02/22/2013 02:17 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

The Power of Our Creations

It's not easy these days, making time for our creative work. Voices call us from everywhere demanding our attention, our energy. And many of us, somewhere along the line, got the message that making art is self-indulgent, so we relegate it to the bottom of our list. It becomes the thing we get to when the laundry is done, the bills are paid, the groceries bought and put away.

We get so caught up in the flurry of our lives that we forget the essential thing about art--that the act of creating is a healing gesture, as sacred as prayer, as essential to the spirit as food is to the body. Our creative work reveals us to ourselves, allows us to transform our experience and imagination into forms that sing back to us in a language of symbol who we are, what we are becoming, what we have loved and feared. This is the alchemy of creation: that as I attempt to transmute a feeling or thought into an artistic form that can be experienced by another, I myself am added to, changed in the process.

As we center ourselves in the act of creating, attune to our inner voice, a shift occurs in our consciousness, allowing for the birth of something new. Our attention is no longer on time and demands and errands. It is caught up in the extraordinary metamorphosis of one thing into another. What begins as cocoon emerges a butterfly. What once was sorrow may now be a song.

As I am changed by the art that passes through me in the process of becoming, so am I changed by the creations of others. Throughout my house are portraits of strong and powerful women--old women, dancing women, women together, women isolated and alone--each, in her own way reflecting me, reminding me why I do what I do. When I look at that Bavarian woman on a train heading to Dachau, lost in deep thought as she peers out the window, I'm right back there with her, caught in my own quandary about the Holocaust of yesterday and the ethnic cleansings of today.

Her image keeps me focused on my task, clear about my quest to inspire compassion, break through intolerance--my own and others'--in whatever way I can. And as my eyes land on the photo of women's hands lifted in a ritual of healing and celebration, I shift internally from dark to light, moving from the shadow of our inhumanity to others into the brighter reality of our power to heal.

I am moved, in some way, by every image I encounter, as I am moved by music, poetry, plays, and novels. I am healed by the creations of others every day, conscious of the obstacles that each artist faced in the process of birthing them, and aware that if they did it, so can I; and if I do it, so can you.

For it is the same with all of us--we have our fears, our doubts, our cultures that negate the work of the spirit. And yet we continue on, journeying inward to find what is there that seeks release and offers comfort. Over and over, we transmute one thing into another, turning tragedies and triumphs into powerful images, colorful landscapes, haunting portraits in shades of gray. We conjure these images in our private hours and offer them to the whole like food for the soul, a wrap against the chill.

The call to create is a calling like no other, a voice within that howls for expression, the shadow longing to merge with the light. It is an act of faith to respond to this voice, to give it our time; and in return we are blessed with work that has light and life of its own. One photograph can spark a revolution, thaw a frozen heart, inspire another's masterpiece.
Art that emerges from our inward journeys is a tale-telling mirror that collapses time and expands dimension. Our creations contain the past and the future, the known and the unknown, the breath of spirit and the substance of matter.

As we respond to the world we are part of, what we create adds to its essence, changes its shape, heals its wounds. No matter what the medium, art reveals us to ourselves and raises the level of human consciousness. Art is a mirror not only to the soul of the artist, but to the whole of civilization that celebrates its creation.

Simone Weil once wrote: "The work of art which I do not make, none other will ever make it." We, as creators, hold in our bones the lessons of history, paths to the future, glimpses of a world yet to come. The lines that we draw are lifelines, lines that connect, lines that sketch the contours of the future we're facing.

It is up to us--those who have felt the tug of that inner voice--to create the world we want to be a part of, to utter the words we want to inspire us.

If, through our images, we can reveal the heart of humanity, shine a light on what is precious and godly in ourselves and others, then let us find that in our midst and capture it in our work. Let us not wait for the heroic, conspicuous gestures, but rather look more carefully for those small, daily kindnesses, those rituals of bonding and sharing that show us as people revering life, revering each other. Our sensibilities are assaulted on a daily basis by a press consumed with fear and destruction. Heartbreaking photos of a world run amok wash over our days, invade our dreams. The shadow of humanity makes the news, while the light goes unnoticed, the good unrevealed.

May we, as image makers, shapers of the culture, set our sights on things we value, rituals we engage in that heal and serve. May our images honor the ordinary endeavors of common people, and may they make their way to the eyes of the weary--light to the dark, fire to the chill.

Please join us at our Art & Activism Symposium for Women in June,