THE CREATIVE SPIRIT
Become More Creative Than Perhaps You Ever Thought That You Could
By: J. Marlando
I was at the supermarket recently and passing by the flower section. I overheard two elderly ladies talking about the lovely flower arrangements on display. One lady said, aren’t those flowers beautiful the way they have them arranged? And her friend answered, yes, I’ve always wanted to be able to arrange flowers as artistically as that but I just never had the talent.
I felt almost compelled to interrupt the ladies saying that they absolutely had the ability to be as artistic as they desired to be and that the very term “talent” is a mere metaphor for the level of artistic expression people choose to demonstrate. I was too shy to butt in, however, and instead drove home to start the writing of this article. How many people in the world feel that they are not as “talented” as they would like to be and this includes professionals from painters to dancers, from actors to musicians and from sculptors to…well, as flower arrangers…but I tell you that what we typically call artistic talent is not limited to a chosen few by God, lucky genes or anything else—we all have whatever ability (call it creativity) we desire in the chasms of our potentials.
The secret to being able to create freely begins with the wisdom of Bob Fosse. The famous choreographer would tell his dancers, “Don’t dance for the audience, dance for yourself.” Art necessarily begins with self-absorption. One of the hindrances the lady at the supermarket had was that the moment she began to arrange her own flowers, she concerned herself with the result and not the doing. Oh my, what will people think…will they approve and so forth.
This is the very thing that keeps writers, actors and those in so many other creative fields mediocre. It doesn’t matter if you, personally, enjoy Lady Gaga or Cher or performers like Elvis, Michael Jackson or Bob Dylan or not, they are all among the crème of the creative crop; those who defied popularity and, as the song goes, did it their way. That is, they all obviously emerged themselves in the process of performing as opposed to the result. And of course the results are historic. We can say the same thing about Van Gogh in painting and Michail Baryshnikov in dance and other artists of course. Ironically it is the amateur who worries most about what the audience or onlooker will think…real artists have no time for such ponderings. Look at actors such as Sean Penn and the late Katherine Hepburn—both examples of walking in the shoes of the characters and getting lost in the reality of their roles.
What is an artist anyway, we might ask. I believe that *Norman O. Brown answers this question most accurately. He says:
“The artist is the man who refuses initiation
through education into the existing order,
remains faithful to his childhood being, and
thus becomes a human being in the spirit of
all times, an artist.”
When the child plays, for example, he or she does not dwell in a duel reality. He or she is emerged into the game; the stick really is a sword and the tiny cup really is filled with tea. It is this kind of emergence that the artist must permit him or herself to enter while performing or in the process of creating whatever his or her art is. I can only explain the depth of creative-being in the following way. That is, it is essential for the dancer to become the dance, the poet the poem, the actor the role, the painter the painting, the writer the writing and so forth. Another way of saying this is to say that the artist must “let loose” of being the creator…and become part of the creating itself; part of the process and not the goal.
There is stumbling block to all this however. The dancer, for one example, must know the choreography before he or she can, in a term, lose the self in the dancing. The actor, for another example, can never become the role if she or he doesn’t as said, own the lines. The actor must be prepared before he or she can stop acting and begin simply being on stage or before the camera.. And, the painter, as yet one more example, can never become one with the flow of his or her brush strokes unless he or she has first mastered technique. Think about it, millions of painters paint flowers—flowers are beautiful of course—but there is only one Georgia O’Keefe who, in so many ways, was her paintings; who flowed with her work.
As a quick aside I remember a certain young lady in a show I directed some years ago. She was one of seven other chorus dancers who performed a couple of numbers in the show. All the chorus dancers wore the very same costumes, their hair looked the same and of course they all followed the very same choreography following the very same choreography. Nevertheless, the audience invariably noticed the particular young lady I’m telling you about, paying more attention to her than any of the others. Well, there was something about her that glowed.
What was the reason for this phenomenon?
The young woman who “glowed” truly loved to dance and her own joy transmitted to the audience. Yet, unlike the others, she was not dancing for the audience—like a Fosse superstar she was dancing for herself; she was, so to speak, the dance, dancing.
When I use to lecture about all this, the most common response I would get, especially from actors, was the question that asked but what about natural talent?
Are some people naturally more talented than others? We’ll talk about this next.
*Norman O. Brown* Life Against Death*Wesleyan University Press
A THEORY OF NATURAL TALENT
These days there are many scholars and scientists that are saying that talent is simply an aspect of genetic engineering—some people have it while other people don’t. I disagree with this entire speculation.
I will attempt to tell you why as briefly as I can: If a person is at least in normal, good physical and psychological health his or her brain is responding to input from both the internal and external worlds.
With the above in mind we are reminded that the existentialists tell us that we are the totality of our experiences. I believe this to be the truth as far as what our brains know about the exterior world. And so, there is simply no doubt about it, a portion of our “experiences” is what we’ve been told about ourselves, especially in childhood. This is why it is so extremely destructive to call a child, slow, stupid, clumsy, messy, bad or untalented. When a child hears this from an authority figure in his or her life (a lot), the child’s brain begins to believe he or she is the label given him or her. Indeed, some doctors say that a child who is told he or she is slow, for example, may develop a slow heart beat or some other organ that doesn’t function as it should. Certainly, most children who have been told they are stupid will do poorly in school and kids who have been told they are bad, are typically kids who end up in trouble. The point here is that the more children are encouraged, applauded and loved the better they will do in life.
This is a reason why moms stick all that terrible art work on their refrigerator doors, to encourage and applaud their children’s attempt at drawing or painting. This is why conscientious parents are apt to tell their child how good they are doing when they make those horrible sounds coming out of their new trumpets or drum sets—they know that the better the child believes that he or she is, the better he or she will become. Children who do not get this kind of support will generally not be very artistic when they grow up; they will have little or no interest in the artistic and this can apply to mathematics and even to mechanical abilities, so much of the adult brain has been “conditioned.” Certainly, none of us are predestined to be a great musician or a fantastic brick layer or great cook by our genes. As we practice something or do something for the love of it, our brains begin reflecting our skills and this is why every brain is mapped so why some people appear to be born with more talent than other people. Even sports with their demand for physical prowess will be performed better by people who have been encouraged than those who have not. When dad or mom applaud because their son catches the ball or their daughter stands up on her roller skates, the child naturally open wider to progression.
What are we saying here?
Perhaps you recall Henry Ford’s old axiom, if you think you can or if you think you can’t, you are right. Well, that is really what we’re talking about. Remember the lady at the supermarket I mentioned at the start of this article? When she says, I could never arrange flowers like that she is giving her brain a negative affirmation and, after a while, her brain acts on that affirmation. *What Judith Hooper tells us is that our accumulated thoughts and actions weave our neutrons into the unique tapestry of our minds.
The point that we’re attempting to make here is that as long as we are in good mental and physical health we are at the helm of what we do in life and how well we do it; excellence is achieved based on how much or little we enjoy an activity but, at bottom line so-called “natural talent” begins with what we have been told about ourselves by our significant others and what we have told ourselves about ourselves. Not everyone wants to be a great artist and …there are many artists who do not really desire to be great. This is because to be good at anything one must practice and yes be devoted to their craft, art or skill. After all, it is only after one has learned the rules and can apply them as Picasso could, can that same person toss those rules out the window and (freely) create as Picasso also did.
You can easily test all this by the way. Take a chore that you truly dislike, say doing the nightly dishes, mowing the lawn or some task that you do at work. Every time you do the chore say to yourself, this is so much fun, I love it. After only a few days see what happens.
Your brain responds to the affirmation given it by remapping itself to conform to what it believes to be true. For example, if you call the rose bush a thorn bush, that is exactly what it will become…for you!
Another way of putting this is to say that a major reason Picasso achieved in art is because he absolutely believed that he was Picasso the artist.
You have within you all the artistic ability that you really wish to tap into. But first let us talk about how to do this and exactly what this means.
*The 3-Pound Universe –Judith Hooper with Dick Teresi—A Jeremy P. Tarcher-Putman Book.
TAPPING INTO YOUR ARTISTIC ABILITY
I suggest that there is a three stage process for the person wanting to create. The first is projection. That is, the person simply has the desire to do something creative like play an instrument, write a poem, dance, act, and/or perform; sculpt, flower arrange or make pottery. For a lot of people, younger and older, this “creative desire” is merely a passing fancy. You know the story: mom and dad buy a two thousand dollar piano that little Tommy has been begging for but then little Tommy only bangs on the keys a few times and decides he’d rather play baseball. This can occur for people of all ages. Sam the grocer spends a few hundred dollars on oil paints, brushes and canvas only to discover he’s not a Monet so his supplies end up on a forgotten shelf in the garage. There are also those that truly want to create and so they graduate to step two, practice and so learning their craft. It isn’t surprising that the more a person practices their art, the more talent they seem to have for it.
Some people simply “practice” all their lives becoming adequate or even quite good at their art but never quite reach that level of professionalism they so desire. And what I am saying here is that while there were a lot of truly wonderful trumpet players between the 19020s and 1960s there was really only one Louis Armstrong who is still thought to be the greatest jazz musician that ever lived even to this day.
The third stage then is to polish.
The polishing stage is most basically advanced practicing. First of all, when one is in the practice mode, he or she is working on information or instruction coming in from the outside. Actors have coaches, dancers, dance instructors, musicians, music teachers, actors, acting coaches and so forth. Maybe the talented person reads a lot of material about “perfecting” his work or gets together with others to discuss their art or craft. All this takes degrees of concentration because the brain is kept busy recording what it is learning. It is at this juncture that the amateur most generally makes the leap into professionalism.
Incidentally when we talk of professionalism we are not necessarily referring to the person who makes a living from his or her art. The old standard observation still stands, there’s just a whole lot of unrewarded talent out there. We are referring to quality of performance and creation.
With the above said, the goal is being able to perform one’s art professionally. That is to say that the actor, dancer, artist, writer, musician, writer knows what he or she is doing and has graduated from the learning-technique-stage. And what is meant by this (since we never stop learning) is when the director calls out something like I want to see more emotion in the moment before you move up right, the actor knows exactly what to do and delivers. All we’re saying here is that professionalism is when the artist has reached a place where he or she knows what to do and how to do it…and so, is able to let loose of all that training and/or learning and let his or her art simply flow; to be one with his or her art.
At this level the clever pen of the writer goes on what can only be called automatic—that is, he is often as surprised to see what he has written as the passing stranger is. The painter is often amazed as he stands back from the canvas hardly believing that it was his brush strokes that achieved the art he is admiring. The dancer looks at a video of his or her performance and cannot quite believe that he or she was the exquisite movement of the dance. In other words, the artist has become one with his or her work and the work no longer comes from him or her, but through him or her.
It is when the artist reaches this stage of his development that it can be said that he or she is being “faithful to his childhood being” and therefore not producing from deep concentration or simply from learned experiences but rather from opening to creation itself.
What does this mean exactly?
It is no easy chore to explain this because we are talking about “experiencing” as opposed to “doing.” What we are attempting to say however was said earlier, it is only when the dancer becomes the dance, the poet the poem, the painter the painting, the writer the writing, the singer the song that the artist becomes one with his or her art and that oneness is creativity made manifest.
We all have this potential within us and we can all tap into it once we have achieved the basics of our art or craft and can finally stop being concerned with the result and instead simply become one with the flow of letting our “art” happen and stop trying to control it.
This is why all that practice and experience is so important. It is impossible to merely permit your art to arrive, which we are basically talking about here, unless you’re already expert in the craft itself. And there are even exceptions to this: There are those who play music by ear, who paint masterfully without study or instruction, who writes without formal education, who dances without lesson, who sings beautifully without training, Question: how can this be? Answer: they have simply opened to their potentials and…let…their art flow.
If you have the yearning to create, you already have the “talent” it is within you…it is up to you to let it out…and flow with it!
Creativity is difficult to understand in that it has far reaching implications that expand normal human function. That is, a Norman Rockwell or Judy Garland who appear to be so special (so chosen) because of their extreme talents had one specific thing in common—they didn’t worry about failing, they simply accepted themselves and permitted themselves to manifest their art through their own will to create.
We all have a Rockwell or Garland in us—not everyone wants the artistic life, however. Some people decide to summon up their mechanical or medical or brick-laying or plumbing talents. And anyway, lots of what we end up doing in life depends on the experiences we have had as children. If we were raised to believe that the practical is vital in life, we probably won’t choose water coloring as our career; if we’ve been taught that money is the priority we’ll probably not choose to become poets. The point, however, is that whatever we “choose” that choosing opens up our potentials. When our potentials begin blossoming into some talent like carpentry, cooking, dancing, you name it they become specific in our lives. That is by our own volition and choice making, we tap into whatever ability that we desire. Some people can excel at a few things—for example I knew an expert plumber who was also an expert sculptor but most of us need to dwell on one thing to reach the expert status that he did.
Yes, my proposition is this: It is within us to do or, if you will, to become anything that we want to be; all talents are in our potential. I’ll demonstrate this by telling you a short story: There were two families living next door to one another, and each had sons around the same age four or five.
One day the father of one of the sons was working in his garage tinkering with his motorcycle. The little boy wondered in and picked up a wrench wanting to help his dad. But dad angered and told the boy never to touch his tools because he had lost them before and called the mother to take the boy back in the house and keep him out of the garage.
This same scenario happened to the neighbor only that dad was working on his car when his son wandered into the garage to help. Like the other little boy he picked up some tool from Dad’s toolbox but his dad smiled widely and said, “Daddy’s little helper…you’re going to grow up to be a great mechanic someday.”
Now there might be exceptions but to make the point here do you see how the first little boy will grow up not being very mechanical because of how his unconscious is affected by his negative father. On the other hand, the other little boy will probably grow up to be very mechanical because of his father’s positive responses.
The other point is that mechanical ability is not unique to one and not the other, mechanical ability was dormant in each other’s psyches…equally. This is why parents who tell their children that they just never do anything right is, as said before, not only hurting the child’s feelings but being intrinsic in how the child’s brain will map itself.
We often treat ourselves like a disapproving parent too. An example of this is the woman who was in the supermarket and said, “I could never be able to arrange flowers like that.” Well, this drives us to repeating Henry Ford’s old axiom—if you think you can or if you think you can’t, you are always right.
Returning more directly to the topic of art, a major detriment to creativity is concentration. Concentration always contrives as the ego desires to be clever. Also concentration is always limited by our own experiences and so, if you will, concentrated effort can never tap into the collective art spirit. This is why the artist must strive to permit his or her art to come through him or her as opposed to from him or her. A great many artists never reach this essential goal and thus never achieve the mastery that they desire.
In regard to the above, concentration serves to diminish creativity in that it closes the gateway to one’s artistic potential. I have a director friend for example, whom I’ve known since my old theater days some forty years ago. A few months ago we were having coffee together and I was asking him if he had any regrets. He suddenly looked quite sad and said that yes, he did. He said, “I have never permitted myself to simply let loose and put the magic and excitement in my shows that I envision. I have always stuck far too much to the traditional.”
I understood perfectly what he meant. I have seen a number of his shows and they are all safe and traditional—indeed he was doing Shaw when others were directing daring productions like Hair and Jesus Christ Super Star. The question is why?
First of all he believes that he is his art and therefore fears criticism and failure. The shows that he directs have been tried and tested a thousand times over and are not risky especially when they are directed just as they have been directed a great many times. And so, unlike Bob Fosse’s dancers, who dance for themselves, he directs for the audience (for the public) and thus his creativity is confined and stiff. I’ve known most virtually countless painter and writers who are also ego bound; they turn their work into intellectual achievements as opposed to creative manifestations.
This happens to all artists from time to time and when it does, they disallow their creations to simply happen, to unfold on the page, the canvas or stage floor. Nevertheless, we all have within us the pathway to universal mind but it is nothing that we can unlock for ourselves, we can only open our minds and heart to it. The lady at the supermarket simply affirmed her lack of talent when she could have as easily opened to her ability to make beautiful flower arrangements.
Is all this so or is this merely conjecture from my own creative pen? I turn to the wisdom of Joseph Clinton Pearce, who told us that: “Mind mirrors the universe that mirrors man’s mind. Creator and Created give rise to each other.”