It has taken most of my life to understand the conditions that best support me as a creative being. In the absence of this knowledge I have often felt ungrounded and unsure. Finding it has made me at once more stable and more free.
Here’s what I know for sure, based on decades of study and personal experience.
I require long periods of solitude during which time I let my mind wander. I daydream and imagine. I meditate. I free-write and collage and make sketches. I pose myself intriguing questions and do my best to answer them. I stare at walls and lie in the backyard with my eyes closed listening to birdsong. I go for long walks and swim lengths and do nothing at all.
I’m an explorer at heart and love nothing better than to go “walkabout” through strange or familiar environments. I wander used book stores and art galleries, eavesdrop on conversations in cafes, go to movies and plays and concerts and festivals of all kinds. I’ve volunteered at the Havelock Jamboree and canoed with Wild Women. I’ve chanted in sweat lodges, skinny dipped in Norwegian fiords, watched the sun rise and set from my perch inside the rim of the Grand Canyon, climbed rock faces and repelled back down again. On expedition I encounter the world, close up and personal. The goal of any exploration is that experience of being alive that Joseph Campbell said we are all looking for. I take a little black book with and write what I see and hear and think and feel and wonder as I go. This is about being able to see the world. And also to be surprised.
I could easily spend my whole life in a back and forth between contemplation and exploration. Between experiencing life and thinking about it. But I have learned that my greatest satisfaction comes from integrating my thoughts and experiences and giving them form in an artistic medium, whether it be a blog or book or film or performance. When I come into the workshop and ask myself what I want to make of everything that I have seen and thought, an idea always begins to form in response. The philosopher Rollo May used to say that passion love form. That’s been my own experience. The hard part is to get myself into the workshop and stay there through the sometimes frustrating experience of translating the vision I hold in my imagination to something I can hold in my hand
The fourth quadrant is exhibition. The time comes when I must take my new creation out of the workshop and present it to the world. I feel most vulnerable at this stage as I open myself and the work up to feedback. There is a mix of anticipation (I hope they like it) and dread (What if they hate it?). A mix of pride (I made this) and shame (It is not quite as wonderful as I hoped it would be). I try not to be too attached; to remember that I am not my work. I focus on the work as contribution; something for others to encounter on their own expeditions. The role of the artists to help the world see themselves and the world in new ways.
Over time I have adopted a set of creative practices that support me in each quadrant. When I make space for each one and move between them in an easy flow I am happy and productive and my work is original and meaningful.
Three morals in this story:
- Creativity arises out of a specific set of conditions and practices.
- In order to become more creative it is necessary that you contemplate more deeply, explore more widely, create new things more consistently and exhibit more openly.
- It doesn’t matter where you start, it matters more that you keep moving once you do, and not get stuck in any one quadrant for too long.
Yours with creativity and imagination,
see also: The 10 Step Creative Process
To see how the creative process maps to a business context, reference this article on The Innovator’s DNA which appeared in The Harvard Business Review.