I needed help with a problem, but who could I ask? Mine was a technical question and the pages of my ceramics library were dog-eared from looking. It was a frustrating situation. I had just flung myself back into it clay by taking a night class. It was daytime when I eventually picked up my finished pieces. A tile I’d labored over long had cracked…that happens, of course (see Green Man tile below). I didn’t know the studio hours and no one was around when I picked things up. At that time, I didn’t know anyone who worked in clay and felt unconfident because it was a transition period in my life. The risk? Touching clay again after a long hiatus. Change is often uncomfortable or scary and it was so for me. It actually took several stages to make change stick… Eight years ago, I let a one-year Open Studio punch card expire because I didn’t have the nerve to show up. Then, years later, after I took the tile class, I didn’t return for two years. Oh, INFPs! I had so many other things going on in my life at the time, it was easy to be distracted. I had started and was running an ESL school for immigrant women, for starters. But, in the background, I did have a fear of exploring my own creativity, too, which was painful. Though I had never asked anyone about the cracked tile, I still wanted an answer. After wracking my brain, I started researching online and found a 24/7 go-to site: AllExperts. I searched all their answers to questions like mine. And I got my answer. The tile base and affixed mask were not equally dry. Though they were both dry enough and did not crack during bisque firing, the difference pulled them apart when glaze fired. Later, this answer was reconfirmed at the same studio…after I became brave enough to join the Open Studio. (I faced my fear of returning to clay and meeting and working with others I didn’t know.) There are two resident experts for the pottery section at AllExperts. One is Ti Phillips and his studio cred is pretty far-reaching. The same for Ric Swenson. So, if you find yourself wondering in the wee hours of the night or if you feel angst and are in the midst of an existential clay crisis, try AllExperts! I will say this: that tile now has a certain cachet for me because it is cracked: it represents hardships overcome and creativity embraced.
Tag Archives: creative encounter
Our artistic vision is our guiding light. It illuminates the terrain around us and our inner life. We must come to trust ourselves and our artistic vision. At the same time, it is best to surround ourselves with people who believe in us or who support us or who remain neutral. This last part is especially important and has to do with ourselves, too, not just others.
If I do not understand another’s artistic vision or if I am aware of or come to recognize that I question it, I immediately place myself in a willed state of neutrality. I do not want to affect the other person with feelings of ambivalence or anything negative, so I will remain neutral. Sometimes this state isn’t easy to achieve, but I do it by repeating a very simple but extremely powerful mantra that I learned from a person beloved to me, Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, otherwise known as Gurudeva. He was not/is not my guru. I have no guru. But I learned much from him and one of the things I learned is this deceivingly simple mantra, the effect of which places anyone who says it in a super-conscious state instantly. The mantra is “Who am I ? Not this body.” When said, it is a means of zapping me out of any form of judgment and putting me on a different plane, one without judgment. It is an easy way to become neutral fast.
Likewise, we must protect ourselves from others who are judgmental or negative and who do not maintain neutrality around us. This is especially important when we have an idea for a new project. If we, without thinking, start chattering about our idea before it is distilled and part of our being, we affect it negatively and might even quash it. The idea quite literally changes, evaporates, or is something that is no longer married to us. However, if we keep the idea to ourselves and let it gestate, the time will come when it is ready to see the light of day. This is not ‘keeping secrets.’ Keeping our idea to ourselves until it and we are ready is a way of protecting ourselves and our artistic vision. At this point, we can speak or write about it to others. Still, it is best to be selective about who we tell. If we tell someone who maintains neutrality, we won’t be affected. If we tell someone who is supportive, our idea is graced, we feel warm and affirmed. However, if we are criticized or if we receive a message that is indirectly negative, clothed in supportive words and non-verbal behavior, we must be guided by our intuition and immediately stop talking to this person about our intended project. In fact, after we do, it’s not a bad idea to take back any power we may have inadvertently given that person, too, by simply stating that we are doing it and visualizing pulling power from the other back into ourselves. For me, I would pull it back to my solar plexus chakra, the chakra of personal power. Likewise, if we do find ourselves in the midst of another who is acting negative or judgmental about our artistic vision, don’t judge them; remain neutral. It can be done with practice. And do not take what the other person is saying personally. It isn’t about you; it’s about them and you do not need to invite that kind of garbage into yourself. View it impersonally and remain neutral. So, our ideas must be incubated around people who believe in us and we must believe in ourselves. Our belief in ourselves is more important, though, and we must culture an internal locus of control. If we constantly look to others for approval, we are operating from an external locus of control and this does not help our artistic vision.
Good Support System
A good support system is invaluable. My first thought is of my beloved friend, Russ, who died in the mid-1990s. He believed in me very strongly and he knew me very well. We attended the same college and had several things in common: photography, journalism, art, poetry. We co-edited a fine literary magazine, worked for the student newspaper and in professional theatre as light-sound technicians and stage hands. At the time, he was coming to terms with his homosexuality in a world that was unkind. We were fast friends and I will never ever forget his unswerving support. Russ quite literally felt that I could do anything. This belief in another was an amazing thing to behold. He also had a strong sense of his own artistic vision, was an excellent photographer and a very a gifted poet. He was able to be as supportive as he was because he was not ego-involved. He was not jealous, nor did he feel competitive, two qualities that spell a lack of support mixed with toxicity. We must recognize readily and stay away from this toxic mix. And culture being around supportive people. Such people are not sycophants. They are people who can constructively criticize as well as support. They are authentic, not phony. Make firm boundaries for yourself. As Fritz Perls said, “I am not in this world to live up to other people’s expectations.”
Rollo May thought we all have experiences similar to that of the scientist who brainstormed his Nobel prize-winning formula while he slept. While our dreams may not be as dramatic, May said we all experience “processes of forming, making, building…even if we are not consciously aware of them at the time.” Yesterday, my post focused on the physiological effects of intense creative encounters. Continuing where I left off in May’s “The Nature of Creativity,” we now switch our focus to the relationship between will and purpose in regard to creativity. It is clear that creativity “goes on in varying degrees of intensity on levels not directly under the control of conscious willing,” according to May. Yet, heightened awareness does not mean “increased self-consciousness,” he clarified. Instead, it correlates with abandoning ourselves to the creative process, becoming absorbed in it and this “involves a heightening of awareness in the whole personality.” Unconscious answers and insights to our problems that come “in review” are not hit or miss, though. They occur when we’re relaxing, fantasizing, or alternating play with work, he said. I know he’s not talking about creativity in the workplace, but what he said did make me think of it. Setting the mood for such creative breakthroughs is hardly the modus operandi of a typical workplace. However, it is likely that workplaces that do encourage high levels of creativity have playgrounds little different from the one in Tom Hanks’ “Big.” Radical Entertainment, a computer game company in Vancouver, has just such a play area for its employees. Still, it is very clear that intense creative encounters, wrote May, “pertain to those areas in which the person consciously has, worked laboriously and with dedication.” The phenomenon of purpose in human beings is so much more complex than what used to be termed will power. “Purpose involves all levels of experience. We cannot will to have insights. We cannot will creativity. But we can will to give ourselves to the encounter with intensity of dedication and commitment.” There is a relationship here, May said. “The deeper aspects of awareness are activated to the extent that the person is committed to the encounter.” Many years later, Julia Cameron would write about such a relationship in her groundbreaking book, The Artist’s Way, about kick starting creativity. I have followed her program several times when I found myself at a dead-end. We have all needed a push sometime or other. Standing on the edge of the diving board is much different from taking the plunge. I remember a very specific instance in my own life during my late teens. I was in charge of recruiting a model at the art school I attended and I chose my lovely friend, Cynthia. On the day she modeled, she wore a vintage dress and looked beautiful. Our teacher, Ken Spiering, and Cynthia were in the middle of the room, surrounded by a little circle of budding artists. I remember looking at the canvas in front of me, a canvas I’d made and gessoed. A fairly large one. As I stood before it, the whiteness loomed. I don’t know if I felt some type of self-consciousness over painting a friend, but the whiteness of the canvas in front of me kept growing larger and I could not put brush to canvas. My heart started pounding and, finally, I tore myself away, running out of the room, out of the building, and down the block till I got a grip on myself. In retrospect, it sounds like I had a panic attack. Regardless, I had to come back to the canvas. And I did. I could not will creativity, but I willed myself back into that studio.
What exactly happens to us when we become full absorbed in creativity? It affects more than we may realize. Yesterday, we looked at the portion of Rollo May‘s writings on the creative process. Today, we move on to the Intensity of the Encounter, what May calls the the second element of the creative act. “Absorption, being caught up in, wholly involved, and so on, are used commonly to describe the State of the artist or scientist when creating or even the child at play,” explains May. No matter what we call it, “genuine creativity is characterized by intensity of awareness, a heightened consciousness.” He claims we all, artists included,”in moments of intensive encounter,” experience very clear neurological changes. May said these include
- quickened heart beat;
- higher blood pressure;
- increased intensity and constriction of vision, with eyelids narrowed so that we can see more vividly the scene we are painting;
- we become oblivious to things around us (as well as to the passage of time).”
The part about losing track of time explains a lot to me. Time ‘curves’ when I’m intently working on a project or work. I can even relate to the narrowing of the eyes; however, as yet, I cannot relate to the next aspect. “We experience a lessening of appetite — persons engaged in a creative act lose interest in eating at the moment,” according to May, “and may work right through mealtime without noticing it.” Maybe it differs with ceramics! After all, some of it is exercise, like wedging a big hunk of clay or working against centrifugal force on a wheel; it adds up! I will have to conduct my own scientific experiment and see if my appetite wanes with painting and drawing… May goes on to say that all of the reactions he listed inhibit the parasympathetic part of our autonomic nervous system, “which has to do with care, comfort, nourishment” and activate the sympathetic portion of our nervous system. When this occurs, it engages our fight or flight mechanism. Ordinarily, such information, he says, neurologically
correlates with fear and anxiety. However, though the fighting or fleeing mechanism is triggered, May states that “what the artist or creative scientist feels is not anxiety or fear; it is joy.” May said he used the word ‘joy’ as a contrast to pleasure or happiness. He explains that at the very “moment of creating,” the artist doesn’t feel satisfied or gratified, even though they might feel that way later. “Rather, it is joy, joy defined as the emotion that goes with heightened consciousness, the mood that accompanies the experience of actualizing one’s own potentialities.” I am astounded…May was so very insightful and wise. He continues, saying that “this intensity of awareness is not necessarily connected with conscious purpose or willing. It may occur in reverie or in dreams, or from so-called unconscious levels.” He then gives the example of a professor who for some time had been unsuccessful in figuring out a chemical formula. Suddenly, the very formula he sought came to him wholesale in a dream, after which he awoke and scribbled it on a piece of tissue in the dark. However, the next day, he couldn’t read his writing. Compelled, from then on, he thought about the dream intently before retiring. He recalled the formula, after a fashion, and wrote it down clearly. May said, “It was the formula he had sought and for which he received the Nobel prize.”
(Next: continuation of May’s the Intensity of the Encounter…covering will power and creativity and ecstatic Dionysian states, which May does not advocate as a vehicle for creativity.)