7 October

Creative Spark: Do Me A Favor

by Jon Katz

The ability of the human being to want more, to expand or change their lives, to be better, to create things is, to me, one of the things that often suggests the existence of a God.  Where else could this drive come from?

No dog or cat or chicken can decide to choose a better life, or choose to change his or her life. Only human beings can imagine that.

Why did Gandhi set out to free India?  Or Martin Luther King march through the South? Why did Mother Teresa wash the feet of lepers? Or Michelangelo stare at his chapel for years?

Why did Picasso or Van Gogh have to make art?  Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez write such wonderful books? Why did Jesus Christ choose to fight for the needy when it was so dangerous and lonely?

For that matter, and I am not comparing myself to any of those people above, why am I so drawn to working with the elderly at the Mansion or the refugee children at Bishop Maginn. I can’t say I know for sure, but I believe it is the Creative Spark described in the Kabbalah.

I’ve struggled with the idea of God, but the Creative Spark is the divine for me, I think, in a way that is God for me. Creativity – my writing and photography – is faith for me, perhaps that is why I dislike being told what to write. It isn’t that I am right, it’s that I am free.

This spark takes me out of myself and into the wider world in a powerful way.

What I saw in Maria – I remember it so vividly – was this spark, this yearning to come out of herself and fulfill her destiny. I also saw her bravery and determination in taking so many risks to pursue it. She was absolutely determined, as was I, to fill her life with meaning.

No other animal has this powerful desire to step outside of themselves and create a better world or capture the light and the color and meaning of life.

It is their imaginations that made human beings so exceptional, and it is their failure to imagine that make them so dangerous and self-destructive. This is why museums exist – they are the Temples and Churches and Mosques of creativity.

When people abandon the Creative Spark or let others persuade them to abandon it, says Joseph Campbell, then they lead a substitute life. Or, as T.S. Eliot suggested, they can become hollow men (and women.) I know what that feels like, it is so  easy to become frightened or disillusioned.

God said in the Kabbalah that he gave the Creative Spark only to human beings, and he warned people that the only thing they had to fear from him was failing to use or honor it.

Donkeys are happy to be fed and safe.  The can’t imagine more, so they don’t want more. Maria and I both wanted more out of our lives, and we have fought every day for that.

I sensed this drive in Maria when we first met, and this was one of the reasons I fell in love with her. She said I was the first person in her life to tell her creativity was sacred, important, wonderful. She sure doesn’t need to be told that now.

Last night, I saw her sitting in the living room embroidering another President Trump quote for the Tiny Pricks Project, the artistic resistance online, artists from all over the country choose their favorite quotes from the president in fabric and posting them on the Internet.

The site is seeking to make a creative and artistic record of the Trump era. They call it the “Material Record” of Trump’s Presidency.” Last night, she was embroidering one of his most famous recent quotes, this one to the President of Ukraine: “I would like you to do us a favor, though...”

The President doesn’t seem to pay much attention to artists, I’ve never seen him tweet against them, but I think he would do well to take them more seriously. Throughout history, art has turned intensely political and quite powerful.

Maria has already stitched six quotes on the site, and she has done a strong response to them. It’s right up her alley, a non-violent, non-argumentative creative statement of her beliefs.

I have always believed the Creative Spark is in all of us, and sometimes, as a teacher, I am lucky enough to light it in others. Mostly, it is what drives me and gives my life both love and purpose.



21 December

Portrait, Jackie: The Joy Of The Creative Spark

by Jon Katz

Jackie is one of the belly dancers in Maria’s dancing group, I’ve only spoken to her once or twice, but I could take photos of her all day.

One of the beautiful things about photography for me is that it attaches me to people, whether they know it or care.

I find I am especially drawn to photographing strong women, people who radiate strength and feeling and are fearless about their bodies and full of attitude and joy.

I’m not sure why this is so. My friends are almost all strong women, my wife is a strong women, my favorite portrait subjects are strong women.

Maria’s belly dancing Hafla (celebration) was the perfect start of our Christmas week and Jackie, a hotel manager, a grandmother and mother, is a wonderful symbol of the Belly Dancing ethos – this is who we are, and we love who we are with style and attitude, take it or leave it.

What a fine prescription that is for life.

Jackie also is a testament to the creative spark, according to the mystics, God gave each human a creative spark and he is said to have told his people that the only real sin is not using the spark to creative love and joy and happiness.

When I look at Jackie, as when I look at Maria, I see the creative spark, burning so brightly, every day, demanding to come out, insisting upon it. I had no doubts about belly dancing, and little confusion, but if I do have any, all I have to do is look at Jackie.

Her face is full of emotion, strength and the joy of creativity. And yes, Belly Dancing is an art, it is pure artistry.

She’s been entered in my fantasy photography show: portraits of strong women. I am grateful to have married another. These are the women I love and want to photograph.

27 January

Video: Art Class At The Mansion: Keeping The Creative Spark Alive

by Jon Katz

Maria came to the Mansion with me Friday, she is going to be teaching a monthly art class. I’m planning to start my one on one reading class, seeking to revive minds, memory and reading.

Come inside this class yesterday, and watch as we seek to keep the creative spark alive in beautiful people struggling to keep their memories and imagination vibrant and alive. Come and see from the inside for a bit.

13 October

Imagination: The Creative Spark, The Holy Spirit

by Jon Katz

The Kabbalah says that the fierce power of imagination is believed to be a gift from God. Joined with the grandeur of the mind, fueled by the creative spark, the potency of ethical depth, and the natural sense of the divine, imagination thus becomes an instrument of the holy spirit.

(The new Bedlam Farm photos-for-sale gallery is now up on the blog. The photos there (including this one) are for sale.)

6 March

New Project: Helping The Refugee Children In Need: Lighting The Creative Spark.

by Jon Katz
Helping The Refugee Children (Above. Rachel Barlow’s son Ethan)

Rachel Barlow, an illustrator, author and painter, has launched a desperately needed and wonderful project for the refugee children called draw.paint.create.  It is designed to help children who have recently come to America and are struggling to deal with enormous cultural and practical challenges.

She is seeking to raise $900 to get these creativity kids into the hands of refugee trauma victims.

These are the children in the greatest need.

They have lost almost everything in their lives, have few friends. In many cases – there are language, money, transportation, trauma,  and other barriers to a normal life – these children have lost their culture and means of natural expression.

Barlow, a well-known Vermont artist and writer,  has designed art kids for children who are sometimes housebound, sometimes in foster care, have yet to acclimate to their new world, or are recovering from trauma.

So many are.

Recently, I met a young girl from Syria who is eight years old. She has been in America for a few months, thanks mostly to the U.N. Refugee program. Her father was killed in a bombing raid, her mother was burned to death in a religious execution.

She and other children like her are in dire need, they are here legally, they pose no threat of any kind to Americans or their families.

This girl speaks little English, has no friends of yet, and her foster parents are afraid to let her go out of the house alone, they are frightened by the new politics of immigration, and the sense that they are not wanted here. They hear of attacks on immigrants all over the country, and fear they have stumbled into yet another nightmare. I would say to them that that what our country is about.

This girl’s foster parents are terrified they may not be able to stay here themselves, and they have no idea what her fate would be if they come to harm.

This young girl draws all the time, but has no real artistic tools, and the kits Rachel are assembling  will give her the tools she needs to draw, sketch and paint – brushes, paper, pencils and markers,  ideas. She and her foster parents are afraid to have her photographed.

Rachel wants to get 60 of these tools into the hands of children who have recently arrived in America. She has already made a dozen or so of these kits, she is seeking the $900 to make all 60.

It is hard for me to imagine a better cause, many of us have been contributing to the Refugee Gift Page set up by the U.S. Committee on Refugees And Immigration, this work is targeted very precisely on some of the new Americans with the greatest need. These children have suffered greatly, are in a strange and sometimes hostile environment, and spent much of their time alone or inside.

There is considerable evidence that creative expression is a powerful healing element in trauma care. Creative work is more than entertainnent, it is a way for these children to build their confidence, improve cognitive development, communicate with their peers, and occupy their time in a meaningful and productive way. These are not kids who have grown up glued to screens and Facebook.

I am aware that this community is not wealthy, nor am I, it is sometimes difficult to know what to give to or what to do.

My belief is that rather than arguing,  I wish to do good every day in one way or another. Sometimes it involves money, sometimes support and listening and compassion. A friend of mine keeps asking me what I will do down the road when things get to a turning point.

I told him I am not concerned with what I might do down the road, but with what I am doing right now.

These children are at the epicenter of human identity for me, if we cannot help innocent and suffering children, then our hearts have turned to stone and we have lost our sense of humanity. This for me is about the celebration of a noble spirit, our own individual ideas of social justice, our highest human potential.

It is not about what politicians say or do, or what the left or the right says or does. It is about what I say and do and feel. Moral choice is about individuality, not the group or the mob. I have to respect the face I see in the mirror every morning.

I wish to help these children right now. I want them to know they are loved and cared for.

In my own life, I have seen the power of the creative spark to liberate and transform people. In the Kabbalah, God says the only thing human beings ought fear is to fail to light the creative spark within them. Here, we can help children to light it for themselves. You can donate any amount you wish to the draw.paint.create program designed by an artist who knows whereof she speaks, creative work has lifted her out of trauma, abuse and depression. You can use Paypal or major credit cards.  $5 is as good as $100.

This week, I am going to do all I can to try to get Rachel the money she needs to complete this very great work.

She is in touch with refugee volunteer workers in New York State, they will make sure these kits get into the right hands. I thank her for doing this, I thank you for listening.

Bedlam Farm