new website

I’m sorry I appear to have not written for a very long time but I’ve switched to a new website called

http://www.valuecreatinglife.com

Please have a look, and see what you think!

I didn’t want the distraction of adverts and so this is a paid for site, instead of a free site like this one.

Only Plan A

Plan B types

I have read that the best way to pursue your creative ideals to divide your sources of income- i.e., to have a day job and also a creative evening job.  The intention is that if your creative job isn’t paying the bills, the day job will pay until one day you hit jackpot with your creative venture; and eventually that will become your only source of income.  So your day job would get you ‘passive income’ while you pursue your true vocation.  So you see the bank clerk who plays the piano in the evening at a bar, or the painter who pays his bills through his teaching job.  You can see this from many historical examples- Alexander Porfiryevich Borodin, the Russian: Georgian Romantic composer whose day jobs were as a doctor and chemist, Phillip Larkin, a librarian who was a poet and many others.

Plan A types

On the other hand, artist Paul Klein says that you should have only Plan A and you should put all your energy into pursuing it.  By having too many eggs (and perhaps even too many baskets), you are exhausted with nothing left for creativity.  In this video on Youtube, he says only have Plan A- having Plan Bs are distractions.  By having only Plan A, you focus almost desperately because there is no other way- you have to make it succeed.  Paul Gaugin comes under this category but he never made any money from painting while he was alive- only after death did his paintings sell well.  Do you agree with this approach?  Personally, I am very risk averse and currently do a few jobs while I pursue my creative ideas.  What about you?  Let me know. Here is a lovely video on finding your passion from Ken Robinson, who says it is not enough to be good at something, you need to be passionate too.

 

 

 

Deciding what to do

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!)

what happens to our work when we die?

The short answer: Nothing much.Santa.jpg

The long answer:

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.

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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.

Creative soiree One 2016

After many requests to restart the creative soiree sessions I had organised last year, we finally had one yesterday. What a gathering- architects, documentary film makers, theatre artists, fine artists from six different countries or ethnicities (one from Homs, Syria). Some people had brought with them works of art and books that inspired them (Living out Loud by Keri Smith, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; and Harnessing your creativity by Twyla Tharp). People of different backgrounds and age range from 70s to 30s added to the diversity. Naturally, I asked whether the artists of 1960-70s were of as high calibre as contemporary creatives of today or whether we are seeing the very frightening times of permanent loss of creativity. Hence follows a very short summary of the four hour event.

The interview with Marwa Al- Sabouni, conducted via Skype started us off on the question of value of architecture. Does architecture allow us to be frivolous or is it generous? Is it a technical or a social art? Marwa, is a 34-year-old architect and mother of two, who lives in Homs where she was born, amidst some of the most vicious fighting that the Syrian civil war has seen. With her architect husband, she has opened a bookshop after their practice was shut in the conflict. Remarkably, amongst all this chaos and danger, she has written a book about her life with a preface by Roger Scruton. For someone living day to day (as she described), the charmingly calm and articulate Marwa, made it clear that she thinks that architecture must contribute to society. Unlike fine art, architecture has a purpose beyond beauty and though it must be beautiful; architecture must also help to solve the problems that the world faces. The genius is not separate from society.

Another aspect that came up was the concept of waiting for the inspiration, or waiting for the muse. Instead of waiting, as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert has described one must meet the muse every day by showing up for work. Luck is about preparation or being ready to meet luck. To be prepared one must work every day, flex the creative muscles everyday- that is meeting the muse everyday, to show up for work. To capture one remarkable idea, one must prepare many. The pop artist, Prince, who died recently, came up as an inspiration- apparently there is a vault full of his work. He worked everyday and created many songs, not all of which saw the light of day. But the important thing was the creative practice in which he participated every day.

But it is not easy, given internal or external difficulties. But such difficulties also present opportunities and hone our creativity. Marwa’s external problems make it difficult but not impossible. David, a fine artist, who was a contemporary of David Hockney at the Royal College of Arts in the 1960s and taught art there and at Central St Martins, is colour blind. He described how as a child, when he drew a yellow cow, was told off by his art teacher, ‘Cows are not yellow!’ He persevered thanks to a supportive family. An enlightened teacher gave him his first commission, aged 12- to draw French gothic cathedrals. David brought in his black and white digital art- a new media in which he has now ventured in his seventies. Creativity evolves constantly. I was reminded of Hockney’s digital art made on his iPhone. What makes us less creative is fear. We need to believe we are fully creative, right now, wherever we are.

So in a way, creativity is about discovering yourself. As someone remarked, to be human is to be creative. But as a consequence of being creative, one will invariably fail as one tries different things. But as one only hears about successes, not failures, one imagines that the creative person got it right the first time. But in schools and further education, we are not taught the value of failure or even risk taking. We like safety, it seems, so it appears that our work has lost some of the edginess or even exploration. Ideas that are not used, bother us as they sit in the back of our minds as time passes. Artists, architects and other creative people took many risks in the 1960s and 1970s which saw the flowering of ideas. However, the world now presents many new problems- all of which need resourceful, innovative and creative solutions. So lets get out of our safety mode and experiment as much as we can. Creativity is not dying out, it is only transforming- that was our conclusion.

 

About wrongs

bent coin detail.jpg

Last week I attended the wrong burial. Nearly.

The couple with whom I was getting a lift after the Church service said they were sure about where the burial of my neighbour was taking place. There was only one cemetery in that area, they said and they knew where it was. I put my trust in them, never wanting to check any other thing. We followed the GPS into an industrial estate and came upon this cemetery. There was a burial taking place, for sure, but not of my neighbour. Several google searches and calls later, after being stuck behind rubbish collection and pallet trucks, caught in a traffic jam- it seemed rather surreal when we actually arrived at the right cemetery and managed to catch the last moments of the burial.

GPS, the Internet, our superiors, God, friends and family- we put our trust in many things because we want to be right the first time. How many people admit they were or could be wrong? I have a colleague who told me, ‘I am always right, you know.’ We speak of knowing about the past- the wisdom of hindsight, ‘I always knew that, I could tell, that was meant to happen, I told you so’, etc. We also put ourselves in others’ shoes, ‘If I were you, I do that.’ We like to fill in details for others too. As Alain de Botton says, ‘Our brains are primed to take tiny visual hints and construct entire figures from them – and we do the same when it comes to character. We are – much more than we give ourselves credit for – inveterate artists of elaboration.’ But the fact is that you are not me. Now British Supreme Court has conceded that the law based on foresight (and judged by hindsight) which has led people to be convicted of murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years. The joint enterprise law has been used to convict people on the assumption that others ‘can’ foresee violent acts by others.

I remember being hit by a teacher (in the days of corporal punishment) for saying I did not know the hymn I was supposed to sing for Christmas celebrations at school. Ever since that time, I have treasured anyone who says, ‘I don’t know’. Because that simple statement says many things apart from ignorance- it says of humility, courage and a desire to learn. Magicians take this human desire to be right and make it into a form of craft that tells you that perhaps you are not. Couple of weeks ago, I was at a event with a magician, who managed to bend a coin which was inside my palm. Incredibly that coin had been signed with an indelible pen and so it couldn’t have been just substituted. Yet I know that isn’t the entire truth but I will never know. I now carry that coin with me all the time as a reminder that perhaps we are not always right, perhaps we don’t understand or see many things. A little reminder that we can be wrong.  And that being wrong has led to more creativity and inventions than we realise.  As Thomas Edison was to say, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’

Help for the distracted

I am naturally a person who gets easily distracted.  I might check my emails, or look at an social media post or read the online news many times while working on my computer.  This is not a good habit because work  interrupted is the flow of thought stilled.  It stops being thoughtful and perceptive.  For me being creative, for being ‘in the flow’ as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, comes from having inner peace, free of distractions.  So I had to write every day, despite a lot of resistance internally.  What helped me was reading bits of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations every night. Marcus Aurelius was the 16th emperor of the Roman empire, often called the Philosopher-King. The Stoic Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, describes how to find equanimity in the midst of conflict and how to overcome common human problems. In particular one passage that is a must read for all would be procrastinators or for those easily detracted is this-

Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbours, unless with a view to some mutual benefit. To wonder what so and so is doing and why or what he is saying, or thinking, or scheming- in a word, anything that detracts you from fidelity to the Ruler within you- means a loss of opportunity for some other task. See then the flow of your thoughts is kept free from idle or random fancies, particularly those of an inquisitive or uncharitable nature.  A man should habituate himself to such a way of thinking that if suddenly asked, ‘What is in your mind at his minute?’ he could respond frankly and without hesitation; thus proving that all thoughts were simple and kindly.’

I have highlighted in the above passage the bits that struck me strongly- about wasting time, about keeping flow free from distraction and the discipline of having only simple and kindly thoughts.

I kept my wandering mind on a leash by imagining that someone would suddenly appear and ask what I was thinking and I could say honestly that I was being creative and thinking about my project.  Simple and kindly thoughts are actually the creative person’s best allies- I imagined brushing away negativity that was holding me back, every time I was feeling down or bad.  However, thinking like this is a skill that must be built up daily by the minute- so it goes on for me, although I have finished my book for now.

One year of writing and painting

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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!

Self choice and goals

The urge to be different may not be the highest or the profoundest element of the artist’s equipment but it is rarely lacking together’- E.H.Gombrich.

 Self- concordant goals are those we pursue out of deep personal conviction or a self generated interest. These goals according to research from Kennon Sheldon and Andrew Elliot are integrated with the self because they come from ‘self-choice’. Externally directed goals give us stress and depression while self directed ones are those that give us joy and ease. Self chosen goals also stem from the need to express one’s creativity and spirit rather than compete or simply do the job. Research in this area indicates that there is a qualitative difference between the meaning we derive from extrinsic goods, such as social status and salary, and the meaning we derive from intrinsic goods, such as personal growth and a sense of connection to others. Our choices can be a mixture of both self directed and externally directed goals as long as the self-directed goal directs the external manifestation of it. The creative person’s problem perhaps is not that of generating creativity but of continuously letting that internal voice direct the external aims of financial sustainability, fame and expansion, instead of the other way round.

A creative soiree

After perhaps too many years of thinking about this, I finally hosted a ‘creative soiree’ yesterday.  The idea was to get different kinds of creatives- artists, designers, poets, writers, photographers and dreamers- to come together to talk about creativity and the barriers they may face to realising their creative potential.  I was so pleased when many accepted.  As the tea and wine flowed and food warmed the cold evening, conversations also flowed and hearts warmed to each other’s experiences of creativity.  The talk ‘Pursuit of happiness’ by the late architect, Professor Libby Burton, that I have used on this blog site before, started off the evening.  From the theories of creativity to the work of creatives- such as the architects Peter Zumthor and Joseph Allen Stein, the Bauhaus, the artist Gerhard Richter, the gardener/blogger, Frances Bellord and Peter Fay, designer Bernard Newman, inspirational writer Julia Cameron and many others- an intense and in depth discussion of what it takes to be a ‘creative’ rather than a ‘technician’ followed.  Difficult as it was to fully document the evening, I have tried to put together some of the main points below-

1. Do something every day that expresses your creativity.  It could be even be a piece of early morning ‘Stream-of-consciousness writing’ as advised by Julia Cameron.  And don’t worry about what others think about your creation. Do it for yourself, not for others. If you don’t express yourself, then you de-value your life if you don’t use the gifts that you have. Remember who you are.  But one has to be disciplined enough to do this everyday in a self unconscious way.

2. Remember your creative self everyday.  You have a financial self that strives to earn to make a living so that you can put a roof over your head and put food into your mouth and you have a caring self that may be caring for others but do not forget that you also have a creative self too.  Try to go back to being a child sometime- being creative is about having a space for ‘play’ in your everyday life.  The daily grind, problems and deadlines may actually focus your creative energy.

3. It doesn’t matter if no one ‘gets’ your work!  Share your work, your talent.  Engage others in the process of creation.  Judgment, justification and self flagellation are the biggest obstacles to creativity.  We also had a lively debate about the ‘modern’ need to reference everything.  The great works of art we love starting from those flowing paintings made by cave dwellers (perhaps that would be called ‘naive art’ today), didn’t need to be referenced to something else- they were just pure creativity.  It is best to reference something after you have understood it perfectly yourself.

4. Produce lots of work and learn to ditch.  Careful editing, keeping of scrapbooks, digital photos of creating the work, thinking deeply about the process and documenting what works and what doesn’t makes the creative journey productive and interesting.  Forget the pursuit of perfection- walk away from it. Does everything have to be for one’s impending future success?

5. Get into the making. Get your hands dirty- by actually making it, writing it or painting it.  Without that actual feel of materials and how they come together, one can’t be creative.  That is why many projects fail because we thought too much without actually doing something!

PS- I am hoping to have more of these creative soirees and if you are in London and want to come, do let me know.