Tag Archives: creativity

Creativity, community and audience

As with most things, it’s all about finding a workable balance, and exactly where that balance lies is likely to be quite personal.

If you create purely for yourself, what you do may well be quite self involved. You probably haven’t given much thought to where it fits in genres or markets, or who the readers/viewers/users/listeners might be. This is fine if all you ever meant to do was make something for yourself. However, trying to go from making something that is only about your own vision and inspiration, and then trying to pitch it to other people can be very difficult.

If you create purely for other people you’ll probably spend your time doing things that are in keeping with genres and led by market trends. For a significant number of creators, this is a viable way of making a living. But, it can be emotionally exhausting, and it tends to result in work that is a lot like work that already exists. If you dreamed of doing something groundbreaking – and probably when you started, you did – this can prove deeply unsatisfying.

I’ve come to the conclusion that finding the balance between what you do for yourself and what you do for other people may be better approached outside of the creative process. I think the key here is relationships and how you interact with people. If you don’t read/listen/look at things akin to the stuff you are trying to make, you have no relationship with the form, the market or anyone else in it. This may seem ok if you are only creating for yourself, but it does cut you off. If you love something, surely it makes sense to engage with it? I’ve encountered creators who don’t want to sully themselves with other people’s work, but I’ve never felt it enhanced what they did.

If something truly excites you, then you explore it. I’m frankly suspicious of creators who don’t want to engage with anyone else – you can’t even know how relevant or obvious your work is if you go that way. There’s so much we can learn just by paying attention to other people. You want to talk to other people who are in the same territory. You want to exchange ideas, and find out what other people are excited about. In this process, you build a sense of people you might want to create for. You end up with interplay between your own vision and creativity, and the enthusiasm, vision and creativity of other people. It’s fertile ground – not wholly commercial, not wholly self involved.

I firmly believe that no good work is done in total isolation. All creativity is to some degree a consequence of a wider community and influences – whether you own that or not. The people who work consciously with these relationships get a lot of advantages. The snobby creator who sees themselves as a lone genius needing no relationships to sustain them, tends not to be as good as they think they are.

Advertisements

What makes some art sacred?

Fellow Moon Books author Imelda Almqvist has suggested using #SacredArt over on Twitter to talk about just that thing. So, what makes art sacred? In the bard tradition, it’s not just visual art that has spiritual significance. For bards the word, spoken or sung is primarily where its at. Modern bards tend to embrace all forms of creativity as potential bardic expressions, but that doesn’t mean all creativity is necessarily bardic.

Here are some thoughts about what separates sacred bardic creativity from regular creativity.

  • Where you get your inspiration from. If the work is inspired by spiritual experience then it’s fair to think of it as a spiritual activity.
  • If you are doing the work as an invitation for something to work through you, to receive messages and insights or otherwise open yourself to magic and inspiration, then there is a sacredness to it.
  • Who you create for – now, there may have to be a commercial aspect to this because everyone has to eat, but if your primary concern is with offering your creativity back to whatever you hold sacred, then there’s clearly a sacred art aspect to your work too. On the bard path, we also identify a spiritual aspect in using your creativity for the good of your land and tribe, so art for activism, inclusion and culture shift can also be seen as having a spiritual dimension.
  • If you create to bring spiritual ideas and feelings to people regardless of how spiritually inclined they are – there’s a sacred art aspect to your work.

Any piece of work could be driven by one of these factors, or combinations of factors. It may be the essence of the whole piece or project, or just a part of it.

In terms of that fourth point, it’s often work that isn’t overtly spiritual that has the most chance of connecting with people who are not currently feeling inspired or magical. Work that gets in under the radar can have powerful, transformative effects. It can impact on people who would actively turn away if they thought you were going to offer them something with a religious aspect. Sometimes, it’s by having that sacred aspect be one thread amongst many that you have the best chance of engaging people whose hearts might otherwise be closed to you.

To be recognised as a bard means persuading other humans that what you do is bardic. However, when it comes to the question of whether your art is sacred or not, no one else has any right to try and define that for you. If it feels sacred to you, then it is sacred.


Time off – some observations

I took last week off – sort of. I still wrote a few blog posts and checked my email most days, but compared to a normal working week it was minimal stuff. I used the time to look after my home a bit, to read, craft, walk, and rest.

By Friday of my week off, I was starting to feel a bit better. That told me a lot about how exhausted I’d been. I need to make some ongoing changes around rest and time off, clearly. Once I reached this point it was also noticeable that the anxious aspects of my thinking had toned down significantly. I would like to spend more of my time not so close to the edge, so this is something to explore.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what uplifts and restores me, and how to do more of that.

I’m going to keep notes on how long I’m working each day, so I can cap the length of my working week. There are some hazy areas around working and not working for me. Is rehearsing a mumming side work? Is doing technical support for a friend part of my work time? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not going to get bogged down in the details because the self employed life is sprinkled with speculative stuff that never turns into paying gigs, and fun things that turn out to be research. I can’t read a book without learning something, but that doesn’t necessarily make it work…

I want to be able to work a solid eight hours a day when my brain is sharp and fast. I want to have the rest of the day off to do domestic things and potter about. I know if I slide into longer days I become slower and get less done for the time put in. Creativity is dependent on having time when I’m not busily thinking about workish things –I’ve not been getting this balance right. I’m hoping this time off will have given me a reboot and that I’ll be able to change some of my working patterns.

And if it hasn’t been a successful reboot, I’m simply going to do it again!


Dancing Awkwardly

Dancing has been important to me for most of my life. However, as I frequently struggle with pain, stiffness and low energy, it’s also a bit of a challenge. This is something I’ve been deliberately working on for a few years now. I can’t throw myself about like a lunatic pixie anymore, so finding new ways to dance that my body can sustain has been necessary. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I’m using my arms more – I can create an impression of speed and energy with my hands for far less effort than using my feet. Also, big, slow arm movements look really dramatic, but don’t even raise my pulse. I have the energy for those, reliably.

Jumping up and down on two feet at the same time jars everything and is way too labour intensive. However, a bouncy shift between feet with one foot on the ground at all times takes far less effort and jars nothing. I can feel like I’m making a lively response to the music without wearing myself out too quickly.

Dancing from the hips and not moving my feet very often takes less energy than moving my feet.

I can share the motion round my body, if I have one or two bits of me moving I can be creative without getting too tired. I am learning to think more about my body as a whole when dancing, and how to use every part and spread the motion around so I don’t strain anything.

I can work with my own awkwardness. There’s interest and drama in not being smooth and graceful. Sometimes it is better to dance more with my elbows and knees, to embrace the stagger, to flail a bit and let my body do what suits it. Overtly not-sexy dancing can be emotionally liberating as well. I don’t have to be sexually performative or attractive, I can be messy and punk and feel better about myself for dancing with what I’ve got.

I don’t have to go with the most obvious rhythm in a piece of music, there are always slower currents in a song that I can get into. I can dance with different melodies and instruments. It doesn’t have to be all about the drum speed. Again, I have the scope to do something more interesting by resisting the obvious and co-operating with my own body.

My limitations are obliging me to be a more creative dancer. Amusingly, from the feedback I’m getting, what I’m doing looks high energy. It isn’t. I can dance while barely raising my pulse, if I want to. I can dance without hurting myself, not overloading joints or tiring my muscles too much. I can dance with my own limitations and by doing so, I feel better in my body and better about my body.

 


Seeking the handcrafted life

Creativity should be an option for everyone. Making and re-making, repurposing, and upcycing are skills we all need to reduce what we throw away. The pleasure of creating from scratch should be everyone’s right, not seen as the domain of the talented few. Whether that’s cooking or gardening, rag rugging, painting, dancing or singing or anything else you can think of, we should all have the time and resources to follow our creative interest. Not as a way of making a living, necessarily, but for the sheer joy of it.

As an aside, I think there would be much greater appreciation of professional creativity if everyone was engaged with it for fun as well. A culture of creativity would increase the value of original work.

Creativity is not just about obvious arts and crafts activities. It’s also about how much innovation we have in our lives. Do we just run through the same routines day to day? Do we do what we’ve always done, powered largely by habit and clinging to what’s familiar? Does life have scope for adventure in it? Is there room for surprise, for joy, excitement, novelty and pleasure? Can we make these things for ourselves or are we only looking to buy answers to those human needs for interest?

One of the things I’ve learned working creatively, is that inspiration requires space. You can’t be busy all the time and expect to keep coming up with great ideas as well. It’s the quite down time that hatches plots and plans. It’s the unstructured spaces where I can daydream, chew over things I’ve learned and wool gather that makes room for a lightning strike of inspiration. If I’m nothing but busy, I don’t have anything like as many good ideas – about anything.

The busyness of conventional western life doesn’t leave us much room to think. Most of us are sleep deprived as well. We rush from one thing to another, time pressured, money pressured, constantly getting messages about why we aren’t good enough. These forces can leave you living a life that is not of your designing. You can so easily end up running after money and then needing that money to console yourself for everything that’s missing. A slower, less economically active life can be both less expensive and more rewarding. Without the space to think creatively about how you live, this is hard to achieve.

Most of us have more time available than we think we do. The trick is to turn off the screens for a bit. Screens are addictive, and feed the fear of not keeping up, the pressure to be available, the sense of panic if we don’t know what’s going on and aren’t busy all the time. Turn the screens off. Remove small screens from about your person. Turn them off and leave them behind and go to a quiet place, and just breathe for a while. Look at the sky, or a tree, or the life in the grass. Sometimes it takes a while for all the chaotic, stampeding things in your head to calm down, but eventually they will, and once there is calm, there is space to ask questions about what you want, and what you need, and what just has you chasing your tail to no real purpose.

When you have time to think, you have the scope to think creatively. When you can think creatively, you can take much more control of your life and live on your own terms. A handmade life, imagined and crafted by you and for you. It’s well worth making the effort for.


Dreaming differently

What would happen if our dreams were not driven by the desire to consume? What if we weren’t drawing our inspiration from adverts, and weren’t being fed a constant consumerist narrative about what we need to own in order to be happy? What would we daydream about then?

We might stop dreaming about new cars and kitchens and carpets and start dreaming about how to live at our hearth and in our homes. Dreams of community and time spent with people we care for, and who care for us. Not the look of the kitchen itself, but the scope to make good food and share it with good people. Life changes dramatically when you’re less focused on how a home might look and more concerned with what you can do in it.

Equally, if our gardens don’t have to look like something off the telly, we might dream of wildlife havens instead. We might plant trees and welcome insects, birds and small mammals to share the space with us. We might dream of the summer humming of bees and the beauty of butterflies. We might want a space to just chill out and watch the clouds go by – dreaming of a space in which to dream.

We might indeed dream of holidays, but not of planes and other countries. We might dream of having the time to really get to know the land we live on, or having more time for the people who come into our homes or the wild things in our gardens.

We might dream of changing our bodies, but not through the misery and seldom successful methods of commercial dieting, and not by purchasing a new look from the planet trashing fashion industry. We might dream of the things we can joyfully do with our bodies. We might aspire not to thinness or fashion, but to grace and delight. We might start listening to our bodies and let our dreams come from the needs our bodies have.

Rather than dreaming of fame and fortune, we could dream instead of the things we want to achieve. The book we want to write – not to be famous, but to say the things we need to say. The art we want to make. The dance styles we want to learn. The courses we want to study. The things we want to create with our hands. We can make space to dream up ways of re-using rather than throwing away. We can get excited about our own creativity.

We can dream about how good it would feel to know we are living sustainably. The pleasure of not harming the living planet, and of knowing we’ll leave it in good shape for those who come after us. We can dream of a world in which life and beauty flourish, rather than profit and greed. And the more we dream this, the more we move towards it. The more we share these dreams and draw other people into them, the more feasible it all becomes. Dream it and talk about it, and see who you can co-dream with, and then see what you can co-create as those dreams turn into ever more viable possibilities.

(And I can recommend the Transition Towns movement as an excellent place to find inspiration and turn dreams into action – https://transitionnetwork.org/ )


Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit

 

Sacred Art, a Hollow Bone for Spirit is a new book from Imelda Almqvist. As the title suggests, this is a book about sacred art. However, it’s published by Moon Books (this is where I first ran into Imelda) and Moon Books is not set up to do lavish, image-heavy publications. As a consequence, this is a book about sacred art that doesn’t have any images in it. This limitation has, I think, paid off rather well and led to a book that invites its readers to think and imagine rather than showing them what sacred art is.

The art in this book exists primarily in your head. By this means, you might start to see the forms sacred art could take for you, rather than being focused on what other people have done. There is nothing to be intimidated by, or directed by about how the art *should* look. How you imagine the art as you read the book may well take you towards your own process of sacred art-making in a way that being shown other people’s work might not.

In many ways, this is a philosophical book. There is a steady stream of small activities to explore, but the bulk of the book is an investigation of the nature of sacred art. As someone who trained as a fine artist and has worked with art in various capacities for many years, Imelda knows a great deal about art. She’s also been working with shamanism for a long time, and is well qualified to speak about the role of art in a spiritual and shamanic context.

While shamanism is the focus of the book, you don’t need to be on that path to benefit from reading it. I think this is an ideal text for people exploring the bard path as well. There’s so much to chew on about how and why and what we create, that anyone interested in exploring any form of creativity linked to any Pagan path will likely find something they can use.

In the absence of art, and being light on the how-to instructions, what this book leaves you with is the clarity that sacred art is something you do. It’s not something other people tell you how to do. It’s not something other people can give you marks out of ten for. You do not pass or fail on human terms here. If you can take onboard the philosophy and open yourself to working in this way, what follows is your personal journey, for which no maps are available.

For anyone serious about this journey, the book is rich with suggested reading and other resources to check out. You could take this on as a workbook and treat it as the core content of a spiritual art course, read all the extra materials, do all the exercises, and see where it takes you. Equally, you can read it from a place of curiosity and see what sticks. Imelda is clear that everyone needs creativity and everyone has the scope to be creative. For some, that will mean a devotion to sacred art, but the rest of us will benefit from whatever we are able to do.

Find out more about the book here – http://www.shaman-healer-painter.co.uk/info2.cfm?info_id=225883 


Daily Creativity

This blog was prompted by reading a recent post from Cat Treadwell about daily creativity, and how that might work. What roles does creativity play in our lives? What happens if we are creative every day, or more days than not?

Writers are often encouraged to write every day – and there are reasons for considering this, and also reasons for rejecting it. Writing every day will help you build a skills set if you are fairly new to the craft and need to develop. There are things you can only learn by doing them. You won’t know how to write a book length piece until you’ve done it a few times, for example. Most writers learn so much writing the first few books that they don’t want to share them with anyone else. Later in the process, turning up every day can be about refining and revising your work towards a suitable standard as well as putting down words in the first place.

As an occasional musician, someone who dances for fun, colours professionally, writes books, crafts and has even acted on occasion, I’m pretty alert to the mechanics of creativity. You have to practice to develop skills, and regular or at least reasonably frequent practice is best. Even if you’re looking at being creative just for personal pleasure and relaxation, it works better if you have skills to deploy and can feel rewarded by what you achieve. Invest ten thousand hours in anything and you’ll be something of an expert at it. All of this makes clear why daily creative work is a good idea.

However, practicing skills isn’t necessarily a creative-feeling process. Scales on a musical instrument, repetition of dance moves to get them right. Learning a craft technique, or a poetic form, or committing something to memory. These are not things where the fire of inspiration will burn brightly in your head. These are workish things that take you forward.

Often what’s attractive about creativity (especially to would-be bards) is that fire in the head experience. The rush of inspiration, the energy and drive of it, is exciting and powerful. Unhelpfully, when we’re shown creative people in films and media, we’re usually shown them working from that state, going from blank canvas to finished work of genius in the heat of creative passion. No study drawings, no sketching, no planning. This is not how real creativity normally happens. In a real process, there are moves back and forward between flashes of inspiration and working out how to deliver it.

Whether you need to show up every day and do something creative depends a lot on your inspiration rhythms and where you are in your process. If you are learning or refining, then turning up as often as you can is the best idea. If you are waiting for inspiration to strike, turning up can be counter-productive. Some people find it works to make the space for inspiration by sitting down to write something. I don’t find that works for me, and the work I force out when I don’t feel ready is never work I like. It is better for me to ferment ideas, and run with them when I feel ready. I also find it helps to take time off and give my brain space to come up with ideas.

Much of what I do isn’t heat-of-inspiration work. I don’t need to feel inspired to do comics colouring, it’s a process of applying what skills I have. Ideas may occur to me as I colour, but they aren’t big or dramatic ideas, just ways of delivering on the work I am doing. Crafting is similar – I need inspiration to start a project, but once I have that, the rest is just mostly about getting it done.

There’s no one right answer here that guarantees success and good quality creative output. You have to know where you are with your skills set – if you are learning and if practice is the most important thing. You need to know what the form you’re working in really requires. You have to know where inspiration fits in your process, and you need to know what you need to do to find the inspiration you need.


Playing with clothes

Somewhere in my teens I figured out that I could take a scissors and needle to the clothes available to me and make them more to my liking. At seventeen I bought a new – entirely new to me – dress for the first time in my life and it was a memorable moment. I’ve never wanted to be fashionable. I’ve spent most of my life not trying to dress in a way anyone would find sexy. But I do like clothes and I like dressing up.

The fashion industry is wasteful, polluting and planet damaging. I’ve also never really understood why anyone would want mass produced clothes that you leave you looking bland and identical. For me, one of the great joys in upcycling and making from scratch is that most of what I have is unique.

I do buy new things – sometimes because I need clothes that do a specific job and I can’t afford to wait for them to show up second hand. As I walk for transport, I need robust and weather-appropriate attire. When items of clothing die, I do my best to re-invent them, or take what bits are still in good condition and turn them into something else. I have a lot of fun doing this, and it is the principle source of unique clothing in my possession.

In the last week or so, I’ve taken usable fabric from four shirts that where worn out, stained or damaged and could not be worn as they were. I have five items of clothing from these – radically different to what went before. To achieve this, I bought two meters of broidery anglais and half a meter of stiffening fabric – it has a name and I can’t remember it! The principle damage to two shirts was below the armpit, leading to two sleeveless tops, the sleeves from one top being used to replace sleeves on another top, where the cuffs were worn out. The other set of removed sleeves went into making a hat. Salvageable bits of sleeve from the dead-sleeve shirt went into widening the bust on the last shirt (not originally mine). I was, I admit, rather pleased with myself.

I needed some additional wardrobe items for one of the jobs I’m doing. I’ve saved myself a lot of money by working over items that were free. I look a touch eccentric, and I like that, and I’ve put far less in the bin than I would otherwise have done. The clothes I have created aren’t exactly smart, but they will do.

One of the great things about taking a scissors to an unusable item of clothing, is that the pressure is off. As it stands, the item is only fit for the bin or recycling. If you get it wrong, you can still do that. If you get it right, and can get a few extra wears even, you’ve won. It’s safe enough to play and experiment. I do sometimes buy extras to lift an upcycled item, but I only do that when I’m sure it’s going to work. It’s not necessary, often, so aside from the cost of the thread and needles, there’s very little outlay. You can get a lot of upcycling out of a reel of thread. You can get a lot of fun out of the remaking – so it can double as a low cost hobby and way to amuse yourself.

If you can’t sew – it’s not that hard and youtube has tons of tutorials. Your otherwise ruined and unwearable clothes are great to practice on as you build skills.


Debunking the creative life

Mostly when I’m online, I talk about my creative life and my Druidry – those are the bits of what I do that I find most interesting. However, it may give the impression that I’m living the dream – full time Druid and author. I’m not.

There was a point in my life where I spent most of my time writing, teaching, leading meditation groups, running rituals and so forth. I didn’t feel able to ask for payment for the Druid work, because I was hearing a lot at the time about how it was supposed to be service. I didn’t make a vast amount from the writing. Sometimes I wrote pub quizzes for money. I had financial support from the person I was then living with, but little money of my own and no economic freedom.

Most creative people, and most professional Pagans are in a similar situation. Either the money comes from somewhere else – an inheritance, a partner or a pension, or there is a second job, or there is abject poverty. Sometimes there’s a second job and abject poverty. The lack of money and/or the not being full time is not a measure of failure. It is nigh on impossible at the moment to make a living as a creative person.

For example, it takes Tom a day to draw a page of Hopeless Maine. It takes me some hours to colour it. Then it has to be scanned, tidied up, and the lettering done. It is a full time job plus a bit. To get a graphic novel out once a year, that’s six months of solid work for Tom and part time work for me. Advances are rare, and you’re more likely to get them on handing in finished work ahead of publication than when you start drawing or writing. That’s six months with no income, please note.

Now, work out how much money you need to live on. The cover price of the book is not the money the creator gets for a book, even if they’ve self published. Half of the cover price likely goes to whoever was selling it. From the remaining half, the print costs have to be paid, plus the publisher wants to make some money. Perhaps the creator gets £1 a copy. That’s optimistic. So, you can do the maths and work out how many books you’d have to sell in a year to have what you consider a decent standard of living. Note at this point that the average book sells about 3000 copies in its entire life.

Most of us work other jobs, because that’s the only way it’s possible to create. And if we don’t, we aren’t sat in our nice libraries pondering the world – I have friends who write at a rate of about a novel a month, and believe me, that’s intense. I have friends who spend their weekends taking their work to events and markets – while doing the creative work in the week. That’s a way of making ends meet that allows you no time off. That’s no kind of easy option. To sell anything, you have to spend time promoting it. That also takes time and energy. It’s pretty full on.

Creative people and professional Pagans alike won’t necessarily tell you what their private financial situation is. For some reason, many people assume that the default answer is full time and well off. The reality is much more likely to be part time and considering it a win if they can make ends meet.

I work other jobs. I have always worked other jobs, and I expect I always will. At the moment I’m working six small part time jobs. And because of that, we can afford to have Tom full time on Hopeless Maine, and we can keep making comics. This is normal.