the alchemy of creativity : again

As artists … we make artwork as something we have to do
not knowing how it will work out.

– Agnes Martin

Agnes Martin, Untitled 1960

‘THE ALCHEMY OF CREATIVITY’ was originally posted in February, 2017.   I rediscovered it this morning while searching for something else.   It seems to me that these musings and quotes about the crucial need to understand our creativity as being “integral to our wellbeing” are more urgent than ever right now.   I’m re-posting, with minor editing.  Thanks for reading.
– ml


Just when I began to doubt that I would ever write again on this blog – it being many moons since the urge to do so has visited – I find myself inspired by a post written by the insightful and meticulous artist Fiona Dempster on her blog Paper Ponderings.  She opens with a quote from Anais Nin (see below) and offers her responses before summing up thus:

There is something in here I think that says that art is integral to our wellbeing;
and I have to agree.

– Fiona Dempster

A torrent arose from deep within as I read this: art is integral to our wellbeing.  I was reminded of my own long path to this understanding.  Being a slow learner when it comes to my own wellbeing, it took years to notice that if I was experiencing unease, confusion or frustration, the fail-safe remedy was to enter creative engagement.  In that engagement – a deliberate hollowing out of my mental marrow – all I need to know percolates up into presence and flows forth into my life.  No effort required.  As Jeanette Winterson observes, it’s simply humanity expressing itself.

Life has an inside as well as an outside.  Consumer culture directs all resources and attention to life on the outside.  What happens to the inner life?  Art is never a luxury because it stimulates and responds to the inner life.  We are badly out of balance.  I don’t think of art / creativity as a substitute for anything else.  I see it as a powerful expression of our humanity – and on the side of humanity under threat.  If we say art is a luxury, we might as well say that being human is a luxury.

– Jeanette Winterson

I eventually learned that creativity is not a luxury for me; it’s a necessity if I am to remain sane.  Creativity is integral to my wellbeing, and art is one way that creativity can shatter the granite edifice of my conditioned thinking.

I was unspeakably fortunate to be assisted in coming to this understanding by physicist David Bohm, who would share his insights with us at Brockwood Park and patiently answer our questions.  This morning, opening a notebook I kept at the time – almost thirty years ago – rather grandly titled “Creativity and Consciousness”, I found these quotes:

For creativity is a prime need of a human being and its denial brings about a pervasive state of dissatisfaction and boredom.

Whenever … creativity is impeded, the ultimate result is not simply the absence of creativity, but an actual positive presence of destructiveness…

– David Bohm (with F David Peat), Science, Order, and Creativity, 1987

The need for creative thinking in every corner of our collective consciousness has never been greater.  I feel a tide surging within, a tide that has been out for many years as other concerns consumed my attention.  It is washing up an imperative to speak again on these things, to share the perennial wisdom of my teachers and voice my own.

I believe the most important thing for humankind is its own creativity.

– Dalai Lama XIV, Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

Discovery is the beginning of creativeness; and without creativeness, do what we may, there can be no peace or happiness for man.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

There’s more to creativity, and in particular creative thinking, than is allowed by its current association with corporate concerns, e.g. “How can we harness creativity to make more sales?”  There’s more to creativity than learning how to pass the time with recreational dabbling.  These are not an elitist statements.  If taken as such, a deep understanding of the dynamic of genuine creativity is shown to be lacking.  Creativity shapes lives and cultures.

Genuine creativity is elusive.  It lives solely in the present moment with no regard for past or future.  It is outside of time altogether.  In this context it is identical to what the sages call Reality, the Divine, Presence, Source.  To be absorbed by it is to reunite with that which we never left and yet can never know – the Unified Field of Creation.

We do not escape into philosophy, psychology, and art —
we go there to restore our shattered selves into whole ones.

– Anais Nin

Exactly.  Creativity is no escape.  Engagement with genuine creativity spurns the urge to retreat or escape from life.  Rather, life is brought full-focus into the feeling realm and away from the head.  For me a prerequisite to the engagement is that I take all the versions of myself – shattered or stuck or simply curious – to the altar of my worktable.  I bring them to the space of unknowing and watch in awe as they disappear entirely.

The artist self?  Nowhere to be found.

For me it’s essential to be artist in absentia if work that’s free from preconceived ideas and unsullied by the subtle yet persistent longing that my work be accepted / admired  / valuable / important. In other words: if genuine creativity is to be allowed space.

Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done.  Therefore I must always do what I do not know how to do.

– Eduardo Chillida

The alchemy of this immersion in unknowingness – the blessing of creativity – is paradoxical: while disappearing the solid-state, separate ‘me’, it simultaneously fosters ‘me-ness’ in the sense of rock solid authenticity.  It shapes the unique no-thing that we are; it gives it whatever voice is true and appropriate as we navigate the world of appearances – the ‘outside’.  In the process, it makes us feel more keenly alive, alert, aware.  It brings the wondrous feeling that all is well with the world (after all) and a sense of order, rightness, blessedness prevails.

There is a curiously sharp sense of joy or mild ecstasy that comes when you find the particular form required for your creation: … the experience of  “This is the way things are meant to be.”

– Rollo May

Further.  We eventually realise, if we look deeply enough, that the “outside” is not outside at all.  Wherever we go / look / feel – there we are, fully displayed as a reflection of our consciousness.  It’s vital to grok this, because it explains how the voice that sings through our “hollow bamboo”* has the power to change the world, i.e., consciousness.  Not by our self-determined efforts – no matter how sincere – but by allowing a force incomprehensibly vaster than our minds can conceive, to express, via our utterly unique constellation of skills and wisdom, exactly what it needs to.  For this moment.  For now.

Let us not forget that Creation set this whole scenario – whatever it appears to be– in motion.

Let us not forget that its agenda is beyond our cognitive capacity.

Let us not forget that it operates beyond the laws of physics and knows no degree of difficulty.

Let us invite that power to play as we turn up in our studio feeling shattered, depressed, blocked and confused.

And let us not forget that it will only show up when we disappear.

* * *

The final paragraph in Science, Order, and Creativity by Bohm and Peat:

The ultimate aim of this book has been to arouse an interest in the importance of Creativity.  Whoever sees this importance will have the energy to begin to do something about fostering it, in ways that are appropriate to the special talents, abilities, and endowments of that person.  All great changes have begun to manifest themselves in only a few people at first, but these were only the “seeds” as it were of something greater to come.  We hope that this book will not only draw attention to all the questions that have been discussed in it, but will actually begin the liberation of creative energy in as many of its readers as possible.

Amen.


Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing.

Making your unknown known is the important thing.

– Georgia O’Keeffe


*
“This is one of the most beautiful meditations, the meditation of becoming a hollow bamboo.  You need not do anything else.  You simply become this, and all else happens.  Suddenly you feel something is descending in your hollowness.  You are like a womb and a new life is entering in you, a seed is falling.  And a moment comes when the bamboo completely disappears.”
– Osho


Painting by Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1960


Other posts and pages in this site on this theme:

when the artist disappears, creativity radiates

and when I do that, I feel whole

salmon-mind and stream-ing


Another offering on the topic of creativity, at my blog the awakened eye  [External link]

misinformation and the creative mind


to hell with solemnity and proper art

Artwork by Michael Leunig

 

In his scrumptious essay Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool, Michael Leunig  – Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet – speaks about the way our brilliant ideas often act to sabotage true creativity, leading us into frustration and disillusionment. But all is not lost, he suggests, for our temper tantrums can be the portal to the domain of the holy fool, and that’s the source of our authentic creative expression. The following is a short extract from the essay, which I posted recently at the awakened eye blog.  

It could go something like this: the painter might begin a piece of work with high hopes and set forth with an interesting or brilliant idea in mind, but all too soon the painting begins to fail, the idea collapses and ambition starts to sour.  The transcription from the intellect to the canvas is looking lifeless and artless, and the painter is starting to feel despondent.  It’s not working!  How often it is that the mind and the hand have lost touch with each other.

The painter redoubles all efforts but this only makes things worse and regression is happening as dismay and disillusionment set in.  Soon enough the painting is in a miserable mess and everything is in disarray. It looks awful and the painter is emotionally heavy with self-doubt and disappointment.  The worst has happened, the situation is lost and the painter’s ego is peeling away.

Little is it understood but at last the painter is breaking free, albeit a free fall – into a disturbing state of not knowing.  The regression deepens, reason has fled while tantalizing and delinquent infantile impulses are felt: the petulant desire to destroy the painting and get rid of the evidence; the painful reminder of inability and failure.

At this point one of the noble truths of creativity may begin to emerge: ‘disillusionment precedes inspiration and growth’.  So instead of abandoning the failure as many would, the artist recognizes an opportunity to be free and play about casually or recklessly in the ruins; to experiment and throw all cautious technique, all self criticism and high standards to the wind because now there is nothing to lose and nobody is watching.  Before long the painter has forgotten the failure and becomes absorbed in the anarchy of spontaneous gestures and spirited whimsical play.  The holy fool and originality are at hand. The artist is painting unselfconsciously and with happy abandon – and somewhat like a child.

To hell with solemnity and proper art; the joy of discovery is all that matters now; the unprecedented textures, the way the colours have by chance smeared into each other: beautiful startling subtleties and unimagined miracles small and large to delight or shock the eye.  And so it proceeds until the painter is staring in fascination at this revelation that the hands and impulses have created in a state of regression; a state that could not have been planned or organized – but simply happened when ego and ambition had sufficiently crumbled.

– Michael Leunig, Regressive Painting and the Holy Fool


I realise that many readers of this blog also subscribe to the awakened eye (nods and waves to you) and have probably read Michael’s essay.  But for those of you who haven’t, do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in his writing about creativity, authenticity, playfulness, wonderment, beauty, the holy fool, plus a selection of his whimsical artworks. Here’s the link:

on losing the plot and regaining the world of the holy fool

A couple more quotes – I can’t help myself, these are so cool…

The artist needs to know how to lose the plot
– how to not care and how to not know –
and how to actually enjoy that freedom
and understand what a blessed revitalizing state all of that mess can be.

The most joyous painting is not done for the art world, it is done for the inner world; it is a self delighting other-worldly thing – a getting lost in regression and solitude; a sub-literate, semi-delirious way to be with the spirited little fool in the depths of one’s being for a while – there to invent one’s art freely, and there to find enchantment, infinite surprise and the bright wondrous question ‘What is this?’

http://www.leunig.com.au

Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook


A Leunig post from the archives, 2010

artist, leave the world of art!


Michael Leunig, Holy Fool - Artworks

Holy Fool, Artworks, by Michael Leunig


 

every maker knows the feel of love

 

Every maker knows the feel of Love.

 

It’s the upsurge of

JOY

in your heart
when your gaze falls upon
your makings,
the makings born of an innocent mind

{ BEGINNER’S MIND }

and finds them pleasing.
And you wonder where they came from,
how they happened;
you listen closely as they whisper their story,
the story you had no intention
of telling – indeed, you never knew
until now, until your hands
tentatively, tenderly birthed its expression

IN THE DARK

 

And if your makings have no toe-hold
in the art market…?
Perhaps it’s all the better.
Then you know you’re on your true way,
(not merely a clone, a follower of fashion)
immune to the bleating of the corralled sheep
who claim to know what “real art” should look like.

You stand in your authenticity,
honesty,
impeccability.

You find you don’t mind
that your makings hold no commercial value,
have no relevance to the commodified art scene.

 

You know only one thing matters:
your devotion to

LOVE

You smile at your makings; you nod
knowing that regardless of the titles you gave them
their true name is Love
and they are part of a series that has no end.

 

Every maker knows the feel of Love.

 


Miriam Louisa Simons, Refuge Robe

 Refuge Robe, acrylics, pastels, metallic pigments, loose textured canvas, steel gauze
Private Collection. An offering made for dear friends who gave me shelter during troubled times.


The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.
Carl Jung


I play with color: I love the subtle way it moves and the mystery of its interactions. I love tonal gradations.

I play with texture: I love the way texture reveals light, creates form.

Since color and texture are the agencies of light, I guess that means I play with light: I am a lover of LIGHT.

What is the feel of your Love? What do you love to play with?


 

incartamento

So there I was, happily holed-up in a casa di campagna, a  country hideaway near Alba in Piemonte, Italy. Beautifully restored by Swiss friends, it was a rustico offered to me for a summer’s studio practice. They knew that my teaching work left little time for my own artwork; they also appreciated how important it is for a teacher in any field to be personally engaged with their subject.

I have written previously about a few works from that precious time at Casa Columbina.  See, for example, one Italian summer,  farfalle, and saying the unsayable.  Also see this page in the ‘nomad collection’: Italy

But this little piece stayed in the shadows – perhaps because, at the time, it was too personal, something made for my eyes only, something made to help bring a chapter to a conclusion.  You see, a long relationship had come to an end, and although it was a mutually agreed and (mostly) mature winding-up, there was debris.  It took many moons for the debris to settle, and making this piece definitely helped.

I simply couldn’t toss out my ex-partner’s letters.  He wrote beautifully.  We shared so much: questions, ideas, travel, art.  I wanted to honour both our years together and the traces left in his letters.  I wanted to make some kind of a container for these letters, something simple and rustic, only using materials found at hand.  

As I was playing with possible formats, my Italian neighbour popped in.  I tried to explain what I was doing and she tried to understand… she spoke no English and my Italian is beyond pathetic.  Eventually, she conveyed her understanding that what I was doing was “wrapping it all up”, making a dossier or file… and that Italian word for it was incartamento.  

Oh, I liked that word – it fit my purpose perfectly, and in true Italian style it rolls off the tongue like honey.

Fast forward a couple of decades.  My memento comes out of hiding and a dear friend who knows how to drive a camera expertly documents it for me: thank you, Carol Brandt.


Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 1

salvaged cardboard
khadi paper
acrylic and oil paints
resin stains
the letters
old drawings and photographs
gauze
beeswax
butcher’s twine and other threads
butterfly wings
shoelace

215 x 240 x 65mm

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 2

It can be opened vertically as a book, or horizontally as a box.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento, detail of letter bundle

The letters, wrapped in khadi paper, stitched, bound with butcher’s twine and sealed with beeswax.

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 3

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 4

 

Miriam Louisa Simons - Incartamento 5

 
And now, all these years later, the quiet pleasure of having this memento matures like fine wine.  It gives off a bouquet of gratitude and appreciation for the experiences shared, the learning and depth of feeling that flowers within intimacy.  I prop it up and smile.  

The capacity to make is nothing less than alchemy.


 

slow down, feed soul

Father Bill Moore - A Gathering of Gentle Forces

 

When I began to paint and create my art, I did not know where I was headed as an artist. Yet what remained important to me was that I was beginning my calling as a painter. After I began painting and working as a priest, the idea came to me to create works that could benefit the members of my community.

It always seemed to me that the public was constantly being asked to support either museums, or other cultural institutions. So I decided to take that theory and turn it on its head and use my art to support my community. I do not receive payments for my art, all the monies go directly to my congregation to help others in need.

– Father Bill Moore


I so appreciate Bill Moore – the Bill bloke, without the Fr., or the Dr., or even the Mr. He knew his calling, even though it was a double-header.  He was able to acknowledge that his purpose lay in two directions: he was both a painter, an artist, and he was a priest, a mouthpiece that could inspire and point his congregation towards a sensitive, refined experience of life.  

Which came first or was more significant?  Why would it matter?  What mattered was that he honoured his two-headed calling.

But there was more.  He surrendered his calling to his flock.  He uses his art “to support” his community. This is an uncommon altruism.  My heart thrills to this.

Then there are the paintings with their invitation to touch, to gaze and graze. These are works that I find soul-satisfying on so many levels.

 

Father Bill Moore - Staying in The Present series, 1-4

 

I always want to have a peaceful resolution, even if the painting is full of energy, life and movement, I always want to evoke peace, tranquility and calm. I always want to organize this energy.

 

Father Bill Moore - The Reality of Spirit and Matter

 

“Father Bill imbues his art with a deep spirituality based on who he is,” says Mary Felton, who represents Moore’s work at Galerie Züger in Santa Fe, New Mexico. “His process is to walk up to a blank canvas and see what [the] Spirit wants him to paint on that canvas.”

 

Father Bill Moore - Contemplation

 

I think in many ways, people are hungry for poetry and music and art.  I think we have a deficiency in our spiritual diet.

My art has made me a better priest, and my faith has made me a better artist. We live in hurried times and are inundated with countless images. We have the capacity to immediately access a staggering wealth of information.

Through my art, I’m asking myself and those that would explore it to slow down. To look, touch and consider the essential colors, shapes and textures that can feed our souls.

 

Father Bill Moore - Assisi

 

I hope my paintings serve as an invitation to enter into the mystery of being fully human, and to face our fears and the challenges of life with dignity and grace.
– Father Bill Moore

 


Sources:

frbillmoore.com

westernartandarchitecture.com

avranart.com


Image titles from top:

A Gathering of Gentle Forces
Staying in The Present series, 1-4
The Reality of Spirit and Matter
Contemplation
Assisi

Sizes vary; all are acrylic paint and mixed media on canvas.