Out of the blue

Dear Artist, 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. Best regards, Robert 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   Life-changing video by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia  

“Semaphore shade”
acrylic painting
by Mike Barr

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  

“Winter Beauty”
by Roberta Dunkel

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. There are 13 comments for Abuse to animals by Roberta Dunkel
From: Anonymous — Aug 03, 2012

How about “swing a paintbrush”, Robert? It’s inanimate, and can’t meow. ;-)

From: Robert Groves — Aug 03, 2012

No need to apologize to cat lovers or cats. The term “cat” in this saying refers to the nine-tailed whip used in the British Navy to flog an errant sailor. Nothing to do with cats of the feline variety.

From: Anonymous — Aug 03, 2012

Thanks, Robert Groves! I’ve always wondered about, and disliked this. Now I can say “Room to swing a cat-o-nine-tails”. (Still pretty cruel to the errant sailor).

From: Sherry P. — Aug 03, 2012

I find it amusing that so many people take old sayings and turn them into realities. Robert, I didn’t take offense, and yes I have a cat I like a lot, but I cannot imagine swinging her or anything else by its tail. I think everyone just needs to not be soooooooo serious.

From: Anonymous — Aug 03, 2012

The whip makes a lot of sense. . .swinging a real cat wouldn’t give you nearly enough room!

From: Andrea — Aug 03, 2012

I always liked this old saying, it makes me laugh! People don’t have a sense of humour anymore.

From: Anonymous — Aug 03, 2012

Isn’t flogging an errant sailor a bit nasty?

From: M Bottaro — Aug 03, 2012

I immediately thought of “swinging a tiger by the tail”, an action that would require super human strength and courage if one were to actually attempt it, much less accomplish it. Of course swinging a tiger could really only happen if the tiger were sedated or dead and if one were to use some kind of mechanical swinger device. So, I didn’t take offense! Besides, most of us learn early in life not to perceive colloquialisms as absolute directives.

From: Catherine Robertson — Aug 04, 2012

Just read the email now. Don’t change, Robert. You’re just fine.

From: Ed M — Aug 04, 2012

Please don’t listen to Roberta and don’t apologize. Your writings and metaphors are fine. Negative people will always find something to complain about.

From: Nancy Cantelon, Port McNeill — Aug 04, 2012

Robert, just write the way you think. ‘Acceptable’ and ‘appropriate’ language sounds very dull to me, and it sure doesn’t smack of creative thought.

From: Mike Barr — Aug 06, 2012

The politically correct brigade are on the march everywhere. The majority of us took no offence at all.

From: Hugo — Aug 06, 2012

Interesting, the cat has all sorts of defenders – but the poor sailor, ah let ’em get flogged!

  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. There is 1 comment for The new and the old by Lisa Vihos
From: Evelyn Aung-Thwin — Aug 03, 2012

Lisa, I absolutely love your poem. And agree with the sentiments you express. Thanks.

  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.” There is 1 comment for Open and closed modes by James Kissel
From: Ron Ruble — Aug 03, 2012

RG: I hope that you wouldn’t mind me quoting your answer to James beginning in “In our standard ways…..”. I am presently into some new technical methods combining scanning my drawings and making “composites” of several to create new themes. The purists out here are digging in their heels in their acceptance and just don’t want to open their minds to ideas that don’t meet the staus quo. I find what you say here is applicable to my feelings exactly. Thanks, Ron

  Copying a portrait by Patricia Lawton, Vernon, BC, Canada  

watercolour painting
by Patricia Lawton

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. There are 5 comments for Copying a portrait by Patricia Lawton
From: Donna Dickson — Aug 03, 2012

Why not get a good quality giclee made of the original.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Aug 03, 2012

Having a professional photograph done and giving each son his own copy is the only answer…One that would be approved by Solomon. I once did a portrait of 5 children… the mother hung it over her bed! With careful planning, a portrait of more than one child could be done as several paintings hung together as a collage that could be separated for each child when the time came.

From: Jackie Knott — Aug 03, 2012

I’ve solved that problem with both my daughters wholehearted agreement: my will states my self portrait goes to daughter #1, and one I’m doing of their father this year will go to daughter #2. Every five years they have to swap out. If one or the other fails to honor that agreement, the one “without” gets both. Please pass this on to your prospective client – he’s placed you in a no-win situation and he’s not going to make his sons happy either. As a portrait artist, please do not do a copy of this fine painting.

From: Anonymous — Aug 04, 2012

Erm … Jackie – the painting above is one of Patricia’s. The client has two sons.

From: Jackie Knott — Aug 04, 2012

I wondered …. looks like a little girl on the right to me. ;-) I didn’t know if there was a miscommunication within the emails or not. Thanks. That being the case, Patricia, that is a fine double portrait!

  Colour stages of creativity by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA  

“Aztec Icon”
watercolour painting
by Elle Fagan

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. There are 3 comments for Afraid of being alone by Eve Davila
From: Ruth Spooner — Aug 03, 2012

Remember the Great Egret………

From: Ron Ruble — Aug 03, 2012

Your note brought tears running down my cheeks. I am 77 years old and have lost many wonderful pets like Gizzy, dogs, cats, horses and ponies. I think of them as not being alone , but having a great play day with other animals of their kind, patiently waiting for us to come by to fetch them.

From: Linda Harbin — Aug 03, 2012

I too lost my little companion this spring, a westie named Samson. He’d been losing his eyesight for a year, so he learned to come to my voice and trust me to walk him slowly. But his hearing sharpened, so he barked to “protect” us both. His heart stopped one night during his sleep – sparing me the “decision of when to let him go.” How scary it must have been for Gizzy to lose both his eyesight and hearing. Your decision to let him go was made with love and compassion, yet knowing how much you would miss him. I too believe that our fur babies little souls join the others we have let go and are never alone again. Some days I hear the purring of my beloved cat JD in my studio, and remember how he loved to watch me paint. I still talk to JD and Samson because I feel they are still around. I hope your sweet memories of Gizzy will ease your pain.

  An instrument of war? by Jane E Ward, Crosby, TX, USA  

“A Perfect day”
oil painting
by Jane E Ward

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.” There are 2 comments for An instrument of war? by Jane E Ward
From: Sarah Taylor — Aug 02, 2012

Wow! That is very good food for thought. Gives me a sense that art could comment and lead in a kinder and less inflammatory way than words.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Aug 03, 2012

I LOVE THE IMAGES OF WINSTON CHURCHILL AT HIS EASEL. I sometimes think that if these politicos had to draw, they would draw stick figures.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Out of the blue

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jul 31, 2012

I absolutly DO NOT have enough time right now to sit and watch John Cleese- so thanks for the RD Condensed version! I’m on a 3-day countdown to FirstFriday- a 10-day countdown to my August 11th 5th Studio Anniversary/59th Birthday Party and a 13-day coundown to my Lecture in Westminster Colorado. And of course- I’m ahead of schedule and almost finished putting it all together! Because I never leave anything to the last minute- because there are always last minute things to do at the last minute. Studio Info: Saturday August 11th- 280 Galapago- Denver CO- 5 to 8 PM- Hangout Vibe- 8 PM to whenever- Hot Night Music. I used to be a DJ. And you’re welcome to come- but RSVP: 720-290-5638 Lecture Info: FRCQ Meeting Monday August 13- 7 to 9 PM- 10455 Sheridan Blvd- Westminster City Park Rec Center- $10.00 non-members. Of course- here’s a little humor- part of my lecture performance- should be called ‘A Stitch in Time’… So do you want to call the police on me? No! I know! Let’s call the Quilt Police! (Now as an aside- I posted a version of this online several years ago just before getting thrown off the artquilt chatgroup for being- you know- toxic.) Dear Quilt Police- wherever you may be! I find I have some questions! Who are the Quilt Police people keep talking about? Have I ever met one? Do they wear disguises? Articles of pieced clothing? Bullet-proof padded vests? Are QPs male- or female? Or are they gender-neutral QPs? Cause I’m sure they’re not anatomically-correct QPs! Are they here to serve and Quilt-Protect, being warm and fuzzy, or are they covered with water-colored-down pastel flowers? Are they coming to get me? ho ho ha ha he he- oh whatever… Will they throw me in a padded cell? I’ve been quoted saying I’m producing maniacally… so I must be maniacal! And why might they be coming to get me? Because I’ve thrown down the gauntlet of a Quilt Challenge? Am I insane? What was I thinking? And what Quilt Crime have I committed? Oh that’s right! I challenged people to THINK! I forgot! That’s the worst Quilt Crime anyone could commit! Will I hear them coming? What kind of Sirens are they? And where will I be taken for Quilt Questioning? Will they put me under natural light, or that evil fluorescent kind that washes out all my color so I’m no longer color-correct! And if I’m sent to Quilt Jail, will I be put behind bar tacks? And what will happen to my feed dogs? And what if I have to do a Stitch-In-Time??? Because no one living in the Land of Quilt, where everything is cotton, except those viscous embellishments, is going to want that! Oh my God, I embellished something with 105 steel washers! They’ll get me for sure!

From: Suzanne — Jul 31, 2012

That was delightful. Thank you for sharing the John Cleese video. It was exactly what I needed to hear at the right time.

From: Julie Eliason — Jul 31, 2012

And yet to catch the intuitive insight, I need to trust the first thought before I water it down with truth blocking defenses.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jul 31, 2012

I think that it is fascinating how the internet has in parallel enabled almost unrestricted social and intellectual extravaganza. I wonder how that will evolve.

From: Paula Timpson — Jul 31, 2012

a way of Being is born talent, creating Spirit~!

From: Jan Albertin — Jul 31, 2012

Thank you for the video of John Cleese on creativity. Fits in fine with my play at this time and my need for play validation. Painting in boats makes for a nice kind of looseness don’t you think? I am working on some illustrations for a child’s way of seeing and this was a perfect boost to a long day of constant simplification … as we age we clutter and accumulate. It is nice to go back and see gaps again.

From: Mark Wallin — Jul 31, 2012

Never want to disparage another Art Center alumni, but burned at the stake 200 years ago is stretching it. Maybe 400 years.

From: Sylvia Smart — Jul 31, 2012

I write fiction – and my writers’ group loves your Twice Weekly letters – because the only difference between a fiction writer and a painter or sculptor is the medium. We paint our pictures with words inside of our heads and transfer them to a tangible record. You take those pictures from inside of your head and transfer them to the canvas, the sculpture or some artistic composition. Your letter this week is particularly appropriate for a fiction writer. The most important aspect of these observations is “time” – writing truly original fiction and bringing the characters to life, takes time – lots of time – time to breath. A manuscript that doesn’t “breath” becomes stale and one-dimensional.

From: doris — Jul 31, 2012

What a wonderful tape of John Cleese. He has been one of my favorite Brits. for a long time. His humor is outragious and wounderfully creative. I loved every moment of his presentation on creativity, to me he said it all in such, as only he can do, a humerous and yet on target..who we are and what we can be.

From: Melissa Sciumbata — Aug 01, 2012

After following some uplifting suggestions, I write out of enthusiasm. I read your letter as often as I can. I am painting more on a regular basis and have joined in with 2 other artists to paint once a week. It has been a good camaraderie as we are all so different in our approach. It is not a club, no fees, just a few artists that get together to sling paint, work together, share ideas and support.

From: Nic Van Wart — Aug 01, 2012

This site is a clearing house for great information. The John Cleese video was extremely valuable and confirmed a lot of things I had been thinking.

From: Edmond W. Rice — Aug 01, 2012

Yes, education is changing, but the trouble with gaining all this knowledge on line is nobody gives you a degree for accessing Wikipedia. Some fields still require a piece of paper. Art does not seem to be one of those fields. In fine art you either develop the skills or you do not. Paper does not always cut it.

From: Richard Cummings — Aug 01, 2012

“Confidence to allow spontaneity and audacity.” Success generally gives this confidence.

From: Gloria Miller Allen — Aug 02, 2012

Thank you for that John Cleese video….WOW

From: Linda Rydman — Aug 02, 2012

I have been happily reading your letters for sometime now and it is time I say “thanks thanks thanks” You make my week.

From: Bill Kerr — Aug 02, 2012

You have confirmed, even strengthened, my practice of keeping a painting close by and in view during the day to day stumbling around my place for casual and sometimes serious observation. Usually the painting gets some rework based on the post-it notes I attach in my critique sessions. Then it gets its final frame and makes its way to a sale or a show.

From: Eugene Lassiter — Aug 02, 2012

In the series, “Fawlty Towers,” when Cleese was at the top of his form, the producers gave the director a great deal more than the average amount of time to produce a series. The result was that Cleese and his team workshopped and reworked the material to squeeze every last bit of juice out of the situations. The result was thirteen episodes of comedy masterpiece.

From: Gordon Howard — Aug 02, 2012

The great thing about videos such as that of Cleese on Creativity, as compared with lectures in classrooms, is that you can replay it for further understanding. Thank you.

From: Ellen Barnett — Aug 02, 2012

Such wonderful comments from John Cleese. In my experience, creativity happens when abandonment in preciousness is happening. When I am doing a painting for paints sake and refrain from preciousness.

     Featured Workshop: Liz Wiltzen
080312_robert-genn Liz Wiltzen workshops Held in Kimberley, BC, Canada   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order. 

Color Abstraction

pastel painting, 8 x 11 inches by Bill Hogue, USA

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