As I have written about in an earlier post this summer I have had a remarkable experience with an unexpected collaboration related to a series of portraits I made of Malcolm Guite while I was in England last summer. From this experience I have learned more about artistic sharing and its surprising fruits than any other single experience as an artist. Malcolm himself models a life walk of generosity, humility and grace that for me has been vital as a role to follow. It is often difficult to find this an artist where most circles of exchange are heavily tainted with fear, ego, anxiety, and the tension of self-protection. Malcolm has proven to be the opposite side of that pendulum swing. Through a series of seemingly disconnected encounters, one gifted painter in Canada – Faye Hall – who happens to work with an extraordinary singer-songwriter – Steve Bell – in Canada who also happened to attend the very same event that Malcolm and I were in attending in Oxford and Cambridge (Oxbridge 2011) came to find my portraits that I had made as a spontaneous act of affection and enjoyment. I never gave a thought to what those images would trigger or what creative expression they would some day spark in others. I acted on my own prompting, and later when asked to use them by someone else I took a step of faith, let go of my fearful little hold on them, and entered the Stream of Collaboration.
Faye went on to paint not only one amazing painting based on those portraits of Malcolm, but a series of three. Each painting seemed to take Faye into greater levels of excellence, each one reflecting different visions and different techniques. She posted images of her painting on her website and included a series of blog giving some background to each one. The blog “Who Knew”is about her first painting in the series which she wrote about here. The second painting titled Mozart at Greenbelt is based on a portrait I did of Malcolm in his writing place called the Temple of Peace and it incorporates Malcolm’s poem Mozart at Greenbelt.
Here is the portrait that I made and that Faye worked from of Malcolm in the Temple of Peace.
And here is Faye’s painting!
Faye went on to do a third piece, a piece that completely dazzles and astonishes me. She titled it “Saying the Names” after Malcolm’s incantation like poem of the same title.Malcolm’s blog about this collaboration, the full text of his poem, and a fantastic reading of it are all here. Faye’s web post and blog are here. After Faye released the images she surprised me with yet one more element to the process. The Mennonite Brethren Herald decided to run a piece about the collaboration. One act of creative giving led to multiple gestures of creative expression from sources I had never encountered before. I am still marveling about all this.
Malcolm wrote about this to Faye saying “What we have here is four individual artists (Malcolm, Steve, Faye and Lancia) in four different media; poetry, song, painting, and photography, all making something new and different as they exchange ideas across the Atlantic, and yet this new and different work ultimately arises out of the common life in Christ, the indwelling Logos. Remarkable.” That comment reflects the deeper mystery being experienced here. It represents the irresistible draw to create in community as an expression of the Creator. Drawn to Him as we each are, something of His mind and vision became released through each one of us. In Michael P. Farrell’s book Collaborative Circles he makes the statement “Even while working alone, the individual members are affected by the group and the roles they play in it. As. C.S. Lewis observed, the group vision and the roles each participant plays in the group continue to guide and sustain the members, “even when …Friends are far away.” For members of the collaborative circle, each person’s work is an expression of the circle’s shared vision filtered through his or her own personality.” I thought about this for several days before I realized that I was experiencing something of the same fabric as Lewis described. The quote that Farrell is referring to by Lewis is from The Four Loves. Lewis writes there “Alone among unsympathetic companions, I hold certain views and standards timidly, half ashamed to avow them and half doubtful if they can after all be right. Put back among my friends and in half an hour – in minutes – these same views and standards become once more indisputable. The opinion of this little circle … outweighs that of a thousand outsiders…, it will do this even when my Friends are far away.” When my Friends are far away. That is a key phrase to me in this collaboration. Steve, Faye, and Malcolm are indeed my Friends (and Friends with each other) and though we live great distances from each other we are bound together by a vision and love we hold in common. We each passionately labor day after day to cultivate the Good, the True and the Beautiful with all the skill and strength we possess.
Each of us made a gesture of generosity in sharing our gifts and in fact, sharing ourselves. The Lord took the offering of our little ‘loaves and fishes’, the little things we each have to sustain ourselves, and what He gave each us back was beyond anything we individually had to begin with. In the processes of creating art and sharing with other artists we were given a drink from the stream of collaboration which is fed by the deep spring of creativity that originates in the Creator Himself. When I saw Faye’s “Saying the Names” it took my breath away. I was immediately reminded of George MacDonald’s At the Back of North Wind and Aesop’s Fable about the North Wind and the Sun. There was something looking back at me from out of a further place than my camera was able to portray but which I have often felt. Something deeper and older and wilder than I can capture with photography.
I see something with my eyes that I also hear in my heart – that beauty begets beauty, and good deeds bear witness and give glory to Him. We can afford to share what He gives us, Vision included. We will not be made less in the giving.
Thank you, Faye, and bless you. This has been a good lesson for a shy, suspicious girl peering out at the world through the magic window of a camera lens.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is the Founder & Executive Director of Cultivating & The Cultivating Project. She has served in executive management, church leadership, boards, and Art & Faith organizations over 30 years. She & her husband Peter have parented 7 children, & have a flock of beloved grandchildren. Lancia loves garden and website design, beautiful typography, road trips, being read aloud to by Peter, & cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.