Many of us self-proclaimed "artists" and creative types often profess a common creed. EVERYONE'S AN ARTIST, we say—to strangers, to friends, to unknown readers on the internet. Despite the disbelief we're bound to face, we proclaim what we've found to be true: our identity as creators is not determined by WHAT we create, only by the fact that we DO create—being alive is inherently creative.
It's as if self-proclaimed artists are not necessarily set apart because of skill or experience or expertise. We're set apart by our willingness to name what feels quite universal and particularly human. If we create, then surely you do too.
Our wholeheARTed guest this week, Rev. Nicole Farley, first discovered her creative identity not because of WHAT she was creating, but simply because she WAS creating, turning thoughts into things as much as possible. And now, we're catching Nicole at a pivotal moment in her journey as she is stepping away from 17 years in youth and parish ministry to pursue a new (and also lifelong) calling to guide communities in creating faith-filled, accessible, and collaborative art.
SA: When did you first consider yourself an artist or creative person?
NF: I always liked making things, coloring, drawing—anything we did in art class. I remember so fondly the dried apple heads and print making with foam meat trays and learning to draw bare trees for Halloween. And my favorite schoolwork was book reports and diorama assignments, which offered a great range of freedom to imagine and make. I didn't really think of myself as more or less creative than anyone else—I mean, who didn't love coloring in their Holly Hobbie coloring books? I first realized, though, that not everyone turned thoughts into things when I overheard my mom commenting on a lobster I had made out of some foam, markers, and thread. Now, well into my forties, I recently understood that visual thinking is simply a part of how I process. So I guess that makes me what others might consider "creative."
SA: Tell us about the art you create or how you express yourself creatively.
NF: My style is less fine art and more art class. For me, that means I like making mobiles, small oil paintings, decoupage-style projects, sewn items, and a variety of re-purposed pieces.
SA: What is your creative process like?
NF: Because what I've been doing lately is working with congregations to help them make art together, my process has been to listen to the theme or idea the planner has, as well as what I'm told about the congregation's style and interests, along with studying any scripture being tied to the project on which we'll be working. It means that projects are radically different from one congregation to another, with a series of eight banners for one, leading us on a journey to Bethlehem/Jerusalem (to be used for Advent and Lent), to a long, paper "table" set with "dishes" for another, to over-sized "dream catchers" for another. For all of them, a word jumped out in conversation and then took form in an image.
SA: What does fear look like for you and how does it show up in your creative process?
NF: Fear is most palpable when I let myself worry that I won't be able to execute someone else's vision to their liking. I try very hard to quiet that voice when it starts to pipe up, especially because this arts ministry has come out of what sounds loudly like a calling.
SA: How do you push beyond fear and self-doubt when they emerge during the creative process?
NF: In the very beginning, when I felt funny about "promoting" this ministry, a good friend gently admonished me, telling me what I'm really doing is letting people know I have these gifts God wants me to share. For me there will always be a fear of disappointing others, but I try to focus on listening for God, and particularly the Spirit, when I'm working with someone. So far, and not surprisingly, that has worked well.
SA: How is your creativity connected to your faith?
NF: When I was a kid, particularly growing up in the Catholic parish where I did, gifts from God weren't really emphasized, especially not in ways that would name creativity as a gift from God. As my own theology has grown and changed with my shift into the Presbyterian Church, and then more with my shift into seminary and then ministry, I came to see what I bring—the full complement of abilities, interests, and passions—as gifts from God which are meant to be paired with the gifts of others for their best use. We are meant to be in community as Church for many reasons including this one of combining our gifts.
SA: How does creativity/art lead you to wholeness?
NF: Beginning my arts ministry has brought a wholeness, an integration of my faith and my gifts, that I hadn't before realized I was lacking. Now that I bring my faith to my art and my art to my faith, it's as if something "clicked."
Rev. Nicole Farley is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She most recently served a congregation in Waukesha, WI, and now serves as the founder and pastoral artist with A New Creation, an arts ministry which brings communities into the creation of worshipful art together. She and her husband live in Gurnee, IL, and together they have an adult son named Jim and a greyhound named Buddy. Besides art and lived theology, she'll gladly have a conversation about books, podcasts, music, and movies.