Tuesday, April 7, 2015

On Creativity

Outside of the glow of a small window, evening air breathes against the glass, leaving an invisible print of its presence.  The streetlight comes on early, with the overcast skies, bright as a spark that fell unaware on an uncaring landscape. The sun lays low and flat under low clouds, as out on the street a ragged bus drives towards the setting sun, like an animal being driven to it's death.  People are on the way home, the sound of traffic, the admonishment of a horn, the squeal of a tire. Everything is noise and motion, leaves crushed under the tires, birds taking flight from the trees.

Inside there is only peace. For she had already worked a full day, arising when some people were going to bed, getting back to a room  where she should sleep, but cannot.

She sits at a narrow table , spread fingers splaying out thoughts while the last of the light straps around the strong beat of her heart. Outside lies a world forgotten as the words fly, sullen leaves and dead ashes swirling, branches stirring like water, drowning in the fading light. She works until the words are freed, then pours a cup of tea to ready herself for  a sleep that is but a distant memory.

Miles away, he works late, bent over a shop table, hands scarred and toughened by work, stitching, molding, creating something that will hold a life, even if occasionally the process does draw blood In the corner a fire, warming his hands, driving him to completion, even as his breath quickens with the effort, drawing into his lungs, the searing dark.

They both work, as they are happiest, without witness or judge  One, gently and tenderly crafts something with soft rein of thought, the other takes that which was once living and now is not, writing its story, tearing down and rebuilding with the ransacking of innermost fears.

Both of them are artists, and both of what they create is art.  What defines art, and what makes an artist?

Art is the province of every human being who holds within them talent. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing limited to drawing or sculpting and the like. It's simply a part of your inner self. I know artists who write, who craft with wood, who create things from fine leather, who take photos, who play an instrument, all leaving that permanent mark of their souls occupation.

Creativity for these people, the expression of it, through picture, word or craft, is a way of celebrating, of showing what it means to be alive,  there in the unbeatable odds against it.  Life, by any reasonable measure, is impossible, a human body that is as strong or frail as just one  cell, with random acts of irrationality and loss wearing us down, pulling the color out of our blood. Yet, for some of us, we keep drawing in breath after breath, pulling in precious moments of oxygen with the remnants of our happiness, until our blood darkens with strength, slowly filling up those empty chambers in our hearts.

For the artist, creating is a way of taking that breath, of saying in the face of all that impossibility, or dangers that lurk in the dark streets and minds of man, just how worth celebrating it is to just be here. I am here, I created this, this little piece of me, whether you like it or not, it IS me, and it will be here long after I am gone.

Like breath, it builds on just small intakes of life, of thought of the movement of hands, the cut of a piece of wood, the downward stroke of a pen.  It is not done with haste, or without thought.  Art can be built from the soul's imperfection, but it can not find breath with the the spirit of impatience, for it is only slowly that you can hear the wind with your eyes or taste the sweetness with your ears.
Growing up in a small town left something with me that remained, despite the urgent need as a teen to get away from it. Patience.  For nothing much happened there.  Certainly, nothing happened fast.  A parade could last two days it seemed, and if you wanted something fixed, you usually did it yourself, rather than making a phone call to someone  with tools and a credit card reader.

Behind the house of our Sixties ranch home was open land and a small rural highway.  There were no "Coming Soon! Starbucks" signs. There were cows, nothing on the horizon but the shifting of rumps, the clang of metal as they swung their heads, checking to see if you were bringing cow chow.  That was years before the escape to the big city, when mornings dawned early and loneliness roosted in the rafters

But as  a child, all of that seemed larger than life, just as it was familiar and unchanging.  Days dawned slow and time rose and swelled like the curve of a woman's breast.  My Dad went to work every day week day, was home every night at the same time.  Friday was steak and Westerns, eating on TV trays, Saturday was chores and grilled burgers.  During the afternoon we explored, cheered on by the sawmill buzz of a lawn mower, the sound of the ice cream truck.  Sunday was church, sports for my Dad, and more outside play for us while Mom curled up with her books or the the ceramics she liked to make and fire.
On those days of play it seemed as if time itself was suspended, hanging in the air like a curtain, waiting to be opened, laying on the ground to be picked up and put in our pockets, with that piece of string and the little bazooka army guy. We'd play hard all afternoon, there in time's motionless shadow. It was only with the call of Mom's voice for dinner, that we realized we'd been outside 7 hours, drinking from the hose, dashing in from the gunpowder dust of August to grab a homemade cookie, in furtive raids.

Now I wake, the city near, waiting for the phone to ring, or the next morning to roll around  My body wakes in its own time zone, whatever country or county I'm in.  The days are filled with rushed deliberation, deadlines and demands, everyone expecting the answers to come within an hour, the time we've  come to expect ANY problem to be solved, thanks to TV.  It's food on the run, and conversations stammered like an old type typewriter, noise and air, sweat and motion.

When I am called, I usually don't rush with unsafe haste to get there.  The first responders have done their business; what waits me for isn't going anywhere, nothing left but the tragic, unspoken  bones that will wait for me forever.  But once I'm there, time is a blur of heat and sweat and thought. The sun falls, the night grows cold, lights are brought in and I realize I've not been out here one hour I've been out there for ten.
It is all such things that go into what I wish to say or do, the creation of that which can't occur without your past, a recognition of not just that which is good but the keen edge of a blade that hovers above.  Such things make it easy for days such as Saturday, when I will spend nine hours, over time, creating, not what would be defined as art, not something to hang on the wall, but simply two dozen tiny French pastries, made by hand, with layers and layers of dough and butter, formed and shape.  They are not things to last, but things to be consumed, with a cup of hot coffee, Strauss on the stereo  I sit beneath the art I have collected, above me a painting by Bev Doolittle, a print that cost more than some of my cars and of which I would never sell, for it speaks to me of something within me, something only heard as the steady, soft foot of horses in snow

You can tell much of a person, of even a country, by what they value as art. Art as artifact, art as acquisition.  In my Dad's generation in World War II, art was used by the Third Reich as a  means to carry a political message with overworked concepts and conformations, as the approved cultural stamp by artists forced to turn their paint brushes against those not "acceptable" in the eyes of the regime, or risk death.  Political aims and artistic expression became one and millions of innocent people died.

That is not art; that is manipulation.  Even today, when I see art form used to depict some product or politician as a healing element, as a savior, when they are anything but, I feel not joy, but the coppery taste of something else.

That is why I get great joy in seeing people create for themselves, not to mold others, to manipulate, but to refine their own spirit as they open others eyes up to their vision of  beauty or truth. Their vision, not a politically correct determination of what should be considered "art".

Certainly, We all have our own taste, I prefer older pieces, more than modern or abstract. I like to look at it and see something I have seen or experienced. Artists of the 17th and 18th century could depict in layers of paint hundreds of years old, a drop of blood on a singe fox whisker  It's that tiny drop that draws your eye, that you can't help but stare at, waiting for that moment when it will drop to the ground, to be consumed by the earth. 

But I am not immune to the power of modern pieces, where the artist's vision of heaven and hell,  earth and order, passion and prayer might be revealed in pieces of forged metals, depicting in it's hammered burden, the secret bridge between religious and sensual ecstasy, a cry out into the night.  I am not unmoved by operas that do not calm the waters, but rather, strike up against the rocks, as if the sea were howling for the moon, the depths wishing their darkness to be heard.
Whatever type of art draws you in, we all are strengthened by the growing number of craftsmen and women, people who live to create, to express their joy in living, through their thoughts and hands.  When the artist is alive in any person, whatever their kind of work may be, they draw people in. They educate, provoke, enlighten, opening our minds to discovery.  Where those who have no such talents are trying to close the book, the artist opens it, showing there are still many more unwritten pages. The world would stagnate without them, just as the world is more colorful with them; for they make us think and feel and strive and, more importantly, question, as they themselves gain in the work, not outside of it.

And so this evening, I will create, as the words flow from my fingertips.  It may be ignored, it may simply be consumed later, without taste  But as I  close my words and prepare my bed, the gilded evening light, a sieve for the moon;,pours down like molten silver and I am content. As I breathe in the oxygen, formed from the earth out of the chaos of gasses, I am alive and that's something I would not give up, even if what I create, becomes only dust.

I look outside to a world stilled with time and darkness, people home to their lives where they build and create that which makes them happy--food, craftsmanship, words, a home.  We are all the artists of our own lives, and our audience is simply our own happiness.

Because the  true artist would create even if they had no audience. Yet they regard their work as a means of talking with mankind, not with their lips, but with their mind. Creativity is not a question of pay. It is not a question of willing acceptance on the part of the public. If they are recognized and earn something for their creativity, to further it, that is good. But even if not, they would still have spoken.

And we are all the better for it.
 - Brigid


  1. I admire artists in all mediums. From laying Bondo in a seam to great works of art. What a great post. I'm smart enough to know I am not one in the classic definition yet at times without thought I can be. It is a small audience however.

  2. The passion to create is in all of us, some choose to share, others don't.

  3. In 1970, before going on to college, I took a test to see what I had in common with people who were successful in various professions.
    The test showed that my personality was associated with professional artists.
    Since I could not draw a straight line I majored in Architecture, because there were tools to help you draw straight lines.
    It took many years doing many different things to understand that being an artist has nothing to do with the skills of drawing or painting.
    Next on the list was bodyguard. Go figure.

  4. Art is an endeavor to communicate emotions, beliefs, or concepts. Where it does a good job at that, it is good art. Where it does a good job of that to people with various cultural background or over a long period of time, it is great art. If you are to judge "is this art" ask yourself "What does it tell me?" If it tells you nothing, it may well be art that you simply do not appreciate, so you cannot immediately dismiss it. But if it tells few people anything, it's not very good art.

    There is a school of thought that holds that great art must shock. These people are what is commonly known as "fools". Or, perhaps "pretenders", or "lazy bastards". It takes little creativity to shock, and often little effort. Good or great art CAN shock - but it is not required, and much that does shock is not good art, but merely self-indulgence. "David" and the "Mona Lisa" do not shock. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel does not shock. Beethoven's Ninth does not shock - although when you sing it with 50 other singers and an orchestra of 60, it will exhaust you in a fashion far beyond the physical effort that was required.

    No, art is something that reaches inside you and makes you feel something. It may prompt you to ask questions, or it may give you answers - perhaps even to questions you did not know you had. But I propose that if you are presented with something that purports to be art and it means nothing to you until it's creator tells you what THEY propose it means, it's not art. At least not to you.

  5. Art does not have to be explained. Art is it's own explanation. And it need not have the same meaning to everyone.


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