alchemy meets maker’s mind : a retrospective glance

 
At the close of my three-month daily details project last year I wrote a post titled  curiosity and wonderment.

It reminded me of a little piece I’d penned by that name – years ago – to accompany a slide presentation and discussion of my work to students.  (Yes, it was that long ago – slides, not powerpoint!)

Putting it on a page, with a few illustrations, seems like a good way to fatten out my artist’s statement. Here’s an excerpt.


Curiosity.  Wonderment.  Amazing that one’s via creativa could be summed up in just two words.

Plato said that philosophy begins with wonder, so perhaps that makes me some kind of philosopher – but I’m not sure what kind.  Certainly not the academic kind; I have always found it tedious to have to remember and regurgitate the ideas of others when there is a whole universe of places to find ideas of my very own – both in the wonder-full world of nature and the curious recesses of my own brain.  And especially in the way these two inter-act when I am freely and playfully making things.  Perhaps that means I’m some kind of a practical philosopher, but still I’m not sure.  Must we be categorized and pigeon-holed under labels such as philosophers, or, for that matter, artists?

It is play, not properness
that is the central artery, the core,
the brain stem of creative life.

No play, no creative life.
Be good, no creative life.
Sit still, no creative life.

The impulse to play is an instinct.

– Clarissa Pinkola Estes

As a small child I never demonstrated any artistic interest in reproducing objects, people or landscapes in any medium.  But I was endlessly fascinated with, and always busy, creating things – all sorts of things. Especially things that involved some kind of alchemy.  Things that altered the everyday, that changed my usual way of seeing the world in some way.  I’m recalling the shoe-boxes I’d fill with little treasures and cover with colored cellophane then peek into through little viewing holes under different kinds of light.  Or things that were made by transforming simple materials – like turning lengths of yarn into forms by crocheting or knitting or knotting.  Or things that changed color when I put them into buckets of dye, or left them buried in Dad’s compost heap, or under spawning mushrooms in the bush.

 Miriam Louisa Simons: earthWorks series

detail – earthWorks series
folded, buried, distressed khadi paper, found objects

I began my professional life as a classroom teacher.  It was a perfect fit for my personality and my love of teaching has never waned.  But I soon discovered that being contained within educational institutions was hazardous to my creative life.

I branched out on my own, set up my own designer label producing art-to-wear.  It was a perfect outlet for my creative passion at the time – completely self-taught, I manufactured every stage of each garment myself from concept to completion.  Pattern design and sewing, textile surface design, modeling, marketing and sales all fell under my one-woman banner. […]
 

Continue reading here:
curiosity and wonderment [the page]


beginner’s mind is mind that is free to wonder

 
Being objective about my work is somewhat tricky because when creating is happening I seem to ‘disappear’. This has always been a mystery for me. Looking back, I notice several stages of fascination or inquiry as I explored this mystery.

In the beginning, as a child, there was simply the delight and joy of making things. Pure play. Innocent wonder. Then, during the years of my education, the criteria invented by those who knew what ‘art’ was ‘all about’ crowded in and I attempted to make my ‘things’ fit those criteria. I began to explore the intellectual arena called aesthetics. And the mystery faded, quietly, almost without notice.

For over twenty years I made my living creating wearable art. The magic of creativity was there, but it was increasingly elusive and erratic. Since its presence brought a profound and inexpressible sense of wonder and rightness, a sense of utter blessing which never occurred elsewhere in my experience, I began to stalk it. As I did so, it led me away from concerns with financial success, with exhibiting, and even with peer acceptance. It took me into the selva oscura, into exile.

The creative encounter had become my teacher, my guru. It took me to places all over the world where I would be involved in creative education, where I would meet others whose over-riding passion was the mystery of creation. It kept me on the road for decades practicing, teaching, inquiring. It ensured I’d never become locked into making a certain type of art product; if I fell into habit or repetition it simply disappeared. It was replaced by tedium.

Eventually the via creativa led me back to square one. I had spent decades forgetting that I knew everything I needed to know about creating (just play!) and gathering up an arsenal of concepts and conclusions about creativity. Now I had to forget everything I had learned.

It wasn’t so difficult. Play is the key to beginner’s mind, and humans are hard-wired for play. (Although the wires can become rusty and tangled sometimes!) Beginner’s mind is mind that is free to wonder. No conclusions, no prescriptions, not even any intentions. Just space, in which creativity may – or may not – come to play.

– miriam louisa simons


when the artist disappears, pure creativity radiates


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


creating from wonder 2

 

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


Marvel and wonder go hand-in-hand, and their offspring is true learning. One of the most exciting things about the kind of activity that occurs in the art room, (the educating art room), is that it is firmly grounded in experimental processes. We are, as novice or professional artisans, deeply involved in both wonder and wondering.

Questions are the life-blood of the artisan, and the prime question in any artisan’s mind is “What if …?”  This is a question that makes many parents and teachers wince.  At the same time, it’s the one that generates exploration and experimentation in the fields of science, sports, philosophy – what area of human endeavor can be excluded from its penetrating, “But perhaps…”?

The “What if …?” of wondering mind is the fuel for any investigation into creativity.

 

blindmen

Blind Men on a Log Bridge
By Hakuin Ekaku
(The Gitter Collection)

Hakuin’s painting is a beautiful depiction of the creative process.

Two blind travellers are crossing a river on a bridge made from a floating log. Imagine the courage, the focus, the risk! Arms reach out to probe for stability, feet follow one tentative step at a time. Balance is maintained, but only by ruthless presence in the moment. What if a wave rolls the log ? What if it is flooded over? What if someone is approaching? What if it’s too short, too narrow, too rotten?

The blind men just keep going.

This is so often the way we feel when faced with the empty canvas. We struggle to find a foothold. We feel we haven’t a clue as to what we’re doing or where we’re going.

Well, the good news is that this is exactly how we will feel, if genuine creative expression is our priority.
[Continued…]

– miriam louisa simons


e-books
creating from wonder 1
creating from wonder 3


finding your passion

 

Imagine my delight to hear Sir Ken Robinson interviewed by Kerry O’Brien on the 7.30 Report this week.  Sir Ken is described as an ‘education and creativity expert’ and received a knighthood for his contributions in these fields. He has written a book called The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

I’ve interviewed a lot of people for the book, and, you know, there was a time when Paul McCartney, so to speak, was not Paul McCartney.  You know, it isn’t that all these people were born as celebrities; they achieved some celebrity because of pursuing their own particular talent and their passion.  And I do think we all have that in us, yeah.  The people achieve their best when they firstly tune into their natural aptitudes – and lots of people I have interviewed aren’t musicians, they’re mathematicians, they’re business leaders, they’re teachers, they’re broadcasters, you know, they’ve found this thing that the completely get.  But the second thing is that they love it.  And if you can find that – a talent and a passion – well that’s to say you never work again.  And it is true, I think, that our current education systems are simply not designed to help people do that.  In fact an awful lot of people go through education and never discover anything they’re good at at all.

… we’re all born with tremendous creative confidence and abilities.  Young children are full of great ideas and possibilities.  But that tends to be suppressed as we get older. And it happens in part through this culture of standardised testing that I think is now a blight on the whole of education.

But the second thing is that we all think and learn differently.  I mean, some people are highly visual;  you know, some think best when they’re moving;  some think best when they’re listening;  some people respond well to words, some people don’t.  And getting the best from kids in schools is about understanding the way they think, as well as what it is they’re supposed to be thinking about.  And I think that’s also why some people get through the whole of their education and don’t discover themselves at all.

… the one thing we have as human beings is this extraordinary power of imagination and creativity and the ability to solve problems as well as to deal with ones that we’ve just created.  So, this isn’t some whimsical idea.

– Sir Ken Robinson


Read the whole interview at www.abc.net.au

The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything