The Ultimate Act of Responsibility

In this third and final installment of an interview with artist Jerry Wennstrom, I ask him to explore genuine creativity, fear as a process of creative transformation, how he has learned the things he values the most.

Life is Creativity

Brian Alger: Artistry and the artist within seem to be in steep decline in our institutionalized systems of education. Without taking care of our artistic sensibilities I believe we deny ourselves a fundamentally important perspective on life and living.

In other words, without art, we simply do not learn to appreciate the fullness of who we are and what we are meant to do. How can we reclaim the artist within?

Jerry Wennstrom: Art has a way of taking care of itself.

Creativity that is limited or commodified in the classroom is sprayed out for free on the subway wall.. An educational institution that attempts to tame the wilds of creation or eliminate the poetic sensibility of its people does not survive for very long. As you say; there is a decline in this area.

Decline, too, is natural – it exists in the cyclical nature of things. As ideas eventually take on the weight of mainstream acceptance they begin to grow, cool and calcify. As a common cyclical event in the human experience, we often feel a decline in our power and a loss of freedom just before we have an inspiring breakthrough. There is some inherent truth to the overused cliche, “the darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

To fear or avoid the place in the cycle where we naturally experience a decline creates a blind spot. By seeing things in black and white and insisting on the reality of that point of view we eliminate paradox. This insistence is the source of every kind of fundamentalism.

In the end, the only defense against decline and calcification is to consciously hold that paradox and allow an inspired third possibility to emerge. Inspiration and renewal seem to exist in darkness of decline. Maybe that’s the paradox that an artist just has to live with.

A Genuinely Creative Environment

Brian Alger: If you were to create a learning environment designed to help people explore and enhance their ability to use artistry as a means to influence and inform their journey in life, what would you create?

Jerry Wennstrom: A genuinely creative environment would have to include all we do in whatever environment we are in. Creative-doing would have to be made a priority! We can do this by seeking a creative solution to every challenge that comes our way.

The best-equipped people to establish such an environment are, of course, the people who are living this way. Their very presence becomes a learning environment. They are learning themselves and demonstrating the creative process in everything they do.I suppose institutions can duplicate their process to some extent but it takes creative people to teach and inspire others.

Where there is Fear there is Power

Brian Alger: Fear can be a powerful influence in our lives. It can be healthy or, more frequently, debilitating. Some fear comes to us unexpectedly while other kinds of fears are manufactured by society itself. Sometimes it is as if society says to people, “If you don’t follow our plan, bad things will happen.”

How can our artistic sensibilities be used to help people learn from their inner fears in order to transform their lives?

Jerry Wennstrom: Starhawk says, “Where there is fear there is power.” The good that is available in fear does not come from a reaction, it comes from an energetic boost to the system that awakens our determination to turn and face the fear.

For the most part, fear is the single most destructive force in our lives. We develop elaborate strategies to buffer ourselves from fear, which only empower it to create in its own image. It can become like some strange and tyrannical, false god who ends up calling the shots in our lives.

Of course, when we give power over to the fear within, it extends outward to become a tyrannical voice in our society. This projection of ourselves manifests as someone appearing to limit our choices. Basically we limit our own choices when we choose fear.

Courage is a journey and it is the opposite of fear.

When, in small ways, we learn to courageously trust rather than fear, we move forward even as we experience the fear. Eventually, courage begins to demand more of us and we come to a moment where we must give ourselves to an even larger challenge requiring even greater courage. This is the moment where real personal transformation can occur.

It is here that we establish a new stance where courage, surrender, and renewal becomes allies in opposition to fear, limitation and death (metaphoric and, I believe, literal). Once established, this trinity of allies remains strong and moves through our lives cyclically, like the tides, renewing and empowering everything we do with life.

It is as if by letting the gods know we mean business one good time, something larger takes over and carries our lives in a way that we were never able to do on our own.

The Beauty of One’s Entire Life

Brian Alger: It has often been said that it is the artist’s sensibilities and insights that are the foundation for discovering the best uses of technology for humankind. At the same time, much of our modern technology is guided by corporate or political motivations. We are either trying to make money from it, produce material things, or use it to control people.

How can we learn to better embrace our artistic sensibilities in order to make technology subservient to living a life worth living?

Jerry Wennstrom: It all comes down to what values we establish – first, within ourselves, then, as those values translate and extend outward to include culture and society.

Anything can be either beneficial or destructive, depending upon its application. Beauty is a pretty good standard and, generally speaking, artists are concerned with beauty – whether it is in the creation of beauty through form, or through a kind of holy longing where the final expression becomes the beauty of one’s entire life.

If we intuitively move toward a sense of greater beauty, one way or another, what we do in the world will be a reflection of this beauty. In this context, technology becomes just another (and perhaps more efficient) way to serve that end.

I just read an article about a wonderfully creative organization that is creatively involved in a kind of reverse technology. They are developing more efficient, inexpensive human-powered devices to help feed and house the starving and homeless populations of the world. They are inventing and refining such things as hand-operated presses for extracting cooking oil, and foot-powered water pumps. In a village that hand-carries water out to the growing things, a device as simple as a water pump is saving lives by vastly improving food production.

The Ultimate Act of Responsibility

Brian Alger: Why is it people need to “leave” society in order to go and “discover” themselves? Is it possible for society to provide an organizational foundation that meets the needs of the many while allowing a healthy sense of individualism to flourish?

Jerry Wennstrom: To leave or disassociate from society in order to find one’s true place in the world is the ultimate act of responsibility.

When we can be true to our own inner calling and follow a path that takes us away from society for a while, there is the inevitable return. With this return, we bring back a deeper sense of purpose and the unique gifts that might only be found in the desert of self-discovery.

It is more often the case that we jump mindlessly into life to achieve financial security or to grab a bigger piece of the pie and ignore the quiet voice of our own deepest longing. When we don’t know who we are we end up operating with a knee-jerk reaction to anything that reflects back to us the deficit of our unfulfilled calling.

To establish a sense of the sacred and to go about our lives with a deeper sense of purpose places us in the best possible position to be of real service in the world.

To answer your question as to why this is, it seems that when we remain in the ocean of established reality for too long we become steeped in its collective fix. Most of us do insignificant things to establish our individuality but few of us have the courage to really stand alone in the place where there are no reference points connecting us to the conventional world.

Our true and unique voice can only come from establishing a one-on-one relationship with the larger mystery. This happens differently for each of us but it is most often discovered in the desert where there are no more distractions.

The best a society might offer, in terms of an organizational foundation for this work, is time, space and the trust in the uniqueness of each individual’s journey. Generally speaking, this is not one of the strengths of western culture.

Extroversion and materialism go hand in hand and American culture is exceedingly extroverted. A good start might be for our society to value introspection.

I read somewhere that there is a culture that actually has a word in their vocabulary that honors an individual’s need to withdraw from the activity of daily life. Loosely interpreted, the word generally means, “she is with the gods right now so let her Be.”

Areas that Inspire and Terrify

Brian Alger: How did you learn the things you value most? If you were to create a list of ten principles/ideas for this question that other people would benefit from, what would they be?

Jerry Wennstrom: I learn most by jumping into those areas of my life that both inspire and terrify me.

Doing this leaves one with no viable alternative but to learn! It gets back to the paradox – when one is caught between the horns of inspired possibility and terror the only other alternative is paralysis – to freeze, avoid the risk and spend the rest of our lives intelligently justifying our frightened little existence.

As far as a list of principles/ideas that other people might benefit from…

  1. Trust! Trust that you are not lost and that no experience (however difficult) is out of place or without meaning in the larger scheme of things.
  2. Reverent Inquiry: Take quiet-time away from the world to simply BE and ask for, inwardly, what you need. Life is a mystery, with gifts that reveal themselves as we move forward with courage.
  3. Remain open to the mystery: Unknowing is a natural part of the human experience.
  4. Courage: The path we walk as we attempt to live our lives with awareness is sacred ground. Simply meet life as it comes and avoid nothing.
  5. Intuition: Develop and pay attention to intuitive feelings, insights and allurements and take risks based on what you perceive.
  6. Humility: In the highs and lows of any direct experience you might have, remain grounded in humility.
  7. Have Fun! Fly with creative freedom while holding your vision, and accept whatever form emerges joyfully, and with gratefulness.
  8. Give: Give freely to others what you have received.
  9. Patience: As Lao Tsu says, “Important things take a long time.”
  10. Blank: I will leave number 10 blank  a place for the mystery to BE.

Brian Alger: Jerry this has been a great pleasure. I hope that those reading this interview with you take time to visit In the Hands of Alchemy as well as your YouTube Channel – Jerry Wennstrom: Hands of Alchemy. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us.

An Artist’s Journey Series

In this three-part interview with artist Jerry Wennstrom, I ask him to explore the frontiers of creative expression. What follows is a remarkable story of one artist’s journey through a remarkable transformation.

[Return to Frontier 3: Spirit]