Following a serious illness, I’ve been recovering- the Covid19 pandemic with its enforced separation, has been a gift although I miss not socialising (as I’m very much an extrovert). But the days of being alone and silent, reading, and resting have been worthwhile. I’ve managed to work, mainly via online platforms but any form of external visits have not happened.
But being at home, doesn’t mean end of creativity. So I’ve been able to do creative things such as writing and crafting. This was a recent creative endeavour during Easter, colouring boiled eggs with natural materials such as turmeric, onion skins, and coffee with layering on bits of leaves, flour paste and skin to create texture and decorations. In times of stress, any bit of creativity will enable healing. I also created a painting out of bits of used ‘Over head transparencies’- remember those? and odds and ends on a bit of discarded empty picture frame (without glass) found on the street. Even frozen water bubbles became an idea for musing about the passage of time. Cooking became a very creative pastime. I realised that anything can be creative if you want to make it so.
Pottering about is an art. Being creative is about being healing yourself- it is a magic!
I recently visited Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, UK. Kettle’s Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede during 1958 to 1973 . Jim had been a curator at the Tate Gallery in London 1920-30s. Collecting and curating art and nature in his home, became his cure for undiagnosed PTSD brought on by the Great War. He became a patron, collector and buyer of works by then unknown (and some famous) artists- paintings by Ben and Winifred Nicholson, Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, David Jones and Joan Miró, as well as sculptures by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Constantin Brancusi, Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
Jim did not distinguish between high art, naive art, and nature. There are no labels, so the visitor enjoys the work as it is. Surprisingly for a curator’s home, there no curatorial statements either. Alongside carefully positioned valued artworks, we find broken and old furniture, glass, ceramics and natural objects. The aim was to create creating a harmonic whole, not perfection. He was influenced by his visit to India after the war and his work reflects his interests in Eastern religions and folk art. He invited students for talks at the end of each term and in the end, left the house to Cambridge University. He meant this humble home to be neither ‘an art gallery or museum, nor … simply a collection of works of art reflecting my taste or the taste of a given period. It is, rather, a continuing way of life from these last fifty years, in which stray objects, stones, glass, pictures, sculpture, in light and in space, have been used to make manifest the underlying stability.’
Looking and reflecting on the interiors, as an architect and home maker, I came to realise that to create a home you have to know yourself and your own needs deeply. And to create such an harmonious home, you don’t need expensive things- just things that reflect who you are. So Jim and Helen Ede’s home could be viewed by some as eccentric and unsophisticated but the abiding impression is that of a couple who consciously chose to eschew the materially rich for that which is soulfully rich. A lesson indeed for these chaotic times and materialistic culture. Such expression where someone’s inner life has been thrown open public gaze requires inner confidence, critical thinking and unwavering certainty. This is the home of someone who has absolute happiness, not relative one. In the end, the lesson for me wasn’t from the art but from the collection and the home as one.
Lessons on design and interiors from Kettle’s Yard
Make the design work for you, don’t follow others blindly.
Choose things that enhance the spaces- these might be cheap things like plants, rocks, books and sea shells. They could be things that you love to touch and see.
Follow the design through as you walk from space to space. It might be simpler and cheaper to have a flow, rather than each space having its own ‘theme’.
Remove and hide things seasonally. This gives a sense of the home through the seasons.
Eclectic collections have a charm of their own. Many design magazines feature empty monastic looking spaces but as this home shows, you can have many things if displayed well.
I saw this at a not very posh furniture shop and thought about it- a lot. It is trying hard to be something it is definitely not. It is new furniture trying to look as if it is old- with mismatched bits like some cheap chic but ends up looking like an embarrassed DIY effort or worse.
I wondered if we also do this same thing with how we present ourselves- trying too hard to be something we are not. When we imitate others, or present an image of us that is not authentic, not true to ourselves. It is worth keeping this photo in mind when we look at others, celebrities and other famous people, trying to be them. You can only be you, warts and all- that is what this photo teaches me.
On the other hand, yesterday trying to do some Kintsugi with broken pottery, I realised trying to be something else or expressing something that is not natural, is not an easy thing to do. Trying to suppress our authentic selves is very hard- one has to be in control all the time. In the Kintsugi workshop, I started out with the aim of making something practical with the broken bits and ended up tearing up the rule book and making something quite impractical, but now I realise that is totally me. I loved the result- hope you do too!
There are many books, videos, blogs, talks that urge you to follow your passion. These talk about the person as if they have just one passion and say that if you follow that one dream, then opportunities, money, and other things will follow. The problem with this is that there can be many passions and passions can ebb and flow. More importantly, does your passion resonate with other’s passions? If only can your desires bind with that of others, then will opportunities follow. A sort of ‘Build it and they will come’ kind of thing.
The contributive life is different- it works in reverse. So you contribute to the desires of many, instead of yourself. It is easy to see why this will attract more opportunities than the passionate life which is more isolating. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, a Japanese philosopher propounded the idea of the contributive life. He said,”Individual well-being entails cooperative and contributive existence within society,”
“genuine happiness requires sharing the sufferings and joys of the larger public as a member of society; and it can easily be understood that full and harmonious life within society is an indispensable element for any concept of authentic happiness.”
I had read these passages many years ago and had been rather dismissive of them as they seemed to me to be reeking of martyrism and sacrifice instead of ‘good’ and practical business ideas that supported you and your clients. But last night was an a-ha moment when I realised that Makiguchi’s contributive life was not just good principled practice but also good business advice. As a crude example, there are many sayings that echo this idea, ‘Selling coals to Newcastle’ is pointless, even if selling coals might be your passion. There is a Youtube video by Marie Forleo which talks about this by saying,’ How to convince people to pay for your services’
and this one which explains it all (and caused my a-ha moment). In the video seen by over two million people, Terri Trespicio, says, ‘To live a life full of meaning and value, you don’t live a life of passion; your passion follows you!”
There is a view about creativity about a lone artist, struggling in his or her attic, to create an original work. But in reality, creativity is never a lone effort- there are always at least two people in it. One is yourself and the other is the person who inspires you. Originality comes from being nudged by past creativity- it is like a fire that is lit by the match of another’s idea.
‘The imagination will not perform until it has been flooded by a vast torrent of reading’, Petronius Arbiter, 66AD
‘A student unacquainted with the attempts of former adventurers is always apt to overrate his own abilities, to mistake the most trifling excursions for discoveries of moment, and every coast new to him for a new-found country. If by chance he passes beyond his usual limits, he congratulates his own arrival at those regions which they who have steered a better course have long left behind them. The productions of such minds are seldom distinguished by an air of originality: they are anticipated in their happiest efforts; and if they are found to differ in anything from their predecessors, it is only in irregular sallies and trifling conceits. The more extensive therefore your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled the more extensive will be your powers of invention; and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions.’ Joshua Reynolds, from a speech at the Royal Academy, December 11, 1769.
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.
This weekend I have been helping a neighbour design an ‘Order of service’ booklet for her husband who died suddenly. She is quite distraught and as a result, unnaturally disorganised. She gave me a pile of photographs and three pages that she wanted typed into the booklet. Sitting down with her, we went over the photos and writing, editing out things that need not be there. I also found a suitable printing service that could do the printing at short notice. I have never done anything like this before- normally these things are done by the funeral service but she had left it too late. But I am grateful she asked me because it helped me to find a new perspective on life.
The thing that struck me while laying out the pages that someone will be doing this for me too someday. What would they put in that booklet about me? What if I could do that now? After all no one knows when they could die. So I after having finished her booklet, I am now trying to put together something for myself. How do I want to remembered? As a creative person, as non conformist, as a mother, as a friend, daughter, etc.? What music would I like to be played? What special photos would I use and who would be in those photos? It has been said that the best way of getting our creative selves out of procrastination and into production is to imagine our own funeral or write our obituary. I come to realise that the best way to set our life goals might be to make our own ‘Order of service’ booklet. No one needs to see it- it is there for your eyes only. As a goal setter, it may be a sombre; but yet the clarity and the simplicity it provides is truly creative. Try it!
I haven’t written for awhile- that’s because I have been writing this. And it is still not finished! I can’t remember how many times I have gone over chapter, moving and shifting words and paragraphs, trying to make my own voice heard over others. The cover took many months to create- I wanted both the cover and the title to be catchy. I want people to hold the book in their hands and want to read it. I have heard of people who write easily but this has been so difficult. Hopefully I shall finish this next week but I am so grateful to get so far. Thank you to all my readers and Happy 2016!
Last week I attended an art workshop. Using materials and techniques I would not otherwise use, I created couple of large drawings. Although my instinct is to go back to what I was doing before, yet by doing something different, I feel I have extended my creative limits. I was like a child at this workshop, trying colours such as black and white spray paint and stencils- which I have not used before. I used calligraphic pens and rulers too- some new things for me.
Perhaps these things are not new to you. The point that I am making is to try new things whenever you get a chance. Not only does it extend your repertoire but also tells you why you like what you do. So now I realise why I paint the way I do- for instance, I like telling stories through my work so I use found objects, newspaper cuttings, cards and photographs. This is one of my paintings below. It is called ‘Looking, Watching, Seeing’ about fear told through different events that happened in 1976-77.
Creativity is the only thing that is a relationship between you and you. Everything else is a relationship between you and someone else- and that relationship can be good or bad, depending upon you and another. However, the relationship between you and you is only dependent upon one person- you. It is the gift you give to yourself. Whether your work is liked or you became rich through it, depends upon the relationship between you and someone else (the viewer/patron) but that is not in your gift. It is beyond your control. Your creativity is your gift to yourself, regardless of external gifts. So always gift yourself!
This are the conclusions from the last creative soiree I organised with the theme of ‘Overcoming barriers to creativity’. This time participants had to bring in a recent piece of work- anything from poetry to sculpture. The idea was not to critique the work itself but for the person to describe how they overcame barriers in order to create that work. The evening kicked off with videos of Annie Fennymore and Sargy Mann (sadly recently passed away)- both blind artists, who have managed to overcome their physical limitations to create art. As a result of the discussion, we came up with a list of ‘tools’ that could be used to overcome barriers to creativity- whether internal (procrastination, self defeating thoughts, etc) or external (money, time, etc).
1. Use paper– Paul Klee said to take the line for a walk. When stuck in rut, use paper to think out ideas. An architect used CAD drawings to work out a circulation route in a complex plan by actually drawing on the plans.
2. Look and look– learn to look and observe without analysing or judging. Often looking at something like that opens up fresh ideas. A piece of sculpture brought by one of the participants was created by looking carefully and working on a single sheet of metal from all angles.
3. Tell a story– Each piece of work- written or artistic- connects to another person via a story. Traditional story tellers and balladeers knew that. Even architects can tell stories through their buildings. As long as we have experiences, we have a story to tell- said Sargy Mann. So use your experiences- good or bad- to connect with the world. Nothing need be a barrier.
4. Create constraints– By limiting resources or creating artificial constraints, one can be even more creative. Jackson Pollock (paint splashes and drips) and Jasper Johns (cross hatch series) both used this technique. A sculptor described how he used only one sheet of metal. A fine artist described how she used just one pint brush or one colour to create constraints.
5. Finally, organise yourself- In order to be creative, manage your time and money! Different people mentioned different barriers- money, work, time, children etc and how they overcome these issues in order to be creative.