Don’t Compare

Don't Compare

I came across something this past week that reminded of an Aha I had while viewing the Matisse exhibit a few years back.

I can’t compare my rough drafts with someone else’s finished masterpiece.

Yet I fall victim to this all the time and people in my workshops often do the same thing. We’re too hard on ourselves. We forget we aren’t seeing the process and the experiments of the masters. We don’t ever see the bits and pieces lying in closets, sitting on a hard drive or consigned to the trash.

Our work is as unique as our signature and that comparison can be helpful. I never worry that my signature doesn’t look like someone else’s. It doesn’t even cross my mind. (Not to mention that would be illegal.)

That’s why we shouldn’t compare our efforts to the person sitting next to us in a workshop or even worse, hanging in a gallery. We are learning about tools and techniques, just like we did in school as we learned to sign our names. Be gentle with your inner artist.

There IS a lot to learn by studying the work of others who have mastered their craft. Just don’t try to BE them.

Let’s be ourselves

So next time my inner voice says “I wish I could paint like…” I’ll remind myself that it’s better if I let myself paint like me.

 

 

Art at the Speed of Life

Art at the speed of life

If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, would answer you: I am here to live out loud. – Émile Zola

Last week, life demanded something new from me.

We left the house at sunrise, headed for my husband’s knee surgery. It was a day of firsts. First surgery ever for him. First time I was the one waiting. First time so far away from family support when life felt scary.

For the six months prior we kept busy, focused on finishing projects like the new BnB suite and my studio. The last 30 days were particularly intense. Toward the end of all our rushing about, we had to keep re-evaluating what we had time for and what could wait. Creative time fell off my list of priorities.

As we drove to Kentville, I took a deep breath and noticed the world around me again.

Mist in low-lying places. A pheasant pacing along the shoulder of the rural road. The silhouette of a lone hawk on the phone line, looking for her breakfast. Soft pink on the eastern horizon, gradually brightening to a sunny day. The spring green of fields and trees.

Now that the (successful) surgery is behind us, I’ve taken on the role of caretaker, which still devours a lot of hours in my day. My studio is waiting for me to return and I’m okay with that. This is what you do for someone you love.

What does this rather personal story have to do with art and creativity?

Sunrise

A lot actually.  Art should happen while we are living very real, very human lives. If we aren’t connected to the people around us, how can our art communicate anything meaningful?

I’m sure you’ve read posts, watched videos and listened to other artists who advise “Just follow your passion”. The experts (and those clever memes) tell us, “If it was really important you’d find time.” The implication seems to be creative passion must take precedent over everything else or we’re not really serious about our art.

We nod our heads because it sounds like great advice and then beat ourselves up, wondering why we can’t find the time or energy to ‘just do it.’

I know if this is true for me, it’s also true for a lot you reading this.

Finding the balance in life

The truth is, this is one more example of those social media ‘echo chambers’ people are talking about. Hearing only one side of any story distorts our perception of what it takes to lead a meaningful life. Because those of us who are artists and writers often seek out creative experts focused on their chosen topic, we can miss the counterbalance of what it means to cope with real life.

It becomes a trap of ‘all or nothing’ thinking. And if I’ve learned nothing else, life is about balance. Ever tried to stand on one foot? In order to retain your balance, your leg and ankle are making constant small adjustments. Balance means adjusting, not rigidity.

We live in a world of contrasts. If our goal is peace of mind then we must let go of the judgments. Both light and shadow are necessary. Ask any artist. Without the shadow, how do you show light?

Filling the well

Life is like a wellWe fill our creative wells by living full lives and living sometimes demands a lot of us.  When we embrace the ups and downs, we have something to say when we do get into our studios or back to our desks.

We must be about life’s business if we want our creative expression to touch other hearts. We must be real. There are times when that passion we’re following will mean taking care of personal needs or a loved one, time with a child or being an active part of our community. It all matters.

Meaningful art doesn’t happen in a bubble. And when life gets crazy busy, as mine did, we can try to fit some tiny snippets of creativity around the other priorities. They act as reminders that this too, is part of who you are.

I did a couple of small sketches and made notes in the little book I keep in my purse. I used my phone to take reference photos. I browsed Pinterest for inspiration and ideas for when my schedule has more space. I knit while I keep my husband company as he heals. I stayed connected to my Facebook group of creative folk.

Meanwhile my focus is on my husband. Underneath, the creative urge is building, like steam under pressure. When the time is right and I return to my studio, I’ll have lots to work with.

 

 

15 Reasons Why I Believe Creative Expression is Vital

Recently I asked myself these questions, “Why do I believe so passionately that creative expression is a sacred trust? Why do I believe it’s vital to leading a full life?”

It wasn’t always like that

I grew up around people who taught taking time to paint and draw was a frivolous use of a precious resource. The leaders of the church I attended taught fiction was like telling lies. Dire warnings that following my own path threatened the natural order of the universe. People I respected told me creativity was highly suspect and safer to steer clear.

Why the next thing you knew, I’d be thinking independantly!

Not my truth

Is it any wonder I felt confused? What I heard didn’t line up with inner wisdom.

It was years before I realized those message told me more about the messengers and not about truth. Their words and warnings reflected warped belief systems, disappointed dreams and their own legacy of distorted messages.

Creative expression or follow the herd

Then one day, I challenged those messages.

Choosing my own path of creative expression

So here I am. Passionately devoted to my own creative path as well as to helping others find theirs.

Today I ask why is that so important to me? Why do I feel words like “sacred trust” are accurate?

Like I always do when I reflect, I turned to my journal and made a list.

 

In no particular order, here it is:

1. Creativity helps us uncover our own truth. It reveals us to ourselves and ultimately, to others.

2. Leading a creative life leaves a mark that says “I was here”. It creates a legacy.

3. Creativity is a form of meditation. When we are in ‘flow’, time disappears. In our chaotic, fast-paced society, this is rare and valuable.

4. As an antidote to our frenetic modern life, anything that reduces our stress offers health benefits.

5. What we are creatively passionate about reveals something to us about our core values.

6.  Anything that nourishes our soul is a positive response to all the negativity that surrounds us these days.

7.  It’s our birthright. We are all born creative. How we express that creativity is unique to each of us.

8. Creativity is a source of personal power. It’s our voice.

9. Creative expression can be a powerful form of protest and activism. Despots and dictators have good reason to be afraid of creative expression.

10. It’s a powerful way to teach without preaching. Let your creations do the talking.

11. Creativity connects us. We find others on the same path as us or we discover intersections and enhance each others’ journey.

12. Creative expression makes us more aware of the world around us.  (When I sketch something I know it in a more intimate way than a mere glance offers.)

13. It expands our world. Think of what we owe to inventors, innovators, photographers, chefs, gardeners, etc, etc .

14. Play. The world needs less seriousness and more joy.

15. Creative living offers the satisfaction of being fully alive, using our gifts.

What did I miss?

Help me to add to this list by replying in the comments.

I’m including a pdf of 15 Reasons to Be Creative. Click the link to download. No need to sign up for anything.

Post it by your desk or in your studio. Share it with anyone who is struggling against old messaging to find their path.

It’s that important.

Book Review – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic

Today, I welcome Elizabeth Cottrell to the blog. She is a writer and creative friend who generously offered to share her review of “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”.

Redefining creativity

From the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Q: What is creativity?
A: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration”

There are a few books in my life that I want to buy several copies and share with my dearest family and friends. Brené Brown’s books are among them, and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is another. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this, because I didn’t jump on the bandwagon for the author’s famous book Eat, Pray Love, which took the world by storm many years ago ( some loved it, some hated it). I have recently started following Elizabeth Gilbert again — she has grown up; she’s a marvelous and engaging writer with a wicked sense of humor; and she is motivating and inspiring. I follow her Facebook page and enjoy her posts.

Who is this book for?

As with most books, timing is everything, and while I could blithely say this book is for everyone, it is probably going to resonate with you more at certain times than others. However, Elizabeth Gilbert is not so timid in her introduction:

I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure…The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.

The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.

The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.

So right from the beginning, she throws down the gauntlet with that challenge…because who wants to live just a mundane existence, right? And who isn’t tantalized by a good treasure hunt? With those words, I was hooked and ready for the adventure.

Creativity Myths Busted

While this book flows well and is an easy read, it can also be put down and picked up without losing continuity. It’s like a necklace of jewels strung together, each beautiful or interesting itself, but even more lovely as a necklace.

Myth-busting is an entertaining and enlightening part of Big Magic. Gilbert takes on some of the myths about creativity that hold us back or paralyze us.

  • We have to kill off our fear of our creativity. No, she says. It’s too likely that when you kill off your fear, you kill off your creativity too. She advocates acknowledging and leaning into your fear. “The less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.”
  • Our worth is measured by our successes or failures. No, our worth is measured by our dedication to our path.
  • Your muse is yours alone. Gilbert believes inspiration is energy seeking a human partner to be made manifest. So if one human refuses to embrace and cultivate it, it will move on elsewhere. She shares a fascinating personal story to demonstrate this.
  • There are creative geniuses. She would say there are people who embrace genius.
  • True creatives must do something original. Gilbert says, “Most things have already been done—but they have not yet been done by you.”
  • True creatives must suffer and starve. “There is no dishonor in having a job.”

Question the common wisdom

One of Gilbert’s gifts is taking common/trite sayings and turning them on their ear. A good example of this is the question often asked by motivational types in an attempt to help their students identify their true calling: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Gilbert sees this differently and asks instead, “What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?” That’s a question to test your passion, for sure.

One of the reasons I particularly enjoyed this book is because of my own conflicted feelings about creativity and how narrowly I used to define it. I’ve written about it before (See “Are You An Artist?”), but for years, I was sure I wasn’t the least bit creative. I was a science major with no obvious aptitude for drawing, painting, or thinking up fiction plots. My only skills were all about logic, productivity, business, or common sense.

Or so I thought.

Several years ago, I had the startling revelation that creativity manifests itself in lots of different ways, including business, marketing, networking. When I have a blank piece of paper and colored markers in front of me, I may not want to make a picture, but what I DO want to put on the paper is WORDS. So now that I’ve embraced the notion I’m creative after all, I can’t get enough of reading about creativity. Gilbert’s words on the back of this book’s dust jacket are compelling:

Creativity is sacred, 
and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously,
and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are
accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and
a wonderful privilege.
The work wants to be made, and
it wants to be made through you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, through Big Magic, made me want to say YES to the adventure of uncovering the hidden treasures within me. What books have you read that motivate and inspire you to live your most creative, wholehearted life?


Elizabeth Gilbert has been a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was named a best book of 2013 by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and O: The Oprah Magazine.


Elizabeth Cottrell, Big Magic reviewElizabeth Cottrell, author of this review, hales from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. She is a freelance writer and blogger at Heartspoken.com.

“I’ve been lots of things in my life—from farm girl to leprosy researcher; from wife and mother to bank board chairman—but at my core, I’m a connector and encourager whose artistic tools of choice are fountain pen and paper and whose deepest desire is to be a channel for God’s light and love as long as I’m able.”