Fantastic Games: Thoughts on Creativity

The following is a piece of writing I found on my computer from early this year. I wrote it after reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and listening to some other talks on creativity. It’s surprisingly coherent compared to most of the thoughts I type out, so I thought I would share.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert cover artI’ve been reading about and experimenting a lot with creativity lately, and I’ve made a few discoveries that I’ve found helpful.

First of all, that most creative adults seem to doubt themselves. Hugely. Even people who have already achieved success in their field seem to always feel pressure and doubt when it comes time to work on the next project. This is a revelation to me, because I experience it acutely, and at least now I know that I’m not alone. Artists tend to try to look confident at all times. Everyone does, really. It’s why we only put our best selfies and our highlight moments on social media. We want to remember the good. And people who are promoting themselves want to project an air of confidence. But creative people don’t always feel that. They often feel doubt.

I had thought there was something wrong with me, to be honest. When I was younger, creating came so naturally. I didn’t think about it. My teachers at school gave me assignments and I completed them. And then when I came home, I went to the basement and spent my evenings drawing or hammering out fanfic or poetry. I didn’t spend a lot of time with my friends. I remember my mom complaining that I spent too much time in my room when I was a teen; she wanted me to come to the living room and keep her company. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t want to neglect anyone. And I’m out of the house for longer hours every weekday. And I have responsibilities to take care of when I’m at home. It’s hard to make time for creative endeavors. I feel like I have to force myself to do it. I have to bribe, reward, schedule, sacrifice. I have to say ‘no’ to my friends sometimes. I have to spend less time with my husband.

I feel like I create for a different reason now. I used to do it because I enjoyed the act of doing it, and because I felt instant gratification. When I finished a simple drawing or poem or snapped a decent picture, I felt an instant sense of accomplishment. Doing the creative thing was intrinsically rewarding. Now, it isn’t. I feel a small sense of accomplishment right after I’ve just spent time on a project, but the project itself doesn’t feel like an accomplishment to me. When I look back on what I’ve created, I feel disappointed. Writing fiction is something that takes such an enormous amount of skill and practice to get good at. It’s like learning to play an instrument. The other arts I’ve dabbled in weren’t like that, except when I tried to learn to play the guitar. I was no good at it, because I didn’t put in the practice time. I think fiction requires that same kind of practice time, maybe. You have to just get into the habit of doing the motions. You have to push yourself to get better. You have to study the art with dedication. Otherwise every time you sit down at your keyboard, garbage comes out. Just like garbage came out every time I occasionally sat down with my guitar.

I’ve gotten off track, but I think that Dawna [I don’t know who this refers to!] was on to something when she said that the main goal is to get back to that state of mind where you can do your work with joy. It’s not just about being an adult and being disciplined and getting the work done. It’s about doing it with gratitude. And someone else—or maybe it was her, too—said that passion doesn’t mean having always having a fun time. It means suffering. Those are actually conflicting ideas, aren’t they? Elizabeth Gilbert says not to become a martyr for your art. It shouldn’t make you suffer and hurt yourself. It shouldn’t torment you. But she said if you truly want to dedicate yourself to your art, then sit your butt in the chair each day and stubbornly write away.

So, I think what i’m getting at is: grow the fuck up and just do it, and also embrace your inner child and quit tormenting yourself over it.

I think you have to just make your mind up to do something and then stop asking the question. You don’t ask yourself every day ‘do i feel like writing? do i feel like going to the gym?’ you just do it because you already decided yesterday how you were going to spend today. It’s not a question anymore. It’s not a debate. It’s closed for discussion. Just do it. You have to do the things you have decided to do, every day. It’s like getting married. When you’re just dating, you have to keep asking ‘is this the right person for me?’ And then when you get married, you must stop asking that question. It’s not a question anymore; the decision has been made. Move forward. Stay true to your commitments. Take choice out of the equation, and you can begin to feel powerful and in control and grateful for all that you have and are capable of.

You know, I think self-image is not really at all based on feedback from the outside world. I think it’s 90% the image that you want to project. There isn’t a single person out there who’s sitting on the edge of their seat with these expectations, waiting to see what you’re going to do next. And if there was, you’d call that person a psycho and move on with your life. It’s all about your own judgment of yourself. And that is ridiculous! You can move completely past the opinions of all the other assholes in the world, and you will still have your own expectations to live up to. What if we didn’t have these rigid images in our heads of what we want to look like? Nobody keeps up their instagram feed for other people. A lot of people probably think they do, but the truth is they keep it up for themselves.

I’m getting rambly. But I think I’ve hit on something. Kids judge each other. Adults sit around and judge themselves. I don’t know which one is dumber. God—life should be a constant celebration!!! Look at these amazing things we’re able to express!! Look at how rich and nuanced and wonderful our language is!! Look at how beautiful everything is. We do these arts because we find them beautiful. Because they are fantastic games, and we want to play. And sometimes playing takes a huge amount of effort and dedication, but it’s still play. It’s still a privilege and an honor.

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Des Moines Arts Festival ’10

Yesterday Mom, Nathan and i braved the sweltering heat to visit the The Des Moines Arts Festival. As you may know, it’s an event i like to attend every year and have blogged about before. Last year we were able to walk to the festival from our loft, which was pretty nice. This year we drove, and it was well worth the ride and the heat.

I was drawn to some of the same artists this year that i have enjoyed in years past, which means that if i had, say, and extra $1,300 lying around it would be well worth it to invest in a painting since my taste isn’t changing too rapidly. If only! Anyway, here are some of my faves:

Bruce Holwerda
Bruce Holwerda

I posted about this artist last time, but i was very happy to see him return to the festival this year because i think his paintings are so lovely and interesting.

<a href="http://www.artfairinsiders.com/photo/photo/listForContributor?screenName=0wbb7034mvc2w&page=2&quot; target="_blank"Rick Preston
Rick Preston

I’m always drawn to the photography, as you can see…

Andrew Sofjani
Andrew Sofjani

David Powers
David Powers

It seems that strong, simple forms are what i enjoy the most. There were a couple of other painters that i enjoyed a lot but they have crap for websites so i couldn’t find good images to post. I also wanted to mention Keith Grace‘s work again but i couldn’t find images of his new object-on-gray pieces.

Check ’em out, and if you missed the festival this year, i highly recommend that you not miss out again next year!

Art and Romance

It’s been a long and lovely several days since my last post. On Thursday at our class i finished my first-ever oil painting, which i’m pretty proud of.

My First Painting

Again – i know it’s not perfect. The cloth in the background makes no sense because the still-life shifted from week to week and by the end i was just guessing at how the light had fallen on it when i did the under-drawing. I’m not very good at imagining that sort of thing, which is why i don’t draw from imagination.

On Friday Nathan and i drove to Chicago to celebrate Valentine’s Day away from home. We stayed at a lovely little B&B in Oak Park called Harvey House and took the L into the city. I did a bit of shopping but didn’t procure much. We had pizza at Gino’s East and Nathan decided that he prefers Felix & Oscar’s pizza here in Des Moines. I’m pretty sure i caught something by not using my hand sanitizer until after my first bite of the baked ravioli appetizer. Zicam is helping me fight it, though. I’m drinking a lot of tea, too, and will probably become addicted to it as a result.

Saturday we went back into the city to see Millennium Park and the Art Institute. It was awesome to see Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, one of Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” paintings, and some really beautiful Monets. But the painting that struck me the most was this one:

Doppelganger
Nouvart Dzeron, A Daughter of Armenia by Ralph Elmer Clarkson, 1912

IT LOOKS JUST LIKE ME. WTH? Even my Mama agrees. But she says i’m prettier. 🙂

We had a lovely dinner at a little place called Francesca’s Fiore in Forest Park and Nathan made me drink most of the wine since he had to drive back to the B&B. I ended up talking his ear off about Rome, my family and various photographic film formats. Best Valentine’s Day EVER.

On Sunday we visited IKEA and picked up some awesome stuff for the new loft before driving back to DSM. We’ll be moving in nine days!! I began packing yesterday. I know i’ve got a long way to go, but it’ll all be worth it in the end.

Re-building

Here’s the wash (under-painting) for my first-ever oil painting! I didn’t have time to finish it and i realize the values are off, but i’m still proud of it.

Underpainting

This will become a more fleshed-out monochromatic painting next week. I’m really enjoying the painting class. It’s really different from dry media, which stay exactly where you put them (except for smearing) and are difficult to remove if you get it too dark. Oil paint stays wet and can be pushed around and blended. It’s way fun!

I’m re-building my collection of creative works, since almost everything i made before got lost. And this time i’m going to photograph EVERYTHING.

Vacay

Mom and i went on a little vacation last week, which i shall proceed to tell the story of in photos.

The first stop has no photos though, so um, just kidding. We went to Cedar Rapids to spend a night with Tim, Angie and Jamie (my brother & his fam) and stopped to see Nina & Karl’s new place in Coralville along the way. It’s nice, i’m jealous. Tim and Jamie showed us all the flood damage in their neighborhood, which was amazing to see. Almost every house has a big orange X on it, meaning nobody can enter. There’s just stuff all along the curbs in the residential area, and there was even a house that had been carried halfway into the street by the flood waters. WAY worse than the damage in Des Moines.

From there we headed toward Uncle Dave’s house and stopped at a lake on the way out of CR.

Ladies at the Lake
I look goofy in this pic. We were afraid the water was contaminated, so we didn’t get in.

We’ve stayed with Dave three times in the last month now, which is probably more than in the past eight years or so. It was good to visit again. From Dave’s place in Long Grove, IA we headed North to the Maquoketa Caves. We only went as far as the mouth of the big one, however, because the lights had been turned off and we had no lamp. Also, it looked extremely muddy and scary.

Maquoketa CavesThe mouth of Dancehall Cave

We decided to proceed to Crystal Lake Cave, just south of Dubuque, which is well-lit and clean and illuminated by a young tour guide so disenchanted with his job that he jokes frequently about how lame it is to come all the way to Dubuque, Iowa just to see that particular cave. The “Crystal Lake” was pretty silly; it looked more like a puddle that a few people had chucked coins into like an out-of-service mall fountain. I didn’t bother to try to photograph it.

Crystal Lake Cave 1
I don’t remember what the different formations were called. Soda straws, maybe?

Crystal Lake Cave 4
Bacon strips..?

Then we went to the Mississippi River historical museum in Dubuque. I liked the animals. I’m still much like a little kid when it comes to museums.

Friendly Gators
Not doing it, just friendly.

Frog

We stayed in a cute little town called Mineral Point, Wisconsin that night at a bed & breakfast that made me wish i had a boyfriend. It was up above a brewery/restaurant which had really nice beer and food. The next morning we went to the Land’s End warehouse clearance event a few miles north. It was huge and crowded and insane, and i didn’t buy anything.

Land's End Feeding Frenzy

We drove all the way down to Kalona, Iowa that evening and stopped at President Herbert Hoover’s birthplace along the way. Turns out he was only in Iowa until he was eleven, at which point he moved to Oregon. Kinda like my life, but backwards. We had dinner in Iowa City and then headed down to Kalona, and caught an amazing sunset while driving. I couldn’t even begin to capture it, because out there in the country i could see the horizon all the way around us, 360 degrees, and it was all just beautiful.

Iowa Sunset 2

We walked around Kalona a little the next day but decided against taking a tour of the Amish community there. I probably should have taken it, since i have a hard time understanding why anyone would want to live like that. No internet? Come on. What would i do with my Saturday nights?

Going back through Iowa City the next day, we stopped to see the legendary Black Angel at one of the old cemeteries. Supposedly people tell stories of how a man commissioned the statue for his deceased wife and it turned black in a day because of her infidelity. The truth is that a woman commissioned it for her husband’s grave, refused to pay for it because she thought it was ugly, and was sued by the artist and made to pay $5,000 which back in those days was a lot of money. Her name is on the grave and the birth date is 1830something, but there’s no death date. Like maybe she refused to be buried under that thing.

The Black Angel 2
It’s not nearly as beautiful as the one i photographed in Rome. Few things are, i suppose.

After that we went shopping and headed home. It was nice to go on a little adventure for a while, but i always feel pretty relieved to be home again after a vacation. We’re settling back in now and will probably be heading to the Iowa State Fair before returning to the grind on Monday. Also rooting for Shawn Johnson tomorrow in the women’s gymnastics competition–representing iowa! Go team USA!

Growing

First of all, thanks for leaving so many wonderful comments on my last post. It meant a lot to me.

My sister Amy and her son Harper are visiting from Oregon right now. They arrived on Wednesday and the three of us and Mom had fun shopping around the East Village of Des Moines, going to see WALL-E, reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and generally hanging out. Friday evening Uncle Doug and Aunt Vicki had a little BBQ to celebrate, and of course their whole branch of the family was there. Saturday we drove out to Uncle Dave’s and visited with that bunch and Harper had fun playing with his second cousins. It had been a couple years since most of us had seen each other, and it was nice to be able to catch up.

That evening Mom, Amy and I went to see Ani DiFranco at The Capitol Theater in Davenport. I never cease to be amazed by how much she rocks. She was a little less talkative than the last time i saw her over in Iowa City with Emily last summer, but that’s okay.

I wish i’d taken pictures of all this stuff. 😦 Next time.

Yesterday Amy & Harps headed for Cedar Rapids and Mom & I came back to DM. On our way we stopped at the Amana colonies for lunch and picked up some blueberry wine. I hadn’t been around there in quite a few years. It’s really well-maintained and cute, but it was so hot that we didn’t stick around for long.

My Mama in Amana

Bumble Bee

I saw some paintings by this Chicago artist Laura Lee Junge in a little gallery there, and i thought they were really neat:

On an unrelated note, my current goal in life is to decide on an apartment to move to in Des Moines, which is proving to be a major headache. But i got my new camera phone today, so playing with that should relieve some stress for sure.