Monday, August 24, 2009

Art Question: What Are the Benefits of a Weeklong Art Retreat?

I just returned from a weeklong trip to Mallard Island on Rainy Lake in Minnesota. Rainy Lake is on the Minnesota/Canada border near International Falls.

I was a co-caretaker of the island for the week while a group that calls themselves the St. Croix Writers Group held a workshop. The writer's group was very generous in allowing Beth, the other caretaker, and myself to participate in their evening gatherings and made us one of the group.

Why go on a weeklong art retreat? How does one benefit from this?

The people at Mallard Island this last week were a varied lot. Some were novice writers, some published, one soon to be published (very exciting), a magazine article writer, a photographer, a quilter and a few more things I am sure I am not aware of. Three or four of the participants buried themselves in their writing and we were lucky to see them at breakfast or lunch. Others took the opportunity to get away from their writing to play, interact with like minded people and enjoy the beauty of the islands.

No matter what activity the participants pursued or how engaged they were with their art, they all ended the week with such happiness and satisfaction. They all want to come back again next year. I, myself, although I had plenty of time, only drew for two hours, painted for about five hours and wrote for about six. An outsider might have considered my week a waste of time. They might have witnessed other participants spending too much time cooking, or fishing, or reading one of the many thousands of books on the island. Generally, we think of retreats as an opportunity to delve into our own creativity - an opportunity to be productive.

Some people come ready to produce. They have a project that needs their attention and they are ready to rock. They would rather do nothing else, despite the beautiful sunshine and cold blue water calling them. Others want to create, but something is in their way. I have noticed at Mallard, and at other workshops that I have led or participated in, how many people first turn to grief at a retreat. At workshops like this, I often ask people "what is beautiful in your life?" This leads to all kinds of conversations, but very often the grief we have not been able to process arises very quickly. Our lives are too hectic, too full of distractions to fully heal ourselves from our hurts and losses. When we take the time to have nothing on the schedule for a whole week, it is grief that most wants to be dealt with so we can get on to our happy and creative selves. If we are isolated and alone, the rising grief can become depression. When we are surrounded by beauty and people who care, we talk and we get a little goofy and we draw close to others. Like a metamorphosing dragonfly that squeezes the juices out of its body before it is ready for its first flight, I think we need to squeeze a drop or two of unfettered celebration and happiness with others before our grief is over. It is beautiful to see a person open up their spirit, to see sunshine after a long period of rain and clouds, to see a genuine deeply felt smile that hasn't been there for many months, maybe years.

There are many benefits to a weeklong art retreat. There is the opportunity of extended periods of time to immerse ourselves in our creativity and there is the opportunity to remove those barriers that are getting in the way of our creativity. And there is the wonderful opportunity of making new friends and spending time in a beautiful setting.

Many thanks to Beth Waterhouse and the Ernst C. Oberholtzer Foundation for allowing me to partake and add to the life at Mallard Island.

What's beautiful in your life?

1 comment:

  1. Mark, you are so true...I saw the grief in more than one...I went for the photography and writing (I wanted to do and didn't)...I found the answers to many questions I didn't even realise I had...the spiritual part for me, is the icing on the grow deeper in understanding is the gift I came away with...what's beautiful in my life...among many, many things and people, you are included. Miigwitch