Near the lodge in the late afternoon, I wandered to a hemlock bower on a secluded point. Pockets of multi-coloured needles lay between grey-green pillows of moss. The inlet was a silent diorama and rainbow lights shone on the distant shore. Below, two otters were sharing an otter joke which only they could get.
For some reason I’d brought my iPad. While thinking I might go back for my paints, I lazily opened the device and noticed a weak Wi-Fi signal. In a minute I was checking my mail. Madeleine Wood, a fellow painter from another part of Vancouver Island, had sent a link to a speech by John Cleese. “This came out of the blue,” she wrote.
“Why not,” I thought.
He’s a bit bombastic, John Cleese, and you can’t stop seeing Basil Fawlty, but his points in this older 35-minute video on creativity, based on his own experience, are authoritative.
“To be creative we need five conditions,” Cleese says. “Space, Time, Time, Confidence and Humour.” Yep, “Time” comes twice.
— Space away from your normal space — space to swing a cat. An open space — a place with the feeling and sensibility of play.
— Time in a significant and undisturbed dollop that also includes enough preparatory time to pass through our normally “closed” mode and into an “open” one.
— Time to take the further time it takes to get through the early, obvious ideas and ponder further into more original material.
— Confidence to allow spontaneity and audacity. To get properly into the creative mode, you need to pull up the tiresome anchor of reason. There are no mistakes, and nothing that you think or do in your confident state can, for the time being anyway, be wrong.
— Humour, because it relaxes, is also a bridge to the “open mode.” Deliberately useless ideas that arise with the use of humour do not in themselves solve problems but serve as stepping-stones to the greater creative ideas. Disparate elements, suddenly combining into something new, are the very root of humour–and disparate elements, suddenly combining into something new, are the root of creativity.
PS: “Creativity is not a talent; it’s a way of operating.” (John Cleese)
Esoterica: From my forest bed I had been briefly whisked to Vienna, where Cleese had been addressing a university crowd. Making notes on the back of last year’s fishing license, I transferred them to the notepad on my iPad — a device that, two hundred years ago, would have had me burned at the stake. I was at this very time in history a party to Google, YouTube, TED talks, Wikipedia and you-name-it online demo-doers, creators, inventors, professors, artists and funnymen who have taken the time to think about their arts. A brief gust of wind and more needles fell from the hemlocks. I had just seen education change forever.
John Cleese on Creativity
by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia
Thank you for posting the talk by John Cleese on Creativity. It was wonderful and most of us will know the truth of what he has said. His emphasis on time and space for creativity is pivotal. His claim that it may take half an hour or so for things to kick-in to the open creative mode is also a truth. One of the best ways to become mentally creative is to walk. It may take a little while for the cogs to get turning, but they most surely will when we are out on a walk. Walking and time spent on public transport are opportunities where nothing else is pressing but creative thought. Please, if anyone has not taken time to look at the John Cleese clip, please do, it could be a life-changer.
Abuse to animals
by Roberta Dunkel, Jefferson City, MO, USA
I always enjoy your articles and being very visual visualize what is being said. The phrase from Cleese’s article — “space to swing a cat” makes me think of a cat being swung by a tail and probably let go to flail out into space. It is an old saying — maybe it has another meaning and not about a cat but — it is an inhumane saying and one that encourages abuse to animals. To me it is not a creative message. How about space to give you elbow room — I often find my area closing in on me — and have to take time to clear it out so that I could have room to swing a large brush!!! or fling paint! You never hear about someone “swinging a dog” and I would not like that either if they did.
(RG note) Thanks, Roberta. Several people wrote complaining about my inappropriate allusion. I’ll use a more acceptable and less clichéd metaphor in the future. Also, I sent my personal apologies to all the cats who wrote.
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The new and the old
by Lisa Vihos, Sheboygan, WI, USA
I read ‘Out of the Blue’ today and I had to send you this poem I wrote about a year ago on the topic of iPads and the fact that they are wonderful, and that we also need the moments with the pine needles, otherwise we’d never get creative enough to make iPads.
iPads for Tots: “These toys are neat. The children love them.” (–a preschool teacher in Milwaukee)
On the topic of becoming real,
the plush toys know. This incipient state
is just around the corner of free will,
deep in the heart of the nursery, late.
When the child has nothing more than the dark,
dream’s door, and a velveteen friend to hold.
Today we let our charming gadgets speak
and push the child forward in a world
longing for buds on trees and imagination.
That fertile place, that hatch where iPads
may first have slipped to conscious thought. Don’t shun
these sparkly tools, these harbingers, these fads.
Let new be new, but let’s maintain the old, the frayed.
From the ragged edge comes love, human-made.
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Open and closed modes
by James Kissel, Canton MI, USA
Interesting comment regarding moving from ‘closed mode’ to ‘open mode.’
I’ve never encountered open-closed in relation to modes. I am familiar with open-closed compositions, and I have seen open-closed used in relation to shapes, values, and colours. Could you address open-closed modes of these and other ‘artistic’ thoughts?
(RG note) Thanks, James. Several others asked about this. John Cleese was talking about the relativity of “closed-minded” and “open-minded.” In our standard ways of going about our business we tend to use tried-and-true methodology and are generally closed off to more unusual ways of doing things. In the open-minded mode we are more likely to be experimental, risk-taking, off the wall, goofy, speculative, inventive with a sense of freedom to make mistakes. In fact, we may relish in making mistakes. In the open mode, which takes some people considerable effort to get into, there are no “wrongs.”
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Copying a portrait
by Patricia Lawton, Vernon, BC, Canada
I have been approached by a fellow in a quandary. He has a painting done by a local artist many years ago. It’s of his two very young, at the time, sons and each son now in their thirties would like to have it. So to solve this problem, he has asked me to do a copy of the painting so he can present one to each of his boys. I feel frustrated at the thought of doing a ‘replica’ of the painting; but I think that if I can do my own version and in my own painting style, that I could take it on with some satisfaction. Treating the original artist’s version much as a photograph of the whole scene.
But is it ethical even if the artist is deceased? I have no answer to this question and it troubles me.
(RG note) Thanks, Patricia. These sorts of requests cause nothing but anguish and often lead to disappointment in both artist and client. Tell the client you might consider doing your own version of the individual kids if there are sufficient old photos available that you can work from. Otherwise forget it.
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Colour stages of creativity
by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA
Many years ago someone tossed me a paperback about creativity listing the stages of creativity with color cues: At first there is the void — so the color is black. Then, the promise of creation — murky browns and grays. Then, the first glimmers and sparks and a deep glow as it is truly and definitely BORN — brown/red/gold and then to a true red. Next, our consciousness can finally get pro-active and the color glows from red/yellows to yellows to white hot and the THING is done!
My problem…I lost the book and this description is as close as I can remember it and as my own education in the color symbolisms takes me. Do you have any idea where the original story might be or have some ideas of it?
(RG note) Thanks Elle. I’ve never heard of that fanciful comparison, but maybe some of our readers have.
Afraid of being alone
by Eve Davila
A couple of weeks ago I said goodbye to my 14 year old dog Gizzy. His eyes and ears were failing him and he was both confused and frightened. Knowing it was my responsibility to do what was best for him, I decided it was time to let him go.
The next morning, sitting on my window seat and looking down on the river, a Great Egret appeared with the usual Great Blue Herons. I’d been thinking about Gizzy, how he’d been one of a kind. All that he’d taught me as we lived together and worked together doing pet therapy for more than 10 years. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the Egret, a new visitor to our part of the river.
Days later I received a sympathy card signed by many friends. They’d meant well and I love them for thinking of me, but the drawing on the front of the card brought tears to my eyes. The print was of a little dog, alone, walking away. Gizzy had become afraid of being alone.
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An instrument of war?
by Jane E Ward, Crosby, TX, USA
We are deep into the mudslinging, silly season of an election year here in the US and I find it extremely frustrating and distracting as every day I get more and more e-mails and robo calls asking me to respond in some way, usually by donating my hard earned money.
I just read this Pablo Picasso quote and it got me to thinking that perhaps I should instead respond through my art, although normally my art has very little to do with politics.
“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes if he’s a painter, or ears if he’s a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he’s a poet, or even if he’s a boxer, just his muscles? On the contrary, he’s at the same time a political being, constantly alive to heartrending, fiery or happy events, to which he responds in every way. How would it be possible to feel no interest in other people and by virtue of an ivory indifference to detach yourself from the life which they so copiously bring you? NO, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war for attack and defense against the enemy.”
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pastel painting 8 x 11 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Amanaa Rendall of Facebook who wrote, “Painting is made up of painting, looking and considering. It is meditative and engages the soul.”
And also Johnson Oladesu of Ota, Ogun State, Nigeria, who wrote, “I teach Drawing and Painting in Olabisi Onabanjo University Ago-Iwoye. It has always been my dream to travel to meet painter friends overseas and experience some professional practice and new skills.
Enjoy the past comments below for Out of the blue…