Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom. Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2011, xiv + 171 pp., £14.99/$16.99 paper.
The Artist’s Rule is basically Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way meets the Rule of St. Benedict. If journaling and creative exploration through painting, poetry, and dance, joined to the monastic practices of lectio divina, contemplative silence, and praying the psalms, sounds like heaven to you, The Artist’s Rule is exactly the book you are looking for.
Similar to The Artist’s Way, The Artist’s Rule is a 12-week guided journey through artistic and monastic practices, with the aim of helping the reader find God in her own creative experience, and express her divinely-inspired creativity more fully and freely. It is a workbook, with daily and weekly exercises, not a book to be read from cover to cover in one sitting.
Each week includes a text (usually a passage from Scripture or a poem) offered as a suggested focus for that week’s lectio, the traditional form of monastic prayer which involves reading a text, meditating on it, bringing it to God in prayer, and resting in quiet contemplation. Paintner recommends occasionally engaging in ‘walking lectio’, or meditating on a text while embarking on a leisurely walk. Regular attentive walking is one of Paintner’s key suggestions (and one which I have found invaluable – a key to my own spiritual and creative practice for years has been a daily afternoon walk). Besides lectio and walking, the author recommends regular journaling, and she provides questions for reflection each week, related to that week’s lectio focus. These three practices of lectio, walking, and journaling form the core work of the 12-week course (p. 16).
Most weeks further include both a visual art and a poetry exploration, such as ‘Creating Spontaneous Nature Altars and Mandalas’ (p. 126) and ‘Writing a Blessing for Beginning Creative Work’ (p. 45). There are occasional movement explorations as well, such as the ‘Hand Dance’ (p. 76), ‘Walking the Spiral’ (p. 119), and the ‘Sacred Yes and No’ (which also involves voice exploration; p. 137).
A Benedictine oblate and a poet, Paintner combines Benedictine spirituality with elements of Zen Buddhism and Jungian psychology. The following passage introduces the reader to her approach:
My background and training is in the expressive arts—which originally developed within the psychotherapeutic field. This approach engages the arts for healing and discovery while focusing on the process more than the product. When we move from one art medium to another, we encounter deeper wisdom through access to multiple languages and ways of knowing. John Daido Loori, the author of The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life, writes: “The creative process, like a spiritual journey, is intuitive, non-linear, and experiential. It points us toward our essential nature, which is a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe.” Creativity and contemplative spirituality nurture and support each other in their commitments to the slow way, to a close attention to the inner life, and to the sacred being revealed in each moment. When I use the word “artist” I include poets, writers, cooks, gardeners, and people who use all manner of creative expression; we are all called to be artists of everyday life. (p. 4)
This passage, as well as the descriptions of the various creative explorations mentioned above, should give the reader a good sense of whether or not this book is for him or her. It is targeted toward a very specific audience: women and men who enjoy open-ended and abstract creative exercises which focus on the emotions, fans of Rumi, Rilke, Thomas Moore, and Joan Chittister (who are often quoted).
If you are looking for a no-nonsense spur to creativity – someone who will tell you to keep your butt in the seat and your hands on the keyboard – read Steven Pressfield. If a title like Pressfield’s The War of Art gets your heart pumping, Paintner’s book is not for you.
To be honest, I’m a War of Art man. But that just proves that I am not the target audience for this book. However, if you gravitate toward the art room, the nature labyrinth, and the John O’Donohue poems when you’re on retreat, and you find a deep joy and peace in open-ended, exploratory creative art-making, then you are the target audience for this book.
And for you, Christine Valters Paintner has written an excellent 12-week guide to discovering God and your own creativity through the practices of Benedictine spirituality and monastic art-making.
NB: Christine Valters Paintner was a contributor to Transpositions’ 2012 symposium on Art & Monasticism. Read her contribution: “The Artist Begins Again and Again”.
Review by Cole Matson