Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Everyday Creativity

On the last day of the Miami conference, in the very last workshop, I gathered around a laptop screen with seven other artists to watch a 20-minute video called "Everyday Creativity". The workshop presenter, the highly renowned children's book illustrator E.B. Lewis, warned us that what we were about to watch might make us cry. Without getting too sentimental, I'd like to share a few thoughts and a basic overview of the film.

The film documents the philosophical viewpoint of National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones. You can watch the first 3 minutes here to get and idea for what the film discusses.

Dewitt asks the question, "How do we employ creativity on a daily basis?" The assumption here is that creativity cannot always be accessed on demand, but Dewitt argues that it is an ever-ready tool that everyone possesses, and that it can be accessed through your attitude toward the world. This is where it gets interesting...

I really like several points that Dewitt makes. 
- First, he summarizes creativity simply as looking at the ordinary and seeing the extraordinary. Doing this requires one to be completely open to the world, in other words, be curious and observant...very observant. In many respects, the artist's job is to share with a busy world their extraordinary discoveries. I'm reminded of the quote from Pippy Longstocking who said, "the whole world is full of things, and someone has to look for them."
I think of my students sitting in a dimly lit room for hours, observing a lit sphere and rendering it in pencil. They are learning to see, and with that discovering how beautiful a mundane object can be. This discipline crosses over into all areas of life. For example, walking down the street can become an exhilarating experience, or can just be a means to an end. The great Victorian era art critic, John Ruskin, expounds on how beauty can be possessed through the act of drawing:

"Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that's all!

But what will the sketcher see? 
His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes.

Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane."

"I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than to teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw."
                                                                                                                                                     -John Ruskin

-A great breakthrough happened for me when Dewitt shared his photography process. You see, he goes on assignment to all these wonderful places around the world and has to find the right answer - a stunning photograph. He begins to snap shots; he's not worried about making mistakes. He's believing that the right answer will be there. He keeps looking and shooting. Finally, everything comes together nicely into one photo and he knows that he's found a right answer. BUT, he doesn't pack up and go home. He keeps looking. There is more than one right answer. This is creativity!! Seeking out multiple perspectives and solutions to problems, doing the work and holding onto your vision. Michelangelo said it best, "I saw an angel in the stone and carved until I set it free."

I've recently started to relate this approach to my own work by allowing myself an exploration page. A page where I'm allowed to make mistakes, draw ugly horrible things that I'd be embarrassed to show. This equates to carving away at the stone. I have to spend time with the work, doing several drawings before I come close to a right answer. But I know it will be there, and I see it when I believe it. Dewitt talks about how there's no such thing as win-lose, only win-learn. I like that alot!

- Dewitt presents another philosophical approach to life in similar documentary called, "Celebrate What's Right with the World". This one is again all about attitude. The idea here is that your vision (your passion and creativity) directly influences your perception of the world, which ultimately creates your reality. If you approach life with the attitude of "what is here to celebrate?" you will begin building a vision of possibility. You will always be able to find a fresh perspective in your work, in your daily routine. By focusing on what's right, you will have the energy to fix what is wrong.

Another major paradigm shift of attitude is the idea that instead of trying to be the best in the world, be the best for the world. Doing so will create a better self, combining emotion and intellect to really care about your work and the people it affects.

Lastly, Dewitt compares creativity to a verse in the Bible that says, "the banquet is laid, but nobody comes." In the documentary, there was a striking photo of a city at dusk with a huge sweeping backdrop of snowcapped mountains in the distance. That image really spoke to me! (tissue box please). There were the beautiful mountains waiting to be discovered, but everyone was too busy to notice.While cities can be very beautiful, the comparison here is not which one is more beautiful, city or mountains. Rather, the city is symbolic of routine - mindless, unfulfilling activity that holds creativity hostage. The mountains on the other hand represent mystery and adventure, the things that make life exciting and beautiful. I love the mountains. As an artist, I definitely want to make you notice them.

It looked something like this...


Deborah K said...

Great summary of DeWitt's philosophy and inspiration, Katy. The theme which struck me was the permission the artist/photographer gives an assignment to "make mistakes and waste film". It is only through this that the right drawings/images/photographs show themselves. He said that the average Nat Geo photographer goes through 400 rolls of film for the 31 images that appear in an article.

Unknown said...

Good point, Deborah! It makes me wonder why us painters try to get it right on the first attempt? 400 rolls of film could be 400 canvases. That's a bit daunting, but it puts it in perspective. I finally see why artists need to love the process of making art, because our profession is one of searching and looking. There is not one right answer, there are millions! CRAZY but so exciting!!!

Meghan said...

Wonderful post Katy! I really love the comparison of what a sketcher and non-sketcher see walking down a path. I love the way that I experience & love so much more about the world when I am embracing my creative side & making more art. Definitely plan to visit your blog more often to be inspired by you & your inspirations! =)