The Inspired Heart* is artist Jerry Wennstrom’s episodic memoir, beginning shortly before his infamous destruction of his artworks and tracking his spiritual journey to a point where his creativity reconnected with the creative source.
Wennstrom explores the individuals who moved in and out of his life and contributed in their various ways to his profound spiritual experience. He analyses even the most mundane – approaching everything from a point of grace and openness.
In the 1970s Jerry Wennstrom was a prolific artist making a name for himself in New York. When Jerry eventually admitted to himself that he’d chosen a career in art because it was the part of a lost relationship that he loved the most, the realisation marked a shift in his thinking.
A number of synchronistic events followed: an aging artist losing his eyesight, a mystical encounter with a wise woman who had asked her god for clarification when her career path suddenly shifted, finding a frame with the canvas cut out of it. Jerry began to realise that he needed to let go of his paintings in order to end the external influences on his soul, and free himself to seek his true internal and spiritual experience. After a month of soul-searching he destroyed his art and gave away his possessions.
At the time a documentary about Jerry’s art was close to being wrapped up. The end of film tied in with the destruction of his work and he was interviewed about his decision. By the time the documentary was screened, Jerry didn’t intend to view it, but serendipitously ended up attending with a Jewish friend and a Middle Eastern lawn ornament seller. He says the screening of the documentary was to be the most powerful night of his life, as he came to understand that destroying his artwork had converted it into an “empowering life force” that would begin to impact the world more radically than it could have done intact.
Wennstrom believes that art is a form of reverence for the source. His early work was reckless – produced one after another like a production line, without stopping to listen to what it was the piece was trying to draw out of him before moving on to the next. As deep as those pieces may have been, Jerry was only connecting with them superficially.
For the most part Wennstrom reserves judgement and analysis of both his own and other people’s actions and life journeys, and doesn’t attempt to solve the world’s problems by suggesting an alternative way of existing. Instead he illustrates one person’s peculiar and profound experience, with the hope that others can draw inspiration and understanding of their relationships with others and the world.
Jerry’s straightforward, pleasant writing style and the short, episodic format of The Inspired Heart make this an easy read despite the unusual and sometimes intense subject matter. I found it energising and I highly recommend this fascinating book.
Jerry Wennstrom’s Creative Journey
The Inspired Heart describes Jerry’s journey of transformation after his soul-searching decision to destroy his early artwork, give away his possessions, and discover his true spiritual identity.
Even before this defining moment in Jerry’s life, he began approaching his existence with grace and openness. He describes an experience with a group of youths who invited themselves into his home. Jerry’s trust and openness with them caught them off guard, but their lives were changed when he showed them his paintings – symbolically a glimpse into an existence beyond the ghetto – and turned a possibly bad situation into a powerful force for good.
After giving up his material life, Wennstrom took a creative approach to interacting with the people who moved through his life – alternatively keeping a distant silence until moved to say something, or becoming extremely involved in providing psychic nourishment. He offered himself frequently as a channel through which other people could draw what they needed to heal themselves at that moment.
After a number of years Jerry eventually began to create transient art, usually produced for somebody who needed it on the spur of the moment. “My artwork was accumulating in the world,” Jerry says, “yet it was invisible as a whole. It could only be experienced at the location where I created it, often for only a short period of time. Some of what I created was not meant to last forever and would deteriorate. Like living beings, my works of art were born, lived their lives, and died.”1
In his memoir, Jerry tells three specific stories (Marilyn’s dream, Erika’s lightning bolt, and Lucy’s face) of creating an artwork while counselling and being present for a friend in need, finding that his artwork symbolically pre-mirrored what was going on in the person’s life, inadvertently pointing the way to healing.
Grounded by his developing relationship with his wife, Marilyn, Jerry continued to integrate some of the missing links in his creativity, especially that of honouring his talent for mechanics and engineering passed down from his grandfather.
|Monks at the stupa|
Jerry describes some of his mechanised sculptures in detail in The Inspired Heart, and the synchronicity with which the components were found and lives touched. For the time being, Jerry’s story concludes with his ambitious construction of a flaming stupa meditation tower which was completed in time to be blessed by visiting Tibetan monks.
The structure of the book reflects how he moved from defining himself through his art, to defining himself through his relation to other people, to evolving into spiritual awareness. Like all things spiritually guided this process is timeless and achronological.
1 Page 125: The Inspired Heart by Jerry Wennstrom, published by Sentient Publications 2002
Photographs copyright Jerry Wennstrom, used with permission
Review copyright © Elsa Neal 2006
* This book was sent to me by the author for review purposes.
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