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


we go on making, we go on dancing

 
There’s been a long hiatus from studio work and blogging – so long that it amazes me that any readers call by this little corner of the cyberworld at all.  But the stats tell me they do, and I thank you – all of you.  I hope you found something worthwhile among these postings; a little inspiration or encouragement, or something to ponder, perhaps.

While I’m still without a workspace, energy is returning for the beloved creative work/play – for color and texture and shape and form.  I’m inspired anew by discovering the ways in which the inexpressible displays its wonders in the micro-universe.  Whether I’m attuned or not, whether I’m aware and amazed or not, the miracle of Life keeps on making, keeps on creating, inexhaustible and immeasurably.  And artists never lie down exhausted for long.  Their passion – if it’s honored and fostered, given time and space – will always be a source of their healing.  They don’t create because it’s fun or recreational (although it often will be); they create because they must, because if they stay away too long from ‘the dance’ they fall ill.

I gaze in utter wonderment at the dance of creation displayed in this photomicrograph of soap bubbles. And I feel the sap rising.  How will it express?  How will it release and focus energy within the field of capacity and skills that make up the playground called ‘me’?

 

Wonderingmind Studio: micro-photograph of soap suds

 

Yes, we live in a quantum world where there is only, in TS Eliot’s phrase, ‘the dance’, and the dance is always changing, both in the sub-atomic world of particles, and in the visible world of objects.  We construct our world so that we can apprehend it, we make our ideas visible so that we and others can enjoy them and debate them, and usually destroy them at some time or other, but we go on making, we go on turning energy into objects.  The object itself is provisional, the energy, though changing, is permanent, and is a feature of the whole universe.  What art does is to release and focus energy in a particular way, and I would argue that what we call art objects are places where energy is especially intense.  It doesn’t matter whether it is a picture or a book or a piece of music, or a performance, it is a concentration of energy.  This is why the arts occupy relatively timeless space, and why one of the tests of art is that it should go on working on us long after any contemporary interest in its subject matter is extinct.  We don’t go to Shakespeare to find out about life in Elizabethan England, we go to Shakespeare to find out about ourselves now.  The energy in the plays goes on being released.

Jeanette Winterson


For more micro miracles visit the National Geographic website.


the serious pleasure of doing something for its own sake

 
Like religion, art offers an alternative value system; it asks us to see differently, think differently, challenging ourselves, and the way we live.  Most importantly, art is a continual reminder that the money and celebrity scrabble of the modern world can be countered by the serious pleasure of doing something for its own sake.  The old-fashioned word ‘love’ is appropriate here.  Real writers, painters, musicians, do want they do because they love what they do.  The money is secondary. We are often dazzled by the media circus surrounding the arts, but behind all that, going on as it ever did, is the intent and endeavour of the artist, an intent and endeavour that we share when we choose to read, or look at pictures or go to the theatre, and so on.  The twenty-four emergency zone that we call real life saps our energies.  Art renews those energies because it allows us an experience of active meditation.  The energies of the artwork cross-current into us.  It is a transfusion of a kind, and if this has religious overtones, it doesn’t matter.  Nobody need be nervous about a connection between art and religion.  All of life is connected and our deepest experiences, whether of faith or love or art will share similar qualities.

– Jeanette Winterson


Source – http://www.jeanettewinterson.com


[My emphasis]