Saturday, January 31, 2009

Art vs. Form as Function

Creativity and the Everyday

An article in last April’s New York Times by Glenn Collins reminded me that art used to be the everyday. In traditional earth-based societies everywhere around the world, everyday objects---from spoons to moccasins, camel knee-pads to bowls---were decorated and used. There was no distinction between “fine” or “high” art and functional art, no difference between an elite corps of artists and the regular person.

I think we’ve lost something in moving from art as function to form as function. While we still admire the lines of an expensive sink faucet or the new wood paneled refrigerator, are we missing opportunities to express our own vision of the world in our daily lives?

We’re closer to imbuing our lives with creative energy when we hang our children’s finger-painted masterpieces on the refrigerator door, or tack their first drawing of a tree---even though it might be purple---to the board by our desks. We allow this expression to our children, but what about to ourselves?

In the article, “All the Colors of the Rugs the Nomads Walked On,” Collins remarks about camel knee covers: “…the curiosity is that they are so intricately woven, so richly patterned and so extraordinarily colorful.” The pieces are “…so much more glorious than they need to be…” The curator of the show being referenced, Jon Thompson is quoted as saying, “Everything here was made for some purpose. And someone put effort and energy---and love---into making it.”

I remember studying Native cultures from various parts of the world. My second major in undergraduate school was cultural anthropology; I returned for my first Masters degree in the same subject. Part of what’s always drawn me to the Original Peoples of the world is their creativity. The way the nomads of the Middle East wove with “a riot of color in a landscape that is beige,” as the rug show’s assistant curator said. The way even the most crooked pottery from the early Anasazi culture of the American Southwest carries lines and dots and geometric patterns to embellish it. How tiny the patterns of the woven baskets of Africa are; or the intricacies of porcupine quill weaving in Northeast America.

And all these items were used. They weren’t sequestered away on museum shelves protected from touch. The purpose was to use all these products. Expressing creativity was an everyday, accepted, even expected part of daily life.

Wouldn’t it be lovely to get back to that quality of life? Everyone as an artist…every object a work of art.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Creativity & Alchemy

Creativity---always interesting new definitions of it popping up here and there. In reading through an old pile of New York Times articles, saved for a rainy day (does snow count?), I came across a NYT magazine piece about Tom Binnes, artist extraordinaire of found objects. Jewelry and masks are among the prominent pieces in his collections from the past 20 years. That’s along and illustrious career!

What caught my eye was what Binns said about his own art: “I am always trying to reassess the value of something.”

Isn’t that what all creativity is about?

I have my saying, “There is always something new under the sun” on products through What I mean by that is, I think, what Binns alludes to. That whether or not there are new factual objects in our universe, there is always a new way of seeing what’s already there. A new interpretation, a redefinition, a turning something on its side or upside down, whether it’s an object that can be held, a way of moving, a turn of phrase, a meaning or an insight.

Art, in all its forms, is in that way, alchemy. Turning something into something else.

We are all magicians!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Imagination vs. Knowledge

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”--Albert Einstein (Quoted in Chapter Three of The UPositive Guide to Goal Attainment for Creative People)

I love this quote. It makes me think every time I read it. I was raised, like many of us, to believe that knowledge was the key to the world. The more information we retained, the smarter we were…the more successful we would become. We were rewarded for As in school, punished for low grades. And obtaining those grades often meant letting go of our imaginations that might argue with the “facts” or focusing our left brains to memorize and store the information that we were taught. If we questioned too much, or asked the “wrong” questions, we were admonished. Repeating the data perfectly, which is defined as obtaining knowledge, became the goal for success.

And here comes Einstein, of all people, the epitome of shifting our knowledge of the universe and how it works, saying that knowledge isn’t the most important goal. Imagination, of all things---a right-brain activity---is more important. How can that be?

Bottom line for me in answering this is that without imagination our knowledge would never grow. We would pass the exact same information from generation to generation, never learning anything new, never expanding our experience, never achieving breakthroughs in science or mathematics or even chemistry---all arenas we usually think of as Left Brain.

Kekule, who discovered the benzene ring which brought major breakthroughs in chemistry and therefore medicine, first saw the structure in that half-dream state of the imagination. Einstein himself, after working his Left Brain into exhaustion trying to figure out his theory, finally reached his Theory of Relativity lying on his back staring at the sky in a trance state. These are all right-brain, or imagination, states of being.

It is, indeed, the imagination that allows us to increase our knowledge. That makes complete sense in rereading Einstein’s quote.

Are there any other ways you see to read the quote? Please post your replies here. I’m looking forward to reading them.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dreams, Beliefs, Plans, Actions

“To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.”--Anatole France (as quoted in Chapter Five of The UPositive Guide to Goal Attainment for Creative People)

I often read about goal setting or achievement as taking action. If only you do the steps, you’ll reach your goal.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Or does it? Does it begin with the act of taking a step? Or does it begin with the dream of walking a thousand miles? Of having the intention to go somewhere other than where you are at the moment? To accomplish your goal, you need not only the dream or vision of it, but then the plan of how to get from here to there, of which direction to head in, and the belief that you are able to take the steps, and that with your plan, the steps will lead you to your goal, to your “great thing.” Taking a step, if you have no dream or direction, no plan or belief, can just as easily start you walking in a very small circle as it can start you heading on a journey. A thousand steps without direction can get you into a very close, very deep rut.

The “down” time is so essential to success. If you only work toward your goals, only act, you’ll exhaust yourself. Dreaming and believing, internal rather than external activities---done best during periods of “rest”---empower the actions you take toward your accomplishments.

Revisiting your dream, your vision, your visualization of your goals reinvigorates your passion, which then guides your reticular activating system and fuels your actions. When you dream and believe, and add plans and action, you pave the way for miracles to happen: you-made as well as Universe-made.

So, dream away! Believe in yourself! And then make your plans and take the actions you need to get you there.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Making it Easy for the Muse

One of my friends who has a problem, as most of us do at some point or other, actually sitting down to write her book, put it, she’s waiting for the inspiration to hit. We’d been through long conversations about writing, about the creative process, about the creative act and the doing of it.

When she said she was waiting for the Muse to come knock down her door and then she’d get creative, I saw the problem in a new way. Here’s some of my response to her:

“That’s your problem! Aha! Got it! You think that writing is about award-wining ideas hitting you. Nope. Writing is about putting words on paper (or typing them onto a computer screen). Simple. That's it.
“And that goes for painting or choreographing, or designing, or any creative act at all. It’s never about the brilliant Aha! moment that’s supposed to come in a vacuum. Vacuums are overrated.
“More often, the Aha! award-winning stuff comes in the middle of some really awful, disgusting totally garbage-bound stuff. You have to prepare the stage: you have to do the garbage to get to the awards.
“You don't write (or paint or dance, etc.) just when inspiration hits. You write so inspiration can hit. You give it the opportunity, make it easy, prepare the target.
“Inspiration looks for the easy way---like we all do and like all natural phenomena do. If it's floating by and there's someone already writing (garbage or whatever) it doesn't stop to judge, it just sees that there are fingers flying and putting words down (or feet already dancing, or a paintbrush already poised above canvas…) and it's much easier to drop the inspiration in those laps than to find someone else, get them to stop whatever else they're doing, find pad and pencil or plug in the laptop or tie their ballet slippers, or mix the perfect green pigment, and finally, after all that, give them the inspiration. I mean, really...if you were a Muse, which way would you go?”

So let’s all make a resolution for 2009: Let’s make it the year of Making it Easy for the Muse. Let's get the garbage out of the way by starting without the Muse, so when the Muse is ready, she/he/it can inspire us easily.

Happy Creative 2009!


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Worthy Goals

What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.” --Victor Frankl

This is the first quote in The UPositive Guide to Goal Attainment for Creative People (available from It's an important thought: not only that people need goals, but need goals that are larger and more meaningful than the everyday. What goal is actually worthy of your true self? Of your ‘largest’ self? What goal is big enough and encompassing enough to be worthy of your soul?

Notice, too, that Frankl doesn’t speak about the attainment of the goal, but of the “striving and struggling” for it. He isn’t referring to the success or failure of reaching the goal, but of the process of living toward that goal.

We often make our goals too small. We envision only that which we are willing to think we CAN reach. What would happen if we made our goals large enough that reaching them stops being the issue, but striving and struggling for them becomes the purpose of our days and nights?

I’m impressed by a number of the movies Robert Redford has chosen to act in. Putting aside my attraction to the man for a moment (not his looks, but him)… I have thought often about what common thread runs through many of these films: Brubaker; Havana; Milagro Beanfield Wars; and Quiz Show (in reverse), among others. What I see in these is a main character who becomes bigger than himself (in Quiz Show, smaller) by acting from a private passion or commitment. By engaging in the process, they become more human, more effective; their actions extend farther past themselves into the world; they make more of an impact than they could imagine even in their own minds.

If we commit to a larger vision, something we might not even believe we can reach, and commit to the process, how much farther along the path we might get! I have a little sign framed in my house that reads: “Reach for the moon: even if you fail you land among the stars.” It reminds me of just this: the farther I reach, the farther I’ll get. If I aim for a large, distant goal, even if I don’t get there, I’ll get farther than if I reach for a small goal that is a sure thing.

I remember in the ‘60s and ‘70s when we had the audacity to try to end world hunger. We haven’t done it yet. Knowing we wouldn’t accomplish it in 40 years…we might have given it up. But look how much closer we are than if we hadn’t taken it on as a goal then. There are food banks all across America. There are hunger relief programs all across the world. Even the US Postal Service conducts a food drive: we started that ‘way back when. So many more people eat now; so many fewer starve. Do we still have a very long way to go to alleviate world hunger? You bet we do. Might we achieve that in the next 40 years? Who knows? But if we continue to aim for it, we’ll end up with a lot fewer hungry people than would exist if we decided it was an “impossible” goal and gave it up.

And, what are you willing to attain, even by miracle? If you don’t engage in the process, even a miracle can’t get you there. How would you feel if you find a goal worthy of that stress and strain, worthy of your soul---and by your daily efforts (and miracle, if necessary)---you do reach it?

So what goals are worthy of your striving and struggling in 2009? What are you willing to stress yourself for? What are you willing to maybe fail at reaching just to get that much closer?