the alchemy of creativity

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

– Agnes Martin

 

Agnes Martin, Untitled 1960

 

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 decades to notice that if I was experiencing unease, confusion or frustration, the failsafe remedy was to enter creative engagement. In that engagement, that 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 that is 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 – twenty years ago – and 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 – “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 “unite” again with that which we never left and yet can never know – the Unified Field of Creation. Our whole self.

 

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 so vital to “get” this, because here is precisely where 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:

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.

And the last word…

 

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

Making your unknown known is the important thing.

– Georgia O’Keeffe

 


*Try this. 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 on this theme:

when the artist disappears, creativity radiates

and when I do that, I feel whole

salmon-mind and stream-ing


wider wonderment; deepening devotion

 

Wonderingmind Studio: Miriam Louisa Simons - Dana

 

It’s the first day of a new year. I have been a very infrequent blogger on this site over the past year, but the pot has never been off the simmer. This post has been crafted over months – months during which my studio practice has been slowly resurrecting itself after a long hiatus and finding its voice from a place so mysterious that there has been no hurried urge to share, to make explicit, its deep inward movement.

In hindsight, I recognise that this mysterious movement has always been the prime motivator of my art practice. My inquiry has always occurred within the simple activity of making things, and the things I make are the inevitable outcome of the unique mix of my abilities, experience, and the questions raised by my circumstances in time and place.

I’ve never been interested in creating replicas of objects – human or non-human, or visual narratives about social and political issues, or in making explicit aspects of my own pathology. The ‘visionary’ output of my imagination never held any attraction. So what was it that compelled me to turn up in the studio year after year – regardless of whether there was an exhibition looming or not, or any commissions to complete?

It was, and remains, a mysterious attraction to something that occurs when I’m playing in a certain way with my materials without any intention to produce any kind of ‘art’ object.

“A certain way”?  This is hard to describe; it’s immaterial what technical processes I’m using, or what version of visual language I’m ‘speaking’. What is crucial is an attitude of innocent curiosity and a willingness to encounter – and be comfortable with – the unknown. And I can’t help but notice that to the extent that I’m absent (as artist, designer, controller, critic) creativity flows. My amazement at what shows up is as acute today as it was at the beginning of my via creativa.

Looking back over more than five decades of making things, I can see that I have always been preoccupied with icon making. Whether conscious of it or not, I’ve been making secular icons, altarpieces; expressions of wonder, expressions that in their eclectic and deceptive simplicity might have the power to affect consciousness – to close the gap between the observer and the object observed, even if only for a moment’s restful ahhhh … a little benediction of peace.

Although there were many occasions when I was informed that my makings had this effect, I had little scholastic reference to back up the concept until a book called Tantra Song landed in my lap, and I learned that for hundreds if not thousands of years, artists in Rajasthan, India, have – usually in anonymity and seclusion – created images specifically for the purpose of the transformation of consciousness. I learned the significance, in this context, of my own habitual use of certain symbols and colors – components of my work that had been turning up forever, without my conscious understanding of what they stood for in the lexicon of Yoga Art. My hair stood on end.

A second mind-shifter crept up on me soon after. For the better part of a decade I have devoted an enormous amount of time and energy (aka love) creating a cyber platform for artists and artisans who speak about their practice in terms of engagement or intimacy with the unknown: theawakenedeye.com  Over the years I have had the privilege of reading and sharing the heart-felt authentic expressions of many makers across a wide range of work – all sharing the sense that their practice is an expression of wonderment at, and devotion to, something much larger than themselves. Something that moves through them when they are empty enough, quiet enough, humble enough.

Recently I came upon an artist writing very explicitly and beautifully about her practice as “devotion to the unknown”, and I felt the earth move. There was an upswelling of a mountainous YES. It was like the ‘hundredth monkey effect’ – there was such a powerful shift. Her directness moved me to totally cease censoring my own real-time artist statements to make them conform to the currently correct version of artspeak.

(Many years ago, a Melbourne curator had advised me not to speak of ‘flakey spiritual stuff’ when dealing with galleries or arts councils. For decades, I’d felt split in two – my identity as a maker whose practice is wholly concerned with the unknowable source of creation was intact in the studio and online, but in real time I felt forced to dissemble.)

So here’s the truth: the crux of my work is devotion. Whatever happens in the studio is an act of devotion to the innate Unknowable. How could I not be in awe of the mystery that pours through these hands, this mind, when given unconditional permission, when not impeded by my own small visions and versions of what real art should look like?

It’s an act of awe and devotion, yes. But as the same artist pointed out – that’s not the whole story.

Devotion to the Unknowable doesn’t mean one stops questioning the great mysteries of existence. Actually, it generates and fosters this inquiry; such was the intention behind instruction in the Mystery Schools. We discover that the Unknown/Unknowable isn’t some kind of remote and sacrosanct object. It’s inescapably and seamlessly interwoven into our every perception, thought and experience. Just don’t try to define, systematize or organise it – it simply can’t be conceptualized.

But it can be expressed. And to my mind, this is the power and purpose of any creative expression, whether visual or poetic, performed or musical: its capacity to evoke that Unknown, to render it visible in its shimmering, evanescent, momentary wholeness.

Wholeness. There’s something that happens in the creative encounter that’s familiar to artists of all kinds. It’s a melting of the division between our seemingly solid separate self and the wild suchness of the world; a dissolving that brings an experience of utter wonder, of timelessness, of knowing that this is the way the world simply IS in its naked perfection.

I never know what will happen when I walk into my studio. I may have a list of tasks to attend to, but when it comes to the empty canvas I’m brain-dead. I’m on my knees without a prayer – empty and ready. I’ve spent decades maybe, pondering questions that can’t be answered with words; they are folded up in my heart. It may be today that the Unknown makes an appearance in form. If not today, well, I’ll be back tomorrow just in case She shows up, and is in the mood to make.


Image – Wonderbox series, Dana, Miriam Louisa Simons


Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan, by Franck André Jamme


07.10.12

 

daily details 07.10.12

 

painted silk Habotai, textured card, fiber reactive dyes


The only real experiences in life [are] those lived with a virgin sensibility
– so that we only hear a tone once, only see a color once,
see, hear, touch, taste and smell everything but once, the first time.

All life is but an echo of our first sensations,
and we build up our consciousness, our whole mental life
by variations and combinations of these elementary sensations.

– Herbert Read, The Innocent Eye


when the artist disappears, creativity radiates

 

The loss of a sense of separateness, of self-as-artist, isn’t an uncommon experience for artists, writers, actors and performers – or perhaps anyone in deep intimacy with their task-at-hand. But it’s not commonly written or talked about, so I was delighted to find a blog post by artist Meg Hitchcock on exactly this theme. Amazingly, we were writing these observations at around the same time – Meg in New York and me in Queensland Australia. Memes at work? 
 

Meg Hitchcock, Radiance

When I’m particularly absorbed in the creative process, I lose awareness of myself as someone to attend to.  Instead there is an awareness of an energy flowing through me that requires no explanation, no assistance, no tending to.  I am conscious of consciousness, and compelled to do only one thing: stay out of the way.  Just keep working, don’t analyze, try to ignore thoughts, and keep plugging away at the process at hand.

At the moment I’m cutting up the Koran with an x-acto blade letter by letter, and reassembling it into the Book of Revelation.  Pretty rote stuff.  But there are a lot of aesthetic decisions to be made as I work, so I can’t just put it on autopilot.  I’m present insofar as I decide where the line of type is going to be placed on the paper, but my ego involvement is minimal.  That’s when everything’s going well.  When things go badly, it’s because I’ve thought too much, and my ego has slipped through the gap.  My flat files are filled with paintings and drawings that were done by my ego.  Boring stuff.

I hear actors talk about losing themselves in the role they’re playing.  Ironically, when there is no trace of the actor, that’s when she gives a brilliant performance.  It’s the same with visual art.  Closing the gap and losing oneself is what creativity is all about.  When the artist disappears, pure creativity radiates, and consciousness unfolds into more consciousness.

– Meg Hitchcock


Read the entire post at Meg’s blog: http://meghitchcock.blogspot.com/2009/09/consciousness-creativity.html

Image source – Meg Hitchcock’s website

Meg’s work and writing also appears at the awakened eye website


the heart of creativity

 

John Daido Loori: Think Non Thinking

John Daido Loori, Roshi, Think Non-thinking, 2000
Sumi-e on paper

 
The still point is at the heart of the creative process.  In Zen, we access it through zazen.  The still point is like the eye of the hurricane.  Still, calm, even in the midst of chaos.  It is not, as many believe, a void to retreat into, shutting out the world.  To be still means to empty yourself from the incessant flow of thoughts and create a state of consciousness that is open and receptive.  Stillness is very natural and uncomplicated.  It’s not esoteric in any way.  Yet it’s incredibly profound.

. . .

“I find myself agitated most of the time,” said a young man, so it’s difficult for me to sit. What would you suggest I do?”

Eido [Shimano] reached for the pitcher of water that was sitting next to him.  He lifted it with a swift jerk, causing water to spill.  “What can I do?”  Then he jerked the pitcher to the right.  Again water spilled. “I don’t know what is happening.”  Again to the left.  “I can’t settle down.”  Again to the right.  Suddenly he held the pitcher high above his head and in a deep voice shouted, “TIME TO SHUT UP AND SIT!” and slammed the pitcher on the floor.  He reared back, stared at the pitcher, pointed at it, turned to the audience, and said, “Look, it’s still.”  Again he folded his hands, lowered his eyes, and became silent.

John Daido Loori, Roshi


Source – both of these passages come from The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori, Roshi


creating from wonder 3

 

This is the final of three brief extracts from book eight – creating from wonder – in my series of free e-books: empty canvas : wondering mind


In her book The Quantum Self, Danah Zohar posits that creativity is the dynamic of unfolding consciousness. If, as she proposes, the unfolding consciousness of reflecting human beings forms the bridge between the contemporary world with its fragmentation, alienation, inhumanity, and the “reconciled universe” of coherence, integration and meaning, then it is clear that we need to stop ignoring the beckoning call of creative acting and thinking. We need to start asking some “What if …?” questions about what we presume creativity to be, and why we aren’t able to experience it in a sustained way in every aspect of our lives. There are few better ways of doing that than by engaging in practical encounters with the processes involved in looking, seeing and making.

creating from wonder brings to synthesis all the experiences we’ve had as we moved through the previous 8 books in the empty canvas – wondering mind series. It closes the circle. It brings us back to the wonder of perception and to the space in which that-which-is can speak. But we arrive there richer in every way – richer in insight, in technique, and in our ability to play with the unfamiliar. The empty canvas is our lover, at last.

We have thought hard, questioned hard, and played hard. Now we can bring our new perceptions and perspectives to larger projects – projects that unfold from the activities of the previous chapters. We have established some basic ways of looking and working that we can apply to themes, without being blinded by their abstract qualities or our notions of what we ought to do.

There are fourteen projects in creating from wonder. How you choose to approach them is up to you. They don’t follow any sequence, but you’ll notice that they each relate, in some way, to one (or more) of the previous books. You could start at the first one and work your way through the lot, or simply pick and choose those that have some special appeal. Any of these projects make good workshop activities – they can be explored as deeply as you are inclined to dig, and since there are no ideal outcomes, the need for an authoritative leader is redundant.

The projects:

1  unfold your myth
2  veritable vestments
3  Buddha-body
4  the heart of the story
5  animated grey matter
6  a sanctuary for the secret senses
7  playing with process
8  metaphorically speaking
9  objets trouvés
10  deconstructing and recycling
11  shape-shifting
12  quantum realities
13  culture and creativity
14  the three questions

– miriam louisa simons


e-books
creating from wonder 1
creating from wonder 2