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Guernica by PicassoBy Marlene J. Geary
Co-Chair, Sunday Services Committee

Excerpts from “Create!”

by Rev. Michael McGee, May 22, 2011

One of the most important messages I would love young people to hear at their graduations is that, in the words of Julia Cameron, “creativity is our true nature…” Those words may not sound all that revolutionary or even revelatory to you, but I believe they are earth-shaking in their power to change a person and the world. I want to remind you that creativity is an essential part of everything we do in life, not just art.

[Robert Fulghum noted] that many people ignore and deny their powers of creativity as they age. In reality every single one of us is blessed with boundless creativity, but we must choose to develop and use it.

The reason we create goes beyond our hopes of immortality. We create because we are creators. Some would say that we even create God instead of God creating us. We create because creation runs through our veins.

One man who felt the power of creation running through his veins was Pablo Picasso. Born in Spain in 1881, Picasso was reputed to have begun to draw by the time of his first word. He hated school and attended as little as possible. He struggled to learn to read and write and had difficulties in mathematics. Even abstract thinking was a deficiency for him – which is hard to imagine.

Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he’s grown up.” Like a child, he opened his senses to creation and then he chose to become a creator. We too have the power to be creators. We may not choose to create art, but we can use our creativity to shape our lives and our spirituality. We can take the world we perceive with our senses, the beauty as well as the obscenities, the joy and the pain, and sculpt out of it a spirituality that nourishes and challenges us as human beings.

After affirming ourselves as creators, we must have the courage to be innovative. In the book “Creating Minds,” Howard Gardner tells us that the key to creativity is divergent thinking. “By standard measures intelligent people are thought of as convergers – people who, given some data or a puzzle, can figure out the correct (or at any rate, the conventional) response. In contrast, when given a … puzzle, creative people tend to come up with many different associations, at least some of which are idiosyncratic and possibly unique.” Another way to put it is that convergent thinkers use their intelligence within the boundaries of what is accepted and acceptable, while divergent thinkers feel free to break through the boundaries of the expected and enter into the frontier of the unexpected.

Picasso was a radically divergent thinker. At the age of twenty-seven he made a sudden turn from his nostalgic blues and pinks and sentimental charms of acrobats and harlequins to the shocking, puzzling visions of cubism. In cubism, Picasso was able to leave behind the Western single-point-of-view perspective and explode the two dimensional canvass into three dimensions.

In cubism the viewer no longer looked at the painting passively from a point outside, like looking through a window. Instead, the viewer became part of the art, or rather the painting became part of the viewer’s world. By inviting the viewer to move around each object, seeing it from all perspectives and perceiving it as more real than imaginary, the painting and the viewer merged into one event.

Not many of us are able to revolutionize a world view the way Picasso did. But we are able to push through the boundaries established by others so that we can explore and create our spirituality. Spirituality requires the creative ability to leave behind outmoded beliefs that have been handed down to us and to experiment with other ways of thinking and being.

To be creative and to be spiritual we must be able to take what is inside of us and weave it into the fabric of life outside of us.

Some of this innerness is not a pretty sight. Art isn’t necessarily beautiful. It’s passionate and insightful. The greatness of Picasso was that he dared to pour his pain onto the canvass. And he poured the pain of those around him into his art as well. Creativity demands that we not only delve into our own soul but into the soul of humanity.

Picasso’s greatest work, as far as I’m concerned, was painted in 1937. He was living in Paris when he heard of the destruction of the Spanish town of Guernica by German bombers. Two days later he began working on a mural eleven and a half feet high and nearly twenty-six feet long.

As Daniel Boorstin describes it in his book, “The Creators”: “In black, white and gray, ‘Guernica’ is a gross caricature of horror and terror… Parts of four horrified women, one holding a drooping corpse of a baby, the carnage of one soldier on the ground still holding a broken sword, and pieces of other bodies, the head of a tooth-gnashing horse and of a satanic bull, lambent flames, a figure holding a lamp out of a window, and a light bulb in the sun – all in unforgettable disarray.”

I remember seeing it for the first time when I was in college, not the real painting but a photo. It was during the Vietnam War, and for me the mural summed up the horrors of that war – as well as all wars. Picasso was not only expressing his own grief and pain at hearing of the devastation, but he was proclaiming the nightmarish horror of warfare for all people. In his own words Picasso said, “I have always believed and still believe that artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake.”

In the same way, our spirituality, if it is to be truly imaginative and creative, must speak not only for ourselves but for and to the human race. Our task is to create a way of life that is responsive to the injustice in the world and responsible for doing what we can to bring peace and justice to all.

In 1940, when Paris was occupied by the Germans, Picasso would hand out photographs of his “Guernica” to German officers. When one would ask him, “Did you do that?,” he would reply, “No, you did.” Picasso created art that transformed human beings with its power and meaning. His art responded to the apathy of humanity and to the hatred and violence around him, with shimmering images of the creative spirit.

His message was – as I hope ours is as well – that with our imagination we can choose to build a new creation that challenges all people to practice the true art of living and loving. May each and every one of us proclaim that message with our creativity and compassion.