Sunday, January 8, 2017

Creativity for Life

The beginning of a new year often finds me reaching for a book to inspire my continuing journey in art. Past favourites include Art & Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland; Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert; and The Confident Creative, by Cat Bennett.

This year I decided to re-read Creativity for Life, by Eric Maisel. Its subtitle is "Practical Advice on the Artist's Personality and Career from America's Foremost Creativity Coach".  Maisel, a psychotherapist and teacher, is the author of more than 40 books, including several novels.

What does "creativity for life" mean? In the book's introduction, Maisel makes the helpful distinction between artful living, art-filled living, and art-committed living, categories which are not mutually exclusive.
"First, it means that creativity can permeate one's life, that a person can be creative in the way she handles her job, solves problems around the house, plans menus for dinner parties, or takes in a sunset. She manifests the qualities of a creative person, like imagination, resourcefulness, self-direction, and so on, and shines them like a beacon on whatever she thinks about or tackles.... [She is] 'everyday creative' or engaged in 'artful living.'
"Second, it means that people who love things like art, music, literature, science, and, more broadly, gorgeous, thought-provoking, evocative things, want them in their lives. They want a life full of foreign movies, intellectual puzzles, and natural beauty. They love it that bookstores, museums, and concert halls exist, and they love it that they can fill their living space and their spare time with art.... This is an 'art-filled life' or 'art-filled living'. In this sense, having 'creativity for life' means filling all your days with art and the joy that art brings. 
"Third, it means that a person can spend a lifetime creating in a particular domain, a domain to which she decides to devote herself. She can be creative as a violinist and devote herself to music. She can be creative as a writer and devote herself to writing novels. She can be creative as a research biologist and devote herself to scientific inquiry.... This is an 'art-committed life' or 'identifying as an artist.'"
This third avenue is the focus of the book.

What is creativity? In Maisel's view,
"...People are artistically creative when they love what they are doing, know what they are doing, and actively engage in art-making. The three elements of creativity are thus loving, knowing, and doing; or heart, mind and hands; or, as Zen Buddhist teaching has it, great faith, great question, and great courage."
Maisel goes on to explore the artist's personality, specifically a list of ten traits.
"It seems contradictory to call an artist both shy and conceited, introverted and extroverted, empathic and self-centred, highly-independent and hungry for community – until we realize that all these qualities can be dynamically present in one person."
This realization can help the artist to understand puzzling contradictions in his personality. Maisel cites as examples the musician who wants to perform his music, but is terrified by public performance; the painter who possesses the vain hope of a quiet life, but whose active mind prevents her from feeling relaxed even for a minute; and the author who needs solitude in order to write but also needs a wide and busy social circle. Maisel also deals with the characterization of some artists as being "difficult". He explains that,
"The artist lives in a state of greater dynamic tension than the nonartist and so is likely to demand more, desire more, withdraw further into herself, witness better, laugh harder, and bellyache louder. This may not be easy for anyone to take – the artist included – but it reflects not just one quality like selfishness or narcissism but a whole array of interactive qualities."
Maisel discusses the obstacles to achieving success as an artist, and the difficulties of supporting oneself through one's art.
"It is easy to picture a culture in which art and commerce are not connected and equally easy to picture a culture in which everyone has permission to create, does in fact create, and is supported in their creative efforts. Ours is not that culture. You can live an artful life and an art-filled life without worrying about the connection between art and commerce, but if you intend to live an art-committed life, then the challenges that we've discussed in this chapter are yours to face."
Throughout the book, Maisel peppers his text with quotations from artists of all mediums and many eras. One of these quotes is of particular interest to fibre artists. He cites the American visual artist Elaine Reichek, who said,
"It's political to choose a form that is a craft –  not painting, not sculpture, not in the tradition of high white art." 
My re-reading of Creativity for Life has illuminated my own path. In fact, I have just ordered another of Maisel's most popular books, Coaching the Artist Within.

1 comment:

Dianne Robinson said...

Thanks for that synopsis. Interesting to reflect how our own lives fit into those categories.