[Editor’s note: Our theme for today at North Wind Manor’s Opening Week is art, and Kyra Hinton has contributed this meditation on a phrase that we use quite a bit at the Rabbit Room—”art nourishes community and community nourishes art.” If anyone knows what these words look like in practice, it’s Kyra, and here she reflects on two collaborative art projects she has facilitated with visual artists in Rabbit Room circles: Pass the Piece and artists &. We’ve also re-shared here the Pass the Piece video from Hutchmoot: Homebound 2020 and the first artists & video in case you’re hungry for more.]
I believe art nourishes community because our creations speak to aspects of our human experience. We need art inside of community to give us a vocabulary from which to understand the things we’re learning and processing. We need art to reveal truths we didn’t know how to see. We need art to give us a middle ground or meeting point from which to connect to others who resonate with the same ache. We need art to reveal the beauty of varying views and ground us in the humanity of each of our experiences. Every artistic discipline can do this. And I believe visual art can do this in a way that bypasses our intellectual barriers. It can break past our defenses, sneak past our dragons, and begin a work beneath the surface that we couldn’t put to words or melody.
So that’s why art nourishes community. But why does community nourish art? When I started my work as a visual artist, I was immensely and painfully lonely. I had some Christian community around me, but they weren’t artists. Even with their best intentions, they couldn’t understand the pain that comes from pouring your soul onto a piece of paper for the world to see. They couldn’t understand the discipline and frustration and dedication it takes to see an idea through to completion, or improve well enough to even attempt it. This kind of fellowship is best experienced with other creators, even if they aren’t in the visual arts, because they can understand the way we see and process the world around us. They can understand the strain and struggle; they can celebrate with us in the small victories that sustain us. When art is being birthed into a place of safety, where the community is dedicated to good work, and seeing you succeed in putting out into the world the work within your soul, the artist can create freely. Confidently. With whimsy and fun.
More than likely, the art that’s been growing in you is just the thing someone out there needs to see. And maybe they need to see your bravery to know they can be brave too. Courage is contagious.Kyra Hinton
This is the impact of community that I’ve seen in my day to day work. Whether it’s the daily planning of content and community with Jamin Still, celebrating a beautiful new pie design and experimentation with Bailey McGee, rejoicing over God’s provision with Eddy Efaw, marveling with Joe Sutphin over a new rabbit sketch he’s finished, or virtually traipsing through Gina Sutphin’s garden as we enjoy the place of earth she’s cultivating (or any myriad of conversation with other artists and collaborators), my days are filled with the voices and experiences of beautiful humans who pour beauty into the world with the work of their hands. They make me brave, they keep me going, and they make it fun. It wasn’t always this way, so I’m continually in awe and grateful for this community that enriches my life as an artist — not just my work as an artist.
Because yes, while it is incredibly powerful to have an inspiring idea and do the dedicated, lonely work it takes to put it into the world, it becomes something else when you share that idea in community, and another beautiful human steps into the story. They see a different side of the equation—a different angle of the light. And suddenly that cool but small idea that I had opens and unfurls. It becomes something bigger than me because my soul, my experiences, and my perspectives are not the only pool of ingredients from which to pull.
Pass the Piece did this in a microcosm. From the beginning we called it an experiment, because I genuinely wasn’t sure it would work. It did—not because it created good work on canvas, but it created good work in people. It brought us together, and brought out the best in each other. It made us conquer fears, look at the world and our work differently, and see that maybe the best glimpse of heaven is found in one another’s eyes.
A lot of us continued to collaborate in one way or another after this. Either we created more works together, or we just opened our processes up to each other more. We leaned into community more than we had before the project, and I think we all saw an improvement in our process because of it. But I think a lot of the power of that session was when we opened it up to the larger community—when 90+ Hutchmoot: Homebound participants joined the experiment and did their own passing of the pieces. As this microcosm expanded to include strangers and varying disciplines, shipping art pieces across oceans, we saw the power of collaboration on a bigger stage. Challenges came up that we, in our microcosm of relatively close friends, hadn’t had to work through. And yet, they did. The brave humans of this greater Pass the Piece experiment rose to meet these hurdles. Yes, beautiful works were created. But above that, conversations were had, invitations extended, and relationships created, forged, and strengthened. It was here that we saw even more clearly just how lonely this subset of visual artists can be. Because yes, the phrase “art nourishes community and community nourishes art” applies across disciplines. But just as a writer needs the encouragement of another writer, a painter needs the encouragement and wisdom only another painter can give. We saw the benefit this experiment had on the community, and once we saw that, we couldn’t leave it there.
We began artists & because we had a glimpse into how much the visual artists in this community were needing a place to gather, share, encourage and be encouraged. Seemingly basic concepts about how art and faith mingle in this discipline resonated deeply, in a group that’s been on the outside of a lot of arts/faith discussions. How can you be a Christian artist if your art is not inherently Christian? What is the value visual arts can bring to the Kingdom, or to global and local communities? What is the value art-making brings to the individual artist creating it? How does it impact their families? These questions have been foundational in our discussions, even as we tackle more tangible problems. The artists in our group love sharing their works in progress, inviting each other into the process. They help each other work through blocks and celebrate victories. They act as a sounding board for one another, and cheer them on as they go. This generous and gracious community can exist even in this virtual space because of the vulnerability and bravery of each artist who brings themselves and their experiences.
It’s such a gift to watch these artists be present to, receive, and engage in community. Being able to cultivate a space where this happens is a highlight in my journey, because I remember my own loneliness when I started. The fear of that isolation nearly caused me to stuff my art supplies and perspectives back into the closet. It wasn’t until I realized that my act of creation was bringing me into closer communion with the Creator that I decided collaboration with Him was worth all of the human loneliness I’d risk in accepting the mantel of an artist.
But there’s a shimmering magic to this grace. In the vulnerability of flinging my art into the world, it sews invisible strings between my heart and the hearts of others. I may never know some of those connections, but in these years since I took the leap, I’ve watched that aroma attract community. Your art, in honesty and authenticity, is your greatest cultivator of community. Art begets art. Art, after completing its work in the artist, goes on to continue the work in other hearts, and they find a similar rhythm. Art attracts art. We hear the echos of these songs reverberate past the walls of our studios and out into the wide world where others sing along. More than likely, the art that’s been growing in you is just the thing someone out there needs to see. And maybe they need to see your bravery to know they can be brave too. Courage is contagious.
So if I can extend any courage to you, dear artist, it’s this:
You have a view of this broken and beautiful world that only you can see.
You hold endless stories, heartbreaks, hopes, and longings within your frame.
And from your unique perspective and singular make-up there is a wealth of light that only you can reflect.
I can’t wait to see that light bouncing off of you and out into the loneliness, reminding us of the hope ready for us to take, and the home ready for us to taste.