I’ve been reading a great post from Maria Popova at brainpickings about the moment we recognise we are fated to become artists.
“How does one become an artist — not in a practical sense, not by some external measure, but by an invisible and intimate surrender to the creative impulse? It often happens in a single moment of recognition — a point of contact with some aspect of the miraculous in some aspect of the mundane, catalyzing an overwhelming sense of the unity of things and an uncontainable desire to emanate that sense outwardly; to share it, in some form, with others — whose otherness is suddenly dissipated by the very impulse.”
The article is about Patti Smith and her memory of this momentous recognition. It’s inspiring and wondrous. But it left me thinking, well, what was my big moment of recognition? How was it for me? Was it a single moment or did it unfold over time?
In my case, it was both. From tinyhood there was always an urge to be engaged in making for its own sake; I simply loved the way the world (and me as well) would melt into a timeless joy when I was ‘making things.’ In that innocent play I felt totally at home, totally ‘right’, fully fulfilled. (Years later I would realise that I’d always been driven by a mix of curiosity and wonderment – and that this mix had also driven the lifelong urge to understand that ineffable state.)
I was good at academic subjects, and at High School that meant focusing on language, math and science. But I was already seduced by the subjects deemed less worthy – by art and craft and embroidery. I wanted to make, and to make art in particular, even though I didn’t really know what art was.
As a concession, I was allowed to take Art and Design as a ‘failing subject’ for my School Certificate (= O Levels) exams. What that meant was that if I failed in it, it wouldn’t matter because the other four ‘real’ subjects, which I would do well in, would carry me through. Since we had no proper instruction in Art or Design at my academically focussed school, I was set up to fail – I didn’t even know how to read the exam questions. And so it came to pass.
I was knocked back on my failure to answer the questions correctly. And that was my ‘tingle’ moment – that was when I raised my 15 year-old finger to the high priests of the art world and said stuff you. I didn’t have a clue what art was, I was ignorant of art history and criticism, I was a peasant kid in a tiny city at the bottom of the earth. But I knew what stirred my juice. It was the wonder of colour and the magic of making.
Yet even with that early recognition, it took decades for my via creativa to deliver me to full commitment to visual language as my mode of expression: to ‘out’ me as an artist. On the way I tried my hand at some amazing alternatives. Yet like an insidious addiction, the makings continued. And the hunger to be fully engaged in ‘art without apology’ was insatiable.
Eventually that hunger was satiated. There was no delivery to fame, although mini-fame fluttered for a while. I simply made my way by making, and by helping others know the joy of expressing with their own authentic voice.
It’s a long way back to that “stuff you” moment, the moment when that adolescent intuited that she would spend her life busy at an activity that for most of her friends and family (and society at large) would be both incomprehensible and worthless. Yet here I am, now in my 70s, and I wouldn’t change a thing. For me, making things turned out to be my holy pathless path, my Guru, and my gratitude is inexpressible.
I’d love to hear your own reflections: how was it for you?
Image: Michael Leunig, Song. I chose this image because it expresses so well the sense of wonder, fulfilment and sweetness that accompanies the visit of the muse (the little bird?)
True art does not look like art.
– Lao Tzu
no artist is pleased
creativity and autonomy
13 thoughts on “how was it for you?”
After 7 years in a Catholic Seminary studying to become a priest, I reached a point of disillusionment with the whole religion, and dropped out, choosing to live instead for a while as a hermit by a river in the high Sierras. While there, certain unity-type experiences also awakened the inspiration to write, and when I returned to San Francisco, I dashed off a book of poems and took them over to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights bookstore, but nobody was even interested in reading them, so I set writing aside and pursued other adventures.
It wasn’t until several decades later that I happened to be smitten with a dramatic experience of heart-opening one afternoon, and so amid a steady stream of joyous tears I began scribbling once again, an awkward but ecstatic poetry of love that I then shared at an internet site, and which caught the eye of one person in particular, who turned out to be my own eternal Beloved — an accomplished poetess in her own right.
Within a month and a half we were living and writing together, composing reams of poetry long into the brilliant nights of our re-union, and I have been at it ever since — moved by an urge that obliterates time and place, and immerses me in the realm of that devil of poetry. 😉
“Since earnestly studying the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness,
I’ve learned to still all the common states of mind.
Only the devil of poetry I have yet to conquer –
let me come on a bit of scenery and I start my idle droning.”
I am deeply moved by your sharing Bob. Your writing and poetry is deliciously inspired: “moved by an urge that obliterates time and place, and immerses me in the realm of that devil of poetry.” Yes! That’s the qualifier, if there’s such a thing: the absence of the poet/artist person.
The Po Chu-i quote is delightful. Yet I no longer have any interest in conquering that devil of poetry, or its counterpart in visual language. Let it BE, “idle droning” or no… the inexpressible will express!
😉 Big smile, Sister!
I still do find that little devil lurking just on the edge. For example, even in the midst of some agonizing pain following my recent surgery, I observed the mind conjuring up a good line or two for a poem! LOL!
Love & Blessings!
I started writing stories when i was 6-7 and was in awe about how “I” seemed to know how to write – then i went to art college for 4 years and the playful exploring stuff was wonderful but all the “doing it right” stuff was awful – then i found myself being given the assignment of making a poster for russian art for the Museum for arts and craft. And i found myself being painted with – and the whole school seemed to gather around my desk, and they and i was in awe. It was a one-time thing – but i was hooked on finding out how to enter this free creative process more. After diploma here, i met my husband to be who was a Tschech refugee from 1968, he was a professor in puppetry, and I drew the costumes and set to his productions – there I could play a lot more, since I had not been taught how to…then later, 20 years later after much fun theaterwork, I started an expressive arts-therapist education and experienced the first poem coming to me – and i felt the same ecstasy as with the poster-assignment. Just like diving into a river and being taken.
Leter, it is stitching that gets me there _ and poetry – mostly the surrealistic and absurd kind – and I have found that I am much more at home in working with making strange “spirits” in clay and finding the spirit in things – included sticks I turn into tree-spirits –
Most of all I have found the creative spirit in improvisation with students: storytelling. strange dramas that unexpectedly come alive when i listen to what the story or image wants. The “products” that come alive all has some element of healing in them – which makes me and the students very happy
thanks for giving me the opportunity to share, Louisa
Oh Nina – there’s so much here that resonates with my experience. (I too had an episode designing and making costumes for a professional puppeteer’s troupe!)
I love reading about your journey into “this free creative process” – it seems to me that one of the huge joys of maturity is that we can look back and trace the exquisite unfolding of our path.
Thank you dear friend for taking the time to share.
Throughout my life (since tinyhood) there have been many defining moments when I recognized that I had to create art one way or another. A teacher’s crushing remark at school changed my course of study and I dropped art as a subject but on the quiet I carved wood and made sure nobody at school knew about my “habit”. When I started selling my work in a little shop in town (my mom’s suggestion as a means to pay for wood and good chisels) I still kept it a secret but the fact that there were people buying my funny little pieces encouraged me. Funnily enough when I joined face book an old school friend remarked that she had no idea I had been carving since school days until she read my statement for an exhibition. I often wonder what direction my art would have taken if I hadn’t been so sensitive.
Oh Robyn – it’s remarkable how many of us can remember being crushed by a thoughtless remark from a teacher or family member during those formative years. How heartening to know that the tiny Robyn kept on creating, regardless, and in secret! (Goodonya!)
Without your determination we would be much the poorer – none of your amazing sculptures would exist; probably there would be no http://artpropelled.blogspot.com.au – and no Robyn busily curating on Tumblr and Pinterest…
My cyberworld experience would be stripped of serious pleasure…
Thank you for stopping by here, and leaving your story. 🙂
Thank you for your kind words Miriam.
Dearest ML… This is such a great question for it doesn’t stir memories of childhood delight but rather pain, shame and embarassment which concluded in a choice that took over 30 years to reconfigure.
The story goes something like this… I am 12 years old and my teacher has asked the class to create a drawing to enter a school art competition. The theme was the ‘Old Gum Tree’, a landmark and symbol of the first settlers in Adelaide, South Australia… the city of my birth and childhood. Even today I still remember that deep desire to do the best drawing possible to win the competition so that I could be ‘seen’. Oh yes… I started young in that idea of ‘need for approval’. I remember sitting at my desk in my bedroom agonising over how to draw this tree and getting myself into a right old lather. I called out to my mother again and again to come and help me which she did reluctantly, only because she was encouraging me to draw it myself. Needless to say I didn’t win the competition and in my pain of loosing to Jody Webb (yep I still remember that gorgeous popular brainy top of the class girl) I made the decision that I obviously wasn’t very good at art and was being punished by God or whomever because I had asked my mother for help. OUCH!
So many years passed with the idea ‘I can’t draw” firmly imprinted into my brain until my mother passed away in 2002, and one day during my grieving I woke up and knew I just had to draw. The scrambling out of bed and searching for paper, a pen or pencil… anything… was a force I will always remember. And so it started…. the crazy mark making, the pencil going every which way it wanted, with an energy that came from somewhere I had never experienced before… the artist within was finally being unleashed.
I have no idea to this day whether the two events mentioned above are actually linked or that my mother played a pivotal influence in my decision to express my creativity as an artist or not. She was nothing but a loving, encouraging, supportive mother that only wanted the best for me and my siblings in whatever way we chose.
When did I know I was an artist? I’d say it has been a very ‘slow burn’ realisation from September 2002 until quite recently. An unpeeling of self imposed limiting beliefs to a place of ‘well this is what I seem to keep coming back to’. This is where my joy naturally arise. In the creating. Here I stand… full of doubt, fear, love and joy. It’s a heady cocktail and yet I return to it again and again. I honestly don’t know what else to do… and am deeply grateful the gift keeps turning up. Much love Mx
Melinda – your story is priceless. I’m so glad you took the question by the nose and travelled back in time to honour those formative moments, even though it might have been uncomfortable.
It never ceases to amaze me how children are expected to be able to draw without being taught how to look and see – without being taught visual language. We wouldn’t expect them to write without learning verbal language! There was a “Jody Webb” among my classmates too – an amazing kid who could do everything naturally. But she was a one-in-a-thousand, and the rest of us were as though blind, fumbling without guidance.
I’m delighted that the ‘slow burn’ kicked in, and keeps smouldering … that you stand in the ashes of your old beliefs and express from your natural joy. Keep on, keep on! You’re a ⭐ x
How wonderful to read. This: “And one day during my grieving I woke up and knew I just had to draw. The scrambling out of bed and searching for paper, a pen or pencil… anything… was a force I will always remember. ” I am so glad you share this- it’s like it is nudging me to allow the possibility that there is a new dimension possible for me too – maybe something I never really did before. Your post removed a stubborn belief that there is nothing that can’t be changed. And that is nothing but a thought.
Deepest thank you Leelah. It is a a gift to be touched by inspiration and even more so if that inspiration is shared and touches others. All I can say is… yes… yes.. yes… allow… express… and have fun!
Much love Mx
Much love always ML… mbp x