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

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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.’

thanking 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, 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.

Bowie in his own words, spoken to graduating music students at Berklee College, Massachusetts, in 1999.

“Music has given me over 40 years of extraordinary experiences. I can’t say that life’s pains or more tragic episodes have been diminished because of it.
But it’s allowed me so many moments of companionship when I’ve been lonely and a sublime means of communication when I wanted to touch people.
It’s been both my doorway of perception and the house that I live in. I only hope that it embraces you with the same lusty life force that it graciously offered me.
Thank you very much and remember, if it itches, play it.”

connections

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I saw this last week- a 49ft-long 3D artwork celebrating ‘Star wars’, set underneath a humble bridge in London. It was created by 3D artists Joe and Max to celebrate the UK launch of the Rise Against The Empire play set.  A good drawing in itself but what made it great was the way it got people engaged with it.  Kids and adults pretending to hang perilously from the edges of buildings, people walking around it trying to understand how the simple perspective of the drawing made it so cleverly three dimensional; and passersby reverentially walking at the edges. Or people simply pretending that they were in a Star Wars movie underneath a London Bridge, accompanied by the sounds of ships, laser fire and droids.  What fun!

Art is about being fun, creative and engaging people.

Tools of the trade

I have been recently looking into what computers can do for artists.  And so, I looked at ‘Photoshop’ from Adobe.  As an artist, I work in a similar way to Photoshop- altering colours, collage, cutting pasting, overlays of paint, etc.

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Playing around with it, I discovered that how ever good computers are, they can’t replicate the human eye, hand and most importantly the ‘creative mistakes’.  A little oddity, a tiny mistake, a misplaced drop of paint- these bring humanity to the work.  As the architect, Michael Graves wrote in the New York Times, “Drawings express the interaction of our minds, eyes and hands…I have a real purpose in making each drawing, either to remember something or to study something. Each one is part of a process and not an end in itself.”

While a computer drawing of one thing will look the same if copied by many different people, the drawing made of something by one person will be unique.  So yes, computers have their use in replication but the human spirit has its unique creativity.  So for now, I will be sticking to my drawing instruments that include amongst other things, a tooth brush, comb, chop sticks, and sand.

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Creative soiree4

This is about the fourth ‘Creative soiree’ that I have hosted this year. The Creative Soiree gets all kinds of creative people together- designers, photographers, artists, writers, etc. in a ‘safe’ place to discuss what means to be creative, learn from each other and most importantly, how to make a living as a creative person.

At this soiree, we had the advantage of sounding out someone who started a music media company during the last recession. The international business also manages live-streams and concerts, websites and social media for bands and links them with brand names. This man has two small children too. I was just impressed that he had made the time to come for this discussion! Naturally the discussion turned to how creative people can be creative, commercial and contributive in their work.  These are some of the highlights of that discussion with him and others, along with my own musings.

  • Constraints are creative. Both ‘top end’ and ‘bottom end’ commissions have their constraints. Constraints and creativity go together to solve problems.
    Business is non-judgmental. Listen to the voice of the ordinary person, read stuff that you normally won’t, and do things that you have not done before. All these activities increase not only personal creativity and knowledge but also your client base. Look at yourself and your work from outside in, not inside out in order to get the right perspective.
  • Become your own agent or get one. All creative people need agents. If you can’t get one, become your own agent. Salvador Dali painted, acted, designed, wrote and danced until he became the one man PR agent for himself. Watch this hilarious clip from ‘What’s my line?’ featuring Dali. His provocations were seen as gimmicks by his critics and as ‘performance art’ by his fans. Not all of Dali’s creative ventures succeeded but what succeeded was enough to give him a place in history.
  • Base your fees on your work value. Can you quantify the value you bring to your project? As a creative person, you are a participant in the ‘creation of value’ and therefore, your fee should be a percentage of that value.
  • Success depends upon luck and so increase your chances. Certainly, many people work hard and are clever. If merit was the only way people could succeed, then anyone who worked hard and was clever, would succeed in life. But life is not meritocratic. Instead create what are called ‘weak links’ or casual, non –work related contacts, and your chances of a lucky break have increased.

Creativity and Children

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(My son at the Serpentine Pavilion, 2015)

I have two children- one is now a teenager and the other one, nearly one.  For all their lives and most of mine (and there were seven pregnancies with two live births), I have worked, starting with my first lowly job as a teenager working as a receptionist for a dentist.  I am now an architect, author and artist.  My children have always seen me working inside and outside the home.  Therefore I was surprised to view this recent broadcast on BBC Two (3rd July 2015) presented by the model and entrepreneur Lily Cole ‘to debate whether having children inhibits or enhances an artistic lifestyle’.  Perhaps, not surprisingly, the people she interviewed were mostly women- only one man appeared. Gavin Turk, the artist, was also interviewed but together with his wife, Deborah Curtis, who is also an artist.  The programme was based around the infamous quote by the critic Cyril Connolly, ‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall’. One got the feeling that Lily Cole, who was then eight months pregnant, was exploring her own fears about whether she would continue to be creative after the birth of her child.  Barbara Hepworth also featured- how did she manage to be creative despite having four children, including triplets?  But the possible dilemma of her husband, Ben Nicholson, the artist, was ignored.  So I wondered if Cole meant to imply that this is a woman’s problem only?

The modern creatives- Holly McNeish, the spoken word poet, and Turk and Curtis- were sanguine and funny about the whole experience- breastfeeding in a public toilet, bringing babies to art shows, and doing those other crazy things parents have to do when they don’t have childcare, either paid or unpaid.  My life was like that too- I brought my sons to business meetings, construction site visits, art shows and lectures and I know of other parents who did that too.  Lionel Shriver, the author, who has chosen to be childless, spoke about the socio-politics of why and how only ‘white’ people were choosing to be childless or having less children- though her theories might be debatable (she appeared to have forgotten entirely about China, for instance).  This led me to think more deeply about my experience of having children. I believe my children have made my life more creative, not less.  It is far more simpler not to have to think about feeding and nurturing another person, about not having to argue with a teenager about pocket money, etc- instead just concentrating on being creative.  But is creativity limited to just what you produce?  Or is it about how you lead your life?  My life with children has really enhance how I live my entire life with creativity.  And I am proud that they are also known as creative people in themselves.  There will always be people, who choose not to have children (like my beloved Uncle) but those who care and nurture others (like my Uncle did with me).   I have creative friends, who are childless, and they enjoy my children’s company.  Creativity does not depend on whether you have children or not, it is a state of being, that continues, regardless.

Five rules of being creative

I have been reading a lot about creative people and it struck me that they are not all how they are pictured to be- undisciplined, messy, chaotic and unreliable.  But these are just stereotypes.  Creatives come from all kinds of backgrounds, they may be women or men and from different religions and cultures.  However, what they have in common are these –

1. They are good observers– Creative people tend to see and hear things that others miss out.  This ability aids them in their creativity and work.

2. They are organised and tidy– they can find whatever they need and do what they need to do because they are organised and tidy.  By being like this, they can work at a good pace and without stressing themselves.

3. They are disciplined– They have schedules, which include times when they do creative things and other times when they do organised and boring stuff.  They recognise that in order to do the important stuff, they might have to do urgent stuff first to create space.  They don’t party all the time, they do it when they’ve finished their work.

4. They discard the shallow and go for the deep– they do the important stuff that only they can do, anything other minor stuff they drop.  Except housekeeping stuff that they need to do regularly so that it does not become urgent and disorganised.

5. They keep healthy– in order to be creative, they need to stay at peak condition.  Their work:life balance is good and they don’t spend hours working- they have fun too. They take breaks, exercise and eat healthily.

legacy

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This week was very exciting as my son’s first art exhibition opened to the public.  His installation consisting of videos, stills, paintings and construction, attracted much attention and curiosity because it was based on my family home.  He has been visiting his grandparents in India since he was five months old but it was after I watched the movie with his voice over that I realised how much he had absorbed about my life there without me directing his thoughts or saying much.

Of course, I was very proud that his work was selected for this exhibition and that it was received well.  But the most gratifying thing was that somehow by osmosis, he had absorbed ideas about expressing himself creatively by perhaps watching me.  Everyone wants to be creative but when one is able to inspire creativity in others, that is also a great thing. So I was amazed as well as chuffed.

As parents or carers, what we give to our children is something that we don’t speak about. What they are watching is what we do, not what we say.  My son is a teenager and we have the kind of arguments that parents of teenagers have with them.  So in that respect he is ‘normal’.  But overcoming those issues, he has managed to transmit our relationship and that of his with his grandparents into a tangible art form that others can appreciate. Awhile back, I had commented on my mother’s sewing and how I now display her work in my home as works of art.  So she had transmitted her love of creation to me and I have done that to my child.

So never underestimate your own creativity and what you might be transmitting to your children or anyone young.

what creativity means to you and you

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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.

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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!