The Nantucket Project

It has been a couple of months since I last posted here as I am in the process of transitioning my websites but I thought I’d go ahead and share a somewhat time-sensitive update. Late last month my wife, Linda, and I volunteered at The Nantucket Project (TNP), the fourth annual thinkfest held on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, where regular readers will remember we lived for several months during our sabbatical of a couple years ago.

As it turned out, we were already set to visit the island for a vacation through the good graces of friends who invited us to housesit their place while they were off-island. It was only after booking our flights that I realized the good timing of our visit coinciding with TNP. I applied for a fellowship since attending the event cost about $4,000 but did not get one; however, I was invited to volunteer and quickly signed up Linda also.

The theme of the conference explored the intersection of art and commerce and its resulting values. In addition to some cool, free shirts (pictured above), we also got to attend several of the sessions, including a surprise visit from Secretary of State John Kerry (who has a home on-island), and a surreal appearance by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange via hologram in real time from his asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

I also got to meet some very interesting people, including influential tech columnist Walt Mossberg (formerly of the Wall Street Journal), documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (who interviewed Assange live), founder of the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences Richard Saul Wurman, copyright activist (and a founding board member of Creative Commons) Larry Lessig, and several others. Linda helped with event registration, I assisted with video production and we both had fun.

The Being of Art

Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I visited the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, the largest restored Shaker community in America. For the uninitiated, Shakers are a Christian sect who broke from the Quaker tradition and became known for their vibrant dancing during worship. They are largely known for their utopian living arrangements and for their fine workmanship, namely furniture and specifically chairs.

Aside from the peaceful vibe of the community derived from their simple approach to life, what stood out to me most about the Shakers was their attention not simply to the art of being but also the being of art. The late monk and writer Thomas Merton, who happened to live not very far from the Shaker Village in Kentucky, wrote an insightful book about the community called Seeking Paradise: The Spirit of the Shakers.

With reference to the Shakers’ work ethic he wrote: “In no case was work to be done in a hurry or under pressure, or indeed under any form of spiritual compulsion. The competitive spirit was banned because of its occult relationship with lust and violence. Overworking was frowned upon…They strove in all things for truth, and made a point of simply being themselves.”

And Merton described the Shakers’ creative process this way: “You are concerned enough about this thing that you are making that this has got to be. Here is something that God is calling into being through you, and if you pay attention and you take care...there is going to be a new being in the world which has come into the world through your care and through your love of this being.”

He summarized the Shakers’ artistry also: “‘Labor until you bring your spirits to feel satisfied.’ What do they mean by that? Art. Any way of learning how to do the thing right is art. It doesn’t have to be a picture or a sculpture or something like that. Art is the right reason for making a thing. So whether it is cooking or whether it is making shoes or sewing a garment or something like that, it is art.” So create art until your heart is content.

The Heart of Art

As part of our celebration of my 50th birthday the other day my wife and I visited the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Frist Center in Nashville and loved it. According to the exhibit, Rockwell was hailed as a “contemporary Currier and Ives” and “Dickens with a paintbrush” and was heralded for the realism and idealism of his portrayals of simple, small town life in America.

One of my favorite Rockwell paintings, which was not part of the exhibit but hangs at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, is the painting of his adopted hometown at Christmastime, which is pictured above. It speaks to me of the beauty of New England, the Christmas holiday, and small town living in general. Rockwell’s ability to capture the essence of any setting was unparalleled, but home even more so.

Rockwell was a master of his craft and as an artist he inspires me to create with heart the type of art that uplifts people and moves them toward their better selves. To me the artist’s legacy is so much more than the impressive quantity of his artwork; it is also the quality of the art he created with such attention to detail. Some may criticize Rockwell’s work as crass commercialism, but I think he preferred people to products and it showed in his portrayal of them.