Thoughts on Creativity — Newsletter #47
A'musings #16 (Jan 2013)
Each Board Member has looked at what theme is active or has their attention, reflecting or musing on it as an artist from a creative process point of view. This is about sharing what it is to stand on the threshold of our own creative edge! It illustrates how the creative process applies to more than just making art. The creative process can be an integral part of our lives providing inspiration and direction.
by The Creative Edge Board of Directors:
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Happy New Year! I love this time when, thanks to Creative Edge, we are asked to share a few of our reflections on creativity. It is a broad theme, to be sure. I often wonder how I will ever be able to even begin the monumental task of narrowing such a vast field down to a few paragraphs.
I have spent my life exploring what it means to be an artist and I still feel like such a beginner, only now, rather than seeing that as a problem to overcome, I see it as a state of being to cultivate and treasure. There is a certain aliveness in seeing things anew. Too often I allow myself to get pulled into comfortable patterns of familiarity and forget that infinite possibilities await my embrace. I become lazy, dull and lulled into a kind of robotic existence. Next thing I know, I feel blocked and can’t quite figure out why. I have lost my sense of childlike curiosity, wonder and awe. When I encounter an artist block, I find it helpful to listen to and respectfully challenge the voices that are inhibiting my creativity. I have talked to so many potential artists who make statements that squelch their creative potential. Below, I have listed a few of them and added comments that allow for a gentle shift of awareness. Here they are:
1. "I can't draw a straight line." Straight lines are overrated! That is what rulers are for! Step outdoors and look at nature. How many straight lines do you see?
2. "You have to study art to become an artist." Hand a child a crayon and piece of paper and just watch what they do, without art education! This reminds me of a story about an art teacher who is invited to a friend's house for dinner. She is introduced to the friend's daughter who happened to be a kindergartener. The little girl asks the teacher, "What do you do?" She replies, "I teach art students to paint and draw." Looking very confused, the little girl says "Why? Did they forget?"
3. "I can't make things look 'real' like artists can." If all art has to look "real" than what do you call abstract or expressive art? And, why didn't art fade away upon the invention of the camera?
4. "I am only a "real" artist if I sell my work." How does that explain the likes of Paul Cézanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet and the poet, Emily Dickinson (along with countless others) whose works did not receive any real acclaim or substantial monetary value until after their deaths?
5. "Art is a waste of time." Every time I have been engaged in art making, "time" wasn't even an issue, it certainly wasn't wasted, it was transcended and in that mysterious realm of no-time, I discovered
not a "waste-land" but the fertile ground of my imagination. Einstein said "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." Exercising our imagination is certainly not a waste of time.
6. "My art looks like a 5 year old did it." All I can say to that is Bravo! Children are, by nature, in touch with their creative spirits and are able to paint and draw with uninhibited abandon and joy! Picasso said that it took him ten years to paint like a master and the rest of his life to paint like a child. If you have unleashed your 5 year old artist, you have opened yourself to the possibility of discovering the sheer joy and wonder of making something come alive—and that something is yourself.
7. "I am afraid my work isn't good enough—what if others don't like it?" You will find very little agreement, even among art critics, on what is good or bad art. So rather than labeling your work, one way or another, allow yourself the joy of the exploration. Allow your imagination to play. As Einstein so wisely said, "Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life's coming attraction." Let that coming attraction be your own flowering. Forget what others think and believe in yourself.
8. "What if I make a mistake?" "A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing." —George Bernard Shaw.
Try as we may, there is no getting around it; we are an integral part of this vast creative universe. Just as we grasped for our first breath, we have an innate life giving creative, instinct to reach out and touch our world, affirming that we indeed are alive. Our art is an act of declaration. From our ability to create new life, to our ability to make, move and manipulate objects and ideas, to our ability to imagine new possibilities and project our will and insights out into the world, we are instruments of an ever changing creation, inside ourselves and out.
What do we have to fear? As we dare to open to the impulses of our creative expression, perhaps Rilke said it best "nothing strange shall befall us, but rather that which has already for a long time belonged to us." We are all creative beings. There are infinite possibilities for expression—and we are dreaming them every day.
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Out of My Creative Way
What could be a more fun writing topic than "Thoughts on Creativity?" It's an invitation to take a flight of fancy on the thermals of abstract thought, then paint a verbal landscape from an awe inspiring perspective. What fun!
That is, unless one is grounded by the fog.
A few artists I know seem to be ever inspired with new ideas and creative excitement. Their muse is never far from their side. Others, like myself, have periods where the creative light is obscured, sometimes for a week or two of heavy overcast, other times for a season or two of hibernation.
When I am separated from the warm glow of creative flow, there are still plenty of ways to exercise the creative muscles. I can push myself to imagine a new perspective when considering a problem. It may not feel as naturally free or fun as gliding in the lazy circles of a red-tail. Still, a new perspective, even one not gleaned from the joy of the flow, can produce a key that is capable of opening new doors.
What better problem to contemplate than the creative way and why I seem to be "out of it?" What better day or place to exercise my imagination than a sunny New Year's Day on the rocks above a tumultuous, high tide at Point Lobos.
I contemplate this question as I watch the surf smash forty feet above the barrier rocks and make their way to the rattling pebbles below me. In the process, the question has turned itself upside down. "Why am I out of my creative flow?" becomes, "Why is the flow out of me?" With this shift, more imagery pounds the pebbles in my head. I imagine a creek-bed full of obstacles and debris, bound to choke any stream's flow. Then, I imagined a narrow winding path full of similar obstacles that would make it difficult for any muse to traverse.
The metaphor is obvious to me. I would need to undertake the difficult work of clearing obstacles, both inside and out, for the flow and muse to return. As I resign myself to this task, another set of three tremendous waves pummel the shore. In their wake, I knew that clearing the obstacles was only the beginning. If I didn't calm the whirlwinds that scatter debris on a daily basis, new obstacle would emerge before the previous ones could be removed. Whirlwinds of inefficient thought, self-critique, recorded conversations, speculative conjecture, and/or attention to maladies provide a constant new supply. Sigh!
So, should the problem be redefined, "How to calm the restless whirlwinds of the mind?" Relaxation, meditation, "living in the now," all bubbled up for logical consideration.
Then the next great set of waves throw their booming voice, "Turn it upside-down, again." And so, I imagine that instead of trying to tamp down whirlwinds and cleaning up all the scattered mess, I might ask the whirlwinds to do the opposite, to merge. The resulting destructive force could be channeled like a leaf blower or vacuum of cyclone strength, suck up all the obstacles and debris from the muse path and the creek bed, then disappear into the stratosphere.
As I watched a yellow-rumped warbler and a black phoebe take turns hunting kelp flies, the rattle of the descending shore stones softened. I felt a bit warmer, a little brighter, and somewhat more clear. It's a start.
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I have attended several events held by the Creative Edge over the years and I am excited to join the organization as a new board member at large. I have a wide range of interests and experience in the arts, healing and spirituality. I am retired from the California Attorney General's Office, where I was a computer programmer. During those years as a divorced single mom, I raised and supported two children, was a professional clown, a certified massage therapist, and a member of a conga drum group. I lead women's groups and retreats, volunteered working with abused and abandoned children and I welcomed four granddaughters into this world. Since retirement I have welcomed another granddaughter, volunteered and facilitated art classes and am currently creating theater props and costumes and doing installations of the window display. This past year has brought me back to a subject I am quite familiar with; grief, which directs my attention once more to my own mortality.
"Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace." —Oscar Wilde.
Entwined in the mystery of death, all three of my siblings had reached the threshold. The impending grief washed over me, dragging me into isolation. I have known as many people who have died as I am old—Eleven friends and family members in one year alone. Left brain logic says it should get easier; for me that isn't true. It felt unfair to have all three to be near death at the same time. How could one survive that much grief? As I contemplated the possibility of losing any one of my siblings, past grief gripped my soul.
My mind was free to wonder as I waited for the light to turn green. With a sudden impact, my mind and body went numb. For days I fretted over the idea of dealing with two insurance companies, car repairs, rental cars and medical appointments. All was time-consuming but surprisingly simple and yet I found myself slipping back into isolation. I finally realized that this event subconsciously reminded me of the car accident while I was pregnant with my first child. She was born premature and died six hours later. This memory brought me back to the subject of death, grief and mortality.
Two of my siblings are still battling cancer. At age 26 I was diagnosed with cancer and had major surgery. As a single mom I didn't contemplate what death meant to me, but instead I worried who would be able to raise my children if I died.
Now at 63 I am still here, contemplating my own mortality.
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This remnant of a song lyric comes to me as I sit with the prospect of writing my yearly essay on the creative process: "When I'm feeling blue, I quickly remember a few of my favorite things, and then I don't feel so sad."
One of my favorite things is sitting in my adjustable bed with my feet up and just perusing my artwork. There are eighteen pieces on two walls. I visit these pieces, exploring whatever catches my interest, revisiting the discoveries and hoping to find something new. For many years I created images on plexiglass or masonite rounds that were hung frameless. Now, my favorite watercolors are framed in bright red, teal, magenta, or silver frames from an inexpensive retailer. These are my creations of the last eight years—the ocean, the trees, the flowers, the shells—which inspire me, calm me, impart their wisdom, help to center me in the beauty I have found in the process of painting, hanging, arranging and appreciating this stage of life.
A recent dream involved me advising landscapers about ground covers (which included baby tears starting as a square-foot patch and now filling the yard) along with others I don't know yet except in this dream. I pointed out that they had seed heads and offered assurance that by letting things take their course the ground would be covered. This wisdom of my dream gardener is a comforting, natural image, full of potential for growth. Ground covers prevent weeds, ease our way, and provide the background for the plants which complete the composition.
Background is one of the things that is "working" me in recent paintings. An abalone shell seems to be surrounded by water. Another abalone shell has a dark, leaf inspired background. So ocean and garden are two different settings for the same subject; the ocean from whence it came to the garden it now adorns.
Background playing a supporting role, filling in the rest of the field, brings to mind my first guided fantasy (as I neared thirty) where I conjured up these unfilled frames. Frames hold, support, and enable us to focus on the subject, like our home on this beloved peninsula, fulfilling an aesthetic, visual background that is desirable and familiar.
I create a landscape on my walls, the mirrors of my making, which will sustain and satisfy until the curtain closes and all is set for the final sleep. Until then, I will continue to dream, to wake up, and create images to fill the frames, images to emerge from shadow or light, images to kindle the waters and fires of my being, images inviting others to offer nuggets of wisdom, those quickening projections, and eventual distillations of my truth. I realize in writing this, that being a seer is the basic essential to creating a life as teacher, painter, gardener, and homemaker.
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"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die. . ."—Ecclesiastes
Today as the year of 2012 is about to end, I am reflecting on the importance of positive support provided by relationships in the cycles of "everything" from birth to death. Letting go of the old, as well as the old letting go too, makes room for the new in all creative cycles. This is true for both organizations and people. Most importantly, personal support is necessary for successful completion of our personal journeys through life.
The Board of Directors of The Creative Edge: The Way Of The Arts held a special Succession Planning Meeting earlier this year to develop a plan of action should I be incapacitated or need to step down as President/General Manager. My daughter Carol Mathew-Rogers, as Vice President, committed to providing leadership continuity from Sacramento with our two new Board Members while Patricia Waldin will give local management support for Creative Edge with the help of the rest of the Board. Regardless of what happens, this provides the possibility of a smooth transition for a new cycle in our 23-year old organization.
For Lou and I, although we both feel our reduced energy and aging bones, we have embarked on remodeling the house we designed and loved over 38 years. The process starts with the difficult choice of what must die and what must be reborn! Although we started awhile back with new kitchen cabinets, we now have torn out part of the driveway—replacing it with pavers; the kitchen carpet—replacing it with beautiful vinyl wood slabs; and are now planning on replacing tile counters with granite before we tackle bathrooms. No longer able to do many construction tasks myself, all this is possible because we have supportive relationships with friends and a few new creative craftsmen who do the actual work for us. However, sometimes it still is difficult to let go of the old to make room for the new!
For me, the last few months resulted in too many trips to the hospital emergency room. First for Lou and then for me with a simple nosebleed I couldn't stop. I also just received another battery for my pacemaker—good to go for another seven years. Clearly our personal doctors, caring nurses and doctors at Community Hospital provide the supportive professional relationships we need for this later phase of our lives. I guess this is all a part of the process when you are lucky enough to live with good health into your eighties!
It has always been a principle of Creative Edge gatherings to provide an open supportive group with deep respect for each person's journey without critical judgment. This provides the necessary strength to share the universal joy and pain of being human and courage to creatively participate in life all the way to the end. More and more as my physical strength and energy lessens, I hold deep appreciation for those around me who willingly provide me both physical and emotional strength in support of my own continued journey through life.
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This morning when I woke up, I knew something special had happened. Sometime during the night, I had found an answer to a question I didn't even realize was on my mind. I knew, instantly upon awakening, what project I was going to do with my class this coming Thursday. I had envisioned, while asleep, how I would set up the materials, what I would discuss with the group, and how I would handle the creative exercise. It was clear, simple and totally unexpected.
In thinking about this, I realized that the same thing had happened late last week. I had been considering my next artistic project: doing something with a pair of shoes that represented "walking in another's shoes." I had been consciously considering different approaches, but nothing had really excited me. Again, while I slept, I envisioned what I would create. My amazing brain had solved the problem for me, and I was lucky enough to remember the "dream solution."
Considering this has made me very aware of how important it is to allow my overworked left-brain a chance to rest. All day I deal with the managerial tasks that come with a busy arts program. My very structured left-brain serves me extremely well, allowing me to find answers and move through task lists. But at work, I don't give equal time to my creative right brain, and this, I realize, is costing me. I wonder now what leaps of learning I could have made if I'd spent less time looking for structured answers and spent more time just letting my mind wander. What innovative answers would I have birthed if I spent the same quality time allowing my intuitive right brain free rein?
I am reading a very intriguing book right now that was given to me as a gift this past Christmas. A Whole New Mind, by Daniel H. Pink, is a well-written discussion on why people who fully utilize their right brain capabilities will succeed in our future world. I'm sure this book is why I'm now analyzing my work patterns, and why I'm tuning in to the messages of my wonderful brain. Using the metaphor of our own brains with their distinct left and right hemispheres, the author shows how left-brain directed thinking (sequential, logical and analytical) has been an important stage in Western civilization, and how right-brain directed thinking (nonlinear, intuitive and holistic) will now determine who flounders and who flourishes in our competitive world.
What he is talking about is what artists and poets, writers and musicians have always known: the creative process is a necessary, life-giving, extremely important part of our lives. By acknowledging and actively allowing our creativity to seed all aspects of living, we will have healthier, better-rounded lives. To follow Pink's theory, success in the business world is now dependent on creative, holistic thinking. We can't get by anymore with simply following direct lines and proven methods. We have to open ourselves to finding solutions through unstructured means, just as artists allow intuitive images and gigantic leaps of imagination to come to life in artistic creations. We need to quiet the bossy left-brain chatter so we can tap into nonverbal thoughts and emotions. Imagine our world if we took more naps, spend more time daydreaming and respected the importance of creativity! Maybe we'd have more of those awe-inspiring answers to questions we didn't even know we had.
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Barbara Rose Shuler:
The Mayfly's Poem
Three and a half months ago my husband died in my arms. Radical loss. Radical change. My personal creative edges and expressions right now are profoundly interwoven with magnitude of this event.
I will share a poem the muse inspired two nights ago as my contribution to A'musings this year.
May flies have fascinated me since childhood with their brief lifetimes in a single day. Perhaps, it is not a surprise that one of them spoke to me at this time. Here are its words:
I am a mayfly.
O yes, a mayfly
From the order Ephemeroptera
From the Greek "ephemeros"
Lasting a day,
A lifetime in
I greet a single morning.
Sustain my being in the afternoon.
And lay my soul in emptiness
As a naiad I dwell an eon
Before my day-moment in the sun
When I crave life
In a frenzy with my own kind
I am a mayfly
You wonder why I exist?
So do I.
Soon my day ends.
The edge of space
Goes far beyond my wings.
I bequeath to you
I offer you
The learning of this day:
That Darkness shapes purpose.
That Light commands striving.
That Life is the sunburst of union.
I am a mayfly
From the order Ephemeroptera
From the Greek "ephemeros"
Lasting a day,
A lifetime in
And so, my noble friend,
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New Year's Day, 2013
Holiday greetings arrive. Cards opened announce the presence of the sender and, for a moment, memory traces the connections and the spirit honor that memory. This year, the name of an unknown person appeared on the upper left-hand corner of the envelope. I opened it while pondering whom I might know from Portola Valley who would write to me on December 12th.
Here are the contents of that card.
"Dear Illia, My mom, Jeanne, died on 12/10/12. I was holding her hand. She stopped eating and drinking, was peaceful and listening to my husband's jazz CD. You enriched her life and helped her heal something inside. She fell in love and was loved at the end. Wow!"
Signed by her daughter Christine, whom I never met.
The printed message:
"Season's Greetings and best wishes for the New Year."
As I think about my spiritual will, that which I wish to say after I leave this realm, I find a desire to make known my gratitude for being able to have meaningful work in my life, which has taken me from running preschools to working with people wishing to record their lives. Freud noted, one needs to work and to love. Fortunately, often those two are connected and continue to be more so as I hear "story."
Now, on to my three children, please allow love of work and others continue to be strong in your lives, and remember the grace of gratitude for all that you are and can become. All three of you are people who make me proud, in a way allowable only to a parent. Without taking responsibility for your natures, I can still feel the joy of recollection as we navigated the paths of childhood and parenthood, which at times, were not easy. Always remember that you are loved.
Now back to Jeanne, who wrote with me over the course of at least ten years. After she moved to a retirement community, she met Bob, encouraged him to come to class also. They shared themselves, at first, through their writings. Then they shared themselves with me over lunch, where I was told of their romance. Shyly, Bob explained: "One evening, after a night out together, I opened up my jacket, and pointed to a toothbrush in the pocket. Then I asked Jeanne if she knew what that meant. When she looked quizzical, I said, "A toothbrush means I want to spend the night."
From the width of being out in the world to the intimacy of family, I feel grateful for the range of my experiences.
Freud would dismiss me as his psychiatric client.
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Louise Gray Tindell:
Creative Edge has been in my heart for many years; now I am a board member of the CE. My first experience with CE was an art workshop given by Don Mathews. I didn't have a clue about art. Thru the CE workshops, my soul opened; my walls loosen. My life lightened as I healed parts of myself through different forms of art, writing, dance and therapy. Now CE is dancing into my life again and I feel excited. It will be interesting to see where the next step will take me.
I have been a participant in the Wednesday Women's Art Group for seven years; I am facilitating a session now called "Walking in another's shoes." The inspiration came from my mother's wedding shoes (1938) which I kept after she died in 1994. I am now in the process of deepening into the unknown as I figuratively walk in my mother's shoes.
I retired from the Sacramento Public Library System in 2005 giving me an opportunity to travel and became a hospice volunteer until my grandsons were born.
A creative atmosphere has started with them. I feel so blessed with these little beings, guiding them when needed, mostly letting them be who they are and explore. I am able to release my inner child many times during the day. We travel to our park to watch the huge geese honking, climbing the wooden structures or feeding the squirrels. I am tickled and feel one with nature. Each day I am different and I am gifted with life. Currently my husband and I are doing "PLAY CARE" with my two grandboys, 18 months and 8 months, M-F. We are on the go the minute they arrive. At times it feels like work and our energy can be low. We are recharged with just a smile or a hug. We feel so fortunate to be Nana and Papa giving and receiving unconditional love. I recognize each day is different. I used to think certain days would be special and others would be the same. Now I appreciate each day of change as a gift. It's so fun to see an action that I wouldn't have guessed. I am always surprised. I love being spontaneous with the grandboys. With my 18 month old, I can drop down on the floor, play with cars, sing, line up dinosaurs or paint a snake on our patio steps. When the chalk or crayons come out, I'm having a grand time drawing my shapes while Collin draws his lines. Wyatt gets so excited with music, peek-a-boo, tug-a-war with a burp cloth and loves to shake things. He is on the verge of crawling.
After the children leave, I try to find important creative time to myself. I am always soothed when I do a simple collage or journal. I find myself slowing down, relaxing and what ever I need to do will fall into place. This trust in the divine is also at the heart of the creative process!
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A'MUSINGS: Why "Greek?"
It has now been seven years since our beloved Rev. Rory Elder died. Unforgettable and continually quoted, he had a delightful gift for word-smithing; recombining familiar syllables in order to illumine his intent. Words like "blissattude" and "brattitude" come to mind...
I was reminded of this gift of Rev. Rory's when our eldest son commented that our language desperately needed a lot more words for "Love." The only synonym either of us could summon at that time was the Greek term "agape."—Close, yet somehow too external, too bright, too communal, and somehow a polar opposite to the hollowed shadings of a treasured friendship, long imbedded in bereavement and mourning... As best I remember, we agreed that we had no fine words for naming such grief. And for a time I let it go.
Then, while reading a local critic's revue of "The Trojan Women," the word "anguish" provided the catalyst for discovery that I'd been seeking. Curiosity returned, and so began a meandering exploration of random textbook glossaries. Side trips among "Key Terms" from the scriptures have turned up a wealth of unexpectedly useful words—I suppose it's much like re-inventing a wheel to exclaim over the amazing vitality of classic Greek embedded within our wisdom-seeking semantics.
I can now appreciate why so many devoted 19th and 20th century scholars preferred to learn Greek "before reading the classics in their original form."
Several millennia ago, with single words, the Greek thinkers devised language-thought-containers that continue to give clarity and credibility to our synthesizing concepts. I have found a terminology treasure captured within the term, "exegesis." Its original root meant "to lead or guide out;" This single word continues to serve biblical scholars, archeologists, and philosophers—no matter their native language or cultural background. "Exegesis" is the art of interpreting and explaining inter-faith scriptures—the art of extracting the Truth from, as the Kabbahlists do, or numinous works of art, as historians do, or for that matter, identifying the archetypal patterns underlying one's own life, as Jungian followers do.
Imagine that! Ancient Greeks had a word that can still give us a handle for all of that!
As an artist, I find great comfort in discovering the existence of such a word as "exegesis." It gives me a name and a shape for a natural law of esthetics. It reassures me that—if we stay true to our own inner wisdom, if we choose themes aligned with our spirit—our works will ever be valid and relevant for others.
For "Truth is beauty...And Beauty, truth..." Whenever, wherever, and with whatever media an expression of Truth has been embodied: Music, Sculpture, Painting, Literature, Architecture—it may continue to be re-interpreted and re-applied cross-culturally. Truth never loses its capacity to nurture in all times.
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