I have been back in Colorado for about two weeks. I keep looking back on my time at Createspace Wales, reflecting on the lessons there. I learned so much about myself, and my need to be in the natural world.
Essentially, I discovered that my life does not need to be consumer-based. This feels like an obvious lesson, and yet, a difficult one. The United States is a consumer driven society. We are urged to buy, buy, buy, constantly consuming something at all times. This is why our lives are filled with plastic and endless trips to Target and Costco. It is why we have box after box arrive from Amazon. It is why our houses fill with stuff, and we cannot park our cars in our garages.
It feels like on unsustainable life. And it feels like an empty life, yet a life filled with stuff.
And I hate it.
That’s what I learned in Wales.
I learned that I want to be in the natural world on a regular basis. To be engaged in activities, not things. That I want to be creating, not consuming. That I am part of this consumerist society, contributing to it, and that I need to stop, and slow down.
Returning to Colorado, I was forced to slow down and stop almost immediately. Upon arrival, I noticed a runny nose, which turned into a terrible cold that kept me in bed for three days. I canceled every meeting that week, and every activity for the weekend, skipping all of it. Instead I rested and read, cooked, and eventually started working on the fiber art project I have been pondering for months.
An idea began to take shape. A light went on. The answer had been there all along: the Jewish practice of Shabbat.
Shabbat is the Hebrew word for the sabbath, which most Christians and Jews know as the day of rest. In true practice, it is a day of engagement of and shaping of time, spent in prayer, away from the concerns of daily living. Observant Jews do not do any work on Shabbat, including their job, as well as housework. There is no spending money on Shabbat. It is a day considered holy and sacred, a gift for rest and renewal, and connection with the divine.
Despite being a practicing Jew for the entirety of my life, I admit that it has been a long time since I have taken part in the full extent of the practice of keeping Shabbat – perhaps not since high school, when my father and I were part of an observant temple in Denver. After high school, my practice of Judaism changed, and I followed fewer and fewer customs each year. I picked some back up over time, and since moving back to Denver, I have started adding more. Shabbat seems like a natural fit and next step. Accomplishing this will be a feat though, in my consumerist, achievement-oriented life, filled with weekend activities and housework.
Being a religious person, and admitting such publicly, feels strange. But most people who know me well know that I am a practicing Jew, and have known this about me for some time. I don’t talk about it though, and it is not something that overtly influences my painting. However, it is there.
Also, being religious isn’t truly acceptable in contemporary secular culture. Most of the people in my circle of friends, as well as my family members, are not religious. They live secular lives, and I assume think of those of us that still practice archaic religions as silly and superstitious. Perhaps I am wrong. I don’t really know, or ask.
Regardless, being Jewish and practicing Judaism is a big part of my life and my identity, and it is starting to feel like something I need to express more fully in my art and in my life as a whole. If others don’t get it, well, I’m not sure what to say. Perhaps making art about being a Jew will fulfill some trendy requirement to make art about my identity, which seems to be the “cause celeb” in the art world right now.
In reality, making work about my Jewish practice is a further exploration of my emotional engagement of the natural world through art, and is a natural extension of my Analog series. Judaism engages with nature, and the wonder of nature, routinely, through the rituals of holidays and in specific prayers for natural phenomena. I think this has influenced my work in some form, even if it is not obvious to viewers. This new work will explore, more obviously, the Jewish concern with nature, time and space, but in a different form: fiber art and installation. It is beginning to take shape. And I am excited for this expanded direction as an artist.