The real Creeping Charlie

Over the weekend, I spent about an hour stooped over flower beds, crouching into my garden, and kneeling next to fence rows pulling weeds. The recent mix of rain, sun, and heat has been the perfect combination for my zucchini and eggplant. But it’s also been perfect for the weeds.

Especially the Creeping Charlie, which is what I labored over mostly that day.

Five years ago if you had said the words “Creeping Charlie” to me, I might have thought you were talking about an Indie Punk band. My dad is the one who first introduced me to the phrase. We started talking about it during one of our many gardening/yard work conversations, which probably went something like this.

“What did you do today?” I probably asked.

“Oh, I spent most of the day weeding the garden. I can’t keep up with the Creeping Charlie,” he probably replied.

“Creeping Charlie . . . what’s that? I think I have some of that growing around my patio,” I said, curious.

“Oh, I call all of those little viney weeds Creeping Charlie,” he informed me. And from that day, so do I.

It doesn’t matter if what I’m really grabbing is overzealous crabgrass that’s gone a little viney, wild purslane, or prostrate knotweed, if it’s winding its way through my garden or flower bed, I think of it as Creeping Charlie.

Wild Purslane that I “thought” was Creeping Charlie

This generous definition of weeds was on my mind over the weekend for another reason, too. I was planning a gathering of artistically minded friends a few days later, and one of the questions I was planning to ask was, “How do you define art?” Would I be able to apply such a generous definition to the world of creativity as I did in the world of gardening?

Calling an entire compendium of plants by one name may seem a little reductionistic or simplistic. For instance, if I had carefully identified each weed, I might be able to more successfully eradicate them. Also, I could never really explain these weeds to others with such a broad definition, just like I never really knew what my dad had been pulling that day. And I could never be a horticulturalist and get away with a definition like that.

But the eventual art conversation we did have proved that the “Creeping Charlie” approach to defining art is not just more civil, it might be more Christian.

Though there were a few professionals among us, most of us are trying to live an artistic life that includes a full-time job doing something else. So we worked through how to do other things “artistically.” From color coordinating our closets to creating fusion dishes in the kitchen, the group gradually opened to a “Creeping Charlie” definition of “artistic.”

Then, we stumbled around a more “traditional” definition of art and all shared a medium we regularly engage in: from singing to writing to quilting to painting. The group graciously made room for all the Creeping Charlies to join the conversation.

When it came down to imaging how our faith informed our art, however, the definition grew even larger. We discussed truth and beauty, creation and redemption. And then we started talking about humility.

Though my definition of art had never really included humility before, I thought about the Creeping Charlie and just kept taking notes. Several people around the circle spoke about artists they knew, maybe even better artists than them, who had given them room and opportunity to grow. Others talked about teaching children or encouraging coworkers in their art. We talked about collaboration and shared projects.

Then, my aunt Barb zeroed in on the biggest Creeping-Charlie-approach to art of all.

“My goal is to have a critical eye, not a critical spirit,” she said. And we all knew that surely this was at the heart of what it means to be an artist who loves Jesus.

We don’t have to call everything that hangs on a wall or is performed on Broadway “art.” We can be discerning and careful; we can study and analyze. We can even come to different conclusions.

But we can never forget our humble Creator who artfully designed all of the people of the whole world, and then brought them together under the big tent of the cross.

A big tent with Creeping Charlie growing around the edges, that is.

Would you like to join the conversation? Here were some questions we began asking . . .

1.) How do you define art? What role does faith play in your definition, practice, or appreciation of art? How has your definition changed over time?
2.) What are some ways that you currently incorporate art into your daily life? Daily, weekly, monthly?
3.) What are some ideas you have for incorporating more art and creativity into your life? Do you have any interest in collaboration, co-creating, or working in a shared space?

Other parts of our discussion began with some thoughts from Makoto Fujimura’s book, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture.

Look for more posts about art and our conversation over the next few weeks, along with suggestions for how YOU can join the conversation.