The Artist’s Way

In the approach to 2011 I’ve been thinking a lot about our community, considering who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. Vineyard Central has always been a community that’s a little hard to wrap your arms around. Some people have described us as elusive and hard to define. I think we need to listen carefully to this critique. And the truth is, we’ve largely attracted dreamers, idealists, visionaries, reflective types, artists, counterculturals (rebels?), bohemians, and — this is the most important point — individualists.

If you know anything about Enneagram personality theory, you’d quickly identify the corporate personality of VC as 4, as the personality of the artist. Artists by nature have a deep longing for what’s real, what’s authentic. They hunger the essence of things and are unwilling to settle for less. To settle for less than the whole would be unimaginable. That deep unarticulated thirst drives a powerful creativity. But once they’ve created something — and sometimes even before they’ve finished! — they’re looking for something newer, something better, truer, more original. Ultimately they’re on a Quest for the Holy Grail, but they often can’t tell you what the Holy Grail actually is — perfect setting, perfect people, or perfect whatever. (But they’ll know if when they see it!) If you want to capture the spirit of the artist, just think of the lyrics from U2’s classic piece, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

Because artists are more typically individualists with a deeper need to be unique and special, they’re intensely wary of going along with the crowd. In fact, if most people are doing it, then whatever it is they’re doing is inherently suspect and worth resisting. To join in with “the masses” would mean, for the artist, to forfeit her/his identity as an individual. This is precisely one of the greatest fears of the artist: not being noticed as different, as unique. Artists usually won’t be vocal about their non-participation; they’ll just quietly dig in their heels and choose to stand on the sidelines.

To complicate matters, artists tend as a population to be introverted, which means they find more pleasure and energy in their private reflections than in face-time with others, especially when a larger group is involved. Introverts need more time apart from others than do extraverts.

Strangely enough, artists often unconsciously sabotage their own efforts to succeed. They want to be noticed, but to be noticed by too many people means going mainstream, appealing to the masses. To remain small and obscure means that you’ve stayed true, that you haven’t sold out to “the man” like so many others. Artists have a complicated relationship with success.

Last, artists tend to be weak in organization. They have a ton of ideas, beautiful ones at that, but they’re often woefully lacking in the ability to strategize, organize, prioritize, and mind the details all the way through completion. As a result, they start things but get bogged down in the details and end up abandoning their projects.

If I’m right about 4 (the artist) being the dominant corporate personality of Vineyard Central, the part that casts the longest shadow over us, then what does this say about the prospect of a true community among us? And just as importantly, what does it say about our willingness and ability to draw in others?

If essentially we’re mostly individualists, mostly introverted, mostly unorganized and mostly afraid to grow, then we have some serious hurdles to overcome. Without work we’ll just morph into a little Christian ghetto of people who show flashes of brilliance and play alongside one another occasionally and accidentally. Yet by the grace of God we have the ability both as individuals and as a community of faith to transcend our weakness without forfeiting strengths. In order to do that, I think it will be critical for us to do the following:

  • let die any part of us that wants to be different for the sake of being different
  • come together more often and more purposefully as a larger community
  • get outside of ourselves and actually be with people (favor face-to-face over Facebook)
  • count the cost of what we set our hands to
  • set goals and place a premium on good organization
  • create healthy, sustainable structures
  • finish what we start; follow through on our intentions and initiatives
  • embrace community-wide rhythms of life that reflect our deepest values
  • make room for different voices to be heard
  • make room for other gifts to be shared
  • make room for newcomers
  • create “sticky points” and an orientation process for newcomers (rather than expecting them just to get it by osmosis)

God is the artist, and we — the entire community of faith — are God’s artwork, workmanship, masterpiece and poem. (Ephesians 2.10) God desires to create out of us a beautiful tapestry of different colored threads, woven together through Christ in a spirit of humility, cooperation

In the next post I’ll say more about the bulleted points above. Until then, be well.

Peace to you,

Dave Nixon

8 thoughts on “The Artist’s Way

  1. Wow. I have read some Enneagram stuff and found it powerful as applied to me personally. But to see you apply it to us as a community is really, really powerful. Its incredibly exact. This is really helpful and deeply challenging. Thanks!

  2. It seems a real test of this new way of being could be in the decisions we make about the future of St. E’s building. I was struck by so much in regards to that issue, particularly the idea of being different just to be even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense, finishing what we start, and creating sustainable structures. I think that coming to a sustainable place on owning (or not owning) that building could really position us be together in new ways – perhaps to put more energy into other parts of our collective personality. Thanks Dave for that thoughtful commentary.

  3. Thanks for the repsonse, Stephen. I understand the “artist type” well because this is my Enneagram type, and it’s usually the case that founding leaders of organizations and other human collectives inject — usually quite unconsciously! — their particular “personality DNA” into the larger group. Initially leaders attract many others like them. (“Birds of a feather flock together.”) E.g., we see the personality of Ignatius of Loyola in the Jesuits, the personality of Benedict of Nursia in the Benedictines. I don’t think VC will ever lose entirely her Artist’s Way, but it will be important for us to overcome the “dark side” of that gifting, and I’m hoping we can make good strides in that area during 2011.

  4. Good thoughts, Mary Ellen. I agree. What we do or don’t do with St. E’s might well be a litmus test of our willingness / ability to transcend the limits of our corporate personality and it could very well focus our energies in better ways.

    Back in the summer a small team came together to consider how to move forward on the building, to think as creatively and divergently as possible, to put some numbers to those ideas, and to make some recommendations to the community and the board of trustees. We . . . o.k, maybe just I . . . thought we’d have that work done by fall, but it has taken longer. But I’m happy to say that that the work IS continuing. We’re a little stuck at the moment because we haven’t been able to find someone to meet with contractors so they can look over our ideas and give us real numbers, but we still hope to find that person. (S)he needs to be fluent in “constructionese” and have some scheduling flexibility. (If someone reading this feels called to help in this area, please step up!) I sincerely hope that by the end of winter we’ll be in a position to make headway on this very urgent topic of the St. E’s. Whatever we decide, there will most definitely be a cost attached to it, but there’s already a cost that has accrued by virtue of doing nothing.

  5. Dave,
    Very brave of you to broach (or maybe breach) the subject.

    My experience, would support your thesis. I deeply appreciate and celebrate the artistic bent and giftings of our community. It reminds me of my mother, who awed me as a child with her ability to render a scene in oil paint or a human form in clay, and my own joy of artistic expression in pottery or music.

    I’d have to admit that it has been very frustrating to find meaningful ways to relate through my basic personality style, which, separate from my art oriented talents tends to be a less celebrated, “results” oriented “Doing” type.

    Just a few months of trying to apply that personality strength to the physical needs of St. E building left me feeling less hopeful of being a collaborative/contributing member of the body. I’ll be interested in
    the outcome of this discussion.

  6. Thanks for the honest feedback, Todd. I think we — those in leadership and the community at large — need to take seriously the frustration you’ve felt. You represent a segment of the population, so your experience is most certainly shared by others. My first thought to remedy this is to “stack the leadership deck” in 2011 w/ people like yourself — organized people who value accomplishing things! — so that the tables get effectively turned. That’s one way to create a larger voice for your tribe within our community. But you yourself may have other and better ideas. You’re not a mean-spirited, bomb-thowin’ type. To the contrary, you speak lovingly and tactfully and have ALWAYS shown yourself more than willing to be a part of the solution. Consequently I don’t get nervous about you sharing your thoughts publicly regarding steps we might take to overcome the deficiencies of the Artist’s Way.

  7. Owen, your comment reminds me of a line from Wendell Berry’s writings — I think it comes from his collection of essays in “Another Turn of the Crank” — that goes like this:

    “The world can be divided between those who care and those who don’t.” For so much of my early life I think I demonstrated clearly through my actions that I didn’t care much. For the second half of life I’d like to line up differently and demonstrate care/love by how I choose to live. I hope that together we can receive the grace to do that.

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