Storymaking, Artmaking, and the Work of the Soul

Photograph by Heather Atkinson, published by permission

Photograph by Heather Atkinson, published by permission

Last week I posted a story, suggesting that we can understand our interior spiritual landscapes through the telling of a tale. Story acts as map—at least some of the time, was my idea.

 

I’ve been thinking about how to expand on this idea. I pieced that story together from experiences in my own life. It took some years to write, because it took some years to live. When I read it over now, in its purposeful abstraction, its folk tale feel, it feels to me like a supple fabric that flows through my hands, able (I hope) to be fit and shaped to different forms, depending on the reader’s own experience and requirement.

But the point I want to make today is: it is a pieced together thing.

 

Photo by Heather Atkinson, published by permission

Photo by Heather Atkinson, published by permission

One of my childhood friends just moved a lot closer to me, here in Wisconsin. She’s a visual artist, a photographer. It’s her images that grace this brief essay today.

Some photographers take their cameras out into the world and try to frame what they see, catching a moment for the viewer. (John Beckett has some good things to say about that here.)

That is not my friend’s way. She composes her pictures in her studio or on location, artfully placing the various pieces and props to make the image she wants.

To use my own trope: she pieces together her images.

 

I’m taking a class on soul work right now and we’re encouraged in these first weeks to read widely what others say and begin to define “soul” for ourselves. It’s common for people to use the image of a candle’s flame, or a small interior voice, when talking about soul…but today I’m wondering if maybe soul something we piece together for ourselves, through our lives. If it’s a lifework, this business, to (choose your verb) stitch/cobble/paste/weld the soul from the scraps and bits. We all go down, again and again, to what Yeats names “the foul rag-and-bone shop” and we use what we find there, because it is all we have to work with.

We don’t control how life rips us apart or subtly erodes us down over time…but we do make choices about what to do in response, and how to live. It could be that art, and story, and the process of art and story making, point us in the direction of the important interior work we have to do, as well.

Photograph by Heather Atkinson, published by permission

Photograph by Heather Atkinson, published by permission

 

Thanks to Heather Atkinson for the glorious art. You can find more of her work at heatheratkinson.com

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