Imagine creating a beautiful work of art and then destroying it. Picking up a paintbrush loaded with too much paint and going nuts over a painting you’d worked hard on. Could you? How far do you think you would go? Would you make sure it was a dry acrylic painting knowing that you can still wash it off before it dries?
I have often wondered why so many artists, writers, actors, and rock stars seem to have a destructive side to their personalities. You hear about celebrities trashing hotel rooms, taking drugs, drinking too much – damaging the body and mind that serves their creativity.
What if the reason for this sense of frustration and desire to destroy things stems from over-creating? Everything has to be in balance. Is it possible to be too creative? A theme in my current book has given me an interesting perspective: I once thought that creativity “used up” an artist’s energy; now I believe that creativity actually generates energy. I’ve found this in my own work – when I write fiction I feel energised afterwards. But all this extra energy has to go somewhere, and after you’ve been so incredibly, wonderfully creative, perhaps a little destruction is called for.
So, on to the subject of today’s post. When I first heard American artist Jerry Wennstrom’s story, I was intrigued. He was an accomplished artist, with a huge body of work. And then he destroyed all his paintings, gave away his possessions, and went on a spiritual journey to rediscover himself.
As Jerry began interacting more genuinely with the people who entered his life, he also began to create transient art, usually produced for somebody who needed it on the spur of the moment. “My artwork was accumulating in the world,” Jerry says, “yet it was invisible as a whole. It could only be experienced at the location where I created it, often for only a short period of time. Some of what I created was not meant to last forever and would deteriorate. Like living beings, my works of art were born, lived their lives, and died.”1
In his memoir, The Inspired Heart, Jerry tells three specific stories (Marilyn’s dream, Erika’s lightning bolt, and Lucy’s face) of creating an artwork while counselling and being present for a friend in need, finding that his artwork symbolically pre-mirrored what was going on in the person’s life, inadvertently pointing the way to healing.
Grounded by his developing relationship with his wife, Marilyn, Jerry continued to integrate some of the missing links in his creativity, especially that of honouring his talent for mechanics and engineering passed down from his grandfather.
Jerry describes some of his mechanised sculptures in detail in The Inspired Heart, and the synchronicity with which the components were found and lives touched. For the time being, Jerry’s story concludes with his ambitious construction of a flaming stupa meditation tower which was completed in time to be blessed by visiting Tibetan monks.
The structure of the book reflects how he moved from defining himself through his art, to defining himself through his relation to other people, to evolving into spiritual awareness. Like all things spiritually guided this process is timeless and achronological.
1 Page 125: The Inspired Heart by Jerry Wennstrom, published by Sentient Publications 2002
Photographs © Jerry Wennstrom, used with permission
A complementary copy of The Inspired Heart was sent to me by Jerry Wennstrom for review purposes
What about you? Are you so attached to your every creation that the thought of erasing it fills you with dread? Or does the idea sound freeing?
Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job.