Complex PaperSometimes things are simple. And other times they’re not. Sometimes they’re complex. Inexplicably so. Like taking numerous photos of the art work at the Lighthouse last week and having none of it appear in my smart phone when I downloaded the images to my computer. Fortunately I’d brought some of the complex papers home the ladies had created. A replacement image was soon re-photographed, uploaded and edited for our viewing pleasure – after a certain amount of adrenaline had surged through my system and jangled my disbelieving nerves.

Introducing an art techniques learned from Carol Kemp at a recent art retreat, the women were invited to create complex papers – a random assortment of paper collage elements glued to an 11″ x 14″ sheet of tracing paper. Composed of an odd assortment of sizes, colors, textures and patterns, the papers were arranged with purpose or haphazardly depending on the art maker’s choice. My focus was to reinforce C S Lewis’ concept of the complex good. In his book¬†The Problem of Pain, he explains that evil is always evil, but that God can exploit evil for his redemptive purpose and thereby produces a “complex good.” I encouraged the ladies at the Lighthouse, a twelve-month, faith-based, residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse, to see their complex papers as a metaphor of the sometimes random messiness of their lives. They may not look very beautiful in the moment, but when portions of the papers are auditioned as creative elements for other art projects, they become good in a complex way. How I wish I could show you the complex paper cup cakes of a pink background, or the complex paper shark swimming on an underwater colored background, or the complex paper house with cut out windows and an open door on a ¬†water colored landscape.

But this somewhat simple art activity was complex in a variety of curious ways. Ultimately, the complex papers are destined to be used in another art project two months hence. However, some of the complex paper could be used in a current project – if there was enough time at the end of the morning. They were cautioned to make sure they left enough complex paper so that a hand print could be cut out of the remaining paper. I reinforced a number of times the importance of not falling in love with the complex paper they were creating. IT WAS GOING TO BE CUT UP. Pretty much all of that fell on deaf ears. Some didn’t want to cut their paper up. They liked it the way it was……. Others cut large images out of the center of their papers making it essentially much impossible to get a hand print out of the remaining fragments. Sigh….

But, I must confess to having some sympathy for those who didn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t listen. Art making is a complex process involving so much more than the basic directions. I am frequently guilty of moving “into the zone” after just a few instructions given by the lead artist. Some random idea has captured my attention and I’m off on a creative tangent that’s meaningful to me, but may not be what the teacher invited, anticipated or wanted. I hate to think of how many art teachers I’ve frustrated over the years. Ordinarily, I’m good with participants finding their own way through an art activity believing to some extent they are cooperating with the Spirit in a co-creative process. But other times, I just want people to do what I tell them! Even if it means the delayed gratification of seeing an end product emerge from their creativity.

Over the last few months I’ve introduced a number of painted paper art activities that were intended for future use. We’ve also talked openly about learning complex new behaviors that aren’t necessarily understood in the moment but that will be used some day in the future – just like their painted papers. Interestingly, we observed that their more recent art work using these painted papers appear as more complexly beautiful compositions. Sounds like art imitating life to me.

If you were to create some complex paper, what sizes, colors, textures and patterns would you gather to illustrate the complexity of your life? If you were to identify a “complex good” in your life, what would you write about? What image would you cut out of your complex paper to symbolize that? Would there be enough paper left to cut out a hand print? Tell us about being “in the zone.”


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