Art as a Work of Witnessing

Yet another powerful message from author and earth advocate Terry Tempest Williams around the transformative power of art and bearing witness. She speaks of art as a form of witnessing our grief and staying present to it. I have been feeling so much grief around species extinction as I work on my ‘Garden’ triptych, which includes endangered species. I can not accept in my heart that tigers could be extinct in as little as 12 years. I feel helpless to stop it while also being inspired by the work of so many organizations who are fighting to save our big cats from extinction. Most recently I discovered the work of filmmakers and activists Beverly and Dereck Joubert through a TED talk, which I highly recommend viewing. There is also the Serengeti Watch, an organization working to prevent the road through the Serengeti that has been approved by the Tanzanian government. The road is considered a faster, more direct route to get minerals to the international market for cell phones. At what price? This road would have an irreparable impact on the future of these wild creatures. If you feel moved, sign the petition at their web site.

So, I bear witness, I sign petitions, I speak out. I paint my heart on the canvas. To quote Williams: “Can we stand together in the center of our grief?”

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

-William Stafford, A Ritual To Read To Each Other

I have posted several articles here that draw from the wisdom of Terry Tempest Williams as a voice for the earth, for beauty, for grief, for bearing witness. Click here to review them. The artist she references here in the clip is Chris Jordan. View his work here.

I Died for Beauty

From one of our most beloved American poets, Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). A virtual recluse and unrecognized for her poetry in her lifetime, Dickinson wrote nearly 1800 poems. I appreciate the dedication to her craft and as an independent woman. A woman ahead of her time indeed, much like Jane Austin. Of course, Dickinson was born into a wealthy, Amherst, MA family and had the luxury of having time and a room of her own in which to create. Being a 19th-century romantic as well as an artist, a monk at heart, and a New Englander by birth, I consider her creative sister and inspiration. And what more noble ideal to die for than Truth and Beauty? May Truth and Beauty reign….

I died for Beauty – but was scarce
Adjusted in the Tomb
When One who died for Truth, was lain
In an adjoining Room –

He questioned softly “Why I failed”?
“For Beauty”, I replied –
“And I – for Truth – Themself are One –
We Bretheren, are”, He said –

And so, as Kinsmen, met a Night –
We talked between the Rooms –
Until the Moss had reached our lips –
And covered up – Our names –

–Emily Dickinson
From The Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by R.W. Franklin


I recently met local poet Deborah Rodney and as synchronicity would have it, her poem “Sanctuary” spoke directly to the heart and soul of my work. Especially the “Creation” trio of paintings (triptych) that I am currently working on and had hoped to finish in part last week, but was slowed by a cold. I hear the urgent call of the creatures in the painting who are endangered in our world (polar bear, spotted owl, tiger, and salmon) and hope this piece can serve as inspiration to others, in taking action to protect this earth/sanctuary we all call home. As we journey into the new year, may we all remember that the Garden is right here, right now and that all creatures on this beautiful blue planet are asking for our creative vision, wisdom, and gentle stewardship to ensure a sustainable future for all life on earth. Create…Creation…Creature…Creativity To quote Rodney, it is time “to sculpt a new heaven on Earth.”

For love of the EARTH!


By Deborah Rodney

Divinity is formed from the undulating energy

Of billions of thoughts

Powering gravity, beauty,

Orbiting planets and the living potential of a seed.

Our house of worship stands on the well-worn stones

Of everyday living;

Where the sacred wisdom of nature is honored,

And every breath is a humble and sovereign prayer

Whispered to distances greater

Than the imagination can yet travel.

Heaven is peace

Among the butterflies,

Amidst the sap rising up tall trees,

In the sound of sea water flowing over broken shells,

In the last breath of a fully-lived life.

Heaven is freedom

From fear

And the hunger of poverty and greed;

Where the coyote runs belly-full and for the joy of it,

Where brilliant stars and tiny cells are created

By the magnitude of love

Grown fully.

Holiness arrives quietly

When humility and power meet

And the doors are wide open for tenderness;

When the lonely attachment to separateness

Is consumed in the holy heart

Of the collective heart

Of Us, the Creator.

This ecstasy is the wind and the mud

Igniting the courage

To sculpt a new heaven on Earth;

Where every moment is a miracle of possibilities

And every heartbeat is a living faith for all—

In this sanctuary where we live.

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