Cat Bennett, author of The Confident Creative: Drawing to Free the Hand and Mind, offers much advice about how to approach and work with our art so as not to get bogged down in trying to get it right, and yet using it for self-discovery.
Art isn’t an end in itself. It is a place to practice quieting the mind so that we may hear our muse whispering to us. Writing, drawing, playing music, dancing, taking pictures, cooking, painting all bring us to the present moment. This is the same ‘zone’ as an athlete enters when they are fully vested in the game or the race or the downhill run. Yoga, meditation, mountain biking, even horseback riding can bring us to that place where all the extraneous thoughts of the ego are not heard and our senses are filled with what is in the moment. Bennett tells us this is a place of ‘connection, power, and healing’. I agree with her. We’re connected to something much larger than ourselves, that power sparking our own significance, urging us to let go of what is holding us back, keeping us from experiencing ourselves as we were meant to be experienced. When we create, we are invited to enter this state.
Whenever I sit down to write, there invariably is a moment when thoughts flash through my mind of, ‘What do the readers want to read?’, ‘How can I make this different from anything else that is already in print?’, and ‘What would my mother think?’ Occasionally, as I’m writing, the critic slips in and tries to make the character do or say something that they wouldn’t do or say. I simply pause, breathe, push the thought away, and again allow the story to spill onto the page the way it is meant to. As Bennett says, the more attention we give to those thoughts, the longer we are derailed from our purpose of authentic creating.
That is not to say that the critic never has anything of value to add. In her drawing class, Bennett asks artists to do a series of drawings, and then lay them out in chronological order. The class then visits each display. Nothing is said right away, but then small comments are made regarding what the drawings have in common, how they differ from one another or change through the series. Might the first be more experimental and the last perhaps more refined? In all of them, is there not enough difference in depth, or do things tip to one side? A critique is offered, but only after similarities are seen, compliments given, the artist’s unique style recognized. Why not have that be a practice for all of us who choose to create? I can assure you that the change in my writing from my first book to my last is evident. All of them are good stories. Their syntax unique as I experiment with various languages based on the time setting of the story. Each one was created with a slightly different flow. Even I recognize there is a particular maturity that can be seen from the first novel in print to the last. Those that have read all of my books tell me that what I do well, is done well throughout all of my novels. There is a tremendous amount of growth that can come from an exercise such as this. Lay out several paintings, play different pieces of music, look at a series of photographs and notice what is consistent in each, what might be the strength and weakness in the set, and then see if there is maturity from the first piece to the last. This is the presence of the artist, their particular style, the mastery of a technique. Bennett says, “Art communicates directly with our subconscious minds, with our hearts.” Because of this, it may take some time for us to consciously ‘see’ the artist in their art.
One hurdle creatives must overcome is the thought that there should be no mistakes. A chef will burn a meal, a painter will use a color that distracts the eye in a piece, a writer or poet will use the passive voice or one synonym instead of another, a photographer will print a photograph with the incorrect white balance, and that is alright! These projects aren’t failures, but opportunities to decipher where it is we’re going. They let us know when we’ve stepped off the path. Not the path of creativity, but perhaps the path that we are on for that project. These detours, what some call mistakes, allow us to deviate into the unknown. It might work, it might not, or it might be something we come back to and revisit later.
A way to help us along our artist journey is by utilizing a sketchbook. Writers aren’t the only ones that could benefit from this practice. Jotting down ideas, sketching our thoughts or things we see during our daily rounds can be recorded in this one place. It doesn’t need to be an expensive journal, and shouldn’t be. Then we might believe that we shouldn’t make ‘mistakes’ in it, that what we record must be used in some future project. That isn’t the purpose. It is a place to capture thoughts and ideas, a messy kind of ‘office’ that we can return to for inspiration or direction.
Bennett has more ideas on creativity and exercises to practice expanding our artistic nature. On my website, www.myjoyenterprises.com, you can read the prologue and the first two chapters of each of my novels and discern for yourself the parts that are the same throughout, and the changes-and hopefully maturity-from the first to the last.