Creativity, Solitude and Happiness

 

24″ x 30″ acrylic © 2018, Molly Larson Cook
“A Felicidade”

“In order to be open to creativity,
one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude.
One must overcome the fear of being alone.”
~ Rollo May

I’ve begun work on a new collection of jazz paintings, putting my solitude to constructive use as Dr. May suggested.  I’ve long been open to creativity, have rarely had any fear of being alone, in fact enough of an introvert to be quite happy alone much of the time.  A felicidade.

Which is not to say that I’m not also happy in the company – even in a crowd – of a like-minded spirit who also appreciates solitude.  Context is everything.

Rollo May also wrote a book titled The Courage to Create in which he likened the creative person’s pursuit as something akin to Prometheus stealing the fire of the gods.  (Who do we mortals think we are, wanting to horn in on the gods?)  Prometheus suffered a painful penalty for being so bold.  Nobody wants what he got.

But the title of the book is provocative and so is May’s point.  Isn’t it just fun to mess around with paint or play a few tunes or fiddle with one inventive activity or another? Where does courage come in?

Well, I’d say courage comes in at about the same place Bayles and Orland were when they wrote the little book Art and Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking.

I say this because true creativity involves risktaking, and risktaking requires courage – a lot of courage or a little depending on the risk, but always courage.

As Bayles and Orland put it so well, “Simply put, making art is chancy–it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art.  And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.”

I daresay these words can be applied to all kinds of creative activities.  Or – why dodge it? – to life itself.   Life, love, and the pursuit of happiness all take courage.

Case in artistic point – uncertainty…In my last post I included a new painting.  I knew it was not finished, and I tried a few things with it this weekend, but uncertainty being what it is, I wasn’t happy until late in the weekend with the finished piece, above.

It’s miles from where I started, but aren’t road trips to unknown destinations always the best?

Be brave. Be bold. Be happy.

 

 

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Robin Hood’s Barn

My dear father-in-law had a saying about occasions when it seemed that a person was taking too much time to get somewhere or had deliberately made the trip longer than necessary or just seemed to be lost on the way or was telling some convoluted and long-winded story.

“That fellow went all the way around Robin Hood’s barn to get there.”

The phrase came to me again today as I thought about my progress as an artist.  Or anybody’s progress as an artist – or a writer, dancer, actor, musician, anything that requires some creativity and imagination to find the place where one feels – I don’t know – a spiritual connection with one’s work.

That sounds pretty high-and-mighty, I know, and I’m not given to using such words easily, but let’s face it – if the spirit ain’t in it, it ain’t nuthin’.  (I didn’t steal that from anybody.  I just made it up.)

You can use your own definition of “spirit.” There are plenty to choose from or you, too, can make up one you like.  But I think anybody who’s serious about the work will get what I’m trying to say.

When it comes to creativity, spirit can be elusive.  I knew I was headed this direction when I realized after several moves that the two things I always packed first were my books and my art supplies.  Art supplies I hadn’t used in years but could not bear to leave behind.  Then I made a move and left most of my books behind, but not the art supplies.  That was the clincher for me.  I hadn’t found the spirit yet, but I knew there was joy in just being with those brushes and paints and pieces for collage.  And when it came to living in my little studio apartment where space was beyond limited, I chose art instead of books/writing.  Truth to tell, I chose art over just about everything but my bed!

Spirit watches and waits for our commitment.

I’ve been painting a lot of things over the past year and a half that I found satisfying and that other people liked, too.  I’ve sold some pieces, but I knew I was not there yet; I was out of the fledgling nest, but still flying like Bob Dylan’s rolling stone, “no direction known.”

A couple of weeks ago I ran onto a Dutch abstract painter on the web, a painter and a jazz saxophonist as well.  I watched and listened and especially paid attention to Jan van Oort’s lesson about painting tools for abstract art.  Something resonated.  Then I set my brushes aside and went to the art supply store and the hardware store where I picked up all kinds of things.  For me, the tools were the key.

Not only do I love hardware stores, but I also now love the freedom to do what spirit has been calling me to do all along:  Be brave, be bold, have fun, take risks, speak your own piece.  Listen to the music.  Color is an animal that not only wags its own tail, but also sings its own song.

I may have been around Robin Hood’s barn, but I made it home.

Here are the first results.  All 20 x 24.

img_1844                img_1847

img_1851             img_1843-1

 

 

That Certain Feeling

Image result for fledgling leaving the nest public domain

Fledgling red wing blackbird

All the years I was a writer and especially when I was working on my one published novel (there are others in boxes or my computer files), I discovered an odd emotion that came when I knew a passage was right. Dead-on right. When the pieces clicked together not in the “well-made” sense, which is death to good writing, but in the “now the gears are meshing perfectly” sense.

Call it inspiration, call it a gift from the Goddess, call it anything you like, but the feeling is undeniable. Until now that feeling has eluded me with the art.

I often remind you – and myself – that I’m a fledgling. And then I remember a man my first art teacher told me about. “He always takes the beginning class. He’s been doing it for years.” She told me he was a good artist, but didn’t have the confidence to go to the next level.

Maybe the breakthrough came a week or so ago when I did the “What the hell, why not?” paint-throwing bit. Maybe I’ve been learning more than I realized with the practice of developing my body of art. Maybe it’s good luck.

Writer John Gardner said, “Good luck is nothing but being in shape to act with the Universe when the Universe says, ‘Now!’ “

I’ve been working this week on two pieces I’m entering in a juried show here in San Diego. One of them was already finished (I thought) from an earlier exercise and fit the theme of the show. The other is a new piece created just for this occasion. Both were a stretch for me, but I felt good about them.

Last night, I called them good enough. And then another thing from writing days hit me. Good enough is not the same as good. Something was missing in each of them, but I had no idea just what. A few ideas came but I hesitated and went to bed to sleep on them.

This morning I knew what was missing, but the idea was risky. I knew that if I screwed the paintings up at this late moment, just a couple of days before I have to deliver them to the jury, I’d regret it. But a bigger push was working on me: I knew that if I didn’t take the risk, I’d regret it even more.  I’ve taught other people how to take good risks and I weighed this one carefully.

I mixed the paint, picked up my brush, took a breath and said softly, “What the hell, why not?”

I didn’t change anything big in either piece. These were finishing touches, but the kinds of finishing touches that change everything.

I thought of Hemingway who said the biggest problem with writing was getting the words right.  Same thing here. And then, as I stepped back from the paintings, I felt it:  The sense of rightness. The sense of gears meshing and clicks clicking, followed immediately by that odd emotion.  I can only describe it as the kind of relief one might feel after crossing a chasm on a high and shaky bridge.  A little giddy, a little scared, crazy happy and wanting to try it again right away!

I’m still a fledgling, but I know one good new thing today. Take the risks. I’m going to make a sign and put it next to my easel. I don’t plan to stay in the beginner’s class – or the nest – forever.

Notes from the “What the Hell – Why Not?” School of Painting

I was a writer for many years – corporate writing, technical writing, editing, free-lance journalism. I penned the occasional poem or short story and eventually wrote novels and full-length plays.  I’m still a writer, but no longer for money.  I’ve graduated to being the fledgling artist that I am these days, satisfying a deeper and older creative urge.

When I was a writer – and before computers – I did what all writers did when they were stumped or had written five paragraphs of what could only be called crap, known in more polite society as a “rough draft.”  I pulled the paper out of the typewriter, wadded it into a ball and tossed it either into the wastebasket or across the room, sometimes narrowly missing the cat.

Computers have made this a challenge. The delete key works, but hitting the delete key is a puny and generally unsatisfying answer to the frustration of hitting a block on the road to creativity.

This morning I found myself up against the painting equivalent of writing five paragraphs of crap, and I also found the painting equivalent of wadding up the paper and tossing it across the room.

I’ve been working on a new mixed media abstract piece for a few days and was becoming increasingly frustrated as it seemed to go from “Gee, I like this one a lot,” to “What the…?,” back to “Oh, this will work,” and then again to “What the…?”

After a couple of hours this morning, I nudged it to a place I liked pretty well, very close to the original “Gee, I like this one a lot,” when doubts and general frustration began to set in along with a sense that I was facing one of those blocks in the road.

Then I did it.  The Thing.  I wadded it into a ball and tossed it across the room.  And I have to say it was much more satisfying than any such moment in my writing.

Of course, you can’t wad a 12″ x 15″ piece of heavy illustration board into a ball, so I did the next best thing – for me.  I loaded up one of my brushes with my favorite shade of red, stood back and threw the paint at the painting in progress.

It was one of those “What have I got to lose?” moments.  But even fledgling artists and writers and musicians and dancers know that if we’re not pushing the edge, taking the risks, we’re really not going anywhere.

I could have fiddled with this for another three days, the way writers endlessly fiddle with a bad paragraph in a “rough draft” only to find it doesn’t get better.

I’m happy to report that the painting got a lot better.  I have awarded myself the Red Badge of Courage for today.  And this fledgling has flown just a little higher toward the sun.