The Art of Camp

Embrace the creative process. canstockphoto14915262

I’m not a great artist. In fact, I’m not even a good artist; at least not when it comes to the traditional forms of art such as; painting, sculpting, and the arts and crafts lanyard making. But I’ve read enough books on art to know a couple of things; great artists know that it’s about what you add AND what you take away that makes art great.

Removing clutter, excess, all the superfluous elements—and finding out in the process what’s been in there the whole time. That’s the true process of great art.

In Lust for Life , Irving Stone’s novel about the life of Van Gogh, Van Gogh studies the work of a painter name Bosboom, whose “values were precise and exquisite and Vincent learned that it is always the simplest piece of art which has practiced the most rigid elimination and is, therefore, the most difficult to reproduce.”

Mark Twain said that if he’d had more time, he would have said less.

Michelangelo said that his David was in the stone clamoring to be freed.

Nike doesn’t even have to use its name for you to know who it is. It’s that simple.

For me, running camp is a form of art. I’m constantly choosing what to select and what to eliminate; what advances the mission of our camp and what just adds clutter.

Just before he died in 1972, Abraham Joshua Heschel was asked in an interview if he had anything to say to young people. This was his answer:

"Above all, remember that the meaning of life is to live it as if it were a work of art. You’re not a machine. When you’re young, start working on this great work of art called your own existence.”

From the first time I read those words they challenged me to not only live life as if it’s a great work of art, but to manage and lead camp as if it is also. Camp business for me is Michelangelo’s David, “clamoring to be freed.” It’s adding and trying and risking and jumping and messing up and learning from those mess-ups. It’s sometimes like John Maxwell says, “sometimes you win and sometimes you learn.”

The process of any art form is that it’s sometimes risky and it’s a lot of times, messy.

And anytime I feel like camp gets all “crazy and messy,” I remember the words of the sculptor Harriet March, “But no matter how much the mess and distortion make you want to despair, you can’t abandon the work because you’re chained to the bloody thing, it’s absolutely woven into your soul and you know you can never rest until you’ve brought truth out of all the distortion and beauty out of all the mess—but it’s agony, agony, agony—while simultaneously being the most wonderful and rewarding experience in the world—and that’s the creative process which so few people understand.”

This week I’m challenging myself to embrace the creative process of camp through choosing and eliminating and bringing forth new and creative ideas and processes. And I hope you’re joining me on this “most wonderful and rewarding experience in the world”—running camp.

Cory Harrison has directed resident camp programs for more than 10 years with The Salvation Army and the YMCA. Currently, he is the Executive Director of the YMCA Camp Benson in Northwest, IL. He is a life-long camper, an avid reader, and daily cereal eater. Reach him via Facebook: