Thoughts on Creativity: Appreciation of Flow and Fallow
I am always working. Not in the oh-feel-bad-for-me-I-am-chained-to-my-desk way, simply in the way my brain works as an idea generator. It clicks on and off, on and off, as an ever cycling machine producing ideas randomly throughout the day. Sometimes I can generate the ideas at will, precisely when I sit down to work, but usually I cannot. Sometimes sitting to do the work is the necessary first step, but you can't always control the outcome. Occasionally, I will sit down to purposely be creative and work on a project at a specific set time, and magical things will happen. Often I sit down and just go through the motions.
Completely incongruent and unrelated poem art made during "work time." Yet, it does reveal something about my current creative state.
Sometimes the work is actually questioning, and that looks like nothing at all. People can not see inside your brain (thank goodness!). Gears turning in the mind, churning and churning creating a great deal of content looks like absolutely nothing to the outside world. Despite how hard your mind gears turn, smoke does not actually stream out from your ears. No physical evidence of how hard you are working may even be seen for months.
But art, which I both teach and practice, is different. I want people to make work that is deliberately useless in a way that pokes at prevailing notions of usefulness. Art seeks not to resolve or produce, but remains (and, indeed, luxuriates) in the realm of questioning. - Jenny Odell, New York Times Article: Can We Slow Down Time in the Age of TickTok?, August 31, 2019
I spend a lot of time staring. I look. I listen. I feel. I observe. It's an odd little meditative state where I open my creative brain to just stream thoughts like fish down the river. These thoughts flow through as my conscious mind tries to catch the best ideas in a net of scribbles on paper. This is why I am absolutely obsessed with scratch paper. As much as I love new, clean notebooks, I find it so much less intimidating to try my caught ideas out on the back of an old grocery list. The list was trash anyway, so if the idea is also trash they can go off together, the dead fish in is stinky wrapper.
Good ideas- my fresh fish, if we continue the metaphor- I tape into a clean notebook. Blank page on one side, scribbled idea- likely with coffee stain or old child's drawing- on the other. One side is the pure thought, the other side is space to make it better. Always leave room to make it better. Catch, revise, release.
To become a teaching artist, I have to create lesson plans, something I have never done before. I am using this old web drawing my daughter made to "catch" my ideas. A riff on the writing web from my school days, and much less intimidating than a blank, serious document.
This all reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend who's mother is also a creative soul, a soul which this friend seems to not quite understand. She told me her mother makes a lot of "stuff no one wants; stuff no one likes." Oh shoot, it made me laugh out loud. I told her through my mega-wat grin, I too make lots of stuff no one likes or wants. Sometimes that someone who does not like it or want it is also me. You need to make the bad art to get to the good. You need to work even when you don't feel like it and it is likely you will not make anything good that session. You need to work through the nasty bits so you can find the gems. And the unfortunate thing to people outside of the creative process is just a general lack of appreciation of how those nasty, horrible, rotten, no good ideas transform into something else over time. Its the art as dinosaur carcass, to coal, to diamonds cycle- and sometimes it takes just as long.
During time when I feel I have no good ideas I usually try to finish up work on something I have already started. I will work on and revise something old so that I do not have to force great ideas. I hit up my notebook for those ideas caught out of the flow. This allows for fallow time while I am still technically working. My hands are busy, but my mind may or may not be working very hard. I can't exactly control the inspiration, nor would I really want to. Creativity and actual output existing forever in tandem - on and off, on and off, on and off.
Inspiration and resources are linked where applicable. All written work and photographs are original content and are copyright protected; kindly give due credit by linking back to my website if you use or share.
(©2019, Janice Bailor // laruedefleurs.com)