This version of my manifesto was originally written for the graduating class of 2015, College of Fine Arts, at Ball State University. Here is the speech I gave, in its entirety. An edited version alongside the art of Brian Andreas is available as an e-book under the title of Creative Anarchy: the joy of questioning everything
Thank you for this opportunity to gather and give voice to my thoughts. I’d like to begin by saying, Congratulations to the graduating class of 2015. I out-loud celebrate every single happenstance that lead to this exact moment in time and space – of you sitting here in your tassels and gowns, about to walk across this stage…
It’s easy to celebrate the publications, the performances, the exhibitions, the compositions, the recognitions and awards. All of the achievements that form into important lines on a professional resume (this digital documentation of our past that we use to secure a future full of purpose).
But what is also to be acknowledged are all the attempts that never find their way to this self-proclaimed piece of paper we’ve come to value as our calling card of worth to the world: countless hours spent in pursuit of your vision, researching, writing, creating a practice that creates muscle memory; time spent pushing away doubt and feelings of ineptitude; all the added up minutes spent pondering that gap between where you are and where you wish to be, who you are and who you know you can be… wanting to know in some unassailable way that your art makes a difference, that you matter.
There are many tender moments in life that get tucked away into corners, shoved into closets and into boxes labeled by shame because they feel like failures. Yet I would suggest there is no such thing as a failure because these
... difficult moments have a rugged beauty and place in our lives. They provide contrast that leads us to a deeper understanding of ourselves, of our art, of the world we live in. They shape us as surely as each achievement.
So, again – I congratulate each and every one of you on the distance between then and now. Who you were and who you are. You have journeyed far and well.
As you move forward, I challenge you to be present in your own life. To allow yourself a moment every day to do nothing and to just breathe. Alone. In silence.
So your art can come from a place of inner calm and wellness.
In this space of silence, release your grip on having to know anything. Release all ideas of how much time something should or should not take. Let go of the need to be right…ever. Soften the edges of how you define yourself and others, so you can evolve and be affected by others. Consciously cultivate an awareness of others, make room for different perspectives to exist in the same space. Quiet the mind and body. Enjoy the not knowing. The here and now of things. All of the questions.
Be present to the entirety of living
It’s difficult. There is a lot of noise right now in our world. In our daily patterns of living. All we must attend to, the daunting list of tasks we feel must get done every day, the constant chatter from online communities. We are constantly plugged in to an external source. And we look to these sources outside ourselves for directions, where to put our money, how to spend it, when to start a family or get a dog, with whom we ought to fall in love and when we should speak our truth, chatter about how the world “really works” and how we might need to be because of that…
It takes conscious effort to not wander into someone else’s vision of the future or to linger in manifestations of the past. But in looking so far before or behind us, we miss the opportunity to connect with what is real in the room.
This lack of presence can create fear, which skews our perception of what is true, what is possible. These same sources that connect us to the world can disconnect us from ourselves if there is not a balance.
There is an intimacy in a space of silence. The in-between moments of living when our authentic self whispers the most accurate directions towards the things we most desire. In these quiet spaces, we may discover unique visions for change.
This remarkable possibility to positively affect the world begins with a quiet space in each of us.
This past week, I followed stories about violence and fear in Baltimore, the continued struggle in the LGBTQ community for equality here in the state of Indiana and across the country, and the devastating effects of the earthquake and its aftershocks in Nepal.
A dear friend, weary of the violence in South Africa, her home country, wrote in an email:
Life moves on – change the only constant. I guess at least one more year here with load shedding, petrol price increase, crime, racism, fear and anger. But also a tapestry, a richness of being, a celebration of diverse identities, vibrant seekers and a yellow sun. All good because it IS.
There is a balance in living. A balancing of self with others and with occurrences in the world.
And while we cannot control everything that happens directly to us and around us, we do get to choose how we frame our understanding of these events and our artistic response.
Three summers ago I journeyed to South Africa in search of interconnectedness, eager to newly understand to whom stories belonged.
On this trip I met an artist from Johannesburg who lives in a glass house. An anomaly in a country where every building and home is protected by high spiked iron gates and barbed wire. This glass house was a vision of transparency. Self-discovery, pain, purpose, love: these were revealed in her paintings that lined the walls. Her desire to find serenity in her world extended beyond her art and into her space of living. Her art was not a reflection of the violence of the world she lived in, but a celebration of the beauty and humanity which existed alongside the fear. In her reach to vision beyond the hardness and struggle
... her life became her art.
On this same trip, I drove alone along the tip of the continent, irrevocably altered by the human poverty and stunning natural beauty of places I never knew existed. I witnessed extraordinary kindness and aligned so deeply with facets of the country, and with the yellow sun that I lost my sense of belonging to anyone, and to any place as I focused on the things that connect us as a human race rather than those that separate.
This triggered a three-year long journey of daily creating space for profound questions about my life, my work and my art.
My focus shifted. I now live from a place of abundance rather than scarcity. And from this place of abundance, I see there is enough.
In finding the time for quiet, I understand what I require for a creative life of unconditional joy. That my having, doesn’t mean you can’t have all you desire. My fullness does not cost you anything. Your fullness does not cost me. That life isn’t this game of musical chairs where there is always a winner and a loser.
If we all live from a place of balance, there is enough.
Enough jobs, enough hours in a day, enough money in the account, enough opportunity, enough audience, enough support for the arts, enough space in the room for every person to have a voice, an opinion, an expression.
If, as artists, we create only out a place of anger, damage and scarcity, we pass this negative energy forward into the world. Others may align and even celebrate this art of aggression, feeling that it is giving voice to something needing to be heard. But it is also adding energy to the very thing we wish to change.
Cynicism is easy, anger and sarcasm and fear, contagious – and when dressed in the form of humor, I wonder what it is we’re truly laughing at… and if we’ve given up in some way.
What if instead, we re-frame these complex feelings and create art that is from a place of inner calm, healthy inquiry, we pass this energy into the world...
I don’t know that art can heal the destruction fear leaves in its wake.
I don’t know if the intensity of fear in this country can be calmed by a painting or a sculpture or a composition or a performance of any kind…
I don’t know if when we think we are recording history, we simply continue the presence of something we never want to remember.
I don’t know if our continued gaze at the past and at the future keeps us from profound change, from truly seeing one another in this moment of now, without any residue.
And I don’t know if we actually have the power to change anyone other than ourselves…
If the world does not REQUIRE your voice, your hands, your body, your art to keep the planet spinning on its axis, lest we all be propelled out into the ether… If the world already has enough stories it cannot make space for… Then there is no responsibility to making art, except to our own expansion.
What if it is this expansion, the energetic vibrations of what it is to reach towards something… that is witnessed.
What if it is not the piece of art itself, but the unsee-able vibrations still emanating from the positive process of its creation that has the power to move another?
Maybe there is no way in which the world does or does not work.
Maybe there is nothing broken for us to fix.
Perhaps the world IS what we see it to be. That we get to choose the way we see color, or experience life through palate, skin, voice, hands, body.
What if what we choose to focus on becomes the world we live in and our art an extension of this world we wish to be a part of.
If that is so…
What do you wish to speak into existence? To add into this shared space of living? What do you wish to see in the world that is not yet there?
And so, to the graduating class of 2015, and to each of us in this space – I say, congratulations on the life that has lead you to this moment of now, and
… may each breath you take inspire you towards clarity, joy, and the life you wish to live.