Lee’s Voice: Out On a Limb

Hello Beauty,

Do you call yourself an artist? Would you dare? The public nature of art, especially visual art, mixed with the critical nature of our society makes this question a bit risky to answer.

Today’s guest author is Lee Nelson, a former public school principal and the current chair of her church’s Faith Through the Arts ministry. She has a lovely way of describing a courageous night of discovery and, of course, art.

Out On a Limb
by Lee Nelson

What does it mean to go out onto a limb? The vision of climbing a sturdy tree, crawling out on a flimsy limb and falling to the ground in a heap of broken bones comes easily to mind, doesn’t it?

Certainly the phrase suggests an element of risk, with little hope of a good end, when we apply it to life choices. That new hair color, a long shot investment, on-line dating or choosing an alternative cancer treatment all represent a range of life choices with uncertain outcomes.

Why would we ever go out on a limb? Well, the haircut could be really attractive. The investment might yield amazing returns. The love of our life might be revealed. A cancer could be cured. In short, the risk might be worth it after all.

I had an opportunity to engage in risky group behavior a few weeks ago. No, not mountain climbing, travel to the Arctic on a dog sled, or Dancing With the Stars, this time. Our Tree of Life Painting Night at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Glendale, Arizona, brought out forty-five brave souls to create a Tree of Life painting to display for the Easter season at church.

Many never painted anything and most said they had not done any artwork since school where they felt they had not demonstrated any talent or certainly been encouraged to go out on any artistic limb.

This was clearly slightly chancy for most people, yet they wanted to come and did; perhaps because of the promised evening with good company, hors d’oeuvres and wine. Here was an example of modest risk that adults too often reject.

Our self-talk about not wanting to look foolish or feeling incompetent can make us hesitate, then shy away from new experiences, never knowing what might have happened, often feeling vaguely dissatisfied—but oh so safe. I think people are drawn to the idea of creating a very personal representation of their lives. Was doing that more powerful than the possible negatives of taking this risk?

The resulting Tree of Life display is truly spectacular, full of color, texture, energy, joy, spirituality, power, creative “treeness†and more. Yes, there is so much more to the exhibit than can be seen. You had to be there that evening to feel it. How rare it is to be part of such a large group in flow, or a state of complete immersion in an activity for its own sake.

Within fifteen minutes of starting, the room, which had been set up like an art studio, became quiet with occasional soft conversations or expressions of pleasure or admiration. There was a satisfying intensity as people sketched, mixed colors, selected tools and asked questions of our roving artists, who turned back artistic decisions after providing technical help.

Getting started seemed stress-free once color was on the canvas and everyone seemed to climb out on their personal creative limb to fashion their Tree of Life with paints, brushes, sponges, and markers. People came out of their flow gently and were shocked that the time had passed so quickly. The collective products of our risky behavior astonished us. Talk turned quickly to when we would organize another art studio evening.

Opportunities to engage our creative selves just for the pure joy of it are regrettably rare for most of us; yet there is art in all of us. Think about it. That scarf you choose to make the black dress pop. The flowers you put on the table. That accent wall you painted in the living room. The swirls you did on the frosting. The photo of your mother and father on their wedding day you have on your bureau.

Look around. You will see that you do crave things that please your eye, make you smile, evoke deep thoughts, or speak to you in a distinctive way. The art in our collective life does not have to be a painting. Let’s make art by being open to beauty.

We are already planning another evening of painting at St. John’s. Join us. Come out on the limb with us.


Lee’s story reminds us of the joy we receive when we allow ourselves to create without judgment. Professional football player and coach Chuck Long once told me, “Trust yourself, test yourself.†We build confidence by putting aside the self-imposed boundaries of what is “good†or “safe†for us to do.

We are truly free when we pursue activities for the fun of it! As Lee points out, once we find satisfaction from taking one small risk, we look around and wonder, “What’s next?â€

So, what’s next for you?

May your self-trust build confidence,

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