Joyful Creativity

I paint as a way to relax—specifically, I use inks, watercolors and acrylics, to create abstract and mixed media art.  I’m self-taught, having accumulated used and new books on drawing, color theory, painting, collage, mixed media, etc.  My ‘how to make art’ instruction books, take up two full shelves on the bookshelf.  I love sharing my art and talking about making art with other artists; and vacations wouldn’t be complete without devoting some time to strolling through local, art galleries.  Even my internet bookmarks are an indicator of my passion for art—it’s astounding the amount of information that is posted by giving and talented artists.

Art books picture cropped

If I was looking at the above-description about someone else I would assume that person had always had a natural love and affinity for making art.  Yet, this is not the case for me. As I was growing up, and well into my adult years, I was certain there was NOT a creative bone in my body.  I remember in high school art class being mortified to share my drawings, painting, pottery, you name it, with the rest of the class.  My clumsy attempts could never compare with those who possessed real artistic talent.  Unlike me, they were innately creative.

My first attempt at painting came one summer afternoon in 2007, when a creative, paint-dabbler friend of mine brought her easel, paints and brushes over so we could play outside together.  I covered the patio table, and had jars with water and containers ready for mixing paint.  I looked at my friend expectantly, and asked, “What do I do now?”  She smiled, handed me a paint brush, pointed to the tubes of paint and the canvas on the easel, and suggested I start painting.  I said in a worried, slightly infuriated tone, I don’t know how!  “So what,” she said, “just have fun.”  A quiet explosion happened.

Working creatively is an absorbing experience.  We may be completely unaware of time passing and have no conscious thought until we look up and see the stars twinkling outside.  By then, we realize that we totally forgot to take sustenance of any kind.  In this way, creating is like meditation.  This state is often referred to as ‘being in flow’.   Since working from a state of flow is not relegated to the arts alone, I would offer that creativity is found in all walks of life.  Ever hear of creative accountants?  Even the way a person successfully negotiates a sale or finds the solution to a scientific conundrum can feel creatively energizing.

When we finish and look at what we’ve made using our imagination, the feeling can be overwhelming.  We stare in wonder at our new creation, be it a poem or book, song, painting, garden or building design.  This new thing that never existed before comes from a place unique within our hearts.  It bears our personal stamp, like a fingerprint.  It is what is true within us.

Achieving this state of concentrated mindfulness is when one feels the most alive.  Furthermore, there are multiple avenues of creative expression that are potentially fulfilling.  Matthew Fox (2002), author and Episcopal priest, suggests that exercising our creativity is the path to experiencing a joyful life.  He states, “…what the artist is experiencing is far more than ‘actualizing one’s own potentialities’—it is experiencing the Divine joy itself.”

Like me, I suspect other souls have lurking, creative monsters within, just waiting to be liberated.  Rather than judging those impulses to use your creative imagination as unworthy, untrained or silly; consider that, as Matthew Fox suggests, exercising your creative imagination is your path to true Divine joy.  Wouldn’t you agree that finding joy is a truly worthwhile endeavor?  If you pay attention to what fires your imagination, you may discover the fuse and light your own explosion.  Below are a couple of humble examples of the days I’ve been quietly, absorbed, in the ecstatic state of flow.

 

The first time I fell in love with one of my paintings

The first time I fell in love with one of my paintings – 2007

A recent abstract

A recent abstract – 2012

 

Fox, M. (2002). Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.  New York, NY:  Penguin Group, Inc.

 

10,000 Hours to Be…

What qualities does one need to be successful?  Do great entertainers, math geniuses, great writers or leader possess some extraordinary quality different from the rest of us mere mortals?  Are they born with something special, while the rest of us are doomed to live our lives in mediocrity?  How about the silver-spoon theory—is being born to rich, powerful, beautiful people the only way to be rich, powerful and beautiful yourself?

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell analyzed what it is that leads the lucky few to reach the pinnacle of success.  Gladwell references two interesting studies, one conducted in the 1920s by Lewis Terman, of Stanford University, and another by K. Anders Ericsson, of Berlin’s Academy of Music, in the 1990s.

By following the lives of nearly 1,000 gifted children, Termin sought to prove that one’s above-average native intelligence quotient—IQ, would predispose one to becoming important later on in life.  However, while a higher IQ may give us greater innate abilities, the results of the study showed that IQ was no predictor of success.

The premise behind K. Anders Ericsson’s study, was to understand what it takes to become an outstanding musician.  We can call this, the Mozart legacy.  Here again, the theory is that child prodigies are born with talent to which most of us can never aspire.  It turns out that Ericsson and his colleagues were unable to find any naturally talented musicians.  Instead, they found the amount of time aspiring musicians invested in learning their craft and practicing their art was in direct proportion to their ability to demonstrate musical genius.  WOW, who would have guessed—those who worked the hardest had the greatest talent.  It turns out the number of hours necessary to be a world-class musician amounted to roughly 10,000 hours. 

This is the central theme of 10,000 Hours to Be Me.  I believe, investing 10,000 hours into something is more about the character attributes of commitment, perseverance, resilience, and focus.  The problem is that putting 10,000 hours into any one goal arguably means I must let go of so many other potentially, interesting distractions out there.  How often have I said to myself, I’m going to have free time this weekend, so I will do XXX?  Then when Monday comes around, I can hardly remember what I did with my time.  What I do know, is that I did nothing to move toward my dreams!

Most of the time, what I may be giving up is as important as doing housework, reading a novel, watching an episode of the Closer (OK, so I probably won’t give up Kyra Sedgwick), or some other activity that is more likely about avoidance than doing what matters most to me.  According to Stephen Covey, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, nonapologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside” (7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1990).

Not easy!  So for 2012, my focus is to pay attention to what matters most in my life and see how many hours I am choosing to devote to those priorities.  As a friend of mine noted in her blog—work, family, and taking care of our physical needs are important and take up much of our day.  However, there is time beyond those activities that we can spend doing what we love.

I look forward to hearing the wisdom of others as I move along this journey.

References

Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers:  The Story of Success.  New York:  Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

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