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Ideas have ancestors

geneology of ideas

“Look at Shakespeare, who borrowed all of his plots. In ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own.” George R.R. Martin

It’s all been done before…and that’s fantastic!

Ideas are the seeds of creativity. And yet, as artists and writers we often get discouraged thinking “It’s all been done before.”

That’s the good news. No, really. It IS good news because I’m not sure anyone is wholly original. We build on each other’s ideas. That’s why I say that ‘ideas have ancestors.’ We can trace their lineage.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet (and it sounds like he got his plot elsewhere.) Along came the creators of West Side Story who basically told the same story but changed it. George R.R. Martin took a story from history, amped it up and made it his own.

You’re probably thinking “But, Aprille, what about Leonardo da Vinci?” (Insert any creative hero here.)

They got their ideas from somewhere else, often the natural world around them. They saw what everyone else saw but  through the lens of curiosity.

Make it your own

What could you create today starting with the inspiration of something else? How would you change it to make it truly your own? I’m not advocating copying. That’s just plain bad karma.  But inspiration? That’s a good thing.

Inspiration always starts somewhere. Steve Jobs got his design idea for the Ipad on a Zen retreat. The designer of Velcro was a hunter who had to pick cockle-burs off his pants and wondered how they stuck there.

The geneology of an idea

Austin Kleon, in his brilliant book “Steal Like an Artist” talks about the ‘geneology of ideas’. I love this concept. So much in fact, that I did as he advised and spent time reading about an artist I greatly admire. From there I tracked down her influencers and saw how they inspired her.

From that I got a whole slew of creative ideas, all of them uniquely mine and yet…not. I can trace their family tree.

See what I mean? It’s not about being an original. It’s about seeing things in a new way by building on our creative ‘ancestors’. I’m not sure anyone starts from nothing. Ideas have family trees.

Gives a whole new meaning to recycling, doesn’t it?

Who are your creative heroes? How have they influenced you? Share in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

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Muse Flash: Be the Verb

Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your partner every day. Barbara De Angelis

I know. This is an art blog, not a relationship blog.

Or is it?

BE a verb and be creative every dayRecently we watched “Big Eyes” on Netflix, a movie based on a true story. The motivations of the two lead characters fascinated me. The wife, artist Margaret Keane, allowed her husband Walter Keane to claim her work as his.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the story itself but at one point I turned to my husband and said, “He wants the title, not the work.”

Like a good marriage, you first fall in love with your creativity. But you can’t be passive about it if you want a long term relationship. You must commit and work at it. And some days? It ain’t easy.

But it’s always worth it.

So to paraphrase Barbara De Angelis – “Creativity isn’t a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. It’s the way you love your muse every day.”

If you agree, why not “be a verb” and share this. Thanks!

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Muse Flash: Make Time Work For You

The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot. – Micheal Altshuler

My most popular post is about how to find time for your art. Seems everyone is looking for more time to devote to their art.

Last week Nova Scotia experienced the fourth nor’easter in about two weeks. Watching the snow swirl and the waves crash on the shore below us reminded me of those stormy days I struggled into work in the city. I’d dream about staying home close to a warm fire, doing something I loved.

After three storms, it struck me I still hadn’t done anything about that dream.

What was I waiting for?Time to paint on a stormy afternoon

Decision made, I set up a small painting area near the fire and that’s where I spent my afternoon. Watching the storm out the windows to my left. Drinking tea. Making art. Living the dream.

That pocket of time was right under my nose and I almost missed it. Almost.

I turned off my autopilot, climbed into the pilot’s seat and took back control.

Take the time

You might not be gifted with a whole afternoon as I was but most of us can find fifteen minutes in almost every day. Keep a small sketchbook and pencil handy and be awake to those moments that come our way.

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Muse Flash: Creative Flow

Flow — the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in a task — is a strong contributor to creativity. When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, outside distractions recede from consciousness and one’s mind is fully open and attuned to the act of creating. — Scott Barry Kaufman, Huffington Post

I love it when I get into flow. I mentioned once that I have this inner clock that never seems to stop ticking. It can be a royal pain at times.

However the clock stands still when I enter that mental state called “flow”.

I’ve been doing some digging, hoping to understand what it takes to achieve that sense of timelessness.  I’ve discovered its like trying to fall asleep by trying to fall asleep. Doesn’t work so well.

There’s good news, however. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has studied this phenomenon extensively, this state of mind happens when we challenge ourselves by doing things that require some skill and commitment on our part.

Its about being awake to our life and paying attention, not just living on auto-pilot. (He has also written quite a few books about this subject which you can find here.)

He calls Flow the “joy of complete engagement.” Sure sounds like something I’d like more of in my creative life.

So if I’m understanding this right, it’s about paying attention and being willing to challenge myself. To get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.

That means something different for each of us but I know what I will do to find more Flow.

How about you?

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Muse Flash: Get out of the studio

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?  — Ralph Marston

The picnic tables in the park down the street are calling to me. They overlook the bay and I plan to visit them soon with my paints and sketchbook for a little plein air work.

I love my studio but lately I’m hungry to be out where I can smell the ocean and feel the wind. After a dreary, rain-soaked season, I feel flat and empty.

It’s been an easy winter but still…it is winter. At first, I enjoy being cocooned indoors but by March I’ve been inside too long, despite daily walks with the dog.

It’s time to escape and energize my art heart.

One day this week, I’ll take my sketchbook, walk over the our park and set up on one of the tables. The neighbours may think I’m a bit touched but then again, who cares what anyone else thinks?

Even if I don’t paint, it’s never a waste of time to watch waves and listen to the wind.

We all need to get out of our studios and get back into life or we run the risk of growing stale.

Care to join me?

 

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Muse Flash: Intuition

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. — Steve Jobs

I used to read that quote and only see the part about time and not wasting it. I have an inner clock that just keeps on ticking, reminding me that time is a-wastin’.

It was only recently I really took note of that last sentence in the quote. The one about trusting my heart and intuition.

When I make art from my head it’s almost always about technique and marketability. When I trust my heart, the art speaks. Maybe not to everyone but the ones who do hear it? They’re my peeps.

Besides, even if it only ever speaks to me, that’s enough because in committing to a creative life, art starts with exploring the inner self.

This week, before you sit down to create, take a moment to get out of your head and connect to your heart.

What changes?

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Muse Flash: Priorities

I have a personal philosophy in life: If somebody else can do something that I’m doing, they should do it. And what I want to do is find things that would represent a unique contribution to the world – the contribution that only I, and my portfolio of talents, can make happen. Those are my priorities in life. Neil deGrasse Tyson

This is something I believe but don’t always practice. Time after time, I have to bring myself back to the studio. Back to what I say is important to me. So much other stuff gets in the way and calls for my attention.

I justify it by telling myself it’s the responsible thing to do until I realize my priority has shifted again. But that’s okay.

The responsible thing is to show up with our gifts and talents and use them. They are ours for a reason.

Like meditation, bringing myself back to center is an ongoing and dynamic process. No need to beat myself up when I drift. Life happens.

The important thing is to pay attention, recover and get back to the studio.