Make Your Life a Work of Art: Creativity is about artful living, not just making art.
Sep 01, 2008 03:00AM
By Linda Sechrist
Creativity is often perceived as a blessing bestowed upon those who call themselves artists. Observed and encouraged in most children, creativity seems to disappear when playful youngsters become responsible adults. Where does it go? The late psychologist J.P. Guilford might have answered that it’s not gone, but forgotten.
Creative acts,” said eminent psychologist J.P. Guilford, “can be expected of all individuals. Those persons who are recognized as creative merely have more of what everyone has.”
Another scholar of the human psyche, Jean Shinoda Bolen, believes that every person has a treasure trove of original natural talents that may lie buried, or overlooked. Like most hidden treasures, these talents need to be excavated, and recognized for their true value.
“It is a mistaken belief that mechanics, carpenters, seamstresses, mathematicians, psychotherapists, business owners, mothers,fathers, gardeners and many others aren’t artists,” says Bolen, author of The Tao of Human Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self. “Creativity has much to do with intellectual and practical wisdom, and it is inseparable from mastering something and knowing how to do it in our own way.”
Bolen says all “spiritual beings on a human path” are responsible for discovering and developing their unique talents “because they serve to shape our life, which I like to refer to as our Magnum Opus, our true Great Work of art.”
Unearthing Natural Talents
One of the most prolific authors and teachers on the subject of discovering and recovering creative gifts is Julia Cameron, author of The Artists Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Cameron, who has written dozens of books, three musicals, four plays and one film, agrees with Bolen’s intertwining view of life and art. “Our art is supposed to be something we do in and with our life, which is the larger container thatholds our art,” she says. “Rather than yearning to be full-time artists, we might aspire to be full-time humans. When we do, art is the overflow of a heart-filled life.”
Cameron has a toolkit for unblocking the artist in everyone. One fundamental tool is a daily uncensored writing practice—called Morning Pages—that brings clarity, insight, and sometimes new directions and ideas before the business of daily life kicks in. Other important tools of The Artist’s Way include weekly solo Artist’s Dates (time spent observing, experiencing, sensing and playing for the pure pleasure of it) and rambling walks, which Cameron herself credits with providing guaranteed fodder for her creative fires. Worth their weight in gold to any creative miner, these and other exercises from her books have helped thousands to reconnect with childhood’s playful state of delight.
“Picasso said that we are all born children,” says Cameron. “The trick is to remain one, lean into our ease and enjoy the ride of our gift.”
Cameron’s metaphor for the Morning Pages—running a vacuum cleaner around one’s consciousness to suck up the soundtracks that clutter the mind—reveals just a smidgeon of her natural talent for creating reader-friendly visuals. “Writing stream of consciousness thoughts on pages frees up what I call alpha ideas, like ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to…,’ or ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting to…,’ and ‘Gee, I could let myself explore…,’” explains the articulate creative.
Those nudges and inspirations, as well as insights and uncomfortable truths, have shown up in Cameron’s personal Morning Pagesfor decades. An Artist’s Date she took to a travel bookstore turned up a tome on Ferdinand Magellan, which led Cameron to pen an entire musical about the Portuguese maritime explorer, the first to cross the Pacific Ocean.
Discerning a New Direction
Tama J. Kieves, another creative soul who enjoys a walk to jiggle loose inspired thoughts, is the author of This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love. She also works as a creative career coach, and founded Awakening Artistry, an organization dedicated to fashioning a global family of visionary minds, creative souls and empowered leaders. This honors graduate of Harvard Law School left a budding law practice to work as a professional writer and speaker. Today, she gives emboldened hope to everyone who may have suppressed a creative urge in their youth.
“It’s possible at any time to dust off the cobwebs that cover a natural talent, resurrect a creative dream and breathe life into it,” advises Kieves. “I know this is true because it’s what I did.” Kieves, who says that creativity is anything but frivolous, frequently wrote brilliant legal briefs that caused senior partners to reconsider cases they had initially ignored. Eventually, her outside-the-box perspective sent her in search of a more artful world. Kieves’ ensuing methods of creative inquiry—drawing, meditating, journaling, daydreaming with a confidant, walking on the beach and befriending her own soul—brought her in touch with her unique inner artistry.
“Imaginative inquiry demanded that I dwell in a more intimate relationship with myself,” notes Kieves. “This meant that I had to learn to feel my feelings, so that I could discern the felt sense of direction calling to me. In addition to having a lot of fun, it taught me that if I wanted to discover an unimaginable livelihood, I had to leave standardized inquires behind.”
This author’s research initially led her to a toy store. “I figured that if I wanted work that felt like play,” Kieves recalls, “I had to play and dabble on the wild side by rummaging through my child side, where wonder and innocence could strike at any moment. I discovered that fun is more than fun; it’s the vortex and hot spot of uncanny wisdom, and it serves us well in awakening our artistry.”
Weaving Dreams into Reality
Before awakening our artistry, we chop wood and carry water. After awakening our artistry, we discover mindful and creative ways to chop wood (perhaps with a better axe), and carry water (perhaps in a newly fashioned, more efficient bucket). Although sometimes we have to change our lives to pursue our creativity, more often, we have only to change our approach to life and make room for creativity to emerge in all kinds of places. This post-awakening stage requires perseverance, curiosity, imagination, will and patience.
These qualities are well known to Cricket Lee of Dallas, Texas, who challenged the fashion industry to change the way it designs and labels. Wielding one singularly ambitious dream, Lee created a universal standard for sizing women’s clothes, based on body types and measurements. Her FitLogic standards may be licensed by any clothing maker and used for any kind of apparel.
Lee’s dream, not yet fully manifested, has taken six years of legwork and heroic determination. When the dream temporarily nosedived in 2006, the emotional devastation kept Lee in bed most days, until she met Jennifer Parrish, the woman who became her dream coach.
“For three months, Jennifer encouraged me to exercise my imagination, so that I could dance, sing and live inside my dream to keep it alive,” explains Lee. “Every time I got into victim mode, she reminded me, ‘You are in charge of your dream.’ I needed a dream coach to teach me that my truest life is when I am in the dream, awake,” Lee says, “and to constantly remind me to have fun and use my imagination and artistry in order to weave my dream into reality.”
Imagining New PossibilitiesAlbert Einstein once said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination,” adding that imagination outranked knowledge, because it was unlimited. The ability to envision, dream, speculate and wonder in and beyond childhood can craft an adult life that reflects one’s true passions and authentic desires. Yvette Lyn, of Orlando, Florida, imagined a life of adventure long before she lived it.
“As a young girl, I spent much of my spare time reading Harlequin novels, and dreamed of visiting the exotic places described in every book,” says Lyn. “As an adult, I had a great deal of fun touring my dream locales as either a social hostess or a cruise director aboard Holland America luxury liners. I exercised my creativity and imagination seven days a week.”
Now, spending more time on dry land, Lyn has put a new dream into motion in the form of something called Social Artistry, a catalyzing art form she learned from Jean Houston, founder of the International Institute for Social Artistry. Today, Lyn splashes her passion and skills on the canvas of social reality.
“As a social artist, I get to evoke new ways of thinking, being and doing in people who apply my ideas to their social challenges,” says Lyn. “I tune in and let my intuition and imagination guide me. People spark inspiration in me, which in turn, manifests as some fun form of creativity. One idea, for example, led to forming a group of mentors who are now interacting with youngsters at an elementary school, to everyone’s benefit.”
Marvin Gram is a master carpenter and stonemason in Louisville, Ohio, who puts his artistry to work through these exacting sciences. Whether Gram is creating magnificent stone fireplaces, meandering trapezoid slate sidewalks or garden teaching centers, he finds it satisfying and inspiring to step back and let his eyes feast on the works of arts that he brings into being.
“All my life I’ve acted on my ideas,” Gram muses. “Action keeps my mind open, builds confidence in my skills and talents, and increases my resolve that I can do anything. It’s the only way to fulfill dreams and stay excited about life. Next to raising my two sons, my work requires the most imagination and creativity.”In Elizabeth Lake, California, Jim Walker stood back and gazed upon his life’s canvas for six months, until the new direction for his Magnum Opus took shape in the form of environmental advocacy. For three decades, Walker’s natural talents for innovative thinking, research, communication, negotiation, strategic planning and politics served him well as a labor relations representative for the California School Employees Association. Now, he uses these same talents to teach environmental advocacy skills in his region, aiming to help conserve 165 acres of open water, trees and shoreline that provide habitat for the wildlife he enjoys observing on kayaking adventures.
Walker’s creativity also paddled onto the computer screen, where he assembled some of his nature photos into a PowerPoint presentation for town council members and residents. “I like using my creativity for this noble cause of protecting the interest of something that has no voice,” says Walker. “It is fulfilling and uplifting.”
Nature is a powerful and abundant source of creative inspiration and expression for many. Poet William Blake expressed this ideal when he wrote, “To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.”
Sandy Henson might agree with that sentiment as she spends her Artist’s Dates observing hummingbirds and butterflies in the themedgardens that she maintains in Kensington, Ohio. Visual evidence of Henson’s creativity blooms in a multicolored quilt of flowers and herbs spread over five acres of her property. In 2002, her dream of sharing this beauty morphed into a business. Today, Treasures of the Earth sells plants, offers landscape design services and provides classes in nature spirits, biodynamic gardening and the medicinal and culinary uses of herbs.
“We need art for life,” says Henson, “and mine is all around me, nurturing, bringing peace and stirring my creative juices. For me, planting seeds and watching them sprout and grow is the height of co-creating.”
Julia Cameron says that the winds of creativity are neither fickle, finite nor limited, and that life is pure creative energy. This means that everyone has the ability to unfurl their artistic sails and chart a unique course, fueled by the same creative force that shapes snowflakes, designs seashells, and creates breathtaking landscapes. The challenge is to remain open to inspiration and act upon it.
“There are always ideas. Good ideas, workable ideas, brave and revolutionary ideas, calm and serviceable ideas,” advises Cameron. “The trick is to gently access them and allow them to flow into any area of our life, that which is our Greatest Work.”
For more information and inspiration, contact Jean Shinoda Bolen at ; Julia Cameron at ; Tama Kieves at ; Treasures of the Earth at SandysGardens.com; In Dreams Awake Life Coach Jennifer Parrish at ; Cricket Lee at FitLogic.com; and Jean Houston at .