Godin On…Well, Everything

May 21, 2010

My definition of art contains three elements:

  1. Art is made by a human being.
  2. Art is created to have an impact, to change someone else.
  3. Art is a gift. You can sell the souvenir, the canvas, the recording… but the idea itself is free, and the generosity is a critical part of making art.

By my definition, most art has nothing to do with oil paint or marble. Art is what we we’re doing when we do our best work. ~Seth Godin

Seth Godin is one of the gurus of our time. He’s associated with marketing, but has much to say on other subjects as well. If the name isn’t familiar to you, be sure to check out his blog.

You can also get a free download of his compilation of wise words from many sources called What Matters Now. I likewhat Derek Sivers has to say about finding your true passion: “…just notice what excites you and what scares you on a small, moment-to-moment basis…You grow (and thrive!) by doing what excites you and scares you everyday, not by trying to find your passion.”

May you do your best work (your art) today, growing and thriving on what excites you and what scares you.


Dear Blog

May 18, 2010

I think that one’s art is a growth inside one. I do not think one can explain growth. It is silent and subtle. One does not keep digging up a plant to see how it grows. ~Emily Carr

Yes, I’ve been busy. Yes, I’ve been tired. Yes, I’ve been adjusting to major life transitions and doing some heartwork. But, dear blog, I’ve also been doing fun things…Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival. The Hike Inn.  Writers’ group meetings. Yoga. And soon I’ll be going to the John C. Campbell Folk School for a weekend. A retirement gift to myself.

So, my poor neglected blog, please forgive my absence. It is not for lack of love for you and my readers. It is just that life has gotten in the way recently. So I hope you have been entertaining yourself while I’ve been away. Perhaps you visited other blogs or checked your statistics or reread some old posts. Because, dear blog, your old posts are almost never time-sensitive!

Here’s to you, dear blog. May you live a long, interesting, regret-free life!


Creative Every Day 2010

December 24, 2009

Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about…Say yes quickly, if you know, if you’ve known it from before the beginning of the universe. ~Rumi

I have again signed up for the Creative Every Day challenge–click on the badge at the right for details. Last year, I signed up, too, and posted a long list of possibilities for things I could do to follow through on that intention. In reviewing the list from my previous post, reprinted below, I see there are some things I actually did do in 2009! (I’ve made them bold.) Not bad, but lots of possibilities remaining for 2010. What will you do creatively this year?

draw from nature * write a poem * start a (joined a) local writer’s group * make greeting cards * visit a gallery * crochet a scarf * post photos to Flickr * finish my afghan-in-progress * take a new route home from work and see new sights * dye Easter eggs * build a bonfire * play with dots * write a short story * make a book * wear a new and different style of clothing * design a journal * see a museum exhibit * volunteer for the local arts council * write a nonfiction book * write a letter to someone in longhand * create a new smoothie flavor * make something from fabric scraps * take a creative day off work * make a dream book * learn to dance * knit a pair of socks * create a collage * make paper * visit a craft shop and see what attracts me * take a pottery class * weave a basket * make a gift for someone * try calligraphy * plan a vacation * find interesting objects in nature * play with words in a new way * fingerpaint * make beaded jewelry * do origami * take a walk someplace new * change my hairstyle * sleep outdoors * make a Hallowe’en costume * doodle * play the piano * design a workshop * browse an antique store * learn to quilt * go to a concert * write a chant * plant a garden * attend a theatrical production * read poetry out loud * organize photos in an album * try a new fruit * give away what no longer suits me * take someone flowers * sing * make a Zen garden * use the Milliande Creativity Club “artist date” prompt for the month * play a wooden flute * design a cross-stitch picture * decorate a box * make a list of funny words * read about a new craft * arrange some flowers * jump rope and make up rhymes * create a brochure * go to an arts festival * challenge a self-perception * burn candles * take nature photos * plan a party * illustrate a journal * create an arty wardrobe * dance to rock favorites from the 70s * make a snowman * play with crayons, colored pencils, or paint pens * plan a surprise for myself * make my own gift bags * recycle old earrings into new jewelry or sculpture * splurge on soft sheets * draw a picture of who I am becoming * write a fan letter * build a sand sculpture * think up arguments to quiet my inner critic * tell someone off in my head * play with stripes * buy myself a toy * create a mantra for each day * observe in moonlight * make love in a new way * make a drum * go caroling * light some incense * daydream in a hammock * create an altar * tell someone how much I care about them * meditate * shirk responsibility * rent a bicycle * build a studio * draw a cartoon * play on a playground * draw a picture of my creativity * have a pillow fight * press some leaves or flowers * rearrange the furniture * join a book discussion group * do some bad art * learn Spanish * climb a tree * pamper myself * write a Dear John letter to the part of myself I want to shed * try out for a play * write a letter to the creative child in me * take voice lessons * participate in an open mike poetry reading * enter a contest * make an artist totem * write a good review of my work * cuddle up with a blanket and my stuffed puppy * write verses for children * notice ceilings * make a spiritual corner in my house * make a junk sculpture * draw a mandala * take tap dancing lessons…


Calder, Results, and the Great Northwest

October 18, 2009

Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions. ~Earl Gray Stevens

Greetings! I have just returned from the Public Library Association’s “Results Boot Camp” in Seattle. Intensive Library Management Training. Planning, implementing, managing, staffing, allocating resources, and measuring for results. What a great week!

The content and instructors (June Garcia and Sandra Nelson) were intellectually stimulating, the food was fabulous (lots of nuts, fruit, veggies), and I was able to stay relatively present and energetic throughout. This is not always easy for an introvert in an intense social situation!

Friday afternoon I walked from the hotel to the Seattle Art Museum to see an Andrew Wyeth exhibit of Helga paintings. To my delight, there was also a Calder exhibit. I could’ve hung out for hours under and around the mobiles and stabiles.

Seattle was lovely. The people are more laid back than east-coast folks; there is coffee everywhere; they were flinging fish at the market. (And, yes, some of those guys in the video still work there!) Even walking through the soft rain to the museum seemed just right.

Although I am glad to be back home, I am also glad to have had the experience. And happy to be back writing here after some time away.


Creative Every Day: My List of Possibilities

January 1, 2009

Change and risk-taking are normal aspects of the creative process. They are the lubricants that keep the wheels in motion. A creative act is not necessarily something that has never been done; it is something you’ve never done before. ~Margaret Mead

As part of the Creative Every Day Challenge for 2009, I might:

draw from nature * write a poem * start a local writer’s group * make greeting cards * visit a gallery * crochet a scarf * post photos to Flickr * finish my afghan-in-progress * take a new route home from work and see new sights * dye Easter eggs * build a bonfire * play with dots * write a short story * make a book * wear a new and different style of clothing * design a journal * see a museum exhibit * volunteer for the local arts council * write a nonfiction book * write a letter to someone in longhand * create a new smoothie flavor * make something from fabric scraps * take a creative day off work * make a dream book * learn to dance * knit a pair of socks * create a collage * make paper * visit a craft shop and see what attracts me * take a pottery class * weave a basket * make a gift for someone * try calligraphy * plan a vacation * find interesting objects in nature * play with words in a new way * fingerpaint * make beaded jewelry * do origami * take a walk someplace new * change my hairstyle * sleep outdoors * make a Hallowe’en costume * doodle * play the piano * design a workshop * browse an antique store * learn to quilt * go to a concert * write a chant * plant a garden * attend a theatrical production * read poetry out loud * organize photos in an album * try a new fruit * give away what no longer suits me * take someone flowers * sing * make a Zen garden * use the Milliande Creativity Club “artist date” prompt for the month * play a wooden flute * design a cross-stitch picture * decorate a box * make a list of funny words * read about a new craft * arrange some flowers * jump rope and make up rhymes * create a brochure * go to an arts festival * challenge a self-perception * burn candles * take nature photos * plan a party * illustrate a journal * create an arty wardrobe * dance to rock favorites from the 70s * make a snowman * play with crayons, colored pencils, or paint pens * plan a surprise for myself * make my own gift bags * recycle old earrings into new jewelry or sculpture * splurge on soft sheets * draw a picture of who I am becoming * write a fan letter * build a sand sculpture * think up arguments to quiet my inner critic * tell someone off in my head * play with stripes * buy myself a toy * create a mantra for each day * observe in moonlight * make love in a new way * make a drum * go caroling * light some incense * daydream in a hammock * create an altar * tell someone how much I care about them * meditate * shirk responsibility * rent a bicycle * build a studio * draw a cartoon * play on a playground * draw a picture of my creativity * have a pillow fight * press some leaves or flowers * rearrange the furniture * join a book discussion group * do some bad art * learn Spanish * climb a tree * pamper myself * write a Dear John letter to the part of myself I want to shed * try out for a play * write a letter to the creative child in me * take voice lessons * participate in an open mike poetry reading * enter a contest * make an artist totem * write a good review of my work * cuddle up with a blanket and my stuffed puppy * write verses for children * notice ceilings * make a spiritual corner in my house * make a junk sculpture * draw a mandala * take tap dancing lessons…

Whew! That was FUN! What else would you include on your list of artistic possibilities for the new year?


Solitude, Silence, Spaces

December 13, 2008

Every kind of creative work demands solitude, and being alone, constructively alone, is a prerequisite for every phase of the creative process. ~Barbara Powell

Winter is a natural time for hibernation, re-creation of ourselves, inward exploration. After three days of being with others, I am relishing my Saturday morning solitude. Jung said, “Silence is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.” I can relate to that!

Yet how many of us take time to listen to ourselves, to retreat into silence and solitude as healing practices? It is very difficult in today’s world of instant and ever-present communication. Our environments have increasingly become loud, busy, cluttered palettes without the pauses that allow us to make meaning of them.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron says,”Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.” In a world where there are few spaces and silences, I think we must protect that dreamy idleness Ueland calls moodling (more here); that percolation process Bonni Goldberg writes about in her book on writing, Beyond the Words.

How do you create spaces and silences that help you digest your experiences, that make room for creative response?


Living Creatively: 10 Ideas

December 9, 2008

I embrace emerging experience.
I participate in discovery.
I am a butterfly.
I am not a butterfly collector.
I want the experience of the butterfly.

~William Stafford

Recently I stayed overnight at Pat’s apartment, and was inspired by her creative spirit, the art on her walls, and her projects in progress. Then I saw this post on Creativity Portal–Deanne Fitzpatrick’s 101 Ideas for Living Creatively. I decided to come up with some of my own ideas for living more of an artist’s life.

1. Write or draw in a new place–in a coffeehouse, in nature, in the kitchen, at the library.
2. Find something around the house to alter or decorate and recycle as a gift.
3. Think of a game I loved as a child and play it.
4. Surprise someone who needs a lift–with a handmade card, a homemade treat, or just an act of kindness.
5. Just say no to computer games, and blog or write a poem instead.
6. Walk somewhere instead of driving. Notice the smallest things I can see along the way.
7. Carry a writer’s notebook at all times, and capture ideas, images, overheard conversations, anything that sparks my imagination.
8. Tune in to the natural world for a while with my senses. Watch birds, smell the earth, sit on the grass, listen to a flowing stream, sway in the breeze, bask in the sunshine.
9. Give myself a gift–a nap, yoga, a massage, or whatever my body needs at the moment. See what images come to me when I am nurtured and relaxed.
10. Ask a “what if” question about everything that comes my way for a day.

What helps you stay connected to your creative spirit?


From the Archives: September

August 31, 2008

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.  ~William Wordsworth

September begins tomorrow. Now that this blog is a year old (and then some), I have decided to honor the first day of each month (or in this case, the day before the first day of the month) by bringing back a few posts from the previous year. Here are some from last September.

Expanding Time
Time expands when we are present in the moment.

Economic Equality
With our presidential election looming, consider the concept of raising all boats.

Letting Go
I’m convinced this is one of the keys to happiness.

Discourse
How can we heal our fractured society by coming together?

Happy Labor Day Holiday, everyone!


Being Flow

April 11, 2008

You write from what you know, but you write in what you don’t know.  ~Grace Paley

When the painting is finished, the subject reveals itself.  ~William Baziotes

Writing (or any creative work) is discovery. That is why it is so frightening, so exhilirating, so compelling. This blog is my exercise in writing in what I don’t know. When the blog entry is finished, the subject reveals itself. I merely try to follow my mind and heart where they lead–first in choosing a quotation, then in my response to it.

This is good practice, I believe, for surrendering to life, for letting myself “be carried” by the universe, for loving what is. Perhaps writing will save my soul. I keep returning to Ray Bradbury’s advice from Zen in the Art of Writing: “WORK. RELAX. DON’T THINK.” There is so much wisdom in that simple exhortation. I am not sure how it could be more perfect.

William Stafford said, “Intention endangers creation.” May I approach my work with relaxation and a spirit of inquiry. May I surrender to the world with faith that I will be carried. May I set aside intention, will, and the illusion of control in order to be in the flow–no!–to be the flow–of all creation.


Purpose

March 17, 2008

A person’s life purpose is nothing more than to rediscover, through the detours of art, or love, or passionate work, those one or two images in the presence of which his heart first opened. ~Albert Camus

Can you say when your heart first opened? I think Camus is telling us we have to approach this discovery obliquely. But I do think he’s right about it being our life’s purpose.

So, how in the busyness of our “detours” do we stay alert for those “one or two images”?


Free Time

February 24, 2008

…the Chinese pictograph for busyness is “heart killing.” ~from Sue Monk Kidd’s Firstlight

Whenever we have a little free time, most of us seek some form of amusement. We pick up a serious book, a novel, or a magazine. If we are in America, we turn on the radio or the television, or we indulge in incessant talk. There is a constant demand to be amused, to be entertained, to be taken away from ourselves….Very few of us ever walk in the fields and the woods, not talking or singing songs, but just walking quietly and observing things about us and within ourselves.  ~J. Krishnamurti

Today I celebrate space, free time. In addition to my work, which includes a lot of travel and a 3-hour commute 3 days a week, I am taking two post-Master’s classes this semester. So it is rare these days to have hours without busyness and obligations, but today I have virtually nothing I have to do. No “heart-killing” for me today.

I find that order, space, and free time are helpful in stimulating my creative impulses. So I will first tidy my office and then surround myself with the tools of creativity: paper and pencil, my favorite books, art supplies, and other familiar playthings. Even the computer is a tool for creative work if I refuse to be seduced by stumbling upon new Web sites, playing computer Scrabble or checking e-mail.

Later, I may “walk in the fields and woods…observing things.”  Or practice yoga and mindfulness meditation. How do you use free time?

P. S. This is a quote that belongs with my previous post on the ineffable creative process:  Art criticism is to the artist as ornithology is to the birds. ~Barnett Newman


The Beauty We Love

February 20, 2008

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~Rumi

What a beautiful last line. It almost makes up for Rumi’s dissing of reading! 😉 And just look at that first line that describes the human condition–not one that’s special (“like every other day”) nor one that is unique to us as individuals (“we wake up”). The question Rumi begs here, of course, is “What is the beauty you love?” This poem is one answer for me.

Only in midlife have I begun to understand that this is the right question, much less to consider the answers to the question. As a child, I don’t remember having dreams about what I would be when I grew up. It didn’t occur to me to aspire to anything in particular, even though I came from a solidly middle-class household that valued education and achievement. Possibly this was true for many girls, whose socially acceptable options typically consisted of teacher, nurse, wife and mother. Most certainly, though, the question in my family would have had more to do with accomplishment as measured by society than with the beauty I loved. 

So…what is the beauty I love? Poetry, words, music, textural arts (fiber, glass, multimedia), laughter, yoga, living spaces with feng shui, human connection, singing. What is the beauty you love?


Resistance

February 19, 2008

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance. ~Steven Pressfield

So begins the third chapter in Pressfield’s The War of Art. The author goes on to characterize this enemy of art (and of everything that calls forth our higher nature) as invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, impersonal, and infallible.  And that’s only the beginning! “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work,” Pressfield continues. “If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” 

I’m glad to add this book to my list of favorite books on writing and the creative process. I believe Resistance has a lot to do with why I blog. It is oh-so-much-easier than writing poetry. And even now, I want to get up and pour a glass of wine or pet the cat, instead of finishing this post, taking my clothes out of the dryer, and then walking on the treadmill.

The only cure, of course, is that old Nike slogan, “Just Do It.” The work itself is all that saves us from evil Resistance. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to get to work.

What’s your experience with that grumpy old bear, Resistance?


The Art Spirit

February 13, 2008

The brush stroke at the moment of contact carries inevitably the exact state of being of the artist at that exact moment into the work, and there it is, to be seen and read by those who can read such signs, and to be read later by the artist himself, with perhaps some surprise, as a revelation of himself.  ~Robert Henri

I can hardly believe I omitted one of my favorite books on creativity in a previous post: Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit. And now, looking for it on my bookshelf, I believe I must have lent it to someone who has not returned it. As I can’t imagine being long without it, I’ll have to order another copy!

I’m listening to Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now on my commute. Too soon to tell what I think of it, but so far I haven’t heard anything I disagree with. He invites us to imagine a world without people. Would you ask a tree or a bird what time it is? If you did and they were to answer, they would say, “It is now, of course.” I believe being here now is what enables us to channel creativity, to achieve “the brush stroke of the moment.” If we are not fully present, that stroke does NOT carry us into the work.

May I pause in the next busy days to be here in my life. May I listen for the winds of creativity blowing through my spirit.


Words

December 17, 2007

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life, they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.  ~Anne Lamott

I am sometimes stunned by the power of words. This language that we take for granted can, as Lamott attests, lift us up and connect us to each other and everything in profound ways. Think about the last time you received an unexpected kind word. There is almost nothing more thrilling to me than an idea expressed in a new and graceful way. And I am ecstatically one with the world when I write what I think is a good poem. I believe that all artists fall in love with their creative media, and I think there is little doubt that my medium is words.


Life as Art

December 16, 2007

The Balinese say, “We have no art. Everything we do is art.”

What if we were to live as though everything we do is art? How would life change? For me, I suppose it would require mindfulness, attention to the present moment, a different relationship with time. I can really relate to Susanka’s assertion that she is “identified with being busy all the time.”  But that identification is unnecessary, as life will move at its own pace regardless of any attachment or resistance on our parts.

Maybe life as art is simply this: tuning in to the natural flow of life as it is, regardless of one’s situation. Being fully present in the unfolding, able to respond from the heart. Noticing life with curiosity and engagement rather than an object of our will.


Beauty

October 14, 2007

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.  ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I am reading You’ll Be Okay: My Life with Jack Kerouac, by Edie Kerouac-Parker, and Above the River: The Complete Poems of James Wright.  I am also listening to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on my commute.  I can’t imagine a life without books, a life without poets, a life without magic.  And though sometimes those wordly cares Goethe speaks of do nearly obliterate the sense of the beautiful, I always know deep down which is more important.  What do you do to retain and nourish that sense of the beautiful?


Letting Go

September 16, 2007

Finished artworks that we may see and love deeply are in a sense the relics or traces of a journey that has come and gone.   ~Stephen Nachmanovitch, from Free Play (p.6)

I remember being amazed by Natalie Goldberg’s account of her writing booth at the Minnesota Zen Center Summer Festival and Bazaar, where she sold spontaneously-written poems for 50 cents or a dollar and never looked back.  She says, “In Japan there are stories of great Zen poets writing a superb haiku and then putting it in a bottle in a river or nearby stream and letting it go….This is a profound example of nonattachment.” (from her book Writing Down the Bones)

Nachmanovitch helped me understand this concept of letting go by making it clear that there really is nothing to hold onto.  What produced the poem or other work has passed, has floated downstream.  This would seem to make the case for being ever-present to see what arises in this moment, and then this moment, and this.


All Is Now

September 12, 2007

I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
~Walt Whitman, from “Song of Myself”

No beginning, no end…the circle of life. All time exists now. We Westerners have a hard time giving up our linear thought, our linear sense of time.  I think I love poetry in large part because it can cut through habits of thought.  Good poetry surprises us, makes us see new relationships, gives us a glimpse of the poet’s creative joy.  How does linear thought, a linear sense of beginnings and endings, limit us?  What might be possible by suspending it?