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Monday, October 14, 2013

Essential Requirements of a Creative State

"Glacial Tarn - the Bugaboos"
Oil on linen - 8x10"
purchase info

How connected are you with your creativity?

Once one gets past the idea that creativity is a thing only some of us are gifted with (the truth is if you are alive, you are creative) - we arrive in the land of how to best tap into our creativity.

I recently listened to a brilliant talk on this topic by John Cleese. (I've shared the link below, well worth a listen.)

Open vs. Closed

What I loved most about John's talk was what he refers to as 'open' and 'closed' states. In order for us to achieve anything of value, both of these states are necessary, but we can only be in one or the other at any given time.

The objective is to learn how to dance in and out of them skillfully, intuitively knowing which moment requires which state.

Work Time - Getting It Done

The 'closed' state is about execution. It has a narrow focus.
  • It is about getting on with it. 
  • It is action oriented and purposeful. 
  • There is not much humor or lightness in this state. 
  • It has tension, and sometimes an anxious, impatient quality which can be exciting and pleasurable.
  • It is a bit manic.
  • In the closed mode, information that we weren't looking for is considered irrelevant.
His most important point is that while the closed state is essential - there's no room for creativity here. Which brings us to the place where creativity thrives, the open state.

Play Time - Letting it Find You

The 'open' state is about the opposite of execution. It has a wider perspective.
  • It is about being less purposeful and more expansive.
  • It's relaxed and contemplative. 
  • It is playful and explorative. 
  • It asks the question - what is there to discover in this moment? 
  • It is completely free of the pressure to get somewhere - not at all outcome focused.
  • In the open mode, information we weren't looking for is a clue, something to be curious about.
With regard to painting - I think the most relevant point John makes is that the confidence for being creative comes from knowing that while you're being creative - nothing is allowed to be 'wrong'. Everything that happens is fascinating.

"You can't be playful and curious if you're frightened that moving in some direction may be a mistake. You're either free to play or you're not."

Integration - Making Room for Both

Here are some ways I have found to weave the open state into the closed 'execution' state:
    • Choose subjects that make you ask, "What's possible?" It's not about how to best copy what's there - it's about stirring up the artist in you. What moves you about the subject? What do you uniquely have to say about it?
    • When working from photos, play with the reference a lot before diving in. Try cropping it in different ways, use filters in photo editing software to create different effects and see what gets triggered in you. Throw a bunch of stuff at the photo and pay attention to your gut responses.
    • Once you are into the painting, get back from it often. It is easy to get sucked into the 'doing' and forget to create space for your muse to offer input. We need that contemplative distance to connect with what's wanting to happen as the painting unfolds. This is not a place of knowing, it's a place of listening.
    • When you're stuck, instead of worrying that a wrong move might wreck the painting, just try something. Be spontaneous, throw a brush stroke down, wipe out something that doesn't feel right to create room for something else. 
    "Painting is a process of discovery. Trial and error. A search for self."
    I can't remember where I found this quote, but it's hanging in my studio and on especially smart days I remember to reflect on it.

    Finding a Balance That Works For You

    I think many of us spend a disproportionate amount of time in the closed state - brush to canvas, getting paintings 'done'. As John puts it, "Too often we are stuck in the closed mode because we are addicted to action and outcome."

    My quest in my painting life for the past 2 years has been to turn this around, because it simply stopped making sense to me as an artist to spend more time in production than creativity, and that's what was happening.

    As I stepped away from painting to contemplate what felt true for me, I wasn't sure what I would find, I just knew that what I was doing wasn't bringing me joy and something had to change.

    My current goal is to have the creative state be where the disproportionate amount of my time is spent. What's needed for this is freedom from self-imposed external pressure, full permission to explore in my work, and trust that this will lead me where I'm meant to go.

    Your Wisdom

    Many artists find ways to keep up with commercial output and still spend much of their time in a creative mode - the open state. I applaud them! I'd love to hear your comments on how you manage this balance in your work.

    John Cleese video:

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