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Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

It may be a while before we find our way home again.

This blog has fallen idle in the past year or two because truthfully, I didn’t know what to say anymore. I wrote my first post on Christmas Eve, 2009, after something we never knew could fall did, and the message was that Art Matters. From then on I wrote about the crossroads of where Art and Life meet. There was no shortage of topics—just a shortage of time to cover them.

But as life around us grew more serious with events like Aurora and Newtown*—which occurred just 11 miles from where I was living at the time, and two days after I interviewed Kenny Loggins and the Blue Sky Riders—it seemed that art of all kinds began to recede into the background. Dare I say it—we became less relevant?

And now, on the first day of a very different world for all of us, it seems that the last thing on the agenda is art of any kind. Artists, musicians, composers, filmmakers, writers, etc.—we all seem to be quite beside the point.

But nothing is further from the truth.

What you do with your art in the next few years will be informed by the massive changes in the way we are coming to live and to think on a daily basis. We will all be challenged on our values, no matter what they are, because we now cohabit a world in a heightened state of disagreement, of conflict, and of confusion.

History does repeat, and looks at lot like the early 60s, a time that led directly into a creative explosion. Art thrives in adversity and finds its voice. Artists of all kinds are ridiculously brave in the darkness, willing to put fingers out into the unknown and explore whatever could be out there. What they show us about ourselves through songs and movies, in paintings and stories, will amaze us and open our hearts. It happened before and will happen again, and soon.

Of course, there is a unique lack of appreciation for any of the arts within the new administration, which has set as one of its first goals the elimination of funding to the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and Humanities (NEH). Really? A world in crisis and the first order of business is to cut out the arts? But I do digress….

The arts are and have always been the soul of our entire way of life. Artists are now charged with preserving our culture, as they have been since the first cave drawings were made. We capture not just the facts, but the raw emotions of the smallest moment in time, protecting and projecting images of who and what we are that are likely to outlive any number of transitions in our government.

And in the middle of the chaos to come, the words, the pictures and the thoughts will be released from a collective creativity that will lead us to understanding, to empathy, and hopefully to peace of mind. The message today is the same as it was in 2009: Art Matters. And now it matters more…please keep at it.

So welcome again to the Arts Enclave Blog – Where Art and Life Meet!

*going right up to the biggest and most lethal shooting in Orlando in December of 2016

© Copyright 2017 – Arts Enclave.

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In his new memoir, “Possibilities,” Herbie Hancock describes the single most illuminating moment in his jazz career. It came when he was very young, playing keyboard with Miles Davis. During the show, Hancock suddenly played a chord he called, “so wrong” that he was stunned into momentary silence. “But Miles didn’t judge it,” he said in an interview with Jared Bowen. “He paused and played a few notes that suddenly made it work.”

It took years for Hancock to integrate that moment into his personal musicianship—to learn not to judge the work—but it changed everything he did. The concept of going into the unfamiliar in art has fascinated me for a while—I even wrote an awkward analysis of Neil Young’s forays in a post called, The Unexpected Note, when I had even less knowledge of music. But I think the arts are all connected, and we will get to the answers sooner if we take multiple routes.

Hancock later discovered Buddhism as a way to break boundaries in his own thinking that opened up the possibilities of his music—and here, later in his career, he seems to have coalesced his thinking in ways that he can pass on to me people like you and me.

I haven’t read his new memoir, Possibilities, but it goes on my reading list today.

In a series of lectures he gave recently at Harvard on the Ethics of Jazz, Hancock discussed the nature of creativity in the context of his extraordinary career. He has a lot to say verbally as well as musically, so it can take a while to take him in. But it’s extremely articulate and it’s well worth it. Here’s an especially interesting talk he gave on Buddhism and Creativity.

“Buddhism is uncovering and leading a creative life, and in the process, establishing your own story. A common viewpoint holds that one’s destiny is determined by external forces; however, the practice of Buddhism can break through that notion and carve out the kind of life where you’re the author of your book—and not the coauthor, or a character in someone else’s story.”

 

 

It all ties in nicely with the explorations I’ve been doing on the nature of creativity. What is creative? Where is the line and why are we always looking for it? Herbie seems to have gone further and may have small pieces of the big answers. You have to find ways past the predictable, and it doesn’t come from practice. It comes in the little moments where you let go. The mistakes that most of us try to erase or do over may be the most glorious moments in our creative lives.

I’m just entering the world of jazz and beginning to learn all of the emotional/intellectual levels it accesses. So, an afternoon of Herbie Hancock seems like a great way to spend a Sunday.

 

© Copyright 2014 – Arts Enclave.

 

 

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A little tidbit of information was released over the holidays that had me floored—that the number of centenarians in the United States is more than 53,000. When I heard Scott Pelley report it, I was fully expecting him to stop at “the number of people in the U.S. in their second century is 53“—but then he added, “thousand.”  Fifty-three thousand!  All I heard was that I have a very good shot of reaching 100 or more. Turns out, life may not be so short.

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Ask someone 25 what they are doing, and you’re likely to get a vague answer that reads like a list of unrelated activities: I went to work, and then I met some friends for dinner, or I played a video game and then went to the mall….

Ask someone 35 or 40 or even 50 what they are doing, and they will tell you about the lives of other people: The baby was sick and so we were up all night…My father had to go to the eye doctor…It was Jason’s first day at summer camp….We had a big project at work…

But if you ask someone older, someone much older, say in their 70s or 80s, what they are doing, they will tell you what they love to do—and how they are doing it. And many people are making things. It could be building furniture, or painting a picture, planting a garden, sewing a quilt, or writing that screenplay or novel, or composing that song…

It seems that if someone is at all creative in their lives, in those later years, all those little creative birds come home to roost—perhaps to inspire the next generation.

There’s a joy to creativity that only seems to come when you’re older. I’ve felt the burn since I could think—maybe around the age of three or four. I learned to write (meaning letters of the alphabet) before kindergarten, and could write in script by 2nd grade, all leading up to my first poem (and rejection letter from Good Housekeeping Magazine) at the age of 8. The drive was always there. Develop the skills, get the tools, seek out ideas, examine them, and ultimately sit down to express something earth-shattering to the masses.

This recipe for a creative life happens to every creative spirit, with various doses of success and failure, angst and confirmation. Creativity in youth is a stirring of the soul, a painful sense of reaching for something you can never quite touch, but can never stop trying to. And the doubt that comes with it is torturous. I started off planning to change the course of the universe, reduced it in my mid-twenties to solving the problems of mankind, downscaled again to making sense of everyday life for the masses, and finally reached that creative pinnacle of “if I touch one person then I have achieved everything.”

And then something happened. I aged past all that, and now I just don’t give a crap. I get that I probably won’t change the course of the planet, the trajectory of humankind, or even the path taken by one person—and I’m too tired to want to anymore.

And yet, it’s still there, that creative urge, stronger ever than before. I am hugely productive by most standards, writing daily, playing music (badly, a running theme in my life), painting, sketching, and just dreaming in color. It flows out of me with an ease and grace that has never before been possible, and here it is, right at my fingertips.

Few people are dazzled by my genius because they are all so busy dazzling themselves with their own creations. Turns out that creativity GROWS as you get older. What an amazing concept—because now you have both the time to attend to it, and the life experience to actually express something valuable.

This summer, I spent a weekend Pyramid Life Center in the Adirondacks where people come year after year to swim in the private lake, kayak, and participate in creative workshops. I go just to hang out for a few days and detox from the real world, and I usually find my creative instincts stepping boldly forward.

What startles me are the ages of the people who come—mostly women, but some men. There is 82-year-old Bea, who worried this year about driving from Baltimore to Paradox, NY, a place in the woods just a few hours from the Canadian border. But she was determined to come, and she harnessed her willpower to get in the car for a drive that Mapquest says is between 7 and 8 hours, considerably longer than my 4-hour pilgrimage.

One night she came into the cabin around 9PM and gently interrupted a rousing dominoes game my friend and I were having (yes, we say it proudly). “Can I show you what I’m working on?” she said. We nodded, happy to comply, and she brought out a card with a pattern she has been weaving. “I just love weaving,” she said happily. Then she sat down to discuss the merits of the two writing workshops available for the week, debating whether she wanted to do the children’s workshop or the nonfiction. “But really, I just feel ready to write,” she said.

Last summer I conducted a writing workshop at Wiawaka House, a lovely lakeside retreat in Lake George, and the attendees were all older women (60s and 70s). The real delight was the 81-year-old woman who had come up from Virginia to work in the kitchen for the summer while finding her muse. She was at work constructing a biographical novel and researching on her time off from work. After the workshop, she would get up to “finish washing the pots” in the kitchen and do food prep for the morning.

These are the people I want to be when I grow up, the women who feel so energized and delighted with each day and their ability to “get it”. That seems to be what they feel, that their time, however limited, is not wasted, because now they almost understand what they were here for—and it keeps them young. It would be impossible to judge the ages of these women, and I would have been off by 15 or 20 years in both cases. I compare them  to my mother, who at 82 now sits demented in a wheelchair, staring at a pepper shaker as if it will break out into song, and saying, “I feel like there is something more I should be doing.” “Pick up a crayon, Mom,” I feel like shouting, but she has never had the inclination and never will.

I wonder what Bea and Emily want to be when they grow up. And I hope I’ll be just like them—still trying to figure it out.

 

© Copyright 2012 – Arts Enclave.

 

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2011 will be the Year of  Inspiration.

We leave behind a decade of hardship and excess, and a complete loss of touch with everything that makes us human. We got caught up in symbols of things that prove we dominate the planet, and arguments over who should have those things and who should not. We measured our world by prices of stocks and houses, watching the numbers as if they were the air we needed to breathe. And when the dominoes began to fall, we hung onto a lot of misguided discussion over who had the answers. Nobody did, because we weren’t asking the right questions.

Life is fairly simple, when we are able to step back and view the universe for what it is—something miraculous and relatively indifferent to our individual neuroses. There’s the sky and the ocean and the land between, sun and moon, winter and summer. At our best, we humans are uniquely blessed with the ability to appreciate those things that are so much larger than we are, and when we do, we see how inconsequential the price of gas is. It’s time to let a universe that knows better than we do take back the reigns. Our job is to get up every day and revel in what the world shows us.

Everyone needs daily inspiration to plod through the infinite indignities, hardships, and even tragedies of life just to find those small moments of perfection, where it is just good to be. And so we decorate our space in the world with things large and small that remind us of who we want to be, and show us new ways to see ourselves. It’s in the music we play, the books we read, the movies we watch, and the pictures we look at that take us to the world at its best. Each day becomes a tapestry we weave ourselves, stitching together the inspiration we find in a million places.

Art does move the world, in infinitesimal, miniscule, monumental ways. It is the forest of dreams we wander through, and without it, we would simply forage for food and seek shelter from the cold. Birds make nests, but they don’t hang pictures on the wall. They sing, but not to entertain. They dance, but only to capture the attention of a mate. And even then, it’s all for a purpose—only humans are into recreational sex. And as far as we know, birds don’t tell jokes.

So, the point of human life is not in daily survival. We all do that until the day we don’t. It’s the view along the way, and how deeply we can absorb it. Socrates announced more than 2400 years ago that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” So much of modern life is about self-examination, to a point where we have lost sight of where we sit in the larger arena. We examine our psyches, measure our food, and watch new and ever more excruciating reality shows designed to explore the minutia of our lives and expose our most pathetic foibles. It’s time to turn the focus around and look out at the world again—and that is gift that artists bring to us.

Even though Mark Twain died 100 years ago, he observed our penchant for seeing ourselves as the center of the Universe even before TV, Facebook, and Twitter made it profitable, and so he added the caveat that “the life too closely examined may not be lived at all.”

This is the year we stop grousing and blaming everybody else for the miserable state of the world, and start to recognize what an amazing place it is—it survived all we did to it in the past decade alone! We can paint a new future, sing new songs, and tell new stories of who we want to become, as individuals, and as a species. 

This year I plan to celebrate art, music, literature, movies, and every creative source of inspiration I can find. I hope you will continue to follow me as I explore the world as artists show it to us—and that you will lead me to your creative inspirations as well.

Thank you to the artists of the world, for giving us the vision to keep going!

Happy New Year!

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The landing party.

 My son invited me to go with him and his friend to the Anime convention in Connecticut called ConnectiCon in mid July. Not many 20-year-old kids want their Moms with them among their peers, but this is an unusual bunch (see Asperger’s Adds Color to the Universe―and while you’re at it, see The Big Bang Theory –The Excelsior Acquisition on CBS).
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No matter what your outlet is, you can only work creatively in small bursts. Forcing yourself to write for hours, or to paint all day, or to write a song when it’s just not coming is not only frustrating, it’s COUNTER-CREATIVE. Your juicy little mind needs a time out now and again to be able to do what it does automatically. The river in your brain will naturally take you to where ideas are most fertile. But to do this, you have to stop paddling the canoe.

Stirring Adirondack panorama by Carl Heilman, II, taken from his canoe. Go to http://www.CarlHeilman.com for more.

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