In 1997, I traveled to New Mexico to see and experience the landscape that informed the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, who had always been such an inspiration to me as an artist and an independent woman living on her own in the desert. I was awed by the beauty and holiness of that land and this piece in particular was inspired by my visit to the Taos Pueblo.
I have been thinking about how this painting has been leaning up against the wall in two homes and this studio and was never completed until this month. But 18 years ago, my world was very different. I was still grieving the deaths of my brother and my mother (you can read more about that here) and my painting was more therapy for me than vocation. For example, when I dusted this painting off recently, there was a rough sketch of a skeleton in the doorway.
Darkness still pervaded my world. I was also studying figurative sculpture at the time, enjoying the experience of working with clay and live models. But as a friend recently point out as well, I was also in the midst of what I have come to refer to as my “balls-to-the-walls” years as a graphic designer. The bulk of my freelance work at that time was with tech companies like Intel and hp although I had some smaller accounts like Cascade AIDS Project. I didn’t know how to say no then and was putting in somewhere around 70 hours a week working from one deadline to the next.
It was insanity. By the time the dot.com boom crashed and all that business dried up in 2000, I was managing several other designers and grossing $250,000 plus a year. I had a fat bank account but I wasn’t happy. Material possessions held little interest for me since the deaths though I was blessed to buy the sweet 1907 house that I was renting and fixed that up. Paid off my student loans. I also bought my father hearing aides and his first computer. I could help my sister(s) out financially when necessary. Grateful for all of it but at the end of the day, what is it that we are here to do?
Amidst all this frantic busyness, I was volunteering at the Dougy Center facilitating grieving children and the eight years that I spent there witnessing the healing of those children and families is the work I am most proud of in this life. Even though everyone around me including my father and our culture told me that I was a “success,” because I was making a lot of money, I knew in my soul through my own grief journey that life was precious and I was here to follow my heart—with my art and live a life in service to others. I just didn’t know how to make that happen, so life sent me another wake-up call.
In late 2000, I experienced another loss that triggered the profound grief that I had been unable to fully embody a decade before when I was 30 years old. This time, I had the time, money, and spaceousness to dive into it and had several healers including body/energy workers, an acupuncturist, therapist and life coach working with me to process it all. I believe everyone should have access to this type of community healing not just the typical three days off from work to grieve and get back to “normal” which is the heart of so much of our individual and collective trauma in our world. I was fortunate and this was a deeply transformative period of my life that opened the door for me to follow this path of art, spirit, and earth healing that I have been sharing with you over the years.
So in cleaning out the studio this month, I pulled out this painting as you can see at the top. Over the years, I have intentionally avoided creating art inspired by Native American indigenous spirituality as I am mindful of not borrowing from their tradition as a white person. I feel comfortable with the art I have created from the Andean spirituality as I learned and experienced directly from teachers in Peru who want to share their wisdom with those of us in the North. But for some reason this piece asked to be completed at this time. I included the image of Kokopelli that is on the sweet little seed pot (shown here) that I purchased at the Taos Pueblo although I didn’t know he was a fertility deity until after I completed the painting and a friend shared that with me.
Fifteen years later, I am continuing to walk this path and not sure where the journey will take me as I follow my mantra to “Make art. Make Love. Make a Difference.” And beauty making. Always beauty. There is less financial security but there really never is, even if you work for a large corporation. So much is changing in our world. Leap and trust. From the poet David Whyte:
Now is the path
of leaving the path.
And we hear our own voice
demanding of ourselves
a faith in no-path,
when there is no faith at all.
And moving forward takes feral courage,
opens the wildest
most outrageous light of all,
becomes the hardest path of all.
The firm line we drew in the sand
becomes a river we will not cross.
But the river of the soul flows on
and the soul
refuses safety until it finds the sea.
(excerpt from Millennium)
Spring greetings from Sacred Art Studio where the garden is bursting with life, color, and the birdsong is abundant. The sliding doors are open and am moving towards completion on the first panel of “Where I Stand is Holy” (detail here) As you know, this very complex painting is a morning prayer for the birds (threatened by #climate). Visible here in this close-up are the American Three-toed Woodpecker and the Cerulean Warbler. I am reminded of the quote from Dostoevsky: “Beauty will save the world.”* When we awaken to our interdependence in the web of creation, we experience the earth as sacred. The birds, the flowers, the trees, and the water are our brothers and sisters. Reverence and reciprocity abide in this landscape where we recognize we are indeed all one. May we walk lightly and mindfully this day and every day on our beloved earth, Pachamama.
This has been a slow process of emerging as I was struggling with the central figure for a time after experimenting with some new layering techniques. Alas, I started over but that is all part of the process and will be sharing more of in my April newsletter. You can sign up for that on my home page.
For love of the earth and all her creatures.
Art: ©Amy Livingstone, Sacred Art Studio
*From Fyodor Dostoevsky’s book “The Idiot”
I had the joy of returning to my grad school alma mater, Marylhurst University last weekend to give a presentation entitled, Contemporary Sacred Art and Spiritual Ecology. This was part of the annual meeting of the PNW Chapter of the American Academy of Religion, Society of Biblical Literature & The American Schools of Oriental Research. (Click here to learn more). It was very meaningful for me to return to campus, shown here in full bloom, and to share my work with this community of scholars.
Eight years ago, in 2007, I presented my master’s thesis here as part of the MAIS, or Interdisciplinary Studies program with a concentration in Spiritual Traditions & Ethics. Throughout my graduate studies, the intention for my research was to discover how we as a species had become so disconnected from our place in the life web, that we were destroying the land base on which all life is dependent. My thesis was a culmination of this research and I put forward the argument then, that the ecological crisis was a psychological and spiritual crisis. Today, there is a growing dialogue around the spiritual response to the ecological crisis that is now being defined as “spiritual ecology” and this is the core of my work as a contemporary sacred artist and activist. Here’s the abstract for my presentation:
Contemporary Sacred Art and Spiritual Ecology [Abstract]
What is the role of sacred art in the face of climate change? This interdisciplinary presentation is centered on the belief that our current ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis. Those of us in the developed West have become so far removed from our innate interdependence in the web of creation that we are destroying the land base on which all life is dependent. My research shows that this destructive way of being has evolved over the millennia beginning, in part, with the rise of monotheistic religious traditions that reverenced a transcendent God, while rejecting the holiness of the natural world out of fear of being associated with paganism and witchcraft. Alongside this paradigm, we are also seeing a resurgence of indigenous ways of knowing that remind us that the earth is holy and worthy of our reverence. Through my work as an artist and in this paper, I present a synthesis of these two ways of being in relationship to the Sacred that is both transcendent and immanent creating a third narrative as expressed through interspiritual artwork. In conclusion, this project will shed light on the way that contemporary sacred art can help us confront the ecological crisis including species extinction and climate change.
I presented under the Art and Religion panel and was honored to be in the company of so many gifted scholars, and a group of amazing women, in this section. Many had completed their doctorate work at Pacifica or CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies). Two excellent graduate-level institutions that are bringing forward the new cultural paradigm through their programs. The conference ignited my passion for scholarly inquiry though pursuing a PhD that could take up to eight years of my life and considerable financial resources (that I don’t have) isn’t where I feel called to be right now, though I am keeping the seed planted for a future time. There are critical issues facing life on earth and at this time in my life, I am called to continue the vision and intention that I set forth thirteen years ago when I founded Sacred Art Studio. And so it goes…
For love of the Earth.
Thanks to Louise Paré of CIIS for the photograph during my presentation.