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.

The importance of drawing

Yesterday, I visited the annual summer show at the Royal Academy.  This is an open show, open to any one- thousands of people submit and this year, 1130 works were selected out of those.  The works of fine artists, sculptors, pop artists, photographers, and installation artists with people were drawn from all sorts of creative background such as tailors, ‘seamstresses’, architects and painters.  Some works mixed many genres such as collage, painting and photography.  There were deeply social and political works while others were simply to be enjoyed as ‘guilty pleasures’.

My friends, one of whom is a fine artist and the other an architect, who kindly treated me to this show, had been painting all day at nearby St James Park and Trafalgar Square.  They brought along their works and these also gave me great pleasure such as the one of different birds- ducks, swans, coots and pigeons.  They had been instructed to paint and draw quickly without much thinking and these kind of instruction appeared to have produced lovely fluid representations of the birds. The friend who is an architect, had been painting for a long time and so this marvellous work was not just a product of the day but of many years of effort.  This led me to think about the process of drawing and why it is important part of the visualisation, regardless of the final product or composition.  Apart from photography, all other creative arts require some basic sketches which form the basis of the final design.

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In an interview about how they think about their buildings, the Irish architects, Sheila O ‘Donnell and John Tuomey, who won this years RIBA Gold medal, say that both are influenced by drawing and painting.  Sheila says that she uses water colour to explore form and light and which could be a ‘way of summarising something about the feeling of what the building might be without having to go into detail’. She says that working with water colour is that you can ‘speculate about material and weight  and even almost texture, but in a kind of unspecific way, in a sketchy way’. John on the other hand, works with pencil drawing and says it is ‘a form of hand writing’.  Another set of Irish architects, Clancy Moore, also talk about drawing and say that they sketch and draw a lot for many reasons, but one of them is to ‘simply look with care at the world around us and the places [they] visit and build in which then describes the primary context of their work.  Such use of quick sketches have been used by not only architects but also sculptors and tailors/ couturiers.

My fine artist friend is now encouraging her younger students to paint, many of whom question the need to draw something on paper in the days of the computer screen. But she says that drawing helps us in many other ways, including becoming more articulate and expressive in our writing and speaking.  She also thinks that drawing gives us organisational skills because one is composing in one’s mind before putting the pencil and brush to paper.  Creative skills can be used in other areas of our lives too.  Also, as I have mentioned previously drawing can be therapeutic. Drawing or painting is a more deliberate and permanent act than doing something on a computer screen that can be wiped out and started again.  Will Kemp, a fine artist, says that people sabotage their own efforts by being to critical of their own work, labelling or categorising their word and finally by talking too much.  So I guess the main things I took away yesterday would be-

1. Don’t think or talk too much- just do it!

2. Do it little and often- build up a habit of drawing ideas out instead of writing or talking about it.

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

Giving and friendship

Christmas is approaching and it is a time of giving.  But we need to make sure that what we give is the thing that the receiver needs and is of value to them, not to us. Often we buy things we like and present it to someone.  So it is best to learn about the person first and then find a gift they need.  It may surprise us that at times they don’t want any ‘thing’ at all- what they want is company, assurance, love, time, friendship- not a ‘thing’.

As Nichiren advised us, we must be careful in giving, “If a person’s throat is dry, what he needs is water; he has no use for bows and arrows, weapons and sticks. If a person is naked, he wants a suit of clothes but has no need for water. From one or two examples you can guess the principle that applies in general.” 

Price and value

I have been writing quite a bit in my new book about the value we ascribe to creative pursuits and what people are willing to pay for our creativity.  As creatives, we are bound by the money that customers will pay for our work.  Some things sell and some don’t.  As we saw the 888,246 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London in commemoration of the British lives lost in the First World War were all sold- they were reasonably priced and the work had sentimental value for each person who bought it.  The value of mass produced items can be enhanced through an association with an emotion.  Without that emotion, everything has Ikea value!

Oscar Wilde differentiated between the cynic and the sentimentalist, “What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn’t know the market place of any single thing.”

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This weekend, I was at my son’s school, running the book stall.  I decided to test the market by asking the customers what they would like to pay for the books instead of ascribing prices to it.  And I was most touched and gratified that people were incredibly generous about it, giving much more than I expected.  Yes, some people even took books for free but most paid well.  In the end, the book stall made nearly £100 for the school. So next time, appeal to the heart as well as the head when asking for money!

end of friendships

I have come to the conclusion that most friendships do not last a lifetime and nor should one expect them to.  People change and we change too.  People move and people die.  Friendships are transient, part of this world’s tumultuous life journey that come and go like waves  Of course, for the time that we are together, we should respect one another and thoroughly love that time together. But one must not feel sad to let go when that time comes to an end for whatever reason.  One must be grateful for that time spent together and not cling to the past.

Recently I celebrated a landmark birthday and I invited many past and present friends. I felt hurt that many of these friends did not come to this party (which had involved a lot of effort and expense) or even responded to my invite and even when I met them later, did not remember to wish me.  Rather than hold a grudge or make some remark to remind them of their rudeness, I decided to let go of these people gracefully. People come together for many reasons- shared goals, passions and pains.  When these emotions or events go, the people go as well.  For that time in history, they were of value to me and I to them. For now and for the future that has not yet happened, they mark an important period of shared learning and growth.  Thank you, my past and present friends!