Creativity (noun): “The use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work.”
Oh, it sounds so simple doesn’t it? The use of the imagination… there are no rules, no boundaries, no foundation, no precedent. The Imagination is the very faculty that we use from the beginning of our life, the one we feel so at home with as children. So why is it, then, that many of us become so disengaged with creativity once we grow up? Or if not disengaged, then intimidated. And if not intimidated, then “too busy” to make time for it.
How can those of us who have limited interaction with creative expression find more access to that fund of natural creative beauty and joy that lies within each one of us?
Certainly there are myriad answers to this, but I have some thoughts…
(1) Surround yourself with people who inspire you, creatively speaking
I am immensely grateful to have grown up in a family that encouraged creative expression in all forms. My mother taught me how to garden, bake, and sew, my father taught me how to (properly) drive a nail with a hammer and also how to think outside the box of the status quo, and my 3 younger siblings have ceaselessly inspired me with their unique and diverse artistic pursuits (my sister’s beautiful sketches of the human form, my brother’s ability to pair his photographs with poetry in the most strikingly lovely way, and my youngest brother’s talent for making insane “battle weapons” out of tree branches and tape). But beyond the family I was born into, I have at times been able to work with people who brought out something in me that was buried by fear of judgement.
Like Scott. When I was in my early 20’s I worked on a job building a nightclub. It was this crazy project of creating a very glamorous place in a city that was not at all glamorous. At the time, I was working for my dad as his assistant and since he was brought in to manage all aspects of the formation of this club, I got to tag along for the ride. Our first mode of business was to hire a brilliant designer, and that’s when Scott came on board. And it was through Scott that I learned something profound about creative expression.
He taught me technical things, like how to use Photoshop, and exposed me to the brilliant sounds of the BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix and the radical auditory explorations of Amon Tobin– music that opened a whole new portal to my creative forces. But most importantly, he taught me how to let go and just create something. By this I mean, how to let go of all the BS in my own head about how something may or may not turn out and just go for it. In this project I was allowed to take on some aspects of interior design, a responsibility I’d never had before. It intimidated me and left me fumbling with my ideas unsure of which direction to head with them. Every aspect of this club was about gorgeous, jaw-dropping design, and so from the acid-wash floors to the bathroom stall doors each element had to be striking. Beautiful. Original. The lesson came one day when I was trying to decide how to paint something, I’ve forgotten what now. But I remember it wasn’t about just choosing a color, but a mixture of the perfect colors in an exotic pattern. I was unsure of my concept, and hesitant to move forward. But Scott stopped me and said basically this: There was no way to know for sure if it would look great or not, I just had to confidently choose one way and then DO IT. That was it. Even though that advice sounds so simple, it was profound for me at the time. He wasn’t saying “yes, I think your ideas are great”, he was saying “it doesn’t matter what I or anybody else thinks, decide on what you love and go for it.” It has forever since stuck with me.
(2) Expose yourself to the world of artistic expression all around you
Living in Miami for almost 6 years was hugely impactful, in terms of creative exposure. There is art all over the place. If you’ve ever been to Wynwood you know what I’m talkin’ about. That diverse, incredibly eclectic and daring scene of artistic expression sank in deep, and kept me in a constant state of inspired existence. It was like being high on art all the time, and I loved it. There is definitely a lot to be said of living in a place which incubates and encourages social, public art. It creates an entirely different kind of environment, one in which creativity is the baseline and all else grows out of it
Even if you don’t live in a place like Miami (as I no longer do) there are obviously loads of incredibly wonderful creative things to find online. Like Marina Abramovitch’s deeply powerful act of sitting in a chair for 3 months and staring into the eyes of strangers– a true observation of the human soul; Ravel’s “Bolero”, which takes repetition to an entirely new level of extreme whilst maintaining glorious harmony and balance (side note: the story, or theory, behind this song is one of the most fascinating I’ve ever heard–on this episode of Radiolab); the breathtakingly over-the-top, daring, and stunningly gorgeous creations of late-great fashion designer Alexander McQueen; the fabulous and hilarious self-portraiture art of Cindy Sherman; the mind-blowing architecture of Zaha Hadid. My goodness this world is full of beauty and brilliance, isn’t it?
Possibly the most awe-struck I’ve ever been by someone else’s art was when I visited Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. I only had one full day in Barcelona, it was just a stopping point on my way back home from a Europe trip. I knew this place was supposed to be incredible, so I went there first thing in the morning. It was absolute love at first sight. I ended up spending the entire day there, wanting never to leave it. I can’t explain exactly what it was…There is a very peculiar, wonderful, dreamy feel to the place. Like you could feel the passion and love and absolute obsessive care that went into each angle, curve, and corner of this grande feat of human ingenuity. Sagrada Familia is not like other 19th century cathedrals. It has a warmth to it (as opposed to the typical chilling cold of most cathedrals), perhaps due to the fact that Gaudi himself was a devout naturalist and thus invoked upon his work a love for nature. This is evident in the miles-high nave complete with skylights which are mosaic-tiled to resemble rays of sun, and the columns and buttresses which look more like the trunks of giant cyprus trees, and the cheerful and vibrantly colored stained glass windows which appear as a rainbow of dazzling, kaleidoscopic color (as opposed to the typical, I would say rather depressing, Christian or Byzantine versions). The place is an ode to the grandeur of humanity and nature in melodic harmony together. If I could live in this magnificent place for the rest of my life I think I would.
(3) Make some damn time to get creative
This one is both the easiest and the hardest, to me. Because creative inspiration seems to be all around me, and I tend to view the world through an “artistic” lens more often than a “pragmatic” one. But, finding the time to actually be creative is another story.
The times when I’ve typically felt my most creative have been when I’m traveling alone. On a bus, or train, or airplane, or when I’m sitting on a beach or at a cafe table somewhere far-flung and foreign– these are the places with the richest soil for my mind to sprout in the poppy field of creative wonderment. But nowadays I am a mother and a business woman, so that luxury is mostly a thing of my past. I now must find my creative time in my tiny at-home art space/office, usually between the hours of baby bedtime and mommy bedtime. It is ever more challenging, yet never impossible. For Christmas this past year I managed to make not one but TWO cloth baby dolls entirely from scratch for my daughter. This was a big deal for me because I am notorious for starting projects and leaving them pitifully unfinished. But these dolls were super important to me, and I made the firm decision that I would make the time to create them. Night after night, I stayed up until wee hours cutting, marking, sewing, embroidering. It was magical… cathartic, even. Doing it made me remember how creative expression is actually like a medicine for the mind and soul. And it just feels so freakin’ good.
I always, constantly, tell myself I need to make more time for it. More time to just make things. And it will always be a struggle, a battle against time and responsibilities, which only makes that time of making things that much more precious and savory. I cherish it profoundly.
And all of this leads me to another question, perhaps the most confounding thing to me about Creativity: Why can’t we create with that natural joie de vivre and gut instinct/freedom of a child all throughout our lives?
What I wonder is, can there be a way to get back to that innocent, un-self-conscious version of ourselves in order to pursue creative expression the way it is meant to be enjoyed? With a bit of reckless abandon, and without fear of judgement or criticism. And I’m not talking about the kind of creative expression that we as adults have spent months or years gaining proficiency at. That doesn’t count. If you are a graphic designer by trade, or professional singer with years of training, or a mime who attended the famous International School of Dramatic Corporeal Mime, it’s still really cool but it’s not what I’m talkin’ about. I’m talkin’ about the things you create out of the pure, childish impulse to just MAKE STUFF. As well as the permission to allow yourself the time to do so. Like doodling in your agenda book (A frivolous pursuit, sure, but it can be kind of great). So I’m saying that creative release is important. It isn’t frivolous, it isn’t a waste of time, it is an essential part of living a joyous life. I believe it’s as important as exercise, a healthy diet, chocolate, and a decent amount of daily sunshine. And I think we could all do with an extra serving of it, because we are all way too stressed out these days. Every last one of us.
So go grab your Johanna Basford coloring book, or go take a tour of your local art gallery or museum for inspiration, or buy a pack of fancy colored pencils to doodle in your agenda book with, or a really nice watercolor set with the expensive kind of watercolor paper just for the heck of it, or make that video of yourself singing even if it freaks you out a bit… just go for it. Make the time. And don’t care about what people will ultimately think about it.
This is for YOU.
Image at top: Photo of me in front of an art wall, Downtown Miami, 2014 (taken by my little brother Tommy)