A few weeks ago I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love speak in London. She has just published a new book called Big Magic. Creative Living Beyond Fear
I am reading her book at the moment. It is written in Gilbert’s trademark straightforward style and gives down to earth, no bullshit advice to those who want to live a creative life. Living a creative life encapsulates any form of creation, whether it be writing, drawing, painting, knitting, ceramics, dance, performance poetry, etc…
One of the main ideas Gilbert espouses in this book is that ideas have a consciousness of their own and that they come to whoever is open to them, so it is not us who own the ideas, but they choose us to create them. This totally takes the pressure off an artist or creator, because it is not about you forcing yourself to come up with a genius idea; an artist has to show up to their craft, and be present, and then the ideas will come.
Gilbert smashes the idea that we should feel guilty for wanting to create. Creativity should be a pleasure, after all we are making beautiful things for not much reason at all, just because they are beautiful. She said that the western world has this terrible distrust of pleasure and that we are always made to feel like our creativity should serve a purpose; wrong! We are creative just because, we are not obliged to save the human race with our creative work, or feel guilty because we are creating. We are creative because we want to be, and because it entertains us. Gilbert compared a creative mind to a border collie, when it is not exercised it can start to behave erratically and go crazy. Unused and unexpressed creativity turns on you and destroys you from the inside out.
This suspicion of creativity really confirmed what I already believed. A year or so ago, the ceramics department of the adult education college where I went to lessons in London was shut down. The reasoning was that ceramics was not an essential thing for people to learn, it wasn’t going to lead to jobs and that it was mostly a hobby, so the government cut their funding and the college didn’t want to keep it on either, so they closed everything down. I found a different ceramics studio for classes, and guess what; the building where it is housed is going to be remodelled into luxury flats and the dozens of artists, dancers, creators who have a space there will be priced out of London. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but cutting the arts because they aren’t essential? Sounds like the government wants us to work, work, work. What about beauty? What about pleasure? Oh, they don’t make money, so let’s slash those. Art gives people a means of expression, freedom, and a voice, so maybe that’s why they want to get rid of it.
If you want to read more about why cutting the arts is a direct threat to a free society please go here.
Anyway, back to Gilbert.
Humans are given imagination for a reason, and we should use it. If you watch children they are not afraid of their imagination, their creativity; they use it. Often when we become adults we leave our creativity behind, and this is often due to a precise moment in our childhood when someone criticised our creation and we vowed never to dance, sing, write, draw or create anything ever again. With that criticism we are led to believe that what we create needs to be perfect. Perfection is just going to freeze creativity. We need to protect the creative part of ourselves from people who want to destroy it. One thing is constructive criticism to help us progress. We all have that friend who is always brutally honest, but as Gilbert said, f*ck her… your creative work needs to be protected, so don’t show your work to people who are honest without being kind.
Another part of creating is that there will be people who will be angered by your work, and will lash out at you and insult you. Being insulted is part of having a voice and being heard. I would rather be insulted for speaking than not speak at all. However, whenever someone is aggressive towards me because of my work I try really hard not to take that on. Sometimes their voices return to me as I am about to sit down to do something creative, either writing, painting, drawing or ceramics. The way I deal with these voices is just to thank them for their input and ask them politely to get out of my way because I have a job to do.
The other creativity myth that Gilbert smashes in her book is that of the suffering martyred artist. For a long time it has been believed that to make art you have to be in pain, abusing as many substances as possible in a freezing attic room. Wrong! Your creativity is not there to harm you or to make you suffer. You can be happy and create at the same time; you don’t need to suffer through it. Just because you want to live a creative life you don’t need to torture yourself by taking drugs or deliberately becoming an alcoholic. I sometimes feel that writing is painful for me, (which is probably why I haven’t yet written a book) but Gilbert’s book and speech made me realise I don’t need to be in pain. Writing, or any other kind of creative work, is meant to be a positive experience, something that makes me happy, so I can choose not to fit the image of the depressed artist.
Finally, the thing that resonated the most with me was Gilbert’s encouragement to be curious. Curiosity leads to ideas, to discoveries, to interesting moments. Sometimes we wait for inspiration to come to us, but we need to be out hunting for it, we need to be curious, hungry to discover what is out there. Whenever I come across something I don’t know, or don’t understand, I always go and find out about it. I am curious, about people, about places, about things… sometimes it leads me to embarrassing or slightly uncomfortable situations, but I always learn something, so I will keep on being curious, trying different things, having different experiences, and trying to enjoy the whole crazy creative ride.
Some more of my random creative endeavours…