There is a Shaker song called “Simple Gifts”, and I’d like to share it today.
’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
In keeping with its title, it is, itself, quite simple with only one verse. You’ve probably heard the tune many times before. It dates back to 1848, and while there are disagreements about its origin, it is generally attributed to Elder Joseph Brackett from the Alfred Shaker Village.
It is, incidentally, considered a “dancing song”, and the last lines are said to be instructions for the dancers, who will — when the dance is correctly performed — “come ’round right” to where they first began.
I don’t know about the dancing, but I’ve long loved the simple melody. It has inspired many singers and composers. Perhaps the best-known reiteration of “Simple Gifts” comes from Aaron Copland and Appalachian Spring.
Art can be a “simple gift” — not only something we give to others, but also something we can give to ourselves. Art can touch us at many different levels, and art — even in the simplest forms — can be a means of personal expression.
A few months ago I began art journaling, and I’ve had a lot of mixed emotions about the process. I’ve learned a few things. I’ve tried a few new things. I’ve used my journal for a bit of reflection, and I’ve used it, too, as an opportunity to explore different ways of creating art.
Even though it’s now November, I still had two unfinished pages in my October journal. I opened the book, looked at those pages, and I felt a lot of emotions. I’ve learned over the last few months that an art journal page doesn’t have to be multi-layered and multi-faceted. While many journal artists do create elaborate pages that bring together many different colors, techniques, and materials, it’s fine to make pages that are simple.
As I looked at my unfinished pages, I felt a lot of emotions. I didn’t think about what I wanted. Instead I just responded intuitively. I grabbed my gansai set and began painting my feelings in colors. I then added the misty trees. I liked it. I smiled and walked away.
There are contradictions in this little watercolor, I suppose. I’ve used soft, almost spring-like colors, yet I’ve combined the gentle thoughts of spring with the harshness of stark, bare limbs. I’ve called it “Winter is Coming”, and sure enough, we’ve had one snowfall already. Many more will come. I don’t look forward to cold weather. I don’t like winter.
But winter is an important season. It helps us clear away the old clutter and undergrowth. It gives us a time to step back and reflect on who we are. Winter prepares us for the spring that will come.
I’m pleased that I can give myself this simple gift, happy that I can pick up a brush, play with a few colors, and come away with something that expresses — for me, at least — the moods and emotions I’m experiencing.
Life gets complicated. We get tangled up in so many different ways. Especially now. We’ve all been affected by the pandemic; many of us have been affected, too, by politics. Sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever be able to go back to “normal life” — whatever that may be.
So, I needed this simple gift. Maybe it doesn’t look like much to anyone else, but painting this brought me a sense of peace, a feeling of calmness, and a belief that I can trust the world to keep turning as it should. Winter is coming, but it will be followed by spring, and if we listen closely, we, too, can turn, and turn, and in time, “come ‘right around” to where we’re meant to be.