When I was sketching in Venice in 2017, a small crowd gathered around me, watching. As the crowd grew in size, there was even a person directing people. At first, I felt very conscious of the people staring at me and then as I suffer from fear of crowds, I started feeling fearful. In an age when people use their smartphones to take selfies and photos, it must seem very archaic and time wasting to sketch. But recently I discovered that it also helps others to watch people sketching. There is a South Korean artist, Kim Jung Gi, who draws fantasy art and many people pay to spend hours watching him. It is said to be therapeutic, and induces a feeling of stillness and calm in the viewers.
There is another way that ‘mindless’ drawing can help- this is with increasing creativity. Just like sleeping on problems and dreams can help with solving problems, using drawing (especially organic shapes) can help with problem solving and increasing creativity. The Nobel Laureate, polymath, poet, musician, painter and author corrected his texts by doodling over mistakes. His wooden seal with his initials is also of an organic shape.
Even when feeling tired, I have found that doodling and drawing can be done when reading is too difficult. These drawings are no practical use but to me, they are part of my creative self. I’ve given myself two different rewards each day- when the weather is bad, I draw, and when the weather is good, I go out and take photos. Sometimes I draw without my glasses and sometimes I use both hands (I’m right handed). It’s always good for me to see what I create and how well I feel after that.
Recently I have been reviewing what to do, having spent many years doing it all, or rather trying to do it all. I feel now I have come to the state in life when I need to edit things out. This kind of editing has involved giving away of things I am not using; not going to events/shows/talks; editing out facebook and other social media contacts; getting out of mailing lists and also deciding what to do with work goals.
The Konmari method of cleaning out spaces uses the idea of throwing out anything that is not ‘sparking joy’. William Morris suggested that everything in our house should be useful or beautiful (or both).
The author, Scott Sonenshein, says that the Konmari method is ‘not just about what we do to our physical space. It’s about what we do to our mental space. Once we break that dependence that having more equals more happiness and more success” and apply the “spark joy” filter, we “can recognize what is most meaningful and important to us because it doesn’t get lost in clutter.’
However, it has taken me a long time (decades) to see what sort of rest of my life I want to lead. So he says, ‘Deciding which projects to pursue may be more challenging for individuals beginning a new career, as they have yet to develop a strong sense of the work and environments they prefer. However, just as the KonMari Method is structured so individuals can “calibrate before getting to sentimental items”, people may need time in their professional lives to gain a better sense of what “sparks joy” for them.’
Using the method by William Morris, one can decide if the project is not useful or creating something beautiful it is time to let go of it. After all, we live short lives and in that time, we do not leave something behind that is beautiful or useful (and even both), then there is nothing to remember us by. That leaving gift need not be a physical thing- it can be advice or love you give to another person. For example, my Uncle did not leave me anything but his love and advice (which I use all the time). He lives on in my life and also in my children’s lives as I recount things he used to say or do with me.
Worth watching this 12 minute funny TED Talk (assuming you are not offended by the language!)
This follows on from my musings after helping to clear out my parents’ house. There were many things that I realised and I kept on writing notes to myself as I reached certain milestones or achieved a key goal. Most important was how was I feeling? Did I feel good? Did I feel sad? Did I feel ‘lighter’? Did I feel free? Did I feel guilt? Actually as I moved on through the process, I felt all these emotions. One of the worst moments of hat clear-up was finding cheques worth a lot of money, cheques that had not been cashed and now were worthless. How much my mother had saved and scrimped; and yet so much money that was already there had simply wasted away because we hadn’t found them. And the sadness from seeing her pristine and unread books given to her as marriage gifts now being bitten by rats which also had to be thrown out. So from my notes here are some points-
Fear of deprivation– Some of the stuff my mother was storing, like plastic bags, were not really needed- she had so many of these. Despite feeling angry and frustrated at this, I realised that my mother’s needs to hold on to things stemmed on from her very deprived childhood. I had to be sympathetic and understand where she came from. But there was also a fear that my mother felt that if she let go of these things, she wouldn’t get anymore (again stemming from her childhood). So my solution was to put all the plastic bags in front of her and ask her how many did she really want? Could we get rid of some that were torn or dusty? In the end, slowly, after selecting a few useful ones, my mother let go off most of the bags.
Delayed action– My mother put things away for another time to do-, so one day she was going to sort out her children’s clothes. In the years that followed, her children grew up and moved away from not only her home but also country. Now that my mother is old, she doesn’t have time. I wondered how much clutter accumulates because one day we are going to tackle it- receipts, clothes, etc, etc. As my parents have grown older and less mobile, the growing clutter was actually becoming dangerous to them in their daily lives. After I explained that to her, she realised that she and we were at a stage in our lives where the things she’d saved up were of no use to either us or her and she was able to let go.
Achieved function– Each thing that comes into our lives has a function. So the purpose of the envelope is to bring to your a letter or bill. Once that thing is has done its job, then you have to let it go. I have heard that Thoreau used to look at something once and then chuck it if it was of now use. Now in our current age, we can’t just chuck things like that- we need to sort it out as most of our waste is not biodegradable anymore. So we need time to do that and we should but let it go as you can. It is now possible to recycle everything. Give away unused presents. This was the most useful thing I learnt about getting rid of clutter for others.
Many artists like to produce perfect artworks- that is understandable. They see beautiful works of art before them in museums, cities and in homes; and now in the media. So the quest for perfection is ‘even more in your face’- if your work is not perfect, perhaps you are not perfect. I have now heard from two artists who are suffering from depression and exhaustion, trying to be perfect, and trying to produce perfect pieces of art. There is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection
But there is a Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, which actually elevates imperfection. So cracks in pottery are filled with gold, literally emphasizing and embellishing the imperfection, instead of hiding it. The Wabi-Sabi aesthetic is a beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete’. It is quite like our physical selves- our bodies are not perfect but using clothes, shoes and make-up we make them look perfect. But the most memorable faces are those that highlight imperfection- such as David Bowie’s mismatched eyes. The actress Jennifer Grey who had her nose done, regretted it- she felt she had lost herself or her unique character.
These are two pieces of pottery that I found destined for the skip. The creator had discarded them in this bin in a pottery workshop.
I took them home and I have used them regularly for the last three years. They have not broken or cracked (and I have washed them in the dishwasher) and were perfect the way I have used them. As I use them, I thank the creator of these two pieces and sometimes feel sorry that in the quest for perfection, the artist threw away two little gems. I am pleased they came my way- each time I look at them, I think about the imperfection of life and how we can create value of each imperfection through acceptance, patience and love.
Recently I attended the memorial service of an architect. While it was sad that she wasn’t with us, it was wonderful to find out about her life outside the profession. It seems she was a well loved mother, grandmother and neighbour. She was constantly doing creative and ‘crazy things’ in the home and with her family- those are what made her so special. Very little was said about her professional work. It has been said, ‘No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my business’ and as we age, perhaps our external world becomes less important than our internal world. We are all creative beings and until the day we die, we are always creating. If we are not creating external works like writing, painting, photography or design, we are creating things inside our head. My father who suffers from dementia is constantly creating wonderful fantasies in his head all the time. Once I used to rush to ‘correct’ him but now I go along with his stories, it is so much more fun.
We constantly devalue our lives inside the home while we value the life lived outside. Our feelings, achievements and success are all linked to external things. Social media also has enhanced this tendency for external validation with ‘likes’, ‘followers’ and other symbols. But way back in 1935, pioneering artist, author, illustrator, and translator Wanda Gág wrote ‘Gone Is Gone: or the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework’. The man who thinks he does more or better work than his wife, swaps places with her and then gradually realises the value of house work. I remember this story so well as a teenager when I came across it and thanks to a friend who reminded me of this book again, I have started to value my life inside my home and also inside my body. I have started valuing things I do in the community where I live, the conversations I have with my children and family, with friends and neighbours.
While David Shrigley’s ‘Memorial’, a gigantic stone slab featuring items from a grocery list such as paper towels, bananas, tampons, etc. erected in New Yorks’s Central Park, might be a step too far to celebrate the mundane, it does highlight the lack of attention to our everyday in a subtly clever way. Last week, I also met with an Australian designer and as we talked, we discovered we had much more in common that we thought. It wasn’t about work- our lines of work were very different- but the sharing of our personal lives and things we did. After all, our creativity is unique, but our humanity is common. That is what lives on after we die. Santa’s memorial involved not only the usual food and speeches but also a disco just ‘because that’s the way she would have wanted it’. Wonderful- many thanks to Santa for sharing her life with us, even in death.
Creativity comes from all sorts of places and things that inspire or make connections. David, my friend, who has a problem in his hips, was visiting a friend when he spotted a back frame of a ‘Thonet‘ chair, waiting to be put into the rubbish dump. A trainee furniture designer had been making it for practice and had left it behind. David asked his friend if he could take it and she said yes. On the way back home, as the crowded train swayed back and forth it , he realised that he could put his weight on that frame and it supported him. He also realised that when a bus braked, it was good to put it at the side so that it steadied him. So he put some plastic feet on the two ends and there it was, a sexy curved support instead of the awful grey walking frames used. If he didn’t need it, then he could put it on his shoulders, so it is easily portable. Here is David showing the different ways he uses the chair back.
For me, the main lesson here is that you can have a problem but you need to put it in the back burner of your mind. Then slowly and unexpectedly, you will find a solution in your own ‘Eureka’ moment. Archimedes shouted”Eureka! Eureka!”and ran out naked in excitement after he noticed that the water level in his bath rose and he made the connection that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged. Friedrich Kekulé’s theory on the structure of benzene, which proved to be correct, was apparently influenced by the image of a snake eating its own tail. Einstein also arrived at his theory of relativity when he was watching a train move as he sat in another. There are many more examples of such moments- from artists, scientists to inventors and engineers- who have made connections to arrive at solutions. Where 2+2=5 or more!
The other thing I noticed was that it is the creative mind that notices and makes the connections. When David walked in, I was the first person to notice his innovative walking frame. No one else commented or looked at it. David said that on the street, it takes a certain kind of person, to come up to him and ask him about it. So I guess, if you have noticed something creative in another person, then it is most likely you have the same creativity yourself.
About ten days ago, I went to a funeral of a neighbour. I had designed the ‘Order of service’ booklet which she had left to the last minute. Through doing this, I had learnt about the remarkable life of her husband. I learnt about her life and her children. From knowing nothing about her, apart from greeting her when I met her, I learnt so much about another person. I felt uplifted by this experience.
Unknown to me, she had mentioned to many of other neighbours who had come to give their condolences that I had helped her so much. So couple of days ago, when I needed help to move furniture and sort out some house repairs, I was very grateful to have the help of neighbours. My little act of helping someone had ignited the spirit of help across the block. I regret now that it took a funeral for me to get to know someone and help them but also grateful for the realisation that all it takes for a community spirit to begin is to knock on people’s doors and ask them if they need help. I am now helping another neighbour who is seriously ill. So much of our modern lives are taken up with living just for ourselves or family. Our human family is much bigger. This is our privilege and honour to be part of this human family.
Love is in the air, especially today. But what is love really? A test of love is longevity. There are many who say they are in love- but a few months or years later, it is gone. That is not love. Love stands the test of time and age- if we can love someone’s wrinkles that is true love. True love is about loving someone’s warts and wrinkles. That could be anyone from your granny to your partner. Love is about giving some time to another person.
I have not been to any David Bowie concert but his music has existed alongside my growth as a person. His talents, not just as a ground breaking musician but as someone who is as a holistic as an artist can be (poet, actor, director, producer, writer, dancer, etc), has been so inspiring. Bowie was a well-read and informed artist who drew upon a wealth of influences such as Tibetan Buddhism, German Expressionism, Mime, Japanese culture, history and Jungian psychology. He has often described himself as a ‘magpie’ and he was able to synthesise diverse ideas and use them in his art. Coming from a poor working class family, it must have taken immense courage to proclaim his ideas and intent. As the philosopher Michael Foley says, ‘Appreciating art is not passive but active, not reverential but familiar, not a worthy act of self improvement but an audacious and cunning ruse. To seek out what stimulates and makes use of it- this is the work of art.’ And Bowie was a master at this and so his entire life became a work of art.
From becoming totally immersed in his various personas- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, etc- to his campaigning for others- from Tibet to physically disabled children and to his perceptive thoughts on the internet, death, illness, etc. he comes across as a total person. He acknowledged his mistakes without arrogance or defensiveness (watch his interviews on Youtube) and his fears and died a hero. There was no drama about his death unlike his pop personality life. He even made his death into a work of art and then took his bow, humbly and quietly. I never realised how much influence he had on me until last Sunday when it was announced that he had gone. He wasn’t perfect but he was a hero. And most importantly, his life has taught us that we can be heroes too. Here is a video of him tapping out his song ‘Heroes’ using a bottle cap on his shoe, raising money for physically challenged children at the Bridge School concert, 1996.
My younger son is now at a stage when babyish words, songs, cuddles, etc are an embarrassment. He has his smartphone which he uses to organise get togethers with his friends and his own time. He doesn’t need me to wake him up or remind him to do his school work. I don’t have to pick him up from school or take him there. He was the last of my babies- who has grown up.
Needless to say, it is sad for me. Although there is much more time I have for myself, there were many days, when I felt unwanted and abandoned. It took me many weeks to dissociate my feelings for myself from that of what was happening to my son. He had to grow up, of course and I knew that. Gradually I have learnt to be grateful for this time that has suddenly been released to me and be grateful for that independent young man he has become. Life is a series of losses- as we age, we lose people, we lose things and ultimately face the biggest loss of all, life itself. However, that is what life is and if we can accept that and learn to be grateful for everything, then all our love and humanity will be revealed in what we do.