Monday, February 13, 2012

At Peace With the Process

At Peace With the Process

Are you at peace with your creative other half? You did know that you have that other person living alongside and within you, right? Because otherwise, you’ll be a miserable person, trying to eke out an existence while purposefully ignoring that most important Other Person who is equally as much you as you are you.

We seem to do this all too easily, ignoring our creative inner self while the logical, rational, pragmatic self runs the show, steers the boat, at least for awhile, until the ship runs aground and we find out that our egomaniac control-freak self doesn’t know quite what the hell it’s doing, and actually requires the assistance of someone who intuitively knows the waters, knows the hazards that aren’t on the navigational charts, can steer us clear if we’d but listen to that still small voice, like that of the introvert, a voice that in most people is usually quiet and mellow.

Now, I’m going to recommend that you do something entirely radical, which is to lock your raving lunatic control-freak logician brain up in some padded room, and instead release your ephemeral, creative self upon the world - a world that in itself needs much less of the raving-lunatic-with-ego type, running around and starting wars everywhere, and more of the gentle, creative spirit type, roaming about the countryside bestowing gifts upon those lurking unawares.

You probably weren’t aware of the two of you living alongside one another, all of these years, but now that the cat is out of the bag, I can tell you that you are going to be much less miserable when you can acknowledge your entire self. Because that’s what this is really all about, finding the entirety of yourself. A cliche, for sure - and I understand that - but that doesn’t make it any less true, now does it?

Okay, let’s start with some basic truth: you suck. There, it’s nice to get the hard part out of the way, right up front. Now, this probably wasn't entirely news to you, truth be told. But we all suck, pretty much, all the time. And the reason for this is primarily because we permit our control-freak selves to run the show, while our intuitive, peace-seeking self is relegated to a background role. What we need are some tools to permit that hidden, inner creative self to be expressed openly. An invitation, of sorts.

What this has to do with is art, of course, since art-making is a majorly important way to release and grow one’s creative instinct. Yet, in all fairness, I do realize that not all art is happy-smiley, some of it is in fact very confrontational, direct and not easily digested by the faint of heart. And that is as it should be. But crucial to a deeper understanding of creative intent is the realization that artists derive their inspiration from some deep well that at times seems limitless, while at other times seems fleeting, ephemeral even, but nonetheless remains a constant source of inspired creativity, presenting the possibility of drink from a source hidden yet deeply rooted.

It might come as a surprise for some of us to discover that we have any creativity at all, given the reality that our educational system, at least here in America, is geared for producing a fleet of corporate wage slaves (at best), rather than extolling the virtues of a more liberal arts education. The Arts seem to be pretty far down on the priority list of most school districts, for instance, and are often the first programs to get cut when budgets turn red.

It is no wonder that we often find it difficult letting our creative Other Self out of the closet when there seems to exist very few support systems through which to nurture and grow. It becomes plainly evident that in the American culture, the arts are often frowned upon, are often misunderstood, are frequently denigrated, politicized or misrepresented in the public eye. One need only to mention the acronym “NEA” for example, and the whole issue of taxpayer support of the arts comes once again into the forefront. The Average Joe (no relation to Your’s Truly) has an innate suspicion, through lack of educated insight, of things like abstract and avant-garde art, for instance. Ironically, the few institutions that seem to consistently support the arts do so at a cost, that being the assimilation of the artist into the milieu of the institutional culture. Maintaining independence while remaining funded seems to be the holy grail. Patronage of the arts remains a troublesome area in American culture, with many arts-related groups and organizations struggling to survive in an era of diminishing social support. 

The commodification of art for the purposes of commercialism within popular culture illustrates the no-man’s-land between the artist as starving prophet to the culture and the artist as selling out to the system. There seems to be a very narrow happy middle ground, as if there exists virtually no creative middle-class, juxtaposed alongside this huge cultural overlap between fine art, popular culture and entertainment. The new technologies of media seem to possess an insatiable appetite for new material from which to consume, such that popular culture forages off of the finer arts, appropriating and repurposing the arts into commercial commodity products. This inevitably leads to an innate cynicism of all things art-related, as what was once an intelligence-based art becomes transformed into memes of popular fad, empty of any deeper meaning other than its commercial value.

It is within this cultural morass, this creative no-man’s-land, that the struggling creative must somehow find root of sufficient depth to permit real and lasting growth to commence, even in an environment where one’s time is divided between the responsibilities of job and family, when there seems to be little left over from which to eke out a cultivated inner life.

What I’m suggesting is that your Creative Inner Self should be permitted to dominate in whatever it is that you find yourself involved with, every moment of every hour of every day. The concept is best described as an artistic, creative lifestyle. Your Inner Self should be the one pushing the shopping cart, driving the car or scrubbing the potty. Your Inner Self should be the one in attendance at the office meeting, or while responding to email, or when preparing a meal. It becomes an act of purposeful volition, this relinquishment of control to a more intuitive, creative You. It is an act of faith, entirely out of character with our normally overt selves, to act upon the belief that there exists within us some limitless inner fountain whose end purpose we cannot fathom, yet whose course we inevitably must follow. It becomes, in practice, a purposeful recreating of ourselves on a daily basis, requiring the normally abrasive personality to seek peace with others, or the normally meek to strive to engage with boldness relationships that would otherwise flounder. 

I am naturally skeptical of the claims of the get-rich-quick con-artist, the shill of the huckster salesman or the rant of the self-improvement guru. I hold little regard for the notion that there are magical shortcuts in this life that would promise some fictitious easing of the pain that is intrinsic to this existence, only that one must be true to self, to know self, to love self. What I’m suggesting is not mere panacea, but engagement with a process aimed at a deeper fulfillment in the deepest parts of our being.

On an almost daily basis, I am aware of a constant hunger within me to express myself through creativity, and I can feel, in my bones and sinew, when I am at a fallow point in my creative life. I have learned to listen to those hunger pangs and to enact rituals of creative release, purposefully intent upon maximizing my creative returns from the time and effort invested therein. Only through habitually feeding that Inner Self can it grow and develop. 

Yet, despite this constant striving to remain creative, I have disdain for the term “artist,” for it implies a hierarchy of those especially endowed with creative talent, above and beyond that of us mere mortals. Of course, it profits the economic systems built up around the arts world to prolong these misconceptions, but I maintain that creativity is a natural offshoot of the human condition and that, just as it is a normal function for humans to breathe, eat and procreate, so too is it normal for humans to create through other, nonbiological means. There is evidence to support the conclusion that this creative tendency in humans is somehow biological, and dates as far back into the past as the physical artifacts of our ancestors can be found, all of which suggest some kind of intrinsic creative ability at work within the very fabric of that which makes us human; that what separated us from our biological predecessors to make us human is that self-same spark of creativity.

We are left with the question of how we got into the mess we find ourselves in at the present time when it seems, to the average person in western culture, that being naturally creative is an abnormality to be suppressed rather than nurtured. There must, it is presumed, be some factor at work within the gears and cogs of modernity which suppress our innate creative selves, of which it would be to our benefit to understand and overcome.

One factor that is crucial to a well-cultivated life is balance. It is all too easy to slump into the couch-potato role of media consumer, an excess of which can short-circuit our creative juices, leaving us fallow and impotent. Yet, we need some creative inspiration to prime the pump - I certainly do. A carefully tended diet of just the right amounts and kinds of media, not too little and not too much, can inspire us to further explore the inspiration from within. A careful balance between commercial television, videos, photography, music, reading and participation in local arts venues becomes an important source of constant creative inspiration from which to draw energy from, becoming a lifeline for our inner vitality. Yet, these constant and varied sources of input need to be balanced by quiet time, alone with just our thoughts, disconnected and off-grid. Call it contemplation or meditation, but we need to permit our inner selves to process what would otherwise be just an impenetrable wall of noise, to permit the discernment of patterns of knowledge from mere chaos.

Creativity requires inspiration, thought and time. Often, we are lacking some or all of these essential ingredients. The burden of our physical existence seems to be centered around our work life even more so than family life, placing any hope for creative expression in a distant third place. Yet it becomes obvious that a restructuring is in order, if creative expression is to come to the forefront in all that we do. I am of the opinion that it is possible to remain in a near-constant state of creative expression in whatever it is we do, provided we are allotted time to think and draw upon our inner inspiration. 

There are yet more lessons to be learned for oneself, and taught to others similarly on the creative path, but we cannot speak of these right now, for they can only be experienced by each person for themselves. Some things have to first be experienced; they cannot be imparted to one’s being through any other way. We’ve got to, each one of us, take those first steps on what will become a lifelong journey of exploration.

Sometimes our careers and vocations, or the struggle of merely making ends meet, taxes us of all further time and energy, leaving little resources from which to draw from. It is in these moments that we have a decision to make, either to firmly choose to alter one’s priorities and activities, or to continue on as we have been going and face the consequences of a suppressed inner creativity. The choice is fundamentally whether we choose to live (on our own terms) or die (for someone else’s benefit). 

Ultimately, it is an easy choice to make, once we realize that we are innately fitted for the creative life, it being built into our very DNA. What becomes obvious is that our artificial culture round about us is the thing that is out of balance, putting requirements upon us that are entirely out of keeping with our natural abilities and desires. What is required for the creative life of the culture at large to blossom is a restructuring, a social revolution in the manner in which we work and communicate. This creative revolution can only happen one person at a time, spreading virally from person to person and community to community. The burden of starting this revolution is upon each one of us, but can only be worked out individually, a burden each one of us must bear. That is what will bring us at peace with the creative process.

(Posted via IA Writer on iPad2, photo via Hipstamatic app on iPadG2.)


Blogger Rob Bowker said...

I'll second the sentiment. In fact, both of us do. Makes me reflect on a design problem (graphics) I was wrestling with recently. Blank sheets are scary, especially when a deadline's looming. I walked away from the problem and started cutting out shapes from thin card taking photos of the shadows they cast. Worked through POVs and lighting and scale and arrived at a solution which the client "absolutely loves". I told him the best things happen when you are playing, having fun. The creative side doesn't come out to play if you try to hard...

6:49 PM  

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