don’t feel like it. 90% of getting things done is just showing up. If I show up and just sit in a chair and stare at my painting or fall asleep I have not lost my momentum. Inertia is hard to overcome. Once I get started, I don’t stop.

6. Plan ahead. I always plan what I am going to do at least a day in advance and sometimes more. Especially if it is a project and I need supplies or tools. I never wait till the day I am going to do a project to get the materials and supplies I need. I try to do these errands on the way to or from work. That way when Saturday rolls around I can immediately start to work. If I have to go to the hardware store or, worse yet, drive to Home Depot, I can write off half the days work. I try and be a good boy scout and be prepared.

7. Make a list. I keep a running list of things I need to do. Right now I have 72 items on my list. All but 18 of them are done. I add items to be done in black (blue if they are urgent) and I change the color to red when I have finished. One thing I wish I had done is put the date by the item when I add it to my list and the date when I finish the project. I am going to start doing that.

8. Have a designated place to work. This is a luxury not everyone can afford. I am fortunate to have a studio set aside for my painting and a barn with a space for working on projects. I can leave everything set up. To start painting all I have to do is sit down, take the lid off my turpentine and paint.

Temptation #2
9. Enjoy working and finishing projects. I happen to be an extreme “J” according to the Myers-Briggs test. I think this part of my personality goes a long way to making me as productive as I am. I like to make decisions and I like to see things finished. I am not a perfectionist, but I believe this saying to be true: “If you demand perfection or nothing, you will always get nothing.” I am also pretty far to the “I” side of things in the Myers Briggs test which means I am an introvert and enjoy being alone. Most of the work I do, I do by myself and enjoy being by myself. If I was an “E” or extrovert, I can see that it would be much harder to spend so much time working alone. But it really suits my personality.

10. Work for the Kingdom of God. I am motivated to work because I believe I am an instrument whose purpose is to further the Kingdom of God. Whether I become successful, famous, wealthy or appreciated has no bearing on the work that I do. I hope that my work furthers the Kingdom and I order myself to that end. Especially with my painting, I realize, that much of the effect of my work may not be fully realized until I am dead. And that is OK. It basically means that I paint for an audience of one, the King of Heaven, and if he is pleased then all is well.

"St John Reconsiders Modern Epistemology"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DT and Artists in Atlanta, GA

I have been invited by the good people at Trinity Anglican Mission in Atlanta, GA, to help lead a conference for artists. The date for the event is August 13. All artists from any church (or no church, as the case may be) are welcome to attend. For details see here. To register go here. Cost is only $35 (which I think is a steal).

The event will include poetry readings by Anya Silver (one of Image Journal's "Artist of the Month") and the music of Micah Dalton (check out the PASTE mag quote below).

My two talks will explore ideas surrounding the identity and vocation of artists. It'll be great fun.

If you're within driving distance of this zip code--30318--do feel free to join us. Jeff Guy is heading this thing up and that means it won't be even a teeny bit boring.

“He may sound like an earthier, cleverer Ben Harper, but musically Dalton suggests mid-’80s Prince in the way he defiantly straddles so many styles, requiring an enormous musical arsenal to get his point across. These juxtapositions of sounds and style rarely feel forced or even deliberate, courtesy of Dalton’s soulful vocals and incisive songwriting.”


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Church & Art: 2 Recommended Websites

2004 Compline service at Hope Chapel, Austin, Texas

1. Visual Arts and the Church

Pamela Nelson in the background
I've yet to find a print or digital product as useful as this one for thinking through the practical considerations of marshaling the visual arts on behalf of corporate worship: "Hope and the Visual Arts." Yes, I've read the "large cathedral" books. Yes, I've employed the booklet that CIVA (along with Sandra Bowden) produced a few years back.

Yes, I own Catherine Kapikian's Art in Service of the Sacred, Bill Dyrness' Senses of the Soul: Art and the Visual in Christian Worship, Mark Torgerson's An Architecture of Immanence, and I've seen CICW's "Visuals for Worship." (No, I haven't yet bought Nancy Chin's Spaces for Spirit: Adorning the Church because it's a really expensive book for 72 pages of material.)

And, yes, I'm sort of biased.

Jason Haskins
Still, I think Kate Van Dyke has produced an immensely helpful resource for churches interested in the visual arts. It will be most useful to churches looking to integrate visual art in a substantial, thoughtful fashion. The site includes essays related to the curating and exhibiting of visual art, jurying, displaying the work, writing artist statements, matting and framing, and presenting artist's talks.

It will not of course answer your every question and that's why you may wish to acquire the resources I mention above. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Kate. She'll be more than happy to respond to your questions and to take feedback on the site, as she looks for ways to make it even more helpful.

2. Church and Art Network

I met Luann Jennings for the first time two years ago at the Laity Lodge. Since then we've corresponded at length and shared a mean tea on the Lower East Side in New York City. Having spent the better part of six years overseeing Redeemer Presbyterian's arts ministry in NYC, she now divides her time between teaching at St. John's University and leading the Church and Art Network.

I hopefully pay her a compliment by saying that I'm envious of this work. It's an incredibly important one and I pray many take advantage of her wisdom and savvy, as together we all seek to serve the church with excellent and compelling works of art as well as with artists who both live well and love well.

Shaun Fox et al
What exactly is the C&A Network? "Church and Art Network is a gathering of arts leaders who are extending our capacity to serve God in our creative work, by sharing resources, making connections, and advocating together for the importance of our work to the church and the world."

I'm glad to know Luann as a friend and I'm the beneficiary of her hard labors. I highly commend this effort to you. And I hope that both of these websites serve ultimately to edify the church and to bless the world, as I imagine they surely will.

The "Art & Church" track at the CIVA conference
Lastly, you will find here a description of the three sessions that I'll be leading at this week's CIVA conference. If you're going to the conference, I hope to see you and I'm sure we'll have a fantastic time together in breezy, shiny, lively Los Angeles.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sights and Sounds of Pentecost

Bruce Benedict over at Cardiphonia asked if I'd write a brief reflection on the Pentecost album which he recently produced. I was glad to and I continue to enjoy listening to the music created by the different songwriters included in the project.

All I'll add here, in honor of Pentecost Day, is two things: a book recommendation and a video. The book is by my friend Steve Guthrie, titled Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of becoming Human. I cannot more highly recommend it to church leaders and artists and to anyone who cares to discover the decidedly exciting person and work of the Spirit. Steve's book is both critically and constructively important. The church is certainly better off because of it.

The video comes courtesy of another friend, Erik Newby. Watching it reminds me of a few things. It reminds me of a place I love dearly, the Laity Lodge, which in turn reminds me of the state I love dearly, Texas. It reminds me of the painstaking labors that artists endure in order to produce 25 seconds of beauty. And it reminds me of the peculiar work of the Spirit, the Creator Spirit, to free creation to be particularly itself.

As Colin Gunton says in The One, the Three and the Many, all material particulars of creation are real--what they are and not another thing--by virtue of the way they are held in being by the Holy Spirit. For Gunton the Spirit’s peculiar office is “to realize the true being of each created thing by bringing it, through Christ, into saving relation with God the Father." Because creation and all its parts have been loved by the Spirit, they possess their own glorious haecceitas or thingness.

Erik's photographic video magically highlights all the particular things that occur over Laity Lodge between 8 and 10:10 pm. I don't recommend watching it on a small screen, though. Pump that video up to full screen and enjoy the stars at night which "are big and bright." For that matter, watch it twice so you can catch the details.

All honor and love to the Holy Spirit, today and all year long.

(Art credit: Makoto Fujimura, "May Hour Pentecost")

Laity Lodge Time lapse from Erik Newby on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Thomas Hobbes + Digital Animation = Horrific Beauty

(Thanks to Tanner Capps for passing this along. I don't advise watching this after a meal. Do wait the recommended two hours.)

Loom from Polynoid on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

CIVA Conference: June 16-19 in Los Angeles

You never know, but it always leads somewhere.
Even if I hadn't just agreed this morning to accept an invitation to join the CIVA board, I'd still be writing this entry. My first exposure to Christians In the Visual Arts occurred in the (very hot) summer of 2001. The location was the University of Dallas, a private Catholic college in, yes, you guessed, the concrete habitat of Dallas, Texas. I had only recently begun my full-time work at Hope Chapel and this was an opportunity to get in on the action due north.

Five Hope Chapelites made the three-hour trek up what my friend Jeff Fish lovingly calls "the minotaur," Interstate Highway 35: David Hernandez, Aubrey Klingler, Kim Garza, Katherine Brimberry and myself. Keynote speakers that year included Jeremy Begbie (my present supervisor) and Joel Sheesley. I saw Mako Fujimura from a distance. I heard Scott Cairns' poetry for the first time. And listening to conference musician, Charlie Peacock, became the seed of an idea for the 2003 HopeArts Festival. I believe this was also the year that the Trinity Arts Conference functioned as an official co-sponsor, so I would have met there the remarkable Dr. Jim Parker as well as the always elegant Kim Alexander.

Needless to say, it was a great experience.

For a newly minted "arts pastor," in fact, it was an intoxicating affair. I felt both like a kid at the grown-ups table and like an NFL scout--beholding up close "real" visual artists and simultaneously scouting their talent. It was at the UD conference that I met Anita Horton and Mary McCleary, future guest artists at Hope Chapel's arts festival. Not bad for a scouting trip.

"Serious art, serious faith"
Ten years later I've yet to wane in my appreciation for the work CIVA has done to support the endeavors of visual artists and to serve the needs of educational institutions, professional societies and the church. I've been asked to give attention to CIVA's relationship with the church and you could hardly bend my arm a millimeter to make me say yes.

(If you're a church leader of any sort or an artist who cares about your local congregation, I'd love to know what you sense as needs with respect to the visual arts and its place in your church.)

If you've seen their brochure material lately, you've noticed a new branding: Serious art, Serious faith. I couldn't agree more.

2011 Conference: "Art and Belief in a Digital Age"
According to the web description, the upcoming biennial conference will explore the ways in which "hard" and "soft" technologies enhance and challenge our understanding of art and belief. "This exploration will be framed by an examination of how matter and materiality shape our understanding of both art and faith. Following an arc built around the major acts of the biblical narrative, our keynote sessions explore three major themes:

1. Why Matter Matters: Technology and the Created Order
2. The Problem of Matter: Technology and the History of Art-Making
3. The Future of Matter: Technology, Art-Making, and Hope

One exciting development is the concerted effort to get artists under 30 at the conference. So if you're under thirty (or thereabouts, I imagine), check out the scholarship opportunities, which I believe might still be available.

As someone who spends a great deal of his time in the discipline of pneumatology, I'll be keen to hear what folks have to say at this conference about "matter and spirit."

Church, Art and the Wife
The conference organizers have tasked me with the responsibility to lead an "art and the church" track. It should be fun. I'll also be leading the worship service on Sunday morning, June 19, along the inimitable Brian Moss. That'll be a hat trick for us this year: together at Regent College, together at the Laity Lodge, and now this.

My wife is a visual artist and one from whom I learn a great deal about the craft. I look forward to serving on the CIVA board, knowing that she'll be my constant partner, advising me, challenging me, praying for me and continually reminding me of the kinds of things that visual artists perceive in the world.

I'm impressed with the quality of men and women who serve on CIVA's board and hope to assist the organization in its mission as much as possible in this season of life.

Here's to plunging into a tribe of artists who will teach me to see the world in a way that I've yet to see it.

(Image credits: At top, "Ethical Wash" by Emanuele Caccioatore; at middle, "Baptism" by Phylis Gillie Jaffe; at bottom, "Called" by Bruce Herman.)