As a lifelong artist, Maggie Nelson began to notice some similarities between her experience in Quaker worship and her approach in the studio.
I have this thing that I do when Iâ€™m in the studio, that I think I also should maybe say to myself in worship more often, that is: banishing judgment. I always think of it also with hands because I also draw hands a lot. Just like, â€œGet out. Go out the door, and Iâ€™ll tell you when you can come back in.â€
How Quakerism Influences My Artistic Process
My name is Maggie Nelson. I live in Portland, Maine. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I go to Portland Friends Meeting, and Iâ€™m an artist, and I also coordinate the young Friends program of New England Yearly Meeting.
I think the turning point that happened for me was when I started learning more about Quakerism. I had been making art my whole life, and I startedâ€”I was starting to realize that the way I amâ€¦ the way that Quakers talk about listening for some inner voice, or the voice of God, or the voice or the divineâ€”that actually feels a lot like something thatâ€™s really familiar, which is trying to figure out what to make.
A Focus on Listening
I had thought a lot about how do I set myself up so I can best listen. For me with art, that would look a lot like paring down any sort of elaborate process or materials or anything like that. I just wanted to be able to make marks or images and have there be very few barriers from head to paper or head to canvas or whatever I was working with. And I think about how thereâ€™s so many ways to worship. In Quaker worship thereâ€™s still a million variables but you have your body and your voice and thatâ€™s kind of it. And so we have these limits, but we can go to a million different places. Thatâ€™s helpful for me to set the boundaries and build this container that I think is really necessary. After that, itâ€™s like, okay, Iâ€™ve built the house, and now I just have to step back and let it be filled.
I feel like itâ€™s so common to see people trying to draw who maybe donâ€™t draw that often who are just like, â€œOh this is terrible.â€ And Iâ€™m like, â€œYouâ€™ve only drawn, like, two lines.â€ And theyâ€™re like, â€œWell itâ€™s terrible.â€
You can never know where youâ€™ll go if youâ€™re constantly assessing whatâ€™s given to you. If youâ€™re constantly sitting in worship and holding what you have in your hands and judging it, then where are you going from there? So I think that process of banishing judgment and seeing what comes out of that is the really spiritual process.
Being Comfortable With Not Knowing
It feels kind of like when youâ€™re in worship and thereâ€™s like a million messages. Only after the fact do I try to be like â€œthat person meant thatâ€ or â€œthis is how Iâ€™m going to relate to what this person said.â€ I think itâ€™s acknowledging that itâ€™s from God and not from you. It allows me to be like, â€œI donâ€™t know what it means.â€
â€¦which is my favorite thing to say about what Iâ€™m making and my favorite thing to hear when kids are making stuff. When Iâ€™m like, â€œHey, what are you making?â€ And theyâ€™re like, â€œI donâ€™t know.â€ And Iâ€™m like â€œGood.â€