By Melinda Childs
Development Director, ArtStart
Snow falling outside our windows, chilly temperatures, cozy fires and long dark nights invite contemplation. Ideas hatch, forgotten stories are remembered and new ones are born, and we are moved to give them voice. This time of year is perfect for exploring the art of language. The way we say what we say, crafting the words and sentences to articulate our ideas and stories, is an art form that is often overlooked.
From the unconventional phrasing of E. E. Cummings (one of my favorite poets) to the classics of fiction to storytelling around the campfire or before you kiss your kids goodnight, there are as many ways to express your thoughts, as there are thoughts to express. Like many forms of creative expression we often end up leaving that part of ourselves behind: we no longer write poetry, stories, or even journal entries; we no longer tell stories and tall tales out loud.
I cringe when I happen upon my journals and poetry from my teenage years, but what a beautiful uninhibited exploration that was! It was a way to get the tangled feelings of my adolescent years out of my head and my body and hold them safely inside a treasured notebook. I admit that I am out of practice now. With two small children, endless meetings and dinner to cook I find that I enter my ideas and thoughts in a ledger in my head and they just keep adding up. What can we do about this? How do we recapture the glorious unrestrained creativity that we embraced in our youth?
Many writers work with writer’s groups for inspiration, constrictive criticism and an opportunity to refine their ideas. These writers’ communities are important for all of us, but especially for those introverts living in the Northwoods who may otherwise have little chance of finding one another. We are fortunate to have a valuable resource in our community: the Rhinelander District Library. This community institution doesn’t just house books; it is a community crossroads for connecting with one another through book groups, writer’s groups, speakers and presentations. Food for the mind and soul, indeed! These programs create a circle of inspiration that results in beautiful writing and sometimes in personal growth and taking action in the community. The written word is every bit as important as other art forms, and it is something everyone can participate in. We all have tales to tell and the materials are close at hand.
In some cases books themselves are artworks. Book arts are an interesting subculture of the art world in which the book form becomes the medium for the artist to create and alter. There can be a broad definition of “book art,” but I find that the work of many contemporary book artists looks more like sculpture than the recognizable form of a book. It’s a fascinating merger of the two art forms. I was first introduced to book art through the Minneapolis Center for Book Arts, which is a wonderful stop if you are traveling to the twin cities. With a gift shop of hand made papers, tools, and artworks and a gallery with rotating exhibitions of book artists the Center for Book Arts is a unique cultural experience.
A taste of that can be had in the Northwoods with visiting artists who offer classes on visual journaling or art journals. Also, the Atelier Bindery in Arbor Vitae promotes and preserves the craft of hand bookbinding and restoration. Watch your ArtStart email for announcements on upcoming classes and events.
Writing and how we choose to display our written thoughts is in many ways a democratic art form. We all can express our thoughts from the youngest schoolchildren to our elder artists, and we all benefit by listening to what is on the mind of our friends and neighbors.
So, your assignment this weekend is to dig up your old journal and read it. Then grab a new notebook or a clean white sheet and see what pours out of your pen or pencil. Don’t rely on your computer–get physical! Take advantage of these winter days and nights to listen to your own voice. Take it a step further and alter your page and create an object out of your thoughts. Do a Google Image search of “book arts” and let those images help you explore a whole new art form. I can’t think of a better way to spend a winter day then getting lost in the art of books.
Melinda Childs can be reached at 715-362-4328 or mchilds@ArtStartRhinelander.org