Create or Destroy?

Watch me paint this angel in 2 minutes (time lapse)

A tribute to the Turning Angel monument, built over the graves of five children killed in a factory explosion in the early 1900’s: She was recently vandalized, toppled, and had a broken wing. She is made whole here. This was my first time painting in only black and white, with no color at all. When I first heard about this statue being toppled and damaged, something about it tugged at my heart. When I found out that it was a memorial over the graves of five children, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I looked up the statue to see what it looked like… and decided to paint it. I understand how that feels… to create something to honor the deaths of people, and to have someone destroy it in a hateful action. That beautiful angel statue, installed as a memorial for children who died so tragically young- toppled to the ground with a broken wing…"
- from book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by my Christian Faith" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

I know what it’s like to have my art destroyed, and I know what it’s like to be broken as a person. Because we share bits of ourselves when we create, when our creations are destroyed by hateful actions, all of the broken bits of our spirit are remembered and past brokenness is felt anew.

When “activists” (terrorists) listed me for ruination, threats, harassment, and more- committing libel against me and other crimes- they also hacked into my website and deleted my artwork. They uploaded a snarky devil cartoon in place of my blog about my dead parents, deleting this video that I painted in their memory:

My son helped me recover all of the files that they deleted. The original painting was safe. But the violation of my rights and privacy was deeply felt. They had seen my personal files that were stored in the non-public areas of my site, including pictures of my family, my children. They knew where I lived.

This is the complete handcrafted, handpainted nativity set that my parents made. It is the only thing I have left that is in this picture. Everything else- all of it- including the furniture, candles, decorations, and tree are all gone. We kept only a few of the small ornaments from the tree and the nativity set. Everything else was sold… including this house that we’d built after many years of working hard to earn it.

I’ve blogged bits and pieces about our journey of starting over, but that’s not the focus of this post. What I’m trying to share is that my heartfelt post about that nativity set and my painting video of it, held many layers of profound emotion. It represented a bittersweet letting go of painful loss, while honoring who I lost, and the life I lost.

When I chose to share such an intimate part of my spirit, it was my intellectual property alone. Deleting it was theft. When the devil cartoon was inserted in its place, it was a hate crime against not only my faith, but also a desecration of my parents. They have no grave to visit, as both chose to be cremated. I honored them with my public words and art. Terrorists destroyed my memorial.

So, when I heard about the “Turning Angel” memorial being destroyed, it touched my heart. I can only imagine the pain of those parents who lost their child that day. It happened long ago, and it’s unknown (to me) if any of the remaining families still feel that grief to this day. But even if no one from the current generation was deeply effected by the attack on the memorial, I believe that the energy of hate and destruction has an impact on humanity as a whole.

As humans, do we create or destroy?

Do we build each other up or tear each other down?

Do we say a kind word, or give a backhanded compliment?

Do we favor sarcasm and dry humor more often than whimsy and silliness? In other words, does “humor” become an excuse for mean-spirited interactions and exchanges that create pessimism?

Do we choose dark over light, or light over dark?

We don’t have to literally destroy an angel, breaking her wings as she topples to the ground. We don’t have to delete baby Jesus and a poignant story about dead parents. No, often when we destroy what others create the method is much more subtle. We don’t even always see evidence of it. There are no broken wings or snarky devil cartoons to show what we’ve done.

When someone creates a joyful spirit that fills the space of the room, and we destroy it with one unkind word, we destroy what others have created. We can do this without saying a word as well. All it takes is giving someone the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, or displaying a rude expression on our faces. In one second, the spiritual wings break.

The thought I kept going back to is that the person(s) who deleted my blog posts and my art had seen the story of why I painted that nativity set. Perhaps they didn’t read it carefully, but surely parts of it would have reached their minds. Why choose a devil cartoon? I truly can’t imagine seeing the grieved heart of a fellow human and choosing to delete their private pain that they’d decided to publicly share. It took several steps to hack into my site and do this, and they did it over the course of two days, with multiple messages left for me. The point is, they had time to reconsider their actions, yet still chose to hurt me in this way. It wasn’t a spontaneous action, but one that was done with full intention.

My guess is that these were young people who would have been too cowardly to confront me to my face, but perhaps not. It’s a dark soul who shows no empathy for another, who places one’s own agenda ahead of the grief of a fellow human being. It is this sociopath tendency that is quite chilling. To various degrees, we all have the capacity to destroy without empathy. How far would we go to destroy someone?

I believe that when we create, we aid in the redemption of the human spirit. We counter the heart of man that is capable of wickedness, by sharing something of ourselves. Creation is more powerful than destruction. While one unkind word is felt more deeply than a chorus of praise, in the end good always wins. The solution to destruction is creation. The solution to hate is never more hate. That’s not what justice is.

We live in an unfair world. Life is unkind. That’s how it has been since the beginning of time, and how it will always be. There’s good and bad; joy and pain, and sometimes we cause these hardships ourselves by oppressing each other or by allowing others to grow powerful enough to become an entity that oppresses us all. 

We don’t set the wrongs right by hurting each other. We set them right by pioneering new ways to make the world a better place, and standing strong in the truth. Justice is about holding people accountable who are directly responsible for committing crimes. It’s not about acts of terrorism to coerce change through hurting innocent people. It is not about changing the definition of “innocent” until it excuses targeting people who have legally committed no crimes. Somewhere along the way, society decided that terrorism is OK and hate is OK, if we agree with the cause. Once we allow mobs to decide what the law means, we have no protection from destruction of ideas, property, and lives.

Terrorism is never legal, even if the cause is (supposedly) just. Terrorism is always criminal. People innocent of a criminal act are always legally innocent, and cannot legally be judged guilty for wrong thoughts, wrong associations, wrong beliefs, or having been born in the wrong type of body. A society that sanctions lawlessness destroys itself, as there is no protection for anyone- especially the vulnerable who are then twice victimized.

I was afraid for a while. I feared that they’d come after me again at any moment. But I’ve discovered that I’m not only a survivor of life’s hardships, but a fighter. I put my painting of baby Jesus back on my site, and I continued to paint more art featuring Jesus.

When we live unafraid, we don’t give in to terrorists. We continue to share organically, without self-censorship. We openly express love through the generosity of our creations. Stay strong. Humanity needs each and every one of you. Create loving words. Be that light in the darkness. The difference you make is incalculable. Don’t let hate intimidate you. Love is always stronger than hate- always.

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Peace or Hate?

Why do people destroy what others create? First the painting, then the inspiration behind it and an update. Do you choose peace or hate?

Watch me paint this angel and dove in 2 minutes (time lapse)

"Bonaventure Cemetery was made famous when one of its sculptures, a statue known as 'Bird Girl', was featured as a book cover and in the movie 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'. The statue was such an attraction that it needed to be removed to preserve it from the many hands of tourists, and damage from vandals as well. It was relocated to the art museum (Telfair Museums’ Telfair Academy), where I was able to view it. Angel statues in the historic Savannah cemeteries inspired me to paint an angel in a similar pose and style to the stone sculptures. My angel is in full color with a fantasy landscape as if giving life to what was cold and dead. As fall represents death yet contradicts itself in color, forecasting an impending stillness yet change, visiting the memorials felt much like the changing of seasons. There was peace and beauty yet bittersweet, as endings and loss permeate the grounds."

- from the book "50 Oil Paintings Inspired by Savannah, Georgia" by artist Natalie Buske Thomas

Update to the above story…

When I wrote that description and gave mention to the angel statue needing to be moved so that it would not be destroyed by vandals, I had no way of knowing that I too would need to move my angel (from virtual- but nonetheless real- spaces) to protect her from being destroyed. Worse, I needed to move her to protect myself from being destroyed, attacked and “cancelled”. For what was meant to be a gift of peace to anyone and everyone who wished to view my oil paintings, became a target for acts of hate.

Sometimes I am attacked as a person. Sometimes it’s over something I’ve written, posted, or shared. Other times, the attacks are over a specific work. In this case, a mob took issue with the race of my angel. I make no apologies for painting a classical style angel, nor for painting figures who resemble people in my family. I will never accept guilt for things I am not guilty of. However, since it was clear that this mob had no intention of ending their hate campaign, I disabled all comments and moved my art away from platforms that give these despicable people access to me and my work.

Just like the original statue that inspired me to paint an outdoor-nature-scene angel featuring a bird, I had to “move” my angel to protect her from being destroyed. Why do people destroy things that others create? Why do they want to hurt artists and others who share words, music, or art? These things do no harm to anyone, even if the content feels hostile or unwelcome. The answer to disagreement is to create counter arguments, not destroy what others create.

I’ve many experiences with hate, and some of those involve legal crimes committed against me. For this and many other reasons I’m no longer active on social media. Because I removed myself from that world, my work is seen by only a few (for now; I expect that to change). As a blacklisted person I was censored on all major tech platforms anyway, and I’ve had to learn how to navigate these digital means of communication around the many blockades set before me. At this point, I have let go of these concerns. Whoever is meant to see my art will see it. It is more important that I refuse to let people destroy me.

For whatever we intend for peace, we must protect from those who wish to destroy it (us). It’s not enough to create and then cower as passive victims. Never let hyenas surround and attack you until you are destroyed. Be the lion who walks away from them all, with nothing but a few tears to his mane. We are at spiritual war with those who want to control expression; with those who have installed themselves as arbiters of what is acceptable, what is good, and what is evil. 

When we know the intentions of our hearts and we are not guilty, we must not act as if we are. When unjustly attacked, do not argue your case. Move your spirit and your work to a protected space. We validate the mob when we defend ourselves, as we validate that there is an argument to refute. Lies, smears, character defamation and slander/libel are not valid arguments. Do not consent to hate.

I used the word “peace” in my blog title instead of love. Often, we hear the false dichotomy of “love or hate”. This idea that we have only two choices is not true. There are other options we can choose. It’s unrealistic to expect us to love each other, if using a definition of love that requires too much of ourselves. The type of love for one’s enemy is more like “peace”. 

We must not choose bitterness, resentment, and a vengeful nature, as it will consume us as our enemies desire. But we are not forced into an illogical fallacy of love or hate. We may choose peace.

I choose peace for my enemies. It’s a type of love that I can offer authentically. Peace releases me from the anger, resentment and despondency that I may otherwise feel if I cannot let go and forgive. Loss of hope and loss of courage are what the enemy wants. 

Depression of spirit can destroy creation. And that is what the true end game is! Enemies seek to destroy not only what has been created, but the creators themselves, and ultimately the act of creation.

It’s difficult to understand this type of pettiness, evil and desire to control others, and perhaps it’s too horrible of a reality for some to believe. Therefore people hold fast to the idea that such evil and thirst for control does not exist. But if one believes in love, one must acknowledge hate and a raw malice that has no respect for human life, not even the helpless and vulnerable, not even children and babies. 

We hope for peace when we know war. Never deny the dangers of this world, but always stand firm in courage. Even the smallest acts of standing our ground lead to big movements, in which peace wins over hate. Let no one stop you from creating what is in your heart.

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