• Kathleen Cassen Mickelson

Artist’s Way Check In #11 – The Artist’s Altar

Last week, I talked about touchstones that gave me a little jolt of happy. I thought about those touchstones again this week when I revisited the idea of making an artist’s altar. As I look around my office, I wonder if the toys around my desk or the things I consider touchstones are really one giant artist’s altar.

The idea of an artist’s altar is a combination of the spiritual and the sensual or tactile, and is part of the broader idea of ritual. Julia Cameron writes about small, personal rituals as being good for the artist’s soul. I agree. The need for ritual really hit me today as I was getting ready to write this post.

The past week was a challenging one. The challenges were both time-related and emotional. It was spring break for my daughter, so I was very much in how-can-I-make-this-all-work mode. My daily schedule changed shape all week long, which always reminds me that flexibility pays off. I don’t want to miss spending time with my daughter while she still lives at home and still welcomes spending time with me. The result of that philosophy meant I went on a few spur-of-the-moment shopping trips, did some extra driving and had a little fun. It also meant I got a little behind work-wise, but with the knowledge that I’ll catch up this week. That’s the time piece.

The emotional piece came from a trip to visit my father-in-law at the end of the week. He is 87 and faces some recent challenges being able to do things for himself. He lives 300 miles away from us, so we don’t get to visit as often as we’d like. Seeing him less often means we see changes in him more starkly than those in the family who live near him. Our visits are packed with images that linger and worry us. Having been through this already with my own father, memories get stirred up that I’d rather leave buried and this affects how I work.

By last night, I was ready to run away. My solution was to cook. That always seems to work when things feel off or too pressing. This morning, as I went to write my morning pages, the house was quiet. The dogs aren’t even here because I haven’t picked them up from the kennel yet. It’s unseasonably warm, so I have the windows open and can hear the birds, who are quite noisy right now. It hit me as I wrote that I have been pretty specific about rituals: cooking, morning pages, certain music, candles at times, hiking. Those rituals soothe me. The rituals aren’t strictly planned; they just happen when I need them. An altar to go with that as a place where a few touchstones sit until they’re needed is appealing.

What would my artist’s altar look like if I tried to define it more formally than the scattering of things in my office? I think it would be less cluttered, for starters. Maybe a space in the corner that only holds a few things and does not contain piles of papers or books. One sacred image such as my stone Buddha, one stone that I’ve picked up near Lake Superior, one candle in a scent I love, one item yet-to-be-determined in a color I love, and maybe a small wind chime or a bell. The altar would change seasonally, I think.

In fact, I’m going to work on that altar today, while I’m thinking about rituals that soothe me.

What would your artist’s altar look like?

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