How to Feed Your Creative Journey
How do we structure an optimal space to create? Is it a personal choice to design and create at will or must certain conditions be present? Are there ways to bring people face to face with their creative flow? How much do we creatives have in common anyway when it comes to accessing our creativity and the space we need to create? Through my personal experiences I will explore these questions and write what I have learned. In future posts I will get into more detail on each question.
Recently I attended a workshop and learned the term 'Creative Boundaries.' These are boundaries that you as the artist, writer, performer set that enable you to go into a playful space to experiment and create something new. The key is avoiding judgement during this development phase. It's a sacred space requiring openness and self-trust. Within that space - a place commonly experienced by young children, you are free to explore and play with ideas.
In the workshop we applied Creative Boundaries when someone shared their writing by focusing on how the writing made us feel and what we liked. There was no 'should', 'could' or rewrite suggestions. The rules were based on guidelines bestselling fiction authors use to keep them in the flow while writing and sharing during the vulnerable brainstorming and early draft stage. Sharing your work was a choice.
The workshop attracted many artists and writers who had been shut down in the past by people that didn't respect boundaries. After establishing the rules, the instructor told her story of college professors being so mean while she earned her fine arts degree that she was blocked from painting for 30 years! Getting her paints and easel out led to so much white hot anxiety she abandoned the effort even with genuine support and a desire to paint. Writers joined in with their own intense stories of hurt, fear and sadness over opportunity lost. The abusive treatment had come from College professors, relatives, and gallery owners - people who used the word 'criticism' to excuse abusiveness behavior. Nearly half the people in this workshop were trying to pick up the pieces from these experiences. 40%! We were at a small public library in a small town.
My Personal Journey:
When I was a kid inventing things gave me a space to work quietly on my own terms. In an otherwise verbally combative household I was respected for working hard and developing my skills. In a work focused house, I was given as much opportunity as I wanted. Designing patterns and sewing my own clothing, writing, making beaded jewelry - this was my personal sanctuary. It gave me confidence.
In high school I was introduced to guided meditation as part of an acting class, helping to take my creative intuition further. The atmosphere was respectful and the environment nurturing. We all wanted to perform well and see one another succeed. We talked about how each other's performances made us feel. It was a healthy collaboration - a positive baseline for creative thriving.
In college I expanded my skills into painting and film making. I took on large projects.
The Dark Side
I first experienced a dysfunctional behavior over creative work at a small American art school. My goal was to hone my drawing skills. The instructor was nasty and destructive. He didn’t care about anyone's goals. His concern was his own random opinions. After the teacher sliced my work with a razor blade he declared there was “only one right way to paint(!),” I noticed other students barely worked in class and spent little if any time in the school studios. The amazing paintings strewn all over the school corridors that has made me swoon upon arrival had literally been abandoned, how many quarters ago? What on earth was this place? I chose to separate 'my personal artwork' from 'class work' in order to maintain a personal creative space. Unfortunately the teacher herded the entire class into my studio and instructed a few young men to ‘fix' my work.' No boundaries. The paintings were hurled around, turned into building blocks. The corners were bent, the surfaces scuffed and damaged. The teacher said to sand "all the paint off the canvas." Paint his way or not at all... Even as I felt the pain of the (unethical) assault I promised myself I would get past this and be unstoppable.
I knew what professional education and collaboration looked like.
Two months before art school I had been living in a farming village in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal, making a film and studying how arts in the shrines reached beyond language to communicate to a varied population. There were literally 550 separate languages in the Himalayan foothills and the shrine art served them for storytelling and mythology. I had completed a one woman show of paintings and premiered my film to a standing room only audience just a week prior to visiting this school. I re-enrolled in my college and promised myself I’d learn to draw in a safe place. I studied anthropology, focusing on the arts of other cultures.
It was hard to access my creative flow. Eventually I realized my focus had turned away from the process and only on the end product – and judgment. Fear stopped me. I knew I needed to reenter the flow state and make space again. I needed Creative Boundaries and community.
Boundaries Set You Free
After having dozens of shows and selling many pieces I was still sensitive to the chorus of people telling me to stop, saying they didn't like my work and using my art as an excuse to be a bully. As I kept going my focus shifted into the process as a long term habit again. Supportive voices drowned out the negative rabble. When I surprised myself my work got stronger. Finally I learned to own it all, my work, my process, my results.
What had made that possible? How could I get there whenever I wanted? I found my answer.
Principal One: It all begins with a safe internal space – your own safe place. You must give yourself permission and take the time to play. It only takes a minute to start.
Principal Two: Spend time around people who are open to new ideas. Pack your inner circle with like- minded people - artists of all disciplines, collectors, art professionals (who you have vetted!), entrepreneurs and friends. Take the opportunity to make a contribution to these people, even by sharing ideas or asking them how your work makes them feel. Those relationships build quality in everyone's life. Shared aesthetic is not necessary - but mutual respect is essential. Drown out the naysayer voices with a huge Yay-sayer chorus.
Principal Three: Trust the Process. When I create a custom portrait or invent a landscape, I must let go and avoid over controlling the work. That way I am free to make the strongest and most precious contribution. It’s always the best work. Letting go and trusting is owning your work.
These three principals are the baseline to a productive creative life. If you find you have any desire to bring your own precious work to the world, you must also follow these three principals. I hope my years of intimate struggle with these issues help you. If you have creative work you'd like to get into the world, this is also the strategy you must use. Of course your intention is to get it out rather than create it in the first place. However getting your work in front of it's proper audience uses the exact energy and a trusting of the process.