|The Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in New York City’s Central Park 2005
©Photo by Bonnie Schupp
What can we do when our creative bucket has a hole in it and inspiration has dribbled out?
Instead of stressing and fermenting negative thoughts that only exacerbate the problem, we need to seek the unfamiliar and try on the uncomfortable. When we push ourselves to hang out in settings we do not particularly like, and when we attempt to find something of value in things we do not like, our mind-block can crack and crumble. Several years ago, I traveled to New York City and saw the Gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park and I listened to comments of people walking around. Some people did not see it at all as art while others did, but whatever anyone thought, the Gates succeeded in opening up discussion and stretching how people view art.
Curiosity about everything– not just what appears to be directly related to our own art– should drive all artists. For example, once I went out of my way to go to a performance of throat singing at the Theatre Project in Baltimore, part of the High Zero Festival. This was something I had never heard of and was unrelated to my art of photography. Was it art? Did I like it? That doesn’t matter. It gave me a new way of thinking about what music is, what singing is. When we begin to redefine things, then our new definitions may spill into our own art.
Like most photographers, I am used to carefully composing the photos I take. Recently, I began to think about what would happen if I did not carefully compose my images. What would happen if I did not even look through the viewfinder? For a month, I did just this. I held my camera upside down, aimed from my shoulder over my back; I held my camera at my hip without knowing exactly what might be captured in the viewfinder or not. I did not even think about whether this experiment would succeed or fail. It didn’t matter. What was important was that I was curious about the results and this drove me to try something new.
Allowing ourselves to have new experiences, in fact searching for new experiences, will do wonders to lift the fog that often clouds our vision. It does not matter if the new experiences are good or bad because both the good and bad fertilize the creative ground.
Just as a seed slowly pushes up from the soil, so does a creative idea often evolve. Of course, inspiration can sometimes burst through the fog like the sun but more often creativity gradually evolves— if we allow it.
For I was born to shiver
in the draft from an open mind.
Cultivating an open mind is so important. We can be our own worst judge and shoot down our ideas before they ever have a chance to germinate. In fact, judgment can be bad whether we are judging the art of others or our own. One of the purposes of art is to stretch the way we think. A quote attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. succinctly states, “A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimension.”
When we allow our ideas to come to a dead-end because we are not sure if they will work, then they won’t. It is important to embrace ambiguity. “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties,” Erich Fromm reminds us. Creativity demands that we take risks and open ourselves to criticism and our own feelings of foolishness.
Sometimes the dead-end is actually one we have created ourselves because we are living with blinders—doing the same things we’ve always done, hanging with people who think just like us. There is a certain amount of comfort in this but what happens when we try to get our car out of a snowdrift? We spin wheels, dig a deeper rut and wind up stuck worse than ever. To get out of this snowdrift, we might need the help of someone we have never talked to before or we might need to use something as a new tool or we might have to get out the shovel to sweat a while without thinking about where we are going.
When ideas become sluggish, it also could be a message to take a hiatus. Just relax without worrying about being creative at all. Everyone needs a break and time to rejuvenate. Instead of painting a pumpkin patch, maybe it’s time to carve a pumpkin. Instead of taking photos of dancers, maybe it’s time to learn a new dance. Instead of trying to write a new song, maybe it’s time to create a collage of musical notes. There are times when I intentionally do not take a camera with me. Too much immersion into our own art can be like wearing blinders.
Sometimes, just walking alone in the woods is the answer. Julia Cameron writes in Walking in This World, The Practical Art of Creativity: “It is on these walks that my best ideas come to me. It is while walking that difficult clarity emerges. It is while walking that I experience a sense of well-being and connection, and it is in walking that I live more prayerfully.” She talks about a “creative unfolding.”
Research at Stanford University confirms the importance of walking in the creative process: “Through a series of studies, we have demonstrated that walking can enhance one part of the creative process, specifically coming up with new ideas; walking outside is even more beneficial. This effect held up for a more stringent test of creativity, which involved generating analogies. Walking also seems to help increase everyone’s number of creative ideas, regardless of their IQ. The effect of walking does not benefit activities that require more focused, convergent types of thinking, such as when you must choose one correct answer.” http://aaalab.stanford.edu/tidbits/creativity/
Often I need to remind myself about the creative process. Here are some paths that I’ve taken to wake up my creativity. Maybe this list will work with others:
Create solely for the joy of it.
Regard the world as if you were an ant, egret or alien.
Experience something new each day.
Abandon your need to fit in.
Trust and nourish the child in you; let this child come out to play.
Investigate what if.
Vegetate without fear of wasting time.
Ignite your curiosity and let it drive you.
Throw away the judge in you that sets rules and boundaries.
Yield and give yourself permission to be eccentric, even outrageous.
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