Musings on Art & Creativity...

Some thoughts, random and otherwise, on art making and the creative process- the importance of filling our intuitive wells and the cyclic nature of the creative process.

Intuitive Well

What is the intuitive well you may well be asking dear reader. I am calling this that magical place within each of us that holds all of our interactions with the world. That is our experiences, lessons, beliefs, thoughts, and so on. It is our repository for everything and in that repository things are incubated, cross-pollinated, explored, given new connections, new forms and transformed .

Our intuitive wells are only as good as the beauty we fill them with and how we tend and nurture them. I like to fill my intuitive well by learning new skills and ideas, immersing myself in the truth of beauty (that is delicious food, transcendental music, beautiful movies, great works of art of all forms, and by great I mean those that truly touch my heart and speak to my soul), time in nature, conversation with kindred spirits and so on.

The Conversation that is You

One of my biggest stumbling blocks is this idea that its all been said and done before and yet there is this drive in me, this desire, this unquenchable need to say and do it all again in my own voice, in my own words, with my own marks.
There is no doubt that I am a particular intersection of circumstances, experiences, culturally inherited values, personal aesthetics, and so on which all meet in me and me alone. No one else ever has lived my journey, coming from my background and has my particular way of engaging with that particular journey at this particular time in all of history. All of that makes me unique just as you are. So my unique voice arises from this particular intersection of so many things which make me me. If my work comes from engagement with that intersection, from a dialogue with my life then it follows that it hasn’t all been said and done before, that my particular conversation is unique, as is yours.

Beyond all that, it is imperative that I be in that conversation, that I have that dialogue, that I am living the contemplative life so whether it has all been said and done before is irrelevant. The truth is that I have to say and do and create what I am compelled to say, do and create. The process itself is the conversation, the conversation with life, the conversation with self, the conversation with spirit.

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, the expression is unique... It is not your business to determine how good it is; not how valuable it is; not how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”- Martha Graham
— Martha Graham

Love what you love- Follow your own curiosity

Begin in Wonder
— Socrates

So, dear loyal reader, you are probably wondering why I use this quote so often, it is one of my most frequently used quotes. And that’s a good thing, if its inspired wonder in you. For me it is fundamental to everything we are as humans. Curiosity and wonderment. The “What if”, in fact all the “?” and our desire to see what the answers might be, could be.
When you follow the threads of your own curiosity instead of the threads of the prescribed canon, you are honing in on what is going to speak the most to you and nourish your own conversation with life. There is both an energy and a truth in that which will shine through what is produced as a result.

Learning from the Masters

The Artist always has the masters in his eyes.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

I call myself a self taught artist, by which I mean I have been taught by all the great masters- in my own way I have studied their composition, their brush strokes, their colours, their use of light, of tone, of shape, of line. I continue to study them, I always shall. It is part of the following of my own curiousities and the filling of my intuitive well.  It also is a way for me to dialogue with them, to engage in their own conversations with life and thus enrich my own conversation.

It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.
— Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Discerning Eye vs Critical Eye

No artist is pleased… There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
— Martha Grahamn

The critical eye is that annoying little gremlin that sits on our shoulder and dares to try to stop us from moving forward, his criticism is designed to paralyse us, to stop us in our tracks and if we let him he will. He compares us to others, to perfection and to unattainable ideals. The discerning eye is that same critical eye put to our service, the discerning eye's agenda is to move us forward, to help us grow and expand, to aid our mindfulness and to be of service to our voice and our highest potentials. The difference is the conversation- how can we turn our critical eye into our discerning eye?

Excellence vs Perfection. Perfection is arrogant, it assumes that you know how a thing should be, that you know the destination, it dismisses journey/process and transformation. Excellence allows us to give our whole heart to something, our best in that moment. It asks us to show up fully. Not too mention perfection is an impossibility- we are all perfectly imperfect and as a result imperfectly perfect as we are.

Are you asking yourself about what’s not working?
What would it be like if instead you focused on what was working? What if you followed that thread? What if you went deeper with that and explored where that could take you?

By all means examine what’s not working, look at it, remedy it if you can- paint over it, use it in some way to take you somewhere else, see it as an opportunity for a new creative solution. Just don’t let it become the focus much less the barrier.

Flow vs Critiquing-   The creative the flow,  otherwise known as being in the zone, dancing with the muses, channeling or whatever it is you wish to call it, is that creative space when it all comes together and the work seems to just pour out of you outside of time and without forcing- you can feel In*Spiration at play and all that is inhabiting your intuitive well just bubbles up magically. When we are in this state the frontal cortex of our brain, that part of our brain which controls rational thinking and critiquing, has loosened its grip and is operating at a diminished capacity. While critiquing might be a useful step in the process, it has no place in the actual production of work. In fact, this part of the brain needs to be inactive in order for us to reach that ever so desirable to state- flow.


    A word or two on failure:

Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.
— C.S. Lewis

Fail often and fail big- make glorious mistakes, examine them, learn from them and then fail some more. It is your path through creative play, experimenting and learning all the way. Allow yourself to fail and make mistakes, give yourself a lot of permission around it. Sit down at your work space and say to yourself “today I am going to see how many wonderful mistakes and failures I can make” and learn something new from each and every one of them.

The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.
— Stephen McCranie

See a “failed” painting as an opportunity- there’s no risk here, you can’t muck it up or ruin it, you can only improve it or learn from it. So be daring, be brave and try something new with it- experiment and play and pay attention.

If you don’t fail it’s because you did not risk enough, and if you didn’t risk enough it’s because you didn’t put your whole self out there.
— Carlos Barrabes

Show up

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.
— Pablo Picasso

The cyclic nature of creativity

While the muses may like to find you at work when they come to sprinkle their magic upon you don’t underestimate the amount of work you are doing when it seems you are doing none. The creative process moves in cycles, just as all living things do. For me the cycles include (and are not linear in their occurrence):

Dreaming and imagination. This is a time of dreaming, it is the realms of ideas where anything and everything is possible unhindered by the realities of the physical world. For me this is fed in dreamtime, during medicine walks, sitting in nature, the flow of water (showers, the ocean) and in the being of life rather than the doing. Never underestimate how much is done in this space of nothingness- nature abhors a vacuum and fills this space with a creative idea, an inspiration. Are you open to receiving it?

Filling the Intuitive Well  This is where we fill up with inspiration, ideas and techniques of both others and the natural world. We fill up on beauty, on music, on concepts and experiences all of which feed into our unconscious ready to be transformed by the particular intersection that is us.

Practice & production (doing the work): Here we can hone our skills, work on our craft, master our art whatever that might look for each of us. This is the busy work of putting in the hours.

Play and experimentation: Here we are lead by our curiosity and our wonder, allowing for happy accidents and learning from glorious and magnificent mistakes.

Incubation and cross pollination: Here is where the magic and alchemy occurs, where our individual intersections and conversations cross-pollinate with all the things that have filled our intuitive wells and new things are born. This is where one plus one equals more than two, infinitely more.

Phoenix rising: From the darkness of our underworld the new creation emerges and is made manifest.

Discernment and self-examination (course correcting): Here is where our eyes of perpetual curiosity and wonder, and our desire to be continually striving to create something new and excellent get to assess our own creations and continually course correct.

I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.
— May Sarton

And on that final note, dear reader, I too, shall wander off, fill my well and dream all with glittering eyes. May you too, wander and wonder at the glorious conversation of your life.