Friday, December 9, 2011

Creativity Lessons from the Monastery: Use What You Have on Hand

A few years ago, at Mepkin Abbey, we noticed that one of the huge, majestic trees had toppled over.  But we were more awed by what the monks had decided to do with that tree:

A close up:

The other chunk of tree was later carved into a crucifixion scene:

A close up:

As I've returned to Mepkin Abbey, I've been struck by how the monks make art and express creativity with what they have on hand.

For example, this last trip was the first time I'd heard the organ used.  Before that, if an instrument was used at all, it was a guitar.  At times, the guitar was accompanied by an electric bass.  And the monks are perfectly capable of singing with no musical instruments to guide them.  I suspect that if they have brothers who play, then they have instruments.  If not, they proceed with what they have.

You might see the labyrinth in a similar way.  It's a huge labyrinth, almost exhausting to walk, and as the native grasses have grown tall, almost overwhelming:

The monks have taken what they have (acreage, grass seed, time) and created something special and unique.

Below in the distance, you can see a tribute (made of trees and benches) that the monks made to 9 (?) Charleston firefighters who lost their lives in a terrible fire that made national news:

When I was there last November, I delighted in this sculpture:

A closer look reveals that the sculptures are made of items on hand, like light bulbs (the sheep's eyes) and old fencing:

I think of how often I've let my finances constrain me.  I yearn for expensive art materials--but often when I get them, I don't want to use them.  They're so expensive that I feel like I need to be able to produce great art with them.  But who can tell before one starts whether the art will be great or not?

I look around my house and try to view my stuff in terms of art supplies.  I've got lots of wine corks--could I make a creche out of corks?  I've got lots of old socks with holes in the heels--hmm, what could I make of those?  Dust rags--the answer that immediately comes to mind.

I have lots of scraps of things, and there are even more scraps of things in the shed.  I don't have land like the monks do, but my spouse is very good at using the small spaces we have.

One of the nice things about being a writer is that I've always been able to practice that art with just the materials on hand.  Sure, it might be nice to have a fancier computer, but I really don't need it at this point.  If I decide to branch out into book publishing, it might become a different story.

This monastic approach branches out into all areas of the monk's lives, from what I can see.  I've been there for meals with pairings that I thought very odd:  a spinach-tomato frittata paired with a cottage cheese and pineapple side dish.  I wondered if the monks were simply trying to use up the food on hand that was about to go bad.   How many of us might have run out to the grocery store to pick up some ingredients that we thought would be more appropriate for a side dish, like a salad or broccoli?

I used to spend a lot more time running errands, going back to pick up things I'd forgotten.  But now, I try to make do with what I've got.  It preserves more time for doing what I really love:  writing, collaging, creating, cooking:  all sorts of play.


Kathleen said...

Wow, truly amazing, that sculpture, that land labyrinth! Yes, yes, you can make stuff from your wine corks. An artist who displays here makes wonderful people from her wine corks!

I love this "at hand" art and make-do optimism!


Thanks for this lovely post, Kristin. Truly creative and inspiring.

Kristin said...

Thank you both for taking time to comment!