Are You an Artist?

Are You an Artist?

Are you an artist?

I am a lot of things.  So are you.  

You might be a dog-lover or an avid reader.  An extrovert, nature-lover or traveller.

But are you an artist?  

Of course you are.  But precious few of us would ever describe ourselves that way.

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Show Me Your Struggle

Show Me Your Struggle

It's 8:15. The show starts at 8:30 but doors were at 8:00. Besides us three performers, there are seven people in the room. Three of them work here. Two more are related to me. The soundman asks when we want to start. "8:30", I tell him. His eyes shift around the empty room (the big empty room), then back to me. "So, 15 minutes?" he asks with a tone that states the obvious. "Yeah" I answer, my confidence rapidly leaking out onto the just-swept floor.


This story is hard for me to tell. It gets at the sick heart of my weakness. I am telling you how I feel failure

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What is Your Eustress?

Discipline is one of those things we all know we need, but cannot seem to get into. Like 8 glasses of water a day. Like fresh air and frequent breaks. Like however many servings of fruits and veggies we’re supposed to have nowadays.

But discipline, like regular exercise, stretches the muscles. And when it is creative discipline, it is our creative muscles.

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Quick and Dirty: The Cost of Quantity

Quick and Dirty: The Cost of Quantity

Life is full of trade-offs. So is art.

Last week I was reminded of a choice I’ve made. When it comes to this blog, I’ve chosen quantity over quality.

Don’t get me wrong. The heart of every post, I believe, has real value. I’m saying what I intend to say and usually saying it well. I am proud of this living document. Just don’t read too closely.

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What If You Kill Your 'Yeah Buts'

What If You Kill Your 'Yeah Buts'

You are in a war. 'What if' want's to win. 'Yeah but' keeps knocking it down. 

‘Yeah but’ keeps claiming casualties. Dead dreams. Lost hopes. 

When ‘yeah but’ wins, cynicism holds the trophy. We stop believing change is possible. We stop believing we have the power to choose. This is dangerous. 

'What if' is a powerful question. 'Yeah but' is a deadly weapon.

'What if' opens doors. 'Yeah but' slams them shut. 

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13 Moments From the Tempelhof Airport Garden

I've been back from Europe nearly a week and I'm just now getting settled. I return refreshed, with a full memory, and a fuller memory card. I am seeking ways to unpack it all.

There was champagne at the Eifel Tower. The massive treasure chest of modern art that is the Pompidou Centre. The Salvador Dali Gallery. The old rail yards of Berlin. The midnight bike-ride through a pitch dark drug park. The beer steins and lederhosen of Munich. There was just so much. 

When I feel this sort of overwhelm, I know I need to focus–to zoom in on just one moment. So let me take you to Berlin's abandoned Tempelhof Airport.

I am wandering, jaw dropped and wide-eyed, through the most wild and beautiful garden I've ever seen. The Tempelhof Airport is an abandoned city-centre airport, like our own. It was slated for redevelopment, like our own. Unlike Edmonton's Municipal Airport, Tempelhof is a war hero. It was here that the US would drop off supplies and aid. This patch of grass and concrete and asphalt has worked its way into Berlin's heart. They love it here.

Tempelhof is now many things to many people. It is a sprawling runway for bicycles and skateboards, rollerblades and scooters. It is a place for children to race on foot, with start and finish lines painted out. It is hopscotch and chalk drawing. It is a place to picnic by the little old airplane. A spot to play baseball. A place to watch and learn about birds. A dance school. A bike-repair training centre. A refreshing hand-in-hand walk. A community garden.

In middle of this public park, now reclaimed by Berlin's citizens (I am told they will never develop it now), there is a community garden.

And I am wandering through this garden, taking photos. The first visit I just gawked and wondered aloud how this could happen. There are, seemingly, no rules at the Tempelhof garden. Respect your neighbours, of course, but build what you wish with whatever you wish. A pile of trash waits just at the edge to be transformed into the waking dreams of gardeners. I am back today to capture this–to feed my lens a kaleidoscope of imagination. To try and bring some of Tempelhof back, for you.

I need to try, because this remains my favourite memory of Europe. There is something about such ragged beauty–it's absolute freedom granted to the human spirit–that is a pure joy. This place, so far from perfect, is just perfict. 

Here. Let me show you as best I can in thirteen images.

Be sure to click each image for a description, my thoughts, and a larger version.

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Friday Finds: 11 Resources to Bring Creativity to Your Church & Your Faith

Here at The Bleeding Heart Art Space, we've taken some runs at creative worship gatherings – events where people gather together to grow spiritually with the help of creativity and the arts. Thankfully, we haven't had to do this alone. We've been able to stand on the shoulders of many giants. There is a long and rich history of creative faith. Today, I'll share some of the resources we've encountered on the journey. Hopefully some of them can breathe new creative life into your community and your faith.

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Are You a Consumer, Critic or Creator?

‘Criticize by creating’ - Michelangelo

My kids attend an arts core school. This means the arts are woven into all of their learning. It also means they are exposed to a lot of great work.

My kids know far more than I do about art history. My son has told me many stories about Chagal and Van Gogh. As they learn about these artists, they move beyond looking at and talking about their work. They actually create art in response to it.

The instruction, ‘paint like Van Gogh’ is not daunting to elementary school kids. It is liberating. The walls of my back stairwell are a testament to the creativity great works of art can inspire. There have been works in the style of Mondrian and Joan Mirò and Picasso and many others. Just looking at our ‘gallery' this morning I am reminded of the generative power of art.

Great art does something. It leads to action, and often to more great art. It makes our world a bigger, more beautiful place.

Moving us beyond feeling, art can lead us toward three actions. In response to a work of creation, we can consume, we can criticize or we can create something ourselves.

What does a work of art do to you? How do you respond to worthy work?

Are you a consumer? Are you a critic? Are you a creator?

Which response excites you most? Which word elicits a little leap from your soul? Which response will lead us to a better world?

A World of Consumers

Consumption is not a wrong response to art. There are times when we just need to ‘veg’ – to relax and laugh or cry or feel inspired. But consumption tends to leave us where we started, rather than lift us up and out. Consumption of art and media is okay, and perhaps the necessary entry point, but it is not generative. It does not make the world a greater place.

In a consumer culture, the creative impulse must be shaken awake. With our art, as with everything else, we have all too often become mere consumers.

Think of your plans for this evening. Errands done and kids in bed, will you consume, or create? Most of us are happy to be fed the creativity of others, plunked down in front of our TVs. But there was a time, I am told, when we would gather around the family piano and sing the evening away. It’s hard to imagine a time or place where creativity was as prevalent as consumption.

My wife and I are attempting to add an art making night to our rotation of evening activities. It is hard, and has not become a habit yet. Like anything worthwhile, there seems to be an invisible wall of resistance to scale. But the few nights we have sat across the table from each other, working away on our own little projects, have felt so good. Creation does some deeper work in us that consumption cannot reach.

Reading good books could be seen as mere consumption, but I don’t think so. I think the very magic of books is their ability to awaken our own image-making powers and invite our minds to fill in the details. Books calls us into creation as we read. This is why reading a book is less rewarding after seeing the movie. My Frodo is now Peter Jackson’s Frodo. My Aslan now sounds like Liam Neeson.

Of course, any work in any media can lead us to an imaginative space, but the more we are handed, the less spacious the work becomes. The less room we have to create ourselves. To move from consumers to creators takes an act of will.

Unfortunately, we all too often turn our will in another direction, towards finding faults. Everyone is a critic.

A World of Critics

Just like consumption, criticism is far from evil. It is necessary. Critique has its place. It helps others enter into an artwork and at its best it helps artists become stronger.

Excellent criticism is itself creative work, but all too often our criticisms degenerate into shallow and cynical attacks. A quick skim of YouTube video comments will reveal the worst of these. I find little value there.

Michaelango famously invited us to, ‘criticize by creating'. How I would love to see that advice followed.

You do not like the art? Create a better alternative.

You do not like the world? Create a better alternative.

The Bleeding Heart Art Space is not a refuge for cynics and the disenfranchised. At least not a place where we can stay in those shadows safely. This Space is for hope, and hope births the creation of the New. We are not content to pick at what is wrong with everyone else. We are those who create, and risk our hearts in the process.

There are many who can see the problems. There are few who can offer solutions.

A World of Creators

The third response, to create something new, is most exciting to me. It is the only generative response. It is the response that enlarges our world.


The Bleeding Heart Manifesto encourages us to ‘create in response to creation’. There is a recognition here that our greatest works are only a ripple from the deep-end-cannonball of God’s creation. To create is to be 'made in the image of God’.

This creative impulse is my favourite reaction to art. I get so inspired by the artist’s gift that I immediately want to create something. My own gift is fanned into flame. As author Lewis Hyde puts it, the gift keeps moving.

As a songwriter, this happens with great music. When I was fifteen, Hayden’s Everything I Long For drove me to record hours of music on a tape-deck four-track recorder in my bedroom, especially when I found out that Hayden recorded that album in a similar way. Last year, when I heard the song Lost In the Light by Bahamas, I finally broke down and bought a Danelectro guitar. I just had to make that sound. Watching the guitar documentary This Might Get Loud, I actually had to stop three quarters through to go and plug my amplifier in and make some noise. My consumption was actually interrupted by creativity. Some impulse was rising up in me – some primal dance to the beat of a great work. Toes tapping, I had to respond.

I may well feel this way at the Royal Bison Craft & Art Fair this weekend, where local creatives are experimenting. Some piece will set off sparks for my own experimentation when I get home. Last time this happened I ended up buying a screen printing kit. Perhaps great art is dangerous for my wallet.

Great creations are hospitable. They do not put up walls to remind us how inferior we are to their makers. They invite us in to play.

There is something in creativity that takes us back to the deep childhood well of possibility. There was a time we would see something great and think to ourselves, however foolishly, “I can do that!” Now, most times, we don’t even have the luxury of squashing those thoughts under the weight of fear and disillusionment. They simply do not come to mind.

But sometimes, when I see a painting or hear a song or read a poem, I still believe in myself. I find permission somewhere to go and make something new.

Creation itself works this way. Genesis tells of a Creator so potent that light and life dripped from his tongue. He simply spoke and the world could not help but explode into being. He speaks still, I believe. And soon in that speaking He invites us to speak as well–to harmonize with his creation melody. To name the animals.

The creative spirit is contagious. It is generous. It begets and begets. A stranger to scarcity, creativity is abundant.

But creativity is hard. Creativity is incredibly vulnerable. It leaves us open to our consumers and our critics. Criticism and consumption are the easier responses. They are most certainly safer.

In a world where problems and faults are clear, my prayer is for creative solutions. My prayer is for a new world – a 'Kingdom come’ of faith, hope and love.

The Creator is singing that new world into being. Let us move beyond mere consumption and criticism to take our rightful place as co-creators.

Let us make something new!

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