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.

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.

 

Small wins

I did couple of things last and this month that I would have never considered doing before.  These are small things and perhaps not very significant to anyone else.  But for me doing these opened my eyes to the possibility of change in my physical and emotional life.

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The first was climbing this hill in Edinburgh.  The guidebook said that it would take 20 minutes but it took me over one hour, that too after resting many times.  There were people climbing- some women even wore heels!  For me, getting up Arthur’s seat (250 metres high) was a major challenge.  I was so tired after that that I have taken three weeks to recover. Probably I won’t ever do something like that again but I have done it once. That was so empowering!

The second thing was I cut my own hair. I watched endless videos of hair cutting and steeled myself for how I could end up looking as the result was right there for everyone to see!  I realised I had to have this courage and belief in myself- the same as climbing that hill in Edinburgh.  Both are different things and yet are very similar in their emotion.  Both felt very empowering.  Everyone is different- and for everyone, there are new things to try out.  Now every month, I have decided to do one new thing.

Working from the old

I watched an documentary about the work of David Hockney.  It seems he walks around with a camera, smartphone and a notebook- making films, taking photos and drawing or writing on his smartphone or book.  He then uses these to make new interpretations of what he saw. He says that a painting is very different from a camera.  The camera only gives an impression and perhaps, the one only view. It is a dispassionate view while a painting is an emotional response and conveys some of that emotion to the viewer.  That is why the painting is so much more vivid and spiritual, even.  He sometimes takes older paintings or drawings and reinterprets those to give them a more contemporary feel.  So I revisited a 20 year old drawing and then drew it to give a new feel and interpretation.

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This time, I used the colour copier, chalk, pens and crayons to bring out a different aspect of that first painting.  The first one feels like it was done in cold weather while the new one is lively, fun and warm.  I quite like both of them! I gave the second one away as a present so I might do another version of it.  Old paintings can be used in so many ways.  Art is always open.

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Travel drawings

Before the advent of digital cameras and the art of selfies, were the simple tools of sketching and notes.  Recently  I was looking at my quick sketches and paintings made in five different continents in the 1990s.  Most were made in no more than 15 minutes, and yet looking at them more than 20 years later, I can remember how I made the drawing, how hot/sunny or cold it was, how I was feeling and what the place felt like.  This can done even today.  It is sometimes good to get your head out of the camera and observe what is going on. Find a bit of time to sketch and paint. I used all sorts of things- one painting was done using cherry juice.  Travel is also time for creative rejuvenation!

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A hero

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.

reaching out

My neighbour accepted a delivery for me when I was out.  When I went to collect it, I was shocked at her appearance- she had lost a lot of weight and looked very gaunt. Not sure of anything, I mumbled thanks and left.  But it bothered me that I hadn’t asked.  She was a bubbly young French lady, with two small children and her appearance and behaviour were totally out of character.

Then a week later, while shopping, I met another neighbour and asked her if she knew anything.  This lady told me that the French lady had cancer which had spread.  It all made sense to me now- why I always saw her mother ferrying the children to school, not her; and her appearance.  I felt deeply ashamed that I hadn’t said anything to her, offered to help even.   But even then, I did not do anything.  But my lack of action kept gnawing at the back of my mind.

Couple of days ago, I put a book for her and one for her children and a card through her letter box.  The book I sent was a book that I read when I was ill with a stroke.  That very evening, I received an email from her-

Thank you very much for your kind words and your prayers, it means a lot to me.

Ella was delighted with the book and I will read the other one with great care.

As you know, when sickness takes over your life, you see it differently and dream of normal things and I can’t wait to put this ordeal behind me. I am so lucky to have a supportive family who take good care of me and the children.

My treatment is going well but I spend most of the time in bed as I go through chimio every 2 weeks for 3 days… 14 done, 9 to go ! My kids keep me strong.

Thank you again for your kindness and I trust all is well.

I was touched that she had taken the time to thank me despite everything- a sign of a great person.  I write this post not to proclaim how great I am but perhaps to say that how stupid I had been.  As my other neighbour said me, ‘You don’t need to know the technicalities of someone’s illness but reaching out is enough- it shows you care.’  Secondly, I learnt that you need to reach out as soon as you can.  Life can go by too soon and you miss opportunities to show kindness and experience it.  You miss chances to be part of the human family.

The Flame of the forest

Flame of the forest

This seems a pretty picture- it is of one of my favourite flowers- Flame of the forest (Butea monosperma)- a medium-sized dry season-deciduous tree, which grows in the tropics.  It is found in a forested part of Delhi, where I grew up and seeing these flowers reminded me of springtime.  In my native West Bengal, the poems and songs of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, likened its bright orange flame-like flower to fire. In Santiniketan, where Tagore lived, this flower has become an indispensable part of the celebration of spring. I used to love these flowers.

However, the same forest became associated with murder in late summer of 1978 when siblings Geeta and Sanjay Chopra were kidnapped and brutally murdered.  On their way to the radio station to present a youth programme, the children were kidnapped for ransom.  On learning their father was a naval officer, both were killed instead and the girl, Geeta, was allegedly raped before being murdered. Both were bright young people- Geeta was a 16 year old second year college student and Sanjay, was 14-year-old school student.

I was very young but I remember the impact of the murders.  Suddenly parents were cautious about where their children were going, suspicious of strangers and our world changed from being happy and carefree to fear and mistrust.  The city which had never experienced such a heinous murder was traumatised and all energy was directed to finding the killers. It was my first loss of childhood innocence- the flowers which I loved, grew in a forest where children had been murdered.  I came to associate these flowers with blood.  Years later as an adult, coming across these flowers accidentally, I wondered if I could change my fear to joy again.  So this was painted.

The ‘bark’ of the trees is made from newspaper cuttings about the murders and the stylised flowers, with their curved and spiky forms, represent my fear.  However by painting this, I have made my fear disappear and understand the sadness from those murders.  It may be because I am older and it may be because exactly 20 years later on the day when the culprits were caught, I had a son, who helped me to see the world in a different way.  So the painting is curiously sad but optimistic by its brightness and exaggeration.  Like these flowers that bloom in the spring and wither away in the heat, whose leaves fall in the winter, leaving a skeletal bareness, our lives are informed by sadness and joy, by gain and loss.  This painting connects me to my childhood and my adulthood and to that of my son.  The sadness of the loss remains but the fear has gone.  Art has become a therapy.

Cut yourself loose

Recently I was involved in an argument with a person who had been bad mouthing me and was saying even worse things to me on my face.  I knew I wasn’t going to win this- the person was adamant that I had been disrespectful to them.  I did not say what I knew, just shrugged my shoulders and walked away.  This person followed me, astounded that I did not want to argue my case or even protest. I just said, ‘If that is what you want to believe about me, that is fine.  I will simply walk out of the door into the sunshine and forget this conversation happened.’  So I did. I had a lovely walk in a park and reflected on my situation.  And I realised that by coming out of this argument, I had actually been respectful to myself and even better, had now time to pursue more constructive and creative relationships.  It was as if a balloon had been cut loose and was now drifting in the blue sky- I felt so happy and light.  Sometimes we do not realise what life gives, what gifts we receive.  Instead we hanker after what was and try to keep in relationships that have no meaning, friendships that are toxic and harmful.  Cut yourself loose and find that creativity, joy and connectivity- there will be other balloons loose too that you will see when you find yourself in that blue sky!  There is nothing good or bad, only the value you make out of the situation.  It reminded me of this Chinese story that I had heard Mark Tully, former BBC correspondent use in his book, although it is attributed to Anthony de Mello here.

There once was a simple farmer who lived and struggled alongside his neighbours and friends, trying to exist and fulfil a peaceful life. One day news arrived from far away, that his old loving father had died. His neighbours gathered to grieve, but the farmer simply said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

In time relatives brought a very fine horse of great cost and fine breeding, left to the farmer by his father. All the villagers and neighbours gathered in delight with him to celebrate his good fortune, but he just said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbours sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

An ancient Chinese story as told by Anthony de Mello in The Song of the Bird

a hundred year message from Mars

Last night I watched a movie, A message from Mars.  This movie, made in 1913 is the first full-length science fiction feature in the history of British cinema. It stars the leading comic actor of his day, Charles Hawtrey, as a selfish man who is taught a series of valuable lessons by a visiting Martian.  Painstakingly reconstructed from existing clips of films by British Film Institute (BFI) and BBC; and with a new soundtrack, it was a peculiarly haunting experience.  Apart from the beautiful dresses of the women and the very clean streets, not much it seems, has changed.  The eternal themes are still around- of being kind to those who are in need (Amelie or Pollyanna), the need for the man to change to win the hand of his love (Grease), the shock of having the same experiences again and again until one changes (Ground Hog day) or even strange alien visitations (Donnie Darko or ET).

Watch this incredible movie that brings the past, present and future alive-

A message from Mars