This morning, Rita E. Acuna of Philadelphia, PA, wrote, “I think I would have preferred not to be gifted with creativity. I had found a true soulmate. He was a pilot, a man of high intellect, who wrote the most extraordinary poetry for and about me. He could communicate and share his deepest thoughts and feelings to me. And I lost him. I was careless, my fault. So sad. I would appreciate your thoughts as to the selfishness, demands and impracticality of being creative in a practical world as it relates to the great loves of our lives.”
Thanks, Rita. Good question. I don’t know enough about your particular situation to know whether it was your creativity that caused your pilot to take off — but I do have a few thoughts on the dark side of creativity. Many of us are focused to such a degree that it’s easy to become inconsiderate of others. After all, the sun rises and sets on us, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s the “law of opposite effect” — sensitivity, believe it or not, can breed insensitivity — a rotten thing for the near and dear. Fact is, art-love competes with human love. And art-lovers can drive their significant others to drink. Serially.
The good news is that it’s not either/or. Many of the successful creators that I know tend rather to keep their creativity bottled up. This way it doesn’t get on others’ nerves, and it may also be good for the muse. While it’s all a wonderful riddle, quiet, creative action should be the main currency. This leaves plenty of time for being nice. Both personal art and human relationships can be mystical unions that exact the highest of standards.
My advice is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Being big in art need not mean being small in life. Historically, many artists have left trails of hurt and fields of broken dreams. But these “enfant terribles” with all their rough edges may be an outworn myth. Rita mentioned “selfish, demanding and impractical.” In my books art doesn’t have to be any of these. Actually, it’s the flip side — unselfish, undemanding of others, and dedicated practicality — that make us the interesting and attractive folks that we are. For those who would venture into the wonder of art-making, it’s important not to confuse the valuable “child-like approach” with common, garden-variety immaturity.
PS: “The heart of creativity is an experience of the mystical union; the heart of the mystical union is an experience of creativity.” (Julia Cameron)
Esoterica: Rita’s cup bubbles over. “Every day I’m reborn,” she writes, “because of the creative process and the use of its gifts. Every breath I take, every sight I see is a miracle to appreciate and enjoy. It renews the creative spirit that plays within my soul and being.” Brilliant as this sentiment is, sometimes it’s difficult for others to live with. Personally, I think it has to do with “art envy,” — something I’ve been meaning to discuss with Sigmund Freud. It’s pretty hard to beat this all-encompassing joy. “Creativity,” says therapist Eric Maisel, “is the gift that keeps on giving.”
People, art and self
by Nancy Green, Torrey, UT, USA
Creativity and love surely come from the same source, and I believe that both have no boundaries. Both are large enough to encompass — and contribute to — artwork and human-relationship work. It all depends on how we use them. In the mornings, as I start my day, I remind myself of my purpose: to use my whole being, every day, to walk in beauty and truth, to make beautiful paintings, to share beauty (of all kinds) with others, and to nurture loving relationships. The latter (the relationships) are not only with other people, but with my art and with myself. To share the miracle.
by Jeanne Long, Minneapolis, MN, USA
My husband went kayaking and in the group was an artist who drove everyone nuts with her constant observations about beauty and her concomitant drive to record it with paint. They were put off by her identification with the creative process. I think that’s what gets those of us who work at making art into trouble. It’s when we take credit for the process instead of being one with it. When we are one with it, like you said it’s usually a quiet, albeit intense thing, full and rich and it bubbles forth without a lot of accolades from ourselves or without needing a lot from others. When we’re not one with the process we think too much, talk too much, and we brag. Everyone around us gags.
Not a dark force
by John Burk, Baltimore, MD, USA
I don’t find creativity to be a dark force in me or associate artists, though it certainly has been in some historically. Like you, I feel an artist and painter can bring enthusiasm, passion, sensitivity and uniqueness to a relationship, that grows out of a hyper-interest in surroundings and a natural love of beauty — light, color, form, arrangement. An artist feels things largely. I’ve been married for 41 years. I’ve been an artist longer than that, and make my living at it. I’ve been a painter for less time, but find it to have become a passion, and a rewarding one. I drive my wife nuts looking for ‘opportunities,’ I’m certain, and in the time I take to make something of them. I think she understands and appreciates these qualities. In spite of the potential for greater riches she would be less happy married to a businessman.
by Sue Steiner, Dalton, OH, USA
I am new to art and painting but not creativity. I am in my 40s and have been painting for about 1 1/2 years and am enjoying the outlet. I do though look back on my life and can see how I have let my ‘creative thinking’ spill out at times in an uncontrolled gush! Sometimes this has been wonderful and other times not. I have yet to find the switch to turn it on and turn it off. For me this gush just appears big as life in some of the most interesting places. Please tell how one might bottle up and direct one’s creativity.
(RG note) Thanks, Sue. Too much gush neutralizes the need to do. Not verbalizing is a creative ploy. The idea is to have the creativity emerge through one’s chosen tools.
by Michele Rushworth, Seattle, WA, USA
Could you elaborate on the concept of “art envy” that you mentioned at the end of today’s letter. It has had a major impact on my family life and I’m sure on others’ too.
(RG note) Thanks, Michele. People are wary of magicians. They are also jealous of those who have uncommon powers. Artists, in the same way, are often the subject of hidden or overt envy. Maybe that’s why people like to see us poor and dysfunctional. It’s been my experience that this art envy can be neutralized by allowing one’s innate ordinariness to shine through. Standard dysfunction in public also confirms their suspicions and puts them more at ease.
Sunday in the Park with George
by Carol Jessen, St. Louis, MO, USA
Having to choose how to spend our time — with loved ones or in creating art — is one of the major themes of Sunday in the Park With George, the musical about Georges Seurat, starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters. In the first act, George reflects on this very dilemma in the song “Finishing the Hat.” It’s worth a look if you’ve ever suspected that people look at artists as aloof, selfish, and preoccupied with their art to the exclusion of relationships. A serious issue for serious artists.
>Work dedicated to persons loved
by Lilian Valladares, Belgium & Switzerland
Art and love is the ultimate lifestyle. I can’t separate my personal life from my work. I would not say that my personal life was an easy task. Neither for my partners. I believe, since very young, that my entire life would be connected with art, even if a utopian idea, I try making my life a work of art. Liking it or not, my partners became enrolled into it. This left hurts and wounds all around, either a precious sense of lushness and fulfillment, that I am sure, went unforgettable. My work was always dedicated to love and to the persons I loved. Deeply and gently I spoke with images about being a daughter, lover, wife, mother, and partner… about the life we lived together. There was no technique to take away from living life, the fact of working with art, or vice versa. Trusting in love and living it made my life as an artist a condition sine qua non for being fully alive and in one piece. Love became the material and blueprint of art-making, and the best thesis for living life itself. Another such was Jacqueline. She could not live without the love and art from Picasso, and she went nuts, and chose to leave this world. On the other hand, Chagall was driven quite mad tearing up canvases when his dear wife was gone forever.
Love and art blossom
by Tanis Alexis Laird, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I was hoping to hear of how creativity and love go hand in hand. One creates the other. Without the true love I have in my life, I wouldn’t be creating art. Without the art in my life I would not have been open to the love I was being offered from the amazing man in my life. They blossom together. I don’t think holding down the creativity inside you, and trying not to ‘annoy’ others with it, is good advice. Why not create? Why not express the love and passion of your insides to the outside, whether you are around those that love you or not? The man that I love encourages me, loves to be around my work, and respects me enough to know my boundaries.
Benefits of the single life
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, FL, USA
I struggled for years to find and maintain a loving relationship, with no success. Three divorces later, there’s no one left to blame but me. I don’t mind being single most of the time. Even with no special man in my life, the world has a lot to offer. I get to do a lot of things that probably wouldn’t be possible if I was married. I am free to travel, and play the drums in a band, and paint all night if the painting is going well. It would be easy to blame art for my solitary life, if I wanted to look at it that way. But I prefer to think of the life I live now as a gift that art has given me. Not necessarily what I would have picked out for myself, but truly wonderful. As an artist, searching for truth in the visual world, I have learned how to be true to myself.
Languages of love
by Patricia Kyle, Kelowna, BC, Canada
What Rita talks about may have less to do with art and creativity, but rather the language of love — how we express it to the ‘other.’ I’ve just discovered The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and while it may not be the definitive work on love and language, it is interesting and practical. Each of us has our own ‘love language’ — what we need to feel loved, and have our emotional tanks filled. If we don’t know what ours is, or what our partner’s is, we can miss the boat. We may be offering love from our perspective, but it may not be received or felt as love if our partner’s love language is different.
Start making pancakes
by Gerrit Verstraete, Gabriola Island, BC, Canada
It is paramount for artists to keep their feet on the ground of humanity, that is people, every day. It’s a myth that creativity finds its expression in secluded hideaway studio retreats where the “poor misunderstood sensitive artiste must claw his or her way through the dysfunctional torment of the creative spirit.” Humbug. The cure? Spend a part of your week serving people of all ages. I spend two hours every Monday morning doing small sketches of people in a coffee shop engaging in many a conversation. Having just started volume 9 (the other 8 volumes of 1200 pages in total highlight over 5000 faces), life is about relationships. If good art is to remain good medicine for the human spirit, it must remain firmly rooted in our relationships and not in the “high art” of curatorial criticism, where relationships are discarded for the sake of abstract archival critique that seldom touches anyone but in the intellect. And we know where intellect has gotten the human race. I spend regular time in art with children at the local elementary school and I serve in the community on the board of the Hope Centre where I’m also known as “the pancake man,” with plenty of time left to devote to my drawing and painting. I’m not boasting, only illustrating my point. Creativity has a nasty habit of self-exaltation, fueled by the notion that “nobody understands me.” If that’s true then I’m just a lousy communicator. Art is communication. To be humble and creative is almost an oxymoron. So clean your brushes, take that paint-stained shirt off, get out of the studio and start making some great pancakes. It’ll nourish your creative spirit a whole lot more than you think.
Hand out the chocolates
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
Love is humoral estrogene/androgene influenced activity. Art-love is endorphine influenced activity. And when love creates an endorphines level increase — the art-caused source of endorphines must be connected, but not separated from source of love-caused endorphines. Chocolate is the bridge for connecting of both above mentioned endorphine sources. Among many kinds of loves is existing also the love to not separate man from thing, but love to all Mankind and Earth. It is moving factor in the new, saner evolution.
Permission to get carried away
by Laury Ravenstein, Port Coquitlam, BC, Canada
Being an artist makes my life one big art project. I raise my kids with a passionate and creative soul. I plan special times with my husband using a soft gentle touch of loving creativity. Creativity comes into how I might deal with a frustrated person, or deal even with my own roadblocks. Life constantly sends dilemmas our way, and how we respond to each determines what the outcome will be. The best gift I give to others who see me passionately involved in my projects, is the unspoken permission for them to get carried away. If more people allowed themselves to forget about the kitchen floors and do something fun and creative the world would be a better place.
Conflict of our competing sensitivities
by Frank Kliewer
No sooner had I read this morning’s email than I found myself in a related situation. My wife, Mary, had fixed my breakfast and announced it was ready. When I went into the kitchen, I noticed that she was still preparing her breakfast. Trying to be sensitive to the romantic ideal of us eating together, I said I would wait until her food was also ready. She protested, but I went back to work anyway. When Mary’s food was ready and on the table, the announcement was that mine was getting cold. During breakfast we discussed the conflict of our competing sensitivities. She wanted to give me the gift of warm food right away; I wanted us to eat together. No right or wrong here, just differing viewpoints.
A loving relationship understands there will be conflicts. We must not allow these inevitable conflicts to mushroom out of proportion by demanding that one of us is right and the other is wrong. We must recognize we both desire to be sensitive and caring and make that fact the basis, not of conflict, but of joy and appreciation.
by Kirk Wassell, Chino Hills, CA, USA
Ironically, nothing is ever really lost. It is within this perception of loss that there is a profound lesson. Love just happens to be one of those experiences that is utterly exciting and yet at times most bewildering; certainly not too different from our own personal experience of art, as it is created, observed and contemplated — a process we consciously put ourselves through. It is a choice we artists make, that is not too unlike love, where we find ourselves venturing into a realm of total vulnerability as we display our art/love.
The greatest challenge we face comes in pressing on with a deeper understanding of what we have learned from our reactions to this experience, for it was most likely our reactions that had the greatest affect upon the outcome. Quite often our reactivity is a catalyst for many of life’s changes that we experience. And quite often we place responsibility on others due to our lack of understanding regarding the effects of our own reactivity. Life, like art, is a continual lesson. It demands that we pay attention, keeping pace with the changes that stimulate us and hopefully educate us. In the end, all we can hope for is the ability to continually appreciate and experience those priceless lessons.
Wiser and more appreciative
by Matt Welch, Decatur, AL, USA
As an artist, happily married 28 years with two full grown sons, I realized early on that a balanced perspective was needed to feed all my loves. In the early years of our marriage, prior to children, this balance was achieved through a mutual agreement that my talent would be used to fill the empty walls of our home. When the boys arrived, the mutual agreement was to use my talent to surround them with art related to their childhood perceptions. As we, and they, grew older the mutual agreement was to create sources and outlets geared towards the development of my art. While on these early paths, I still managed to keep the juices flowing and the gears well oiled. By viewing my talent through the eyes of the boys and my wife, I discovered new pathways for my own creativity, and have become a wiser and more appreciative artist.
Birds of a feather
by Helena Tiainen, Berkeley, CA, USA
Good relationships breed good art. Since one cannot take the artist out of their art, everything in the artist’s life experience becomes part of their art. Whether consciously or subconsciously. Creativity can enhance one’s relationships and enrich them. But not everyone is compatible with the creative types. People who are very intellectually oriented may have a problem with relating to the free, intuitive flow of creativity. It has been my experience that creative types get along best with other creative types. The field of creativity is not as important as the creative approach towards life. A scientist can also be extremely creative and the best ones definitely fit this description. But an artist cannot be long in a relationship with a person who does not appreciate their art and what it takes to create it. This would be a slow death to the artistic soul.
by Cathie Harrison, Atlanta, GA, USA
I have the very good fortune of having a spouse who has tolerated and embraced my commitment to my work and my intense, often chaotic, approach to not just my painting, but life in general. I don’t think it is that we artists are such unique (talented) individuals that the rest of the world must handle us like fine crystal. I think anyone who is deeply interested in and passionate about anything can be hard to live with. Number one, you have to get their attention away from what they love doing before you can engage them in anything. I do stop occasionally and reflect on what it must be like to live with me and I’m not sure I would tolerate it. Here is the short list:
- Spends lots of money on endless supplies.
- Leaves stuff all over the place.
- Gets so excited about something visual that she must stop immediately and discuss it.
- Takes coed trips with all sorts of interesting characters.
- Is bi-lingual, but not in a useful way (Speaks English and Art).
- Refuses to sell her best work, which would help pay for #1.
- Asks for really odd, hard to find Christmas gifts like an EasyL pochade box.
- Goes for long periods without painting and just talks about painting.
- House and car smell of turpenoid and paint.
- No supper on good painting days.
Anger produces best work
by Ann Jackson, WY, USA
My husband and I have been separated for almost 2 years now. He swears that I do my best work when I’m mad at him, which happens often by the way. It’s a long standing joke that he was put on this earth to keep me angry enough to eventually create a masterpiece. Yeah right. I do believe he has touched part of the issue though. It’s the emotional intensity, whether its anger or joy or sadness, that tends to bring out the best in me. Even when I’m not working with my art, I tend to be a very emotional person. Some find it very hard to live with a person whose emotions are always somersaulting. I’ve learned to channel those emotions into my art and spare my family somewhat.
When my husband and I were first married, I was blissfully painting away and in art school. However, I also wanted a family. When I became pregnant with our first child, I naturally assumed that I would put our child in daycare and continue on with my classes and painting. However, when the baby came, I realized that I could not be this “selfish” and chose instead to put my painting on hold to raise my baby. Then the second child came, and years went by without my so much as picking up a brush, because I felt that by doing so, I would become so engulfed in creating, that my family would suffer. It wasn’t until the last few years that I started painting again, while the children are in school. I still struggle, however, with the concept that I am being self-consumed with my art, and I have a tendency to put it on the back burner in order to make sure that my family is well cared-for, which they most assuredly are. Healthy and happy. But I suffer from constant frustration at not being able to express my creativity. My husband and boys are very supportive of my painting and encourage me constantly to go into the studio to work. I am blessed to have these understanding, loving people in my life.
I also have another issue with creativity, though. I have a relative with whom I trained, who is a very well-known artist and who shall remain nameless. I grew up with this enormously talented, flamboyant, exotic person who also happened to be the world’s most selfish, narcissistic and difficult woman ever created. I lived with her for a time, and was completely turned off by her attitude towards other people. She is practically a hermit and over the years has become just plain mean. Her art comes first. Period. She is rude and unbelievably selfish. As a result, this has pushed all of her friends and relatives away. She is bitter that the world hasn’t given her as much notoriety as she feels she deserves. In her mind, she is the only artist in the world who is a “real” artist. This is difficult to overcome. This has been my only example throughout life as to how an artist should be, if you are a “real” artist. So, therefore, I push painting to the side to make sure that the people in my life feel loved and nurtured, to my own detriment. I don’t paint enough because I am afraid of turning into her. I don’t want that.
Balancing your creativity with your love is not an easy task. It’s like turning on and off a light switch, and at times this can make one crazy. My dream is to have, say, an entire week all to myself where I don’t have to do laundry, or go to the grocery store, or take care of anyone, so that I can fully throw myself into painting and feel like I have accomplished something. But ultimately, even though I am frustrated half the time, I have a loving, wonderful family, and that is perhaps my greatest work of art so far.
He loves me
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2005.
That includes Janet Badger who wrote, “Making something with my hands expresses my inner self, involves all levels, distracts me from the difficulties of life ‘out there’ for long and lovely lengths of time. If everyone could make a space in their life for the pure fun of working with their hands to create, the world would be a happier place.”
And also Mike Fitts of El Dorado, Arkansas who wrote, “A painting may hang on the wall and be admired. ‘A great painter,’ they may say; but in the long run, it is family, friends, and lovers who must conclude if the painter was a loving human being. I think we paint because we love it, but loving others is a much higher calling.”
And Diane Courant of Belfast, Maine who wrote, “Our culture sends a screwball message to approve of ‘neurotic’ artists as the norm — “Well, he’s an artist. What did you expect?” Yours is the sane reply. The big job of a grown-up is to be a grown-up — artist, pilot or plumber.”
And also Kathy Legg of Lethbridge, Alberta who wrote, “As Christmastime celebrations approach and my four sons return from the far corners of the world, I find myself both eager to see them and catch up on their lives and at the same time resenting the interruption of focused studio time. Your reminder of what I really believe about ‘people before projects’ could not have been better timed!”
And Maureen Hoskinson of Bellevue, NE who wrote, “My time is now. It is humbling to realize that the ‘my’ could not have been without the ‘we.’ I am grateful to have lived my life with a soulmate who I know will always be with me. I would wish this for everyone.”
And also Jamie Lavin of Gardner, Kansas who wrote, “I have often thought how close we are in behavior to moths attracted to the flame. Trying not to burn out too quickly is apparently the key.”
And William Newcomb of St. Louis, MO who wrote, “No matter how important your art or your career is to you, it doesn’t trump the fact that you are part of us and we need to be decent and civilized with each other and maintain our empathy for those who are alive with us at this moment in the universe.”
And also Marty Gibson of Scottsdale, Arizona who wrote, “Shifting roles have taught me that if you truly value your relationship with a significant other, you must make time and love a priority.”
And also Sigal Blaauw of Zurich, Switzerland who wrote, “Nonsense! I once dated a pilot. They are full of themselves.”