Art, Creativity and an Imaginary Beyond Ourselves

Recently the winner of the Artes Mundi 7 art prize was announced as John Akomfrah. I had the pleasure of attending the artists talks the day before the announcement and found I was left with many questions about my own artistic/creative practice. Whether what I do is really art at all? What is art anyway? What happens at the border crossing between art and creativity? Is creativity merely a tool for art production. Art seems to be so much more than just the outcome of the creative process. What follows is an experiment in the appropriation of artists words. It may appear as a rambling right now. In time it will forma and shift and change, and something of meaning will emerge.

Hearing and seeing the artists talk about their practice helped define and give shape to my understanding. I made notes of some the things they said and overheard conversations, and I thought they were poetic, so I weaved them with my own observations to make poems/prose/groupsofwords. Here’s one:

          Quite a playful human being

          Thinking about the world

          Alternative futures

          Spending time, standing in circles

Amy Franceschini from FutureFarmers had many wise words. As a group they were an inspiration. I’d like to make work like this.

Amy described a ‘Collective’ as a constellation of people, places, projects. She explained that the work was about how we might Deconstruct systems and Situational intelligence.

She said that an Archivist is someone who records things.

This made me wonder about my photos, what are they a record of? Humanity? I must

Attend to them…

 

She talked of

Making a collective skill set,

Activated through spoken word.

And the need to acknowledge

What’s important to be done in this particular place and time.

 

What feels urgent to me now.

Learning to grow food.

 

The work is Reacting to the spontaneity of everyday life.

What are you questioning? How are you questioning it?

It is a Demonstration of another way, a transition to a more sustainable future.

When asked how they find the people to take part she said the ‘Journey provokes and imaginary beyond ourselves’.

 

#wordgetsout

Seed ceremony ritualises the process

We need ritual to hold us together, now we have gathered.

We have our own ritual of Gwledd Lleuad Llawn/Full Moon Feast.

It’s such a rarity to experience presence

 

A persistence that measures the presence

(I have been present to this City and other places, taking photographs for many years)

 

Art Resensitises

    Sublime and contradictory

    Unmake our assumpions

 

What is your response? When challenged to talk about it the work is art, Amy said

Where does the art exist anyway?

She recognises the benefit of being involved in an art prize because Working in cultural institutions amplifies the work on the ground.

 

Neil Beloufa

Inbetween situations

Doing what they like doing and spending time with people they like being with

Pushing and adding layers + layers + layers + layers of complexity

(The simplest thing is making food together. Sharing food and standing in circles. Moving + singing + learning + sharing + telling stories)

Position: system + self-awareness

Art, Social Change, Placemaking

Creative process, drawing, well-being

 

Lamia Joreige

What questions does your art explore?

Narrating a personal lived experience

(Life is wonderful: being entangled at the growing edge)

Thought, thought, writing down feelings

Use of object as a device for unlocking personal stories

Located at the intersection of the personal and collective

The work only exists if it is shared. Actual work exists when it confronts itself with the other, that sharing makes the artwork complete

What is arts role in building community? (#getcreative is a good way to find out…)

 

Co-Arts TRACES

Co-arising PLACES

Co-llaborative SHADOWS

Co-llective DANCERS

 

[connect, communicate, collaborate, community, compassion, creativity]

 

(Start making art now, so then when you are 60 you can say you’ve been doing it for 3 decades).

 

Which artists write about/explore ‘visual pleasure’ in their work?

 

VISUAL PLEASURE

What is that?

Aesthetics – what’s that philosophy?

What is this image communicating?

What is the image saying to me?

What impact does the image have on the viewer?

Link between art making and expression of the psyche

 

(Grow your network in a new direction now)

 

Bedywr Williams

Performing normality

Telling a story about the way art is going

Artist as storyteller

Narrative, image, vision – artists role in society is to do that

Questions about how your work works in the world

Reinterpreting + seeing differently because of things that have transformed me over time

Amy – Understand social, political + economic ecology, spending time in a place

Futurefarmers – work is about trying to be present + not representing

When you’re sailing, you can’t be anywhere else but now

THE FUTURE OF NOW

        FUTURE NOW

 

What very specific thing do you want to communicate with the world: stories of the new way. Maps to the future.

 

How do you define your art practice? (would you rather be talking about how you define your creative practice anyway?)

Interest in creative process and link to well-being

 

What is ART for me?

 

Subjective response

  • don’t ever underestimate the value of just having conversation
  • Complex conversation
  • Many ways of viewing the world
  • Gathering divergent voices

 

The artist, how they might be present in the work

Form & Gesture

 

What feels urgent?

*building community

*learning how to grow food

*using art to wake people up

(contribute to building CoArts)

How can arts be used to stimulate dialogue?

None of the artists were keen to discuss the ‘money’ side of the prize. Perhaps they were all just in it for the prestige. Doubtful. Bedwyr Williams gave what I thought was an open and honest response when an audience member asked what they would do with the money. He said that it would enable him to make the big work he wanted to, because money buys time and things like big projections. He actually said this without any irony or wit. Just an honest response to the question no one wanted to answer.

Why does this interest me?

I am a firm believer in basic income as the next phase for our economy. It appears to offer a wide ranging solution to a plethora of social problems and has proved to bring people out of poverty in places where it has been piloted.* It would also re-frame our relationship to money in some way. My vision is for a future based on skills sharing, barter and collaborative, local, community based food production. For most of my life I have believed that ‘money is the root of all evil’. For all of my life I have had enough money to be comfortable.

Until now. I sense there could be an art project waiting to happen here.

*See Basic Income Wales on Twitter for evidence

Creativity, Complexity & Change – Towards a New Way

We are on the brink of a seismic shift. It is in the air, like electricity. It is in the spaces between people and it is shaping our relationships. We are at the ‘edge of chaos’ (in Complexity Theory, the place between order and chaos where synchronicity thrives). And some of us are dancing.

Dancing on the edge is a precarious place to be. We are pushing at the boundaries of what is possible. We are learning and growing together. We are seeing that collaboration is the only way forward. We are seeing that challenging the old ways as a means to create change leaves us feeling unfulfilled, exhausted and usually has little effect.

We are seeing. We are seeing better through the haze, and things are becoming clearer.

Many of us are gathering. In cities we see the emergence of multiple groups of folks coming together through shared interest, mostly mediated by the potential that technology offers. We are experiencing an awakening. Of mind and heart. Of connection, of our interdependence, to each other and the Earth.

What I notice is the energy that life on the edge of chaos offers. A clear playing out of the raw creative process. An idea expands, fills with energy, goes out of the self into the world, grows, forms, mutates, and moves on. And then the cycle repeats. On and on. A never-ending loop of intuition, sparking of impressions, generative patterns, expansion of energy, all full force into it. And then, collapse.

How does one hope to comprehend this experience? Our understanding is surely limited if we view ourselves as a separate entity. It is only in relation to the other we truly know. What is knowing anyway? What it is it to be?

How do I know where I end and you begin?

Life is rich and full of wonder and serendipity. There is a feeling of having torn through a veil, my body peaking into a new realm. Awareness, expanding. Compassion, connection. But the words don’t come easily. It’s as if the brain cannot settle on a theme to explore. Neurons are messy and jazzy. Something has changed. I’m dancing on the wave of the ripple.

I’m resting and exploring creatively in the gaps in between. I am dreaming big about what is possible. I am sitting with ideas and seeing if they have resonance. At some points I am directionless. I need something to push off. Something to resist against to aide motivation.Or perhaps it’s inspiration I need.

And so it is that I have time to write now. Right now. I often think that if I just had the time and space I could write something good. Here’s my chance to share with the world my following of the new way. Here’s a chance to look for examples of the New Story in the city. What comes next is up to me I suppose. 

Bardo. Where we are, our time. Charles Eisenstein talks about how we are in between stories. Otto Scharmer knowingly recapitulates ‘what’s dying, what’s waiting to be born’. His use of repetition clever and a sign of him being one who has a following. Repetition is important then, in the telling of the new story.

We are in a world of dreams, illusions and mystery. The magic that bubbles beneath the surface goes unnoticed mostly. We are too distracted by the screens. We aren’t headed for the war of the worlds, well perhaps we are. More likely though, we are headed for the war with the screens. The battle to call people back to the reality of the real world that we have all been so disconnected from will be a difficult one. Difficult because what is there to offer in exchange? What’s the deal? Meditation may be the thing we all need, but how do you convince a 20 yr old screen junkie to stop, put it down and just breathe?

Feeling is hard because we are distracted. Feeling is hard because we are addicted. We are protected because feeling is hard. We are cloaked in caffeine, coca-cola, crisps, crap and wine that slows our senses. Because, to feel is too much. It hurts. And it’s happening to us all. The system is letting us down.

~The system is broken beyond repair.

For a long time I tried to understand why equality and diversity policy in organisations doesn’t work. I know now. It’s targeting the individual and assuming behavioural change through policy directives is a lever. For 30 years we have tried to change the women to fit the system. We have built a culture of victim blaming. ‘If you don’t want to get raped, don’t wear a short skirt’ has to be one of the greatest insults of our time. But the victim blaming is everywhere. Don’t want to get killed by a person driving a car, wait for the green man. Don’t want to be fat, don’t eat the sugary fatty delicacy pushed in your face at every single waking moment.

The system is broken beyond repair, and it’s not my fault. It’s not your fault either, it’s not our fault, it’s not their fault. Blame cannot be ascribed to individuals in this system game. The beast is too big. The beast has become more than the sum of its parts.

The last year has been a journey that started with Marie Kondo, moved to Minimalism, onto Theory U and then a big dive into the world of Systems and Complexity, activated by experience of delivering the British Councils Active Citizens programme with Career Women Wales and then a falling into The Republic of the Imagination.

What then is a systems and complexity approach to social change? For me it is about learning and personal development. It’s about gift, and it’s about purpose. It’s about helping my self and others to grow empathy, listening, flexibility, creativity and innovation.

By empathy I am referring to having a sense of the other, authentic communication, compassion, a leaving behind of egocentric individualism, return to a whole sense of self through a move from ‘I’ to ‘we’,  and awareness. How can we cultivate empathy? My feeling is that it is about spending time in circles connecting with people who live in our communities. It is also about how we grow our own self-awareness through meditation or some other such practice.

Listening is about deep listening, really listening. To our internal selves, our intuition. To others. To the world around us and our environment, including all of nature and the living things we share this beautiful Earth with. Listening means stopping, noticing, feeling. Listening to our feelings. Understanding our emotions. Being guided by our intuition.

Flexibility, learnt through movement of the body is about loosening up ideas, being open to what’s possible and freedom from a fixed or set way of doing things. Managing when unexpected things happen, dealing with complex situations. It’s about developing the confidence to act in ways that challenge the status quo, but from a heart place, with compassion, love and non-violence. It’s about awareness of the bigger picture, the wider context we are working in, achieved through communication with folks outside of our echo chambers and via real reporting of the news, which is perhaps a myth of our time. Who says what’s real anyway.

Creativity is vital for human beings. As we move forward into the new story, creative skills are going to be the ones we need most as we guide ourselves through this bardo. We have to be developing creative skills in all people now, especially young people. And we need to get back to ourselves by getting back to the wild. 

Innovation is about doing things differently, moving out of your comfort zone, taking a different route. Making different choices. Following new paths. Building new paths. Having adventures, taking risks. Sharing love. Allowing your self to feel the connection to others and the world around you.

Share the story of the change you want to see in the world with others, in conversation, often. 

I like this peace-ful approach to how to respond when it is unclear, I found it on the internet.

Peace.

  • Pause and take a few deep breaths
  • Experience the moment
  • Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
  • Choose what you feel is the best for you to do
  • Enjoy the choice

Let’s dance.

Connect, Communicate, Collaborate, Build Community

On 7th September 2016, I was delighted to be invited by visual artist Rabab Ghazoul to present a Pecha Kucha style talk at the Cardiff With Culture symposium at G39. It was an amazing day of sharing and connecting. I’m still feeling the resonance of the space and look forward to seeing all the beautiful people involved again very soon.

Here’s the talk…

In May this year, I went to lecture about sharing cities. There I happened upon Mark Hooper, founder of Indycube, and we got talking. Then we started a conversation and invited others to join in. We are allowing something to grow in its own way. We are calling it Cardiff Coalition. We see that coming together to have conversations is worthwhile, and fun. As things progress, we are meeting new people. We are connecting.

 

During the Cardiff Without Culture campaign we identified a challenge, galvanized, mobilised, organized using online tools, came together, became visible, and we created change. It showed that it is possible to affect change from the grassroots. The internet played an important role in the campaign.

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And now, we are together, in this room, with each other.

The thing for me that feels urgent is to find a way to address our current challenge to sustain a thriving arts and cultural sector in our city in an age of austerity

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How can we create sustainable organisations and enterprises that do not rely on grant funding and which are built on and encourage values that are good for people and the environment?

One way of understanding our current reality is that we apply for funds to carry out our work. We are constrained by our funders and one of our key drivers is the need to survive.

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We also facilitate all the benefits of arts and culture to society through this work, but often it comes back to our need to pay the bills.

Now, think for a moment what we would do if we didn’t have to generate an income for ourselves? What if our basic needs were covered, what would we do then?

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It’s come out of the experience I’ve had over the past few days whilst I have been in Ukraine learning to facilitate the British Council’s Active Citizens programme and from conversations with Mark, and with the other people I have met in recent months through Cardiff Coalition.

Here’s the idea….

What if you had enough money to live comfortably, what would you do? How would your projects and endeavours be different?

What if we got together to explore our answers to these questions (call it our vision perhaps), and worked out what our first tentative steps towards this might be…Could this be a way to work out how to be sustainable?

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To explore how we might create a sustainable future for arts and culture in the city, my feeling is that we should be asking ourselves how we can do things differently.

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We need to be asking how everyone can be involved in this innovation, addressing issues of access and inclusion. We must remember who all our online organising excludes. We need to be finding ways to communicate beyond our echo chambers. We need to listen.

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We need embodied thinking, we need to grow the possibilities in our bellies. We need to learn to be flexible through movement.

We need to reawaken the creative spark inside all of us, because to be ready to build a sustainable future, we need to be well, we need to take care of ourselves and others, we’re aware of the link between creativity and wellbeing, let’s harness that.

To be well we need to be connected. To be connected we can harness the power of the internet, which is an effective tool for bringing us together.

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We need to get to know each other. To get to know each other we need activities to do together to build community, to grow and solidify that which bonds us, our social capital.

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Here’s the caveat – our current model of leadership is not fit for purpose, one person with a vision charging ahead into the future hasn’t served us so well.

We are living with complexity, uncertainty and unpredictability, we need to reassess what it means to be a leader and we need to find ways to work in a world that’s constantly changing.

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I’d like to share a story that I learnt from Daniel Smith of the London based The Change Collective and designer of the Active Citizens programme.

It’s about how we negotiate our way through the challenges we face, how we look for leverage points and how we learn to be emergent leaders. It’s about learning to be flexible and learning to be present with what is, it’s about awareness.

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Imagine a river. Your challenge is to use a boat travel as a group from the mountains, down to the sea. Now, you could all get in the boat and get in the middle of the river and paddle with all your energy, ploughing a straight course through.

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You’re going to run out of steam pretty quickly. You’re not going to be taking account of the conditions, the weather, the ecosystem, the needs of the people in the boat. It’s going to be hard, there will be conflict and you’ll likely capsize.

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You notice that on some days the water runs smooth. When you drop a branch in you see the currents. You feel the wind, and acknowledge the trees, mountains and wildlife. You work together and you feel solidarity. After plenty of time watching, observing and learning, you all tentatively get in your boat.

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You feel the weight of your bodies and feel the movement of the water. You let the current take you. The wind picks up and moves you to the edge, so you use a little energy to correct your path. As you move along the river the conditions change, you paddle fast, you paddle slow. You rest. You use oars to push away from the banks and you hold tight and support each other in the rapids. You listen to each other’s ideas, all voices are valued, no one voice is louder.

The journey is different because you have spent time being aware of what is happening, making small interventions when necessary, trying lots of things to see how they work and you have done it together.

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This is how emergent leadership works, it’s about empathy, listening, being flexible and innovating. It’s about being present. This is a story about living with uncertainty, complexity and unpredictability. This is our story.

I’m really interested in learning how we can create a sustainable future for arts and culture in the city because I recognise the value for us as human beings.

But I cannot do it alone.

I can have a crazy idea that if we get together and talk about what we’d do if we didn’t need to worry about our income it could help us create sustainable projects that are good for people and the earth. But, if I have an idea in isolation, it means nothing.

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I have learnt from my experience over the past few days and weeks and months that our capacity to create the change we want to see in the world comes from our ability to connect, communicate, collaborate and build community.

We are in it together.

@CardiffCoaltn #CardiffCoalition

Cardiff Coalition on Facebook

@salEhughes

On Superhighways, Image and the Internet

Super highways were a recurring theme on a recent trip Mr.M and I took to London. We explored the Electronic Superhighway exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery and then we rode bicycles on Cycle Superhighways that are emerging in the city.

The Electronic Superhighway exhibition plotted a history of the internet’s impact on art, starting in 2016, moving backwards in time to the 1966. What struck me most about the range of works in the exhibition was the way that the internet has changed visual language. There is something about the colours, for example in works by Nam June Paik (who coined the phase Electronic Superhighway and predicted the internet age), they are so lurid and bold and bright, and, well, computer generated. Viewers are invited to consider ‘how is the internet changing art?’

It is the visual disturbance that I experience from viewing these works that piques my interest most.  Albert Oehlen’s large scale painting Deathoknocko (2001) is described in the gallery notes as representing the ‘visual cacophony of daily life in the information age’.

I was left with a feeling that I didn’t just want to consider how the internet is changing art, but how it is changing life. Every moment of every day we are bombarded with images on screens, it is overwhelming. The images we see are multi-layered. They can be read as a surface image with a message to communicate, but more importantly the images that proliferate must be questioned because the reality they bare witness to is often fake, manipulated, tweaked to perfection, they are constructed. It is within the context of the construction of women’s & men’s identities that this mis-representation seems to me to be causing most harm. In particular the way in which women & men present their image on platforms such as Instagram.

‘Reality will soon cease to be the standard by which to judge the imperfect image. Instead, the virtual image will become the standard by which to measure the imperfections of reality.’

Harun Farocki, narrated by Cynthia Beatt Parallel I-IV, 2012-14

When the images of women & men portrayed in the media and online become the standard, yet the reality of women’s & men’s bodies is something very different, we end up with a disjuncture that wounds the self worth of individuals. We are creating a situation where we can never reach the ‘perfection’ that we are told we ought to be aspiring to. As with all forms of perfectionism, it becomes problematic because perfection is not attainable. We live in an imperfect world. It seems to me that the visual imagery that is emerging as we integrate with the internet raises questions about authenticity. We are co-creating a visual, virtual artifice. An edifice which is reconceptualising our ways of being whilst reproducing the status quo when it comes to equality and equity. Using the new technologies to disrupt the systemic power structures is vital, and I believe this is happening.

It’s really interesting to me to consider the way our relationship to the internet is changing our relationship to the world around us, and to ourselves and others. I have long been fascinated with how the internet is changing things. Way back in 2009 I wrote my Master’s thesis about the way the internet is enabling feminists to build communities online that then play out in the real world. Then it seemed new, now it’s just everyday. I love seeing how groups of people are gathering through shared interest online, then coming together IRL (in real life) in community venues and coffee shops like Little Man Coffee and Kin & Ilk. The internet is changing the way we do ‘community’.

Looking at art that explored our relationship to the online world triggered this thinking for me. Taking a moment of creative space through a visit to an art gallery is one of the things I find most fulfilling. Seeing artwork triggers a response in me that pushes my thinking and my creative practice forward. Whether it challenges my assumptions, or offers a new way of looking at something, there is no doubt that immersing oneself in art exhibits is key for making creativity flourish.

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #10 – Creative Habits

The recent musings on my blog now lead me into the next ‘Experiments in Creative Space’ challenge. I had felt that the project came to a logical conclusion after the Ignite talk I did in January. But I see there is room for it to grow into something more.

I am going to test this idea about 21 days of focused attention leading to habitual behaviour. Writing and drawing are going to be my creative practices of choice here. My days may not be consecutive, because of work commitments (I have to make it work for me!). However, for 21 days I will write for one hour and for 21 days I will draw for one hour. I will set a timer and for 60 minutes and I will use words and drawing to explore. Perhaps writing about experience, creativity or perhaps delving into something more fictitious. And for the drawing, most likely making #patternsfrompictures as I
enjoy the meditative quality of the process.

I came home from Briony’s workshop with a number of beginnings.

You can join in, if you so wish, by sharing your own experience of creative space on the Facebook page here, or on Twitter using the #creativespace hashtag.

@salEhughes

And so to begin…

On Creativity, Writing and Self-discovery

I recently went along to Briony Goffin’s creative writing workshop at Chapter Arts Centre. Briony is a generous and open-hearted women. Her facilitative style is warm and supportive – she knows how to empower people to be their best selves in the workshop space she creates. There is some magic in this. Words are alchemy. Words transport us. Words describe and define our landscapes, internal and external. They allow us to uncover our reality, to give shape and definition to our unique experience of the world. To come to know ourselves better.

As with any creative endeavor, there is a process involved. A beginning, a middle and an end, a journey, a story. A bold remembrance. Images, ideas and associations meld to form opportunities for openings. If we look we can witness fragments of the soul in the stories people embody with pen and paper.

There is a quality to this process, of beginning, writing, then sharing that moves one closer to an empathetic understanding of the other. We are all at once our own unique experience, tethered to our shared experience, to our collective unconscious. As writers and creatives we can feel we are alone in our experience. Through sharing we catch a glimpse of our connectedness.

Writing can be transformational, I like to see it as righting. Writing is a journey of self-discovery, it requires us to call on memory to conjure our experience of the past, bring us into the present and launch us into the future.

Any form of creative practice can be expressed as the sum of time, inspiration and work. In her book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp is a proponent of habit as a force for good in creative pursuits. She talks about how the process of installing purposeful habits in our lives can move us into productivity. She describes habit as a ritual, and believes that creativity is ‘augmented by routine and habit’.

What habits do you have in your life that support you, creatively and otherwise? Do you take time each week, time set aside just for you, to focus on the areas of your creative life that you want to develop?

My understanding is that setting 60 minutes aside, in which to explore creatively through drawing, writing, making or moving, can move us forward in ways we can’t even imagine until we begin. It has to be a timeframe that fits with your lifestyle and can shift and change and ebb and flow, make it work for you, if it doesn’t, you create a barrier and starting is harder.

Like motivation and overcoming procrastination, practice is hard. Not only do we have to overcome internal resistance, find the motivation to sit and do the work, we have to do it repeatedly to make progress. That’s why we say practice makes perfect. Malcolm Gladwell believes that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

And that’s why habit is a useful tool. The Minimalists describe how in their experience of clearing their lives of the clutter of consumerism to make room for more important things like health, relationships and contribution, 21 days of attention is all you need to make a habit. After 21 days of committing to a particular activity, it becomes embedded and embodied enough to form a new habit that is more supportive and growth-full.

What new habit are you looking to bring into your life to bring you closer to wellbeing, health, vitality and creative energy?

On Minimalism, Emotion and Creativity

There are a growing number of people who are embracing a different, more intentional and more deliberate way of living, they are calling it minimalism. Those involved in the movement are questioning the very fabric of consumer culture.

Minimalism as I know it, was a mid twentieth century movement in art and architecture derived from modernism, that was about clear, clean, crisp white spaces and a challenge to over fussy abstract expressionism in the 1950s. What then could this mean for today?

Over the New Year I used the Konmari method to declutter. I didn’t realise at the time, but Konmari is just the tip of the iceberg, in fact, Marie Kondo has been critiqued by some as her method obsessively helps us declutter and organise, but does little to help us understand the root of our propensity to hoard.

The process was useful for me as it showed me that a tidy house does lead to a tidy mind and that I feel immense gratitude for the objects that make my life beautiful and comfortable. But I sort of had an intuitive inkling that there was more to learn. Talking with friends about this brought new learning and I was pushed in the direction of The Minimalists, two guys who are out to change the world, and succeeding.

As a movement, minimalism is part of the shift into post-capitalism and it lends itself well to the values of the sharing economy, where access to things becomes more important than ownership. In our times of ‘peak stuff’, perhaps minimalism offers an antidote. It purports to offer individuals more compassionate and more considered lives, with the central principle being ‘buy less, live more’. Because relationships, experience and creativity bring us closer to ourselves, each other and the earth, and make us the best we can be.

Sounds great, but what can it mean in practice? So far, my own experiments in minimalism have got me to question the value of all my belongings and relationships. I have pared back, become more attuned and learnt to just trust the process. This is the story so far.

I love objects, as an artist they are my lifeblood. Last year I completed the renovation of my home. Since 2010, my father and I have been slowly modifying and altering that 1960s maisonette, me designing, he making and building. This has included an unbridled passion for the collecting of things; 1950s atomic patterned glasses, vintage vases, photo frames, kitchen paraphenalia, a veritable hoard. I collected these things because I love the way they look and I believed that if there is an interior surface, some objects should be placed upon it. But not just one object, they have to be arranged in groups of three, because that’s how my ‘rule of three’ aesthetic would have it.

I have had enough of this maximalism now. It’s time to do things differently, roll in the pursuit of clear surfaces. I have pared down the objects, donating them so someone else can enjoy them. I have beautifully arranged with intent and purpose those that remain. It has been hard to let go, but worth it. There is now space to breathe.

This adventure into minimalism has brought me to consider other aspects of my life and the choices that I make. My staunchly imposed catholic upbringing means that generally, at this time of year, I feel I ought to give something up. This lenten period the lovely Mr.M and I have given up alcohol. Here I have found it not so easy to let go.

Usually some form of abstinence quite quickly makes me feel better, lighter, more energetic. It has not been so this time. Instead of feeling better, brighter and more alive I have found that I am feeling better, I am feeling everything. This acute awareness of my emotional landscape is new for me. The Minimalists would say that it is something to do with peeling back the pacifiers and in doing so revealing who I am. I now have to learn to live with this.

I’d like to say that creative practice has been a bedrock, getting me through the hard times, but actually it hasn’t. This has been a time for thinking and reflection. Reading, absorbing and rebuilding my identity to accommodate this new learning.

I’m happy to sit with this as I see it as a vital and healthy part of the creative process. I trust that creative productivity will return, in time I will flow again, brighter, bolder and better.

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #9 – Ignite

What a wild week it has been, I met the brilliant women who are doing urban differently at Urbanistas Cardiff and presented a talk about creative space at Ignite! Preparing my talk seemed to bring the Experiments in Creative Space project to a close. I see now that I am living a creative life, and that’s wonderful. I am going to move on to the next thing now. Not sure what that is yet, but, its going to be an adventure!

So…..here’s the long version of my Ignite talk.

Slide02

For me, creative expression is vital for feeling truly alive. When I am creating I feel whole and happy. Last October, I was finding it hard to motivate myself and I needed to come up with a strategy for moving forward.

Slide03

I was talking about this with a colleague, and as often happens the act of sharing my thoughts brought clarity and insight – if I can commit to take just 60 minutes of creative space a week, then I would at least be doing something.

Slide04

I began the project ‘Experiments in Creative Space’, so far it’s taken me to wild places, I’ve learnt to look again, got some good impressions, soaked up creative inspiration and I’ve created space.

This is the story of my journey and what I have learnt along the way.

It has been an undulating path.

Slide05

It was a miserable damp late autumn evening, and I had in mind to start designing a piece of jewellery inspired by a city I had visited, New York. It would have been easier to just think about it as I vegetated in front of come dine with me, I was feeling lazy after a long day sat in front of a computer, but I had committed to 60 minutes, I wanted to do it.

Something compelled me, I made the effort and I did it.

I noticed how the practice changed my mood. I felt elevated. I felt better.

Even though I had to push so hard to get there, what I achieved was beyond my expectations.

Slide06

Just one hour spent planning my design made a spark in my mind that stayed with me for a few days. I would find myself thinking, solving the problems of construction I faced ahead.

It was like I created a pattern that resonated in my mind, growing and fuelling the idea over time. If I hadn’t taken the 60 minute creative space, I wouldn’t have had that. I think this is a small indicator that creative space can sow seeds of innovation.

I found this good impression in the neural pathways that resulted from the creative practice resonated over time and lead to more clear thinking and better ideas in other areas of work, and play.

Slide07

I understand this as a psychological process that can be a healing one .

Taking creative space is like taking time away from my everyday life, I feel able to re-connect with my self, then when I return, I see things differently. I have found that I am becoming brighter, more intuitive, and more productive.

Slide08

Knowing now that once I overcome the resistance, creative practice is hugely enjoyable, I thought I would expand the range of things I was doing, so I started writing a blog about the experiments, I started doodling in my sketchbook in the evenings and I started being more conscious of the impact on my creativity exploring places has.

Slide10

I found that walking is vital for healthy creativity. Often as I was writing my blog I would get stuck and not know what to write next, so I would stop and take Lily dog for a walk. Forgetting about the task and enjoying the world seemed to ignite creative thoughts.

Slide09

I love spending time in nature, exploring wild places, and as I did so, with my senses acute as I was observing as part of this little experiment, I started to see how vibrant the colours of the landscape were, I felt truly alive, in the present. Creative practice it seems was helping me be more in the moment.

Slide11

Drawing has been key to my work designing jewellery, I often sketch, make patterns and shapes, mapping out designs, but this kind of drawing serves a particular purpose, and for me, it isn’t really about looking.

I had 60 minutes and a sketchbook and I thought I would find an object to draw, this was something I hadn’t done for years.

I looked around, on the coffee table was a glass off water, I started looking, really noticing.

As I drew, more emerged. I could see better. The minutiae of the surface, what’s in front, what’s through and behind. The light, the shade. The depth. My mind was at ease, but I felt focused. More focused than I have for a long time. My mind feels distracted a lot of the time and I find it hard to concentrate.

Slide12

Learning to look is about learning to let go. I wasn’t making any judgements about how good or bad my drawing was. It was the process, not the product, that was important here.

As I looked for longer, the contrast became more apparent, the shapes and colours all become more vivid.

I was noticing that to make the highlights on the white paper means making darkness with the marks from the pencil. This reminds me that to experience joy, we have to know sorrow.

Slide13

Exploring a city has always been something that captivates my heart and brings me joy. There is something about discovering a new place that nourishes. And there is nothinglike a break away from normal routine for topping up on creative inspiration and just before Christmas the lovely Mr.M and I went to Amsterdam to ride bicycles.

Slide14

Throughout our adventure, I had a creative challenge on my mind. I had been commissioned to make a piece of jewellery, and I was all a bit stuck with where to go with it. As is the way of things, inspiration came from an unlikely place.

On one of the canals, Singel, sits a houseboat that has a small population of cats on board, a sanctuary for the stray and abandoned. Nothing stirs my heart quite like animals, and on this boat I captured three cats with my camera. Once I was back in the ‘Diff in my studio, it was these images that pushed my idea for my jewellery design forward and enabled me to complete the commission successfully.

Slide15

Creativity is funny that way. I find that if you sit with a creative problem, just keeping it in the margins of your attention then observe the world with delight and wonder, usually a fix comes along often taking you in a direction you hadn’t even anticipated. For me, it is in this kind of creative space, where you wrestle with an idea then rest then repeat, that joy emanates and learning resides.

Slide16

Then I came to reflect on the impact my environment has on my creativity. I have observed that when I am in an ordered, clutter free and beautiful environment, my creativity thrives differently to when I am in a messy space with lack of natural light and nothing beautiful to look at. I realised that for productive creative space, I needed to create space. So, I Konmari’d all my possessions.

Slide17

Objects bring me joy, as an artist I am delighted by the visual world and good shape, form and design. I want to feel gratitude for the objects that make my life comfortable, the process of tidying the spaces in which I live made me feel that gratitude; it also made me feel more peaceful, because, as the saying goes, tidy house, tidy mind, I believe that’s true.

Slide18

In the past few weeks I have had a number of good experiences that have pushed me forward, creatively and in other ways and because I have been doing this project, I have been paying more attention. The experiment has been a catalyst for change, it has brought a new perspective.

Slide20

I have come to know the beauty of connecting with others through shared experience and enjoy other perspectives as they consolidate my understanding of the context in which I live.

Slide19

I see that unlocking my creativity through committing to taking creative space has reformed my identity, I know what I am like more now, I have a better sense of self.

Slide21

Sharing this learning, and the products that I create with the world is the next step, this is the start of that journey for me.

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #8 – 7 Ideas for 60 minutes

  1. Choose an object that brings you joy, draw it using a biro
  2. Learn how to make an origami paper crane. Story goes if you make 1000, your wish comes true
  3. Find a photo that you love. Use it as inspiration to draw a pattern, colour in. It feels like meditation, only it’s more fun
  4. Buy this book, it’s full of wonderful activities
  5. Make a collage about your passion using newspaper words and magazines images
  6. Lacking inspiration, go for a walk
  7. Konmari your possessions

Experiments in ‘Creative Space’ #7 – 10 Lessons

It’s been three months now since I started trying to motivate myself and to live a more creative life. Here’s what I have learnt so far.

Lesson 1: Overcoming internal resistance is hard

Lesson 2: Creative practice leads to creative thinking which feeds innovation

Lesson 3: Creative practice helps with living in the present moment

Lesson 4: Learning to look is about learning to let go

Lesson 5: Creative practice helps with self awareness

Lesson 6: Seek out new experiences

Lesson 7: Time away from everyday routines is vital for creative practice to flourish

Lesson 8: When you wrestle with an idea then rest then repeat,  joy emanates and learning happens

Lesson 9: A clutter free environment makes creative thinking clearer

Lesson 10:  Talking about creative ideas brings insight