Why Art

The Preamble

Note: In late October I began to dig out my studio after having sold my home and moved onto the studio property. While renovating a mobile home on the property originally intended for an employee to live in, I decided the best way to do it was if I lived in it during this period of transition. The studio was packed with belongings and I began to move out the things I wanted to keep and toss what I don’t need anymore.

The glass furnace was in the process of being rebuilt when I had a furnace block fall on my hand, nearly pinning me under the block. This catalyzed an effort to do what I had not done in years past, which was to add automation in the form of pneumatic cylinders controlled by foot pedals to open and close furnace doors.  Sounds like a simple thing, and it is, but the implementation wound up being more complicated and drawn out than expected.  But then, this can often be the case when engineering “one-off’s”.

The result has been a subtle but important transformation taking place at the studio.  The vent hood,which controls the ventilation was also updated in a significant way, essentially enclosing the vent hood completely in order to help make evacuating hot air from the studio more effective.  It will result in a more comfortable experience for me, my assistants, and for those taking classes there in the future.

The injury to my hand slowed me way down from where I planned on being, but it also opened up a new avenue that I am glad is now largely completed.  Despite delays from the engineering firm, I have managed to get all of the automation done that I have wanted to do for years but never did.  As a result, I am looking to the Fall of 2018 as a time when I will begin holding workshops again while also beginning production work again after a long hiatus teaching at the university.

I will be baking into my design of my website the ability to see the schedule and register for any and all classes from the convenience of your computer or mobile phone.  I am working with a web designer who will be including commerce solutions for purchasing work and for making the process of connecting with the studio more streamlined.  Those changes will be rolled out in the Fall, but for updates and important announcements, follow the studio on Facebook HERE.

If the link doesn’t work for your device, copy and paste this link into your browser:

https://www.facebook.com/Stafford-Art-Glass-273860936858/

 


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The “Why” (and How)

We create to express and communicate ideas, feelings, and experiences. The arc of art is so broad and takes in such broad swaths of considerations and mindsets. It’s been used to express religious fervor and religious ideas, political propaganda, social justice (speaking truth to power) as well as recreating the beauty of nature. Art accepts all comers. The only rule is that there are no rules. You get to make your own. How that winds up turning out is really up to the artist, and if you are a professional artist, your ideas need to hit a nerve in order to gain acceptance most often. If, however, you create art as a hobby, you are the freest of the free; you can create just as you wish to create. I have, as I have gotten older, sought a path through both of these polarities because I have found that my greatest discoveries came when I wasn’t worried about the bottom line. It has also served to inform my teaching at the university level as well as in my own studio.

Glass takes years to learn. It is gymnastic in the sense that there is a lot of muscle memory involved, and all of this takes time and patience.  The best glass workers have been at this for their whole lives and they make what they do look easy when it is anything but that.  When I began introducing people to glass I realized that there is this considerable gap that exists with people and their skill level in glass that disrupted their ability to enjoy the material as an expressive medium. As a result of this, I developed a way of working with students in the studio to help fill the technical gap for the time being and working on what they can do on a technical level straight out of the gate in producing glass objects.  This method has resulted in being able to give people from all walks the fullest experience in glass possible without having to spend years developing the requisite skills necessary.  Since glass is a very expensive medium, it makes learning very expensive also.  Not everyone wants to be a maestro, some are content with running around the block to see what glass blowing is all about.

This process is effectively 75% student work with 25% hand-holding by the teacher.  This 25% consists of techniques critical to the successful creation of glass objects and represent a technical level that can take weeks or months to master just one of them.  Instead of taking weeks worth of repetition, I pick up that part and we work together to ferry objects like ornaments, suncatchers, vases, bowls, and paperweights to their completion on a first-go. This is also why the workshops have been so popular.  Most studios do not provide this level of access to the glass for beginners. I have found that by teaching in this way, I can help provide a closeup introduction to glass without years of preparation and work. For those who are serious about learning glass, they will grab the bull by the horns and do what needs to be done to accomplish that level of mastery.  For everyone else, it seems my method as developed works very well for the beginner.

 

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A suncatcher made by a first-time student

 

My process is to encourage the student to follow the glass and what it wants to do.  This may not sound like the kind of control that is necessary for a medium like glass, but over years of experience, glass has a quality that when you allow it to be itself, can and does do some really amazing things.  Instead of working in a precisely controlled way, I suggest more room for surprises to occur for students so they can witness the expressive potential of glass.  As a result there are creations that are far more complex and interesting than if they had been carefully controlled. Don’t get me wrong, control is necessary in being able to reproduce results in a production environment, but this is not what we are doing in a class.  In a class we are trying to get the biggest bang for our buck here: we seek to explore as broadly as possible in a very limited time frame.  The student, then, gets a snapshot of the potential that glass has. The results are nothing short of amazing, though, and is one reason why even when I am not offering classes, I tend on average to field three to four inquiries a month about classes even though I have not offered them now for a number of years.

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Closeup of a student suncatcher

Some folks are content sitting and watching glass being made in the studio. The ability to sit and watch glass being blown is free here at the studio.  We encourage everyone who wants to to sit in and learn a thing or two. For those who are not content to sit on their hands and watch, there are the classes.

If you are interested in classes, or just to come watch glass being blown, announcements will be made publicly on my Facebook page. Classes will include offhand glassblowing, and torch worked glass (bead making). Glassblowing will be available first while the bead making studio has to be built around the torches I already have in-house and will take some time to build the tables, venting, and small kilns, tools, etc., in place before classes can be offered. My hope is that I will be offering both by next Fall. Please “like” my Facebook page  to remain up to date on events and classes there. For those who want to know when a class is being offered, I recommend also that you email me at info@staffordartglass.com and include “classes” in the subject heading.  This will enable me to bring up all of the inquiries over a period of time and respond to them very quickly and easily.  And no, we wont spam you.  If you want off the list, you will be removed promptly.  For the rest, there is the Facebook page below:

https://www.facebook.com/Stafford-Art-Glass-273860936858/

The New

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Large companies can pour millions into new products each year, hiring experts called consultants to help direct them in their dream of new products and new directions for their businesses.  In the world of the artist, this too also happens, but on a mini-micro scale.  You wake up one morning and you say to yourself that an old idea that has been rolling around in your head and heart needs to be embarked on.  For an artist, this means hundreds of hours  of learning this new kind of work and who knows how much money poured into the effort.  When it comes to something like this, there is absolutely no guarantee of any sort of return.  You go by your instinct, your gut, and your wits.  And you want to know something?  My experience has been that many of my most compelling and interesting designs that I personally love often find only a luke-warm reception at least in the beginning.  I have actually shelved what would later become one of my most popular pieces for over a year before returning to it.  When it hit the shelves people looked at it like it was something from another world.  That is to say, they didn’t see it as the unique thing that it was; they saw it as unrecognizable.  This is sometimes the problem with the new.

Before a line of new work is even hot off the presses, it comes under no scrutiny, no flag waving crowds or lines of adoring fans.  Unless you can do something that often strikes most artists as utterly distasteful: you hype the living shit out of it.  You hype it so that normal people who have never bought art before sit up and take notice.  They take notice because, well, they are so tuned into the hype.  I am not talking about what an artist normally does to promote themselves. I am talking about what some people will do in order to bring in the crowds, people who might not have come in the first place.  These people are more drawn by the interest of others, the crowd, the feeding frenzy.  To do this on a large scale means celebrity or the feeling of possible celebrity.  And who doesn’t love a celebrity?  A quiet unknown who is rising through the ranks?  Still, its hype most often, anew form of hype that doesn’t look like hype but still…it is.

The truth is, there is a very small number of people who don’t see the hype, don’t care about the hype and buy with their heart.  And these people are actually the visionaries, the people there when the work was not hyped, was actually affordable, and are often of modest means.  the people who come rushing for the hype are the folks who will put down $40,000.00 for the “next big thing” because, well, it looks good on them or in their house.  What we are talking about is status.  It is also worlds away from authentic art making (unless you create artifice  in order to pander to the rich).

Artists are often caught in this odd cross-fire of authenticity meeting popularity when things take off for them.  The desire to hype can get the better of some art dealers and gallery owners, and artists too.  Look, we all want to prosper, but at what price does this happen?  For those who “make it” there are now funds that allow a person to do so much more than wonder if they will make the bills this month or the next, whether the six thousand poured into the new line of work will yield anything of substance. The number of artists who were obscure in their time is right up there with the fervency of hype.  Renoir would say how he bought his villa with a painting of an empty vase sold ten years previously.  Picasso would sign checks knowing they would never be cashed because, well, his signature. It is indeed a strange world.

But look, the lifeblood of an artist isn’t the money.  It is the excitement over the next new thing, the new idea, the new process, the new way of saying perennial messages that have been born into each generation and recur in slightly different ways from one century to the next.  Our dreams are those of the Romans, the Greeks, the Pelleponesians, the Shakespeares, the kings and queens of Ur, all told now in a recognizable dialect.  Before it is a “thing” we are there in the innocence of the moment in the studio, scribbling on napkins, sending notes to friends, or making the discovery that could change a lifetime.  We were the true believers before anyone dared to even dream it.  It is this piece of our lives that the beloved collector wants a piece of…the early work, albeit a little rough around the edges, but is work that suggests that there are more pieces that will follow, and if the artist is lucky enough to sell enough to fund the next round of work, they do, and the work evolves.  And hopefully, the work evolves fast enough that it stays ahead of the curve so that the artist can turn enough of a profit so that s/he can make more….and survive to make for another day.  This is not an easy proposition because artists have to be both lovers and shrew business people.  I can tell you that it is hard to do both equally well, and as history shows us, artists tend to be lovers over the shrewd type.  This is so because it takes a huge amount of passion just to get your through the 80 hour days, weeks, months, that are required to become good at something.  And for an artist, this can mean remaking yourself with new techniques and ways of working every once in a while.  You don’t get there with shrewdness.  You don’t calculate passion or love.  You simply have to have it in you as a lover.  And like all great lovers, you can’t be thinking about dollar signs when you are throwing yourself into the next big thing.  To do this requires a singular sense of authenticity, passion, and love.  Anything else simply robs the work of the life that animates the work, that gives it that presence that is often unnoticed by the great unwashed but that the lovers of art pick up on and see.  It takes a lover to know a lover, even if one does not make art and the other does.

So it is that yesterday I had this “congealing moment.”  I know how that sounds, but I cannot think of a better term that feels so equal to what actually happens….The moment involved an idea I have had in my head literally for decades that involved a type of work that I have considered doing in glass.  I just wasn’t completely sure how I would do it.  My mind had been putting these pieces together off and on for a long time, but I just didn’t know exactly what the end result would be.  It was a bit like staring at Monet’s paintings of haystacks early in the morning…..they were images that had some shapes, yes, a suggestion of form, but were largely vivid blurs in my mind.  That really is how these kinds of pieces can be in our minds.  I know that other artists do the same thing because I see it in my art students.  They draw a quick sketch and then say, “I will “art it up” Mr. Stafford….you know, I will make it awesome!”

So really what is happening is there is something that is not completely fleshed out for the artist in their mental conception of the work that they just know they will get worked out in the final work. They just know, right? So sometimes that golden moment happens, that bit of genius that flows out into the work, and sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes we kind of waive our hands in the air, explaining a new idea without really knowing what it will be like.

(“Insert some kind of colorful awesomeness here _____”)

It isn’t that we are fooling ourselves as artists.  In fact, this sense we often have, that it will be awesome, is quite simply derring-do.  It is born out of confidence in ourselves, and it is ballsy.  As a result, I am loathe to be too critical of it. I was in fact in just such a place, parked with my idea for over a decade (at least) while this idea, apparently, gestated very slowly in my mind or creative spirit.  And then it happened.  It happened very quickly, almost too rapidly for me to even notice.  If I had been too distracted, it would have been gone and I might not have even noticed it.  Look, I have hundreds, thousands, of ideas a lot like this fleeting through me.  It is just how it is.  And most often, this happens in a state that is different form ordinary consciousness.  As a result, unless you sit with the idea and hold it there, it can literally just evaporate in exactly the same way that a dream you had last night is  nearly impossible to recall.  Steve Jobs once described all the things he “knew” when he was on LSD that he completely forgot when he came back down to ordinary consciousness….but he knew that it was something and he wanted to add a little piece of that in his work, which he did.  So, yeah.

I didn’t need LSD to get to that moment.  It was all there, fleshed out in the moment clear as day.  It was so complicated that I knew that in order to work it out, I would have to possibly spend months developing enough elements just in order to develop the work.  These pieces depart completely from everything I have done and dip into art.  How they are done is through a series of layers of imagery that are literally carved out of layers of glass at room temperature and then layered into the glass.  On the one hand, I could wind up with a cheap Venetian looking “fish bowl” (you know those….they look like fish in a bowl and are made by layering all these elements in them) or I could on the other, push the idea so far that I come up with the level of complexity I am looking for, which is not unlike a multidimensional “trip” through a dream world that actually is beginning to look a lot like how complex our lives have gotten today.  The trick, I know, as I waive my hands in the air, is to invest the “landscape” of these glass pieces with the level of complexity that keeps them from being cute or quaint and pushes them into new territory altogether.  And that, dear reader, is the hard part of art.  It separates the girls from the women and the boys from the men.  Hopefully in the end it serves to unite us all in a new kind of vision.  😉

So that is what is on the plate for now.  Naturally, I can’t say too much about it right now, not until I develop the work because until I do that it is much too easy for people to take an idea and run with it.  And that is the other side of the coin, but I will spare you that dimension of our work as artists.

The new work will mean that I will do something unusual, which is I will need to create photographs, images, and drawings, all of which will be put down on paper to form the basis of the imagery that will be cast into place with these pieces.  And to do them well will mean that the imagery remain crisp. That will mean selecting certain colors over others.  There will be choices that will have to be made that will be exacting, like building a three-layered canvas made of glass that you will be able to see through.  Some will seem like dreams, some like memories.  Perhaps some will fill the space with a sense of life.  Will they?  That will be up to all of the efforts made in the studio and out of it.  For now, there is a lot that needs to be done in the moment that will lead up to determining whether this work will be worth the time and trouble.  These are the untold hours, the invisible hours, that go to make a new line of work what it is. And this is the life of the artist.  More than money, more than anything else, this is what gets my blood pumping.

The Role Of Art Education In Art

Over the last four years I have been teaching at the university level.  This hardly makes me a seasoned individual in academia.  I have, in various ways, lived in academia for years, either from a distance with a spouse who was a teacher, to having taught in graduate school, and teaching in my studio practice as well as at the university level. But here is the thing.  I knew about SOL’s and how there had been a bru-ha-ha over them.  It is clear now what the problem is with this type of testing as it relates to art…(at least TO ME).  There are a number of challenges that impact teachers and the students that they teach as it relates to the SOL’s.  But there is one issue that doesn’t seem to be addressed much, if at all…and I am going to bring it up here for the simple reason that it impacts me as a teacher.

For people who are used to linear processing and solving problems using rational predictive schemes, it may be difficult to see how something like art could be of benefit in and of itself without hanging a purpose or job or expected outcome on it.  It turns out that art has been very hard to quantify.  And I suspect I know why; like the right brain, seeking to stick a quantity on an experience with the creative or artistic is extremely slippery.  You can measure gravity, space, a rock, and how much rocks can be ground in a day at the gravel plant, or how many cars you can build in an hour in Detroit, or how many essays a student can write about the rise of the consumer culture in the U.S.   But there is an aspect to the creative that escapes this.  And I say that it should for the very reason that this aspect of the creative that is so slippery is also the very aspect that allows us to conceive of things that were a moment before, incomprehensible to us.  What I am saying is, how do you measure something that you do not yet know, but WILL be able to know in a moment’s time…..and yet, the thing that you know is merely a product of something larger…we can measure cars as they travel through a tunnel, but we are unable for some reason to measure the tunnel.  The tunnel, if you haven’t caught on yet, is creativity.  But unlike a tunnel, I don’t think you can measure creativity….only what it creates.  You know?  How do you measure something that has so many dimensions and is changing so fast and much?  How do you define it when everyone says “I know it when I see it.”  The very fact that we know it when we see it means that it cannot really be measured very well.

So those who would insert themselves into the creativity game by coming up with SOL’S  wind up creating art experiences based on a rational understanding for how problems are solved.  As if creativity itself is something that can be parsed and kneaded in order that it give up an expected result. Now don’t get me wrong, having a project where students learn about color theory or methods for composing a painting or drawing are all important.  In fact, I am actually all for artists copying the work of other artists not to try and pretend that the artists work is their own, but in order to try and learn what that artist was seeking to do.  This is why some artists can be seen copying the works of Vermeer, or Monet, or Degas.  They are not innovating, but learning something. At the end of the day, though, once you have learned all of this stuff, you are going to have to DO something with it.  And what you do with it is greater than the sum of its parts.  What results is not always necessarily a formula. At all. Paint by numbers if you must, but all that will ever do is to help you to comprehend why certain ways of painting will yield a given result.  It is a fact-finding mission. This is a far cry from the rarefied air one finds oneself in when you discover the big “Ah-ha!” of the inspired moment.

The result of the SOL generation is that we have students who want to know the rules for creating.  They want to know HOW they are supposed to arrive at their creative moment when what I am asking them to do is to arrive at that place themselves.  So I wind up explaining WHY my assignments are as vague as they are; I am asking them to follow certain very specific requirements all in the hopes that they learn the material I am asking them to work with but to also have enough room for their own innovation to shine. My teacher Tom Walsh used to say that the best beginner projects were the ones that had very specific requirements with the broadest range of interpretation.  That means that I might say “Create a wire-frame sculpture using wood dowels and some form of epoxy that is a minimum of 2 feet in one dimension and at least six inches in another dimension, with the third dimension being up to you.  At what point does a line begin to create a sense of volume when it crosses other lines in space?  How do you create the illusion of volume while using these lines in space? Choose two of the following Principles of Design to base your work on: movement, tension, harmony”

The challenge is that many students are used to much more specific projects and actually get anxious when given greater freedom.  Really?  I explain to them what I want them to learn and that beyond those few simple things, the rest really could be up to them. “Just make it cool, guy and gals!  You know what I mean, right? I am talking about being creative, innovative!” I am asking them to take responsibility for their educational experience.  And because I value freedom so much, I give them as much as I can because someday they will be faced with having to come up with ideas all on their own without the benefit of a project to push them forward.  I am aware that in the beginning students need the structure of an assignment in order to learn a given media or technique.  Sure, absolutely, but this can be done while giving the student the freedom that they will one day need to work within if they are ever to be self directed artists.  Out of this will flow discipline that is unlike the kind of discipline they know that is meted out by their teachers.  This is actually about what happens when you mature as an artist.  I actually believe that this is important to begin doing as soon as possible.  I believe that our children, even at age 18 to 22 have the means to begin to experience this freedom in their work.  The more they are able to experience it, the better off they will be.

There is a place for learning technique.  There is also a place for being inspired to create in such a way that we each grasp that creating is itself sometimes a mysterious process, an irrational one, but beautiful and rewarding. The FEELING that comes moving through you in such moments is actually something that is sustaining in and of itself and will, if we let it, change a life.  It can break up the rigidity of the belief-constrained self in order to break out into new ways of thinking and seeing. It is what the journey has been about in art except that this process has been something experienced by only the bravest of our kind.  it is something native to us all and the sooner we can experience it for its OWN sake, the better. Our creative spirit is less a thing that can be bounded by any one discipline, but encompasses our whole lives because it is what we are deeper down.  Impoverished is the life that does not know this the way one might know breath or ones heartbeat.  These ought not be special occasions, but ubiquitous ones.  Living a creative life is one of the most rewarding things a person can experience.  It fulfills, unifies, and even heals. It does not require a belief or dogma and cuts across all borderlands of belief, liberating and enlarging ones own self in selfless ways.

The problem is that you cannot measure joy, and so much of what art does is to bring joy.  You can’t measure it.  The problem, you see, is that when we are so busy wanting to measure everything, you miss those things that fall outside of the bias, which suggests that only what we can measure is worth anything to us.  But you see, the joy of creation is where it is at when it comes to art.  It is what we each lose as we grow up and is what we have to each rediscover as we make our ways back into art as artists.  Sometimes as artists we try to be the best we can on a technical level in order to make up for our lack of childlike wonder and joy that made us such natural artists as children.  You see, this is what is missing, and if we are to grow a better generation, it will mean that we did it with the arts as much as we did with math and science and all the rest.

New Discovery

parker staffordI work as a person who is always looking for new ways, new designs, new ideas.  This process has helped to engender a certain attitude and way of being that I think is of enormous benefit to people in all walks of life. The flash of the “a-ha!” moment is not one that is limited to artists, but is the essence of our own creative natures.  As a new discovery, my own “A-ha!” moment helps to till new ground in my own creative life, bringing me many benefits, so too can this same flash of realization serve to shift lives, attitudes, beliefs, and change how we feel, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in big ways with how we see the world.

This is the essence of inspiration.  Some might want to put a label on it, but the truth is, I have found, that whether it is a deep spiritual or religious epiphany or whether I have just discovered the next big thing, the feeling is precisely the same.  It is transportive, a word I just made up, and it opens us up and breaks us out of our old notions and feelings from just a moment prior.  This is the essence of new discovery within ourselves.  This effect is liberating and healing.  It also has a curious effect of dispelling fear, too.  With such an abundance of wonder and possibility, it is hard to see the world in such limiting ways that we did a moment prior.  And I don’t intend to try and crash the religious epiphany to the ground, but to point out that its root lies in all of the world; it lies in each of us and it is curious that when we do find it, the world does indeed change.  We are, in a word, renovated by just such a presence in our lives.  So whether you are a Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or Zoroastrian, or an artist who calls art or design his or her spiritual home, the effect and thrust of the experience is the same.  It is something that is quite literally beyond belief!

When I work with art students or with the public at my studio, I see the effect that this sense of discovery and wonder can do.  It is a liberating effect.  It is liberal in that is frees us.  No longer limited by being caught in old belief or notions of what is possible, we see the impossible emerge right in front of us.  I suppose that since glass itself is such a miraculous material that this helps engender this feeling in many who do workshops at the studio. When we erase fear, wonder remains.  I tell people who blow glass for the first time that even if they do drizzle glass on the floor of the studio, the material is so beautiful that picking up those drizzles becomes a moment of discovery and wonder.  And they do.  Just this past holiday season I had a child who drizzled glass and felt bad about it.  I patted her on the back and said not to worry.  After she had finished her piece, she went back to the drizzled glass and picked it up.  She took it home with her because, well, glass is just that beautiful.  So with a material like that, its not hard to help people to tap their own inner wonder.  Remove the fear or anxiety and what remains is wonder.  It is this way in every realm of our lives from religious, social, political and creative.

Just a thought for your lovely July morning…..

Creativity, The Brain, and Enlightenment

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I have been interested in the nature of creativity for a very long time.  As an artist, I have become a careful observer of its seeming motives, character, habits and nature.  I reasoned that by understanding creativity itself I could, as an artist and creative person, gain an edge for my work and my career.  I have observed that there were moments, short periods where something just opened up within me, like a mysterious iris and there would come a flood of inspiration.  When this happened, I considered what I had been eating, how I had been sleeping, what I was doing before, during, and after, these episodes would come on.  They didn’t come on of their own accord, this I knew, but I also knew that there was a symbiotic nature to how the creative state was tapped.  Some things worked while others did not.  Observing, I built a list of these things and began considering what those aspects, things, or elements were doing for me.  When I began to teach a few years ago at the university level in art, I extended my search to my students by observing them and listening very carefully to the things they were saying at all stages of their own creative process.  I wanted to be able to help them attain this often mysterious state we call inspiration.  I began doing activities with them each semester which I called “mind games” which were designed to help us each observe HOW we think and how it is we choose certain things over others in our thinking and creating process.  I had the help of a gifted teacher who was on to some of these ideas already who came for a couple of classes to do some exercises that were very illuminating.  It was loads of fun (I think it was fun for them), and I learned something in the process.

Concurrent with all of this interest in creativity was an “event” that came into my life which amounted to a kind of atom bomb going off.  Its outward signs were not visible to most people and for a long time no one every knew anything had happened.  If I had been any different from who I am, I might have thought I had a brain lesion or that there was something wrong with me.  I kept all of the symptoms of this phenomenon entirely to myself because I knew if I talked about them, most people would simply think I was sick or mentally unstable.  What I knew, though, was that what was taking place was not psychosis nor schizophrenia.  I knew enough about abnormal psychology from my own interest in creativity to know that whatever was going on, it wasn’t abnormal. But it was….different.  I learned that what had happened was I had stumbled across something that gurus and yogis seek for fervently through the use of meditation, breath work (pranayam it is called in India), and yoga.  I had triggered something that was called kundalini.  This is something that is not well understood by westerners and most of the information about it comes to us in the form of writings compiled over long periods of time by yogis and other teachers who have had experiences with it.  So rare, there are only a few people on the planet at any given time who have this thing.  Jiddu Krishnamurti was one such notable example.  What is interesting, though, is that for as rare as it has been, this is changing.  In fact, in just the last ten years alone, there has been a tide of “awakenings” in people who have not had meditation or yoga or any of the normal routes to this phenomenon that have been described as the way to cause this force to move in the body and awareness.  It is my sense that most of our new discoveries tend to come from places that we least expect them, or are not considering due to cultural or intellectual biases that we may have.  With something like awakening being so rare, we may tend to want to sweep it under the rug for the fact that we have so little experience with it.  There was, I will remind everyone, a time when we thought the world was flat, which was based on most everyone’s mistaken observations of the day.  Those who were making new observations were themselves not in the majority and were most often dismissed as cooks or worse (sorry Galileo!).

As we learn to open our minds a little more, more tends to come. With something so rare, there is naturally a lot of speculation about it and as a result there can be a lot of very unusual ideas that can surround such things.  By and large, though, once you are able o navigate the cultural implications inherent in the writings, we also know a lot.  While kundalini is thought of as a mystical force, a cosmic force that enters the body and changes those affected, its potential lies, for me, in how it seems to help rewire the brain in some important ways.  In its most essential way, I have observed that kundalini helps to balance the two hemispheres of the brain so that the more latent right brain comes into a fuller expression of itself.  Now this naturally has some important things to tell us about creativity since so much of creativity is often seen as not just a left brained activity but a right one as well.  Betty Edwards helped push this idea forward in her book Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain, a book that detailed how the right brain helps artists to really see things as they are, and as a result, by following some of her exercises and methods, to also learn to draw better, or more effectively.

Now, I will be the first to admit that the right brain alone doe snot teach us much about inspiration any more than the left brain does.  It does open up a new cognitive field of awareness, though, and this is certainly important.  What most artists who are students (including myself) struggle with is how the operations of the left brain get in the way of the right brain doing its thing.  It’s as if you have this person in your left brain that wants to run the show and insists on trying to do what the right brain does better.  As a result what I find in my work and the work of my students, when we are locked in our left brains, is how we will tend to recreate something in the real world using the functions of the left brain.  This results in a reduction of visual information, a kind of abstracting effect which inhibits the artist from drawing what is there.  Instead of natural looking eyes, they will become more almond like.  Eyes then become an abstraction, an “idea” of what an eye really looks like.  The right brain, however, is able to take in all aspects of the eye in its totality all at once.  It has the ability to draw and create not in a linear fashion, which is the domain of the left, but can draw all over the place in the same way that a camera lens will bring an image into sharp focus.  What is interesting is that when I see students drawing from one corner of a drawing or a sculpture to another, I know they are locked in their left brains.  I also know to expect certain very specific results, which of course are all indicative of the left brain and how it works. Lines drawn tend to have a sharpness and angularity.  They lack a flowing sense of connection.  The world of the left brain is all about objects, individual aspects within the world that we see. Now take a jump and see how these cognitive effects or characteristics might affect how we feel or respond to the world around us.  When the right brain comes on-line more, there is a corresponding awareness of everything as interconnected.  This is compliments of the right brain.

In her well-known TED talk, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor tells the story of how she experienced a stroke in her left hemisphere one morning while getting ready to go to work.  Dr. Taylor is a neuroanatomist, and her experience helped her to observe how her left brain shutting down allowed her a peek into the operations of her less active right brain.  Her video is included at the end of this post.  What is so interesting is that she experienced a lot of the usual things that we have come to know as right brain activity.  She became more visual, she was unable to read numbers and letters as well (this is the domain of the left brain for most people) and she began to experience the interconnectedness of all things.  This was so powerful an experience, she cried on stage just retelling it.  For her, it was a moment that the yogis describe as Samadhi, a feeling of deep interconnected bliss that was life changing.  Instead of merely learning how to see as Betty Edwards observed in her work with artists, she was able to experience what this less active part of our brain can do for us.  And what is that, you ask? Inspiration. The right brain is able to bring us a sense of pure bliss that is simply amazing.  It is also what I was experiencing when I had this kundalini activation, or awakening.  It was as though some veil had been pulled back from my mind so that I could see a broader picture.  Instead of seeing with one mind, I was seeing with both minds.  The effect of this happening resulted in not just bursts of inspiration as had been the norm before, but what I came to call a “steady state” experience of remaining in an inspired moment all the time.  It is itself quite heady to experience, and sometimes, especially in the beginning, was actually hard to deal with.  What I learned, though, was that this was merely the result of what I was used to. As I came to learn more about this experience through others, I saw evidence of a difficulty in just dealing with the enormity of the experience.  Instead of seeing individual objects in the world suddenly the world was alive in a way where everything was interconnected, related, alive in an ambient environment where there was suddenly a LOT more information there.  And it wasn’t just visual or the result of observing.  It went way deeper than that.  It was akin to a cosmic rabbit hole.  For me, the result I experienced was that I was left unable to know where to go from there.  The whole world had changed and I was just catching up!  But new work did begin to trickle out as a result of this experience.  I realized that so much of what I had been doing had been very left-brained in how it leaned conceptually.  I was often left with a blank spot in my creative life where I felt a little at a loss.

What was that blank spot?  This awakening served to offer up the necessary awareness.  I was also gifted with someone who entered the scene in perfect timing who would help me along, a muse at the least, an inspired reminder for what I had been missing.  Through our interactions, I felt more free to begin to explore new ideas that were, not surprisingly, more connected to the right brain and how it sees things.  This itself led gradually into this steady state of inspiration where I learned how to keep this focus ongoing from day-to-day.  I noticed that it had an effect on my physiology, my mood, and even how I thought.  So radical were the changes that I actually felt fear that the old me was simply going away, that who and what I was might leak out into the night.  Instead of that happening, I remained the same old me, but with upgrades.  I learned to trust this experience, to even surrender to it.  It has resulted in new music being written, several children’s stories, a book about my awakening experience, two blogs on the topic, and now, research into the nature of creativity.  The last book is only in its most formative stages, and I am still trying to decipher whether or not what I have to offer is anything new.

The field of creativity research is itself is quite broad and there is a lot out there in the are of research into this subject.  I suspect, though, that my sense that we do not know how to teach how to be more inspired, might play into some effort in the future because this seems to be the missing link in all of this.  It may be so for the very reason that inspiration is itself, I say, not found in either of our two brains, but the result of something far more synergistic than we might have imagined.  It lies in a holistic understanding of who we are, which is greater than the sum of its parts.  Smack dab in the middle of mystery, and smack dab in the middle of what makes life so interesting to so many.  Here the questions of who am I, why am I here, what is my purpose, begin to take on illumination.  The benefits to us are huge.  We have now, I feel, a unprecendented opportunity to leverage ourselves into being all that we can be at a time when the world seems to be throwing up a lot of hurdles in regards to our freedom to be all that we can be (which is more than just an old catchy Army phrase from the 1980’s). Like Taylor, there have been many other researchers who have observed how the brain works as a result of injury, and it has been these injuries that have helped to explain better than any other method to date how the brain works by a process of elimination.  This is an area of research that cannot be induced (although there has been a method that inhibits certain areas of the brain in their function that has been created recently) but when it does, it has given researchers a peek into the window of our brain function.  What I have observed is that an experience such as an awakening does the same thing too, since before I had seen Taylors video, I had come to the same conclusion simply based on my own experiences.  Her video, though, provides tangible proof for people who need this kind of thing and also helps to bolster what we have known all along.

What the ancients described as an elusive cosmic experience may well be what I sense  it to be; an experience within consciousness that is supported by our physiology (our brain and nervous system as well as the entire body).  My observation is that we are each hardwired for this, we simply have not managed in our left-leaning world to trip the switch that would turn on all of the lights.  There is concrete evidence that something very interesting is happening, though, as people by the thousands are now awakening in exactly the wrong way than the Hindus have said you can, which is spontaneously, without a teacher, without a method or technique.  These are what is known as “spontaneous awakenings” and they buck what we seem to know about the phenomenon.  I suspect, though, that there is a very good reason for this.  It may be something about how our world is so much more interconnected that it has force us to use our right brains as we text and call and email and read about a far more vast range of stories and information than we have done before.  The internet may have helped, itself a vast interconnected web work that is the same vast sense of interconnectivity that those who awaken experience.  It could also be for other reasons, too.  The answer, though, is out there, and it need not be mythologized into being merely a cosmic effect.  I sense that when we resist doing this, we are more free to understand a given phenomenon.  For those who are less interested in the mechanics of all of this, it is simply an amazing awe-inspiring experience that need not be explained described, but simply experienced.

 

 

In the days to come I will be offering up some observations about how we each can maximize our potential creatively for a richer and happier life.

A New Creative Paradigm?

As you may have noticed, I am doing work on the nature of creativity.  While this has been studied for some time, there is still a good bit that we need to work through in order to understand the potential that exists within creativity.  And what it means for us neurologically and physically.  With new tools and an ever-broadening perspective based on more research, and more experience, I have very recently found a way where creativity can be tied into a neuro-anatomists version of the physics’ “field theory.”

Right now, the work is in its early stages, but I am seeking to create a way to put this together for creative types, be they artists or scientists/innovators to help us all to appreciate and also potentiate the creative state in a more effective manner. I will draw on eastern knowledge about the sensoral changes during peak experiences such as sammadhi, our understanding or right and left brain operations, and how the two hemispheres often get in the way of each other much like an arguing couple might (the Shakti and Shiva of the Hindu, which, interestingly, sought to explain this phenomenon in older-world methods  using old vocabulary).  I think that what I have is something that will prove very useful for students and educators of art, although it is unusual in how it taps concepts such as the quantum field, the electromagnetic nature of thought, and the idea that we live within a vast hologram of conscious energy.  These ideas, actually, are NOT new, but what is new is how I am synthesizing all of this for a creative audience.  What I have is itself simple, no more difficult than meditation, and can pay rich dividends.

I have gotten some great feedback from some of you about your own insights about your creative state, and I would urge you to keep the comments coming!  The form in the post below this post sends an email directly to me and the comment does not get posted for those who do not wish to comment publically (otherwise you can just use the “comment” option).  If I use your comment in any future writing, I will ask your permission before doing so, and will honor your preferences for how you wish attribution handled (your name or anonymous?).

The only thing I am a little stumped on is finding a good title for the book I am working on!

The Creative Recipe

I am currently doing work on a project about creativity.  The work is not intended to be about creativity in the arts but creativity in general, to help make it accessible to anyone who wants to know how to boost their own creative potential.  I am beginning by asking my friends and colleagues, and you, what your own personal observations are about what sparks your creativity.  While I do not have questions that I am asking, I hope that by keeping it open, I will not influence anyone’s reply. Sometimes when we ask leading questions, we can limit the information that we wind up getting.  So anything that you observe about creativity is welcome and if you do need a question to spark your response it would be:  what does it for you?  What things serve to spark your creativity?  Is it something inward or outward?  What things serve to get you in a creative mood?  Do you observe  certain things that you do to get into a creative mood or space?

This information will serve to form one part of the foundation of this work (I assume at this early stage).  Comments and contributions, if used, will be used with permission and attribution unless you want your observation to remain anonymous.  So if talking about your own creative process is something that interests you, I would love to hear from you!  You can simply make a comment connected to this post or you can email me directly at parker@staffordartglass.com.  Any and all observations are greatly appreciated!

Also a  form is included for those who want to add their thoughts but do not want them to show up in the comments section.  This will come to me via email.

 

~Parker Stafford

 

Creativity Made Simple

I will be the first to admit that I am not always someone who can sum things up simply and quickly for my readers.  Instead of writing in broad sweeps, I often get caught in detail.  Today, I am going to attempt to keep it simple.   So let me know how you think it goes!

One of the things that I have observed as an educator is that we don’t teach students how to be creative.  We have not done this because we do not understand it enough to be able to teach to the subject.  This is beginning to change, however, and it is a good sign and bodes well for us as creative thinkers.   I am going to share with you what I believe are the core issues that are related to being creative.

Create The Right Environment

This is crucial to good creativity.  I firmly believe that many people need to create a safe space within which to let their creativity flow.  What is so interesting is that sometimes this safe space can be in the middle of a lot of activity.  It is often said that there is anonymity in numbers.  Sometimes you can be around people while also being alone.  Sitting in a coffee shop or in a subway station, you can sometimes feel safe and alone in the ubiquity of the herd.  Sometimes, though, people may need to be alone, really alone.  This can be your bedroom, or a special place in your home where you have everything you need in order to think.  The truth is, the safe place for being creative is more in your head.  Find the match for that and you have a big piece of the puzzle. Discover your comfort zone.

Surrender

In play as in being creative, we have to give ourselves to the moment.  If you have ever remember being a child slipping into the world of play, you know just what I am talking about.  This is in truth one of the simplest and most basic of states of being.  It is funny, too, because we are also the most self-conscious about it.  A child, when watched by its parents when at play, will lose its surrender become self-conscious, and will lose, almost instantly, the creative impulse that is found in play.  Remember what I said about finding your safe place?  This is why.  You need a way to surrender to the creative impulse, to loosen up and allow the flow to come.   This is something you allow.

When inspiration comes, don’t rationalize the process.  Tap that flow, I say.  You can always go back and revise writing for grammar or re-work a sketch so it fits into a frame or hangs on a wall.  A song can have all the main elements right out of the chute with a few remaining things to clean up or rearrange.  Don’t let the craft get in the way of why you are here; play!  You can always clean things up later!

The act of surrender is a suspension of expectation. This is why many artists will often say they begin to create without a firm idea of where they want to go.  There is a very good reason for this that has more to do with the function of the right brain instead of the linear goal-oriented left brain, but I promised to keep this all short and to the point, didn’t I?  We do not find creativity, it finds us.  We allow, we surrender.  We become available.  We do not pursue, it pursues us.  Having said this, there are all sorts of combinations possible in this basic impulse.  Some create very rational and even stiff controlled work while some are more fluid.  These are more related to outcomes and what you choose, later, to control.  These are all a matter of choice; do you like writing jazz or do you like writing classical?

Surrender is a simple thing.  Its source-point is found in being willing and able to just play.  When you do, you are working with the very forces within you that are the leading edge, if not the very experience of inspiration itself.  An aperture within you opens, you feel wonderful, and something just flows.  The more you attend to it, and the less you seek to control it or tamp it down with fear or any form of uncertainty or feeling of propriety, the more it reveals itself to you.  By learning to cultivate this in your life you can be more creative.  The great thing about this is that you do not have to be an artist.  You only need to be a human being!

The Creative Promise

istockphoto-heart-in-sky-722x1024For years I have been interested in the nature of creativity.  Being an artist, I felt it was important to understand as much about it as possible so that I could be as effective in my creative life as I could be, to learn how to harness this facet of our being most effectively.  It was this curiosity that led me to observe my own state of mind while being creative.  This led me to observe how each hemisphere in the brain worked in tandem to help bring about the elusive state of inspiration.  I observed what states seemed to aid the most in being creative.  I found out about all kinds of tricks for getting your whole brain in on the act.  All of this was useful, but there seemed to be something still deeper, more fundamental in all of this.   After all, most artists I knew tended to treat inspiration as though it was some elusive force, not unlike sighting a Yeti.  We never were sure when we would see or encounter it, but we were always glad when we did!  While I know that such a comparison seems a little silly, it has a real kernel of truth.  We just don’t have a firm grasp on what this state of being is about.  If we did, we would live inside a constant state of inspiration.  But most of us don’t.  Most of the time, we are in this constant state of seeking the elusive Yeti.  I know because I am an artist.   I am also an educator, and the truly great opportunity I have been afforded in my teaching has been that of being able to observe my own students in their own process of seeking this elusive state.  There are a lot of ways that we can help make it more possible for us to find this state of mind and artists know a lot of them because we are all on the same hunt.  But what is so interesting is that when you look deeper into this you can see how some of us don’t have a problem with being inspired.  When you read the words of many famous artists they often speak of how the most natural artists are children.  Why is that?  It is simple.  It is the lack of fear.  Children have no reason to feel fear or apprehension in using this most natural state of being. They are not full of the things that trip them up or hang them up in various ways as regards the creative state. Both love and the creative require the suspension of fear in order for both to flow freely in our experience.

The one thing about fear is that it is the antithesis of love.  Love cannot exist very well within the bounds of the fearful.  It just can’t.  When we are afraid, our most natural of states get tangled, tied up.  Our brains shut down, our physiology also reflects this in subtle and overt ways.  But when we start talking about love, most people feel a little lost how it has anything to do with creativity. It shows.  We have in our lives chosen to cordon love off into very limited ranges of expression and experience.  Love, though, is more than just what we experience.  Admit it; when I mentioned love, you thought probably about how you feel about someone.  I know that I often do this same thing.  Love is how we feel FOR something.  But what if love is more than that, what if love itself is a far more expansive a thing that enters into every single corner of our experience in myriad ways?  Don’t we have a love of a hobby?  Don’t we have a love for the things that we value, even a ring or a piece of jewelry?  We say we love the bracelet we are wearing.  And yet, we stand back and admit to ourselves that that isn’t really love.  That is more like an intense like.  Right?  But I ask you, why cant it be love?  Why can’t the intensity of our like spill over into being love?  Why cant our own feelings, our own natural state of being, be allowed to feel and express this very powerful of states?  Maybe we think that by saying we love the bracelet we are wearing somehow makes us shallow, that we should reserve love for the more important things?  I take you back to our child of four who is sitting at the table, painting wildly, unafraid of creating bold and colorful marks.  She is caught up in her act of creating because it makes her feel great.  Is it possible that the mere act of creating is a form of love?  That we feel love when we do the things that connect us to ourselves?  And what does love do with others to whom we care the most about?  Doesn’t it do much the same thing?  Sure, making a mark on the page is not the same love that we feel when we are making a mark on someone’s heart.  That much is certain. But what if our experience of love has been so limited that it keeps us from following our instincts and keeps us from feeling free enough to open to this experience within ourselves?  Isn’t creating an act of self love?  Is it that we feel so unworthy of this most important part of love that we hesitate to show it to ourselves?

I have discovered that the act of being inspired carries with it all of the same characteristics that go with falling in love.  When we fall in love and when we fall into being inspired, the effects are the same.  I have observed that becoming inspired is itself a very intimate act.  As a result, we often tend to want to be alone. Sometimes, sitting in a coffee shop, we are surrounded by people as we madly scribble away, but in that moment, we have most often blocked out the din of voices and the movement of people so that we feel alone, solitary.  This is an intimate place.  We do not like people invading our space with their attention.  We need a special focus that involves letting ourselves go.  We fall into inspiration the same way that we fall into love.  In the same way we are seduced by our feelings of love, so too do we allow ourselves to fall into a seductive space of the senses when we create art of any kind. A child who is at play does not like it when he or she is being watched by adults.  How many of us have observed how a child’s play will come to a stop when they are aware that others are watching them?  This is because the act of play, which engages the imagination, is the same as the creative state.  The creative state is itself much like love, if not a broader expression of what love is in us. In all of the same situations, we need to be alone, we need to engage our imaginations, we allow ourselves to fall into it, and to do this we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  In both cases, it is the same.  We also need to feel unafraid in both cases, which most often means being alone, but also being in a place where we feel comfortable.  For some of my students (and myself), the best ideas come most often when they are doing something that makes them feel comfortable and safe enough to come out of their shells.  One student did her best creative work in the shower.  Another would take off to be alone, completely alone, without even paper or pencil.  She had to go for a walk, clear her head.  Another found that his ideas came when he was in the car driving for long periods.  Others like to be in a public place, but with their music playing in their earphones.  A number of them simply needed to be alone.  I have noticed that when I give a new assignment in Sculpture class a number of students ask me if they can leave so they can go find inspiration.  In the beginning I resisted this until I learned that many of them were getting better ideas when they were able to just follow their most natural inclinations.  One student would explain, “I just can’t force it, Mr. Stafford, I just have to go let it find me!”   The same is so with love.   Both are incredibly intimate acts sometimes.  Having said this, there are plenty of people who are not self conscious and who can create at the drop of a hat.  Some people actually feed off of the presence of people as though the extra attention is like more energy being brought into the arena. It is true we are all different, but there remains in my observation that on balance, most people approach inspiration in similar ways.

The act of creating is itself a freeing act.  We feel more expansive, and we feel that all is right with the world. We have a special lilt to our step. We are in grace.  All is well in the world, right?  Falling in love has all the same characteristics of this same state.  We have a lilt in our step, a glimmer in our eye.  Everything is golden.  But take that away, take the experience of the creative away, or the person whom we love, and everything becomes dark and shadowed.  Creativity, like love, frees us, allows us to move and become something….more.

I have found that most people like art but do not themselves feel creative.  They say that all they can do is draw stick figures.  And this is the crux of both love and the creative.  We shut down when we feel we are not good enough.  If we feel like we are not beautiful enough to another person, it shuts us down.  When we feel we are not talented enough, we do the same thing when trying to be creative.  In each case, walls are built of one sort or another.  This is not good, you see, because it stops the flow of this vital force that runs through our lives and makes it all the more richer.  I have taken this observation and applied it to my teaching.  I have found that the more I remove the hurdles to the creative and make people feel more safe, they become much more creative. They become more enthusiastic.  They feel supported, more free, less hindered by the “what if’s” in the world.   The people who have the hardest time with the creative are the ones who insist on worrying about something, such as how their work is going to turn out.  The difference between them and our child painting madly at the table is that the child does not worry about how it will turn out.  It is the suspension of outcomes that allows us to be fully present in the moment.  Love, like the creative, cannot be experienced through the past or the future, but only in the present. While we may look back wistfully at a past love or a past creative experience, it is never like what we experience in the moment.  You cannot create something in the past, only in the present.  But like creativity, love can strike terror in our hearts if we are afraid to allow ourselves to become vulnerable.  It is the same in both.

We have to learn to be fearless, we have to open to love the same way we open to the creative.  Both require the same state of being vulnerable and suspension of expectation in order for the experience to bloom in the most natural of ways.  This is why, so often, as an artist is painting or creating, they don’t always know exactly what is going to come next.  It isn’t that they don’t know how they want it turn turn out, or that they are being aimless in their work, it is that in order to do this certain parts of the mind really do have to be shut off.  Love, like the creative, is not a rational process.  It is nonlinear, irrational, and this is where we tap both sides of our brains and awareness.  Art like love cannot come about through a sheer force of will.  It is more like a flower that must open in the presence of the sun. We do not pry its petals open.  We let it open. We allow.  Without this quality, everything is forced.  80% of the ideas that my students come up with that are forced, they tend to abandon in the end for the simple fact that they have not truly plumbed their likes or desires.  The work, when forced, is never as enjoyable as the work that is allowed to flow.  When we flow, we are allowed deeper access into ourselves.  Love, like creating, is not entirely rational because we are not ourselves just rational beings.  Many artists, like those who fall into love, often revel in mystery.  It is the mystery that pulls them forward.  This is not rational, you see.

In my work in glass I have taken this idea and used glass as a vehicle for allowing people to tap the joy of being able to create something beautiful that they themselves believe they are incapable of doing.  Glass is a perfect material for this because it is….well…..beautiful.  I tell people who come into the studio feeling apprehensive about whether they will be able to make something beautiful that the nature of glass is such that you could dribble it on the floor and it would look amazing.  And it does.  I once told this to a group who came in this past winter and one of the kids wound up dribbling hot glass on the floor. At the time, she felt like she had failed, as though she was somehow doing something wrong.  I had, though, just moments before explained that you could do just what she had done and it would look great.  When she got done, she wound up picking up the pieces of glass, now hardened, off the floor and was amazed by how interesting it looked.  She took her “mistake” home with her, she liked it so much!  My experience with making things with a material that is so hard to get “wrong” has done something for people, which is that it opens the portals of enthusiasm and excitement.  They loosen up and are amazed at what it is they are creating.  THIS is where it all begins.  What might take a person years to achieve by learning how to go from stick figure to perfect portrait in chalk I can achieve in minutes. That is because the act of being creative is not about perfect portraits, but about loving what it is that you do.  When you do this, when you allow yourself the freedom to be this way, you naturally open up the cognitive portals in your own being so that inspiration flows.

The other side to all of this is that love naturally has a healing effect on us.  When we open up and allow ourselves to be loved, we feel different.  We unwind, we become more relaxed, happy, and at peace.  We do the exact same thing when we are in a state of inspiration.  This state encourages us to try the seeming impossible.  Suddenly the world resolves into radiant possibility.  We are enthused, we work harder, we lose track of time, we enter “the zone” in the same way that we enter a timeless zone when we are with people that we love.  How many of us have observed how quickly time seems to pass when we are with that someone whom we love?  Always, there is never enough time.  And the same is true for being creative.  Time quite literally changes. Some people even tell of how a moment seems to expand outward into a kind of eternity.  And yet, once we exit it, we feel as though time has suddenly accelerated and we wish we could enter that timeless space again. This is just what artists seek in inspiration.  More than having an idea in mind what they will make, they tend to be far more interested in how the state makes them feel.  They know that when they can just feel into it, they are golden.  It does not matter what they make because the moment allows for endless possibilities.  They know that anything is possible.  They are not worried what they will make because fear is no longer present.  They simply give themselves over to the moment.

The creative shares so much in common with love.  When we love, we create.  When we create, we are also in love.  It is the same.  Both frees us, both heals us.  This is perhaps why we use art as a form of therapy.  Just as love helps us to plumb our deepest feelings, so too does art help us plumb our feelings as well.  I think that our experience with the creative has simply become too limited sometimes and so doing, it tends to cordon off those parts of ourselves that we feel funny about expressing.  But all of this is a form of love, and love is something that is a pretty vast thing when it comes to human experience.  Love is more than something that we feel for something and it is something that we are.

Supporting Good Creative Habits

So how can you boost your creative love quotient?  There are a great number of brain tricks that you can employ that will help to kick start your right brain into motion.  One of these is using your left hand with a simple exercise, such as rolling a coin through all of your fingers without dropping it.  It is believed that by using the motor cortex in your right brain, which is used to control the left side of your body, that you are stimulating the right brain, which is most often seen as being involved in holistic reasoning, seeing, and most often artistic experience.

Find Your Zone

Find your comfort zone.  Does being alone help you to discover your inspired moment, or does being with people, but slightly aloof help?  Knowing what works best for you is a big first step towards how to boost your creativity.  Then once you have realized this, follow it.  For some, listening to music and just drawing and playing with ideas without any aim helps to get into a more creative state.

Expose Yourself

Sometimes just looking at art of all kinds can help you get ideas. The goal is not to copy artists work, but to find pieces that serve to inspire you.  Sometimes sites that have a lot of different art can be good ways to view a broad buffet of ideas.  For as crazy as it seems, Ebay can actually help a lot because instead of just one kind of art, you have a broad array.  Some sites you might find helpful are listed below

Design Observer  mostly graphic arts, but it has a broad range of objects dealing with good design that might just get your juices flowing.

ArtBabble is a cloud-based site for video and is called the youtube of the arts.

ArtNet is a site of over 450 artists, writers, sculptors, painters, animators, and hacker artists from around the world.

deviantart is a site where artists display and sell their works.  This is a broad range of two-dimensional work

thisiscollosal this is one of my personal favorites for the interesting and creative takes on the visual that it provides.  It is fun and engaging and well managed.

Artcylopedia  a list of links to museum collections of art through the ages. A rich source for everything historically art.

Blackbird an outreach program of Virginia Commonwealth University, this resource presents literary and artistic works by a broad range of emerging artists as well as established ones.

This is just a taste of what is out there and might help you when you are feeling a need to get inspired.  Sometimes just having someone elses work that maps out their own inspired moments can help get the gears turning.

Breathing 

Believe it or not, breathing has long played a central role in our feeling centered, balanced, and calm.  When someone is upset, what do we tell them to do to calm themselves down?  “Just breathe!” we say!  I would take it one step further and explain that if you take a little more time with breath work, you can discover how amazingly calming it can be.  for example, if you slow your breathing down and make it longer and deeper and do at least seven breaths in a row like this, counting seven seconds to breathe in, seven seconds to hold the breath and seven second to breathe out, you will develop a very nice slow rhythm to your breathing that will also signal to your mind that its time to relax.  You will notice that people who fall asleep do not have fast breath, but slow, even labored breathing.  If you can match your breathing to that same pace, you will find that your body is experiencing a very calm state where all the troubles you had a few minutes previously are suddenly gone!  One other breathing method I will share with you is one I often give to students who are really keyed up and it tends to work very well.  It is an alternating nostril form of breathing.  It forces you to slow down your breath, but I swear, it really can make you feel much better!  What you do is you hold one nostril closed while you make four full slow breaths in and out through one nostril only.  You then alternate to the other nostril and do the same four breaths and repeat this four times.  It is also helpful if you can focus on your breathing so you aren’t thinking about other things.

Music

The kind of music you listen to, the kind of rhythms and melodies can actually help support certain brain states.  Aboriginal cultures have long used certain rhythms to help induce certain states of reflection.  I have found that music that is rhythmic, and repetitive helps me to zone out into the creative while remaining tethered to the now.  It seems that when I can listen to music that is not telling me a story or that is engaging my verbal centers too much, it can lead me to move into the zone.  Different music will have different effects.  Sometimes, too, I need no music while at other times having something of the right style is just what the doctor ordered. I once created an entire body of work while listening to David Byrne’s  The Catherine Wheel.  For some reason, and for a set period of time, only this music “did it” for me.   I once knew an artist in graduate school whose studio was directly above my own, who listened to the same song over and over in order to do his work for his thesis show.  For him, it was Prince’s “I would Die For You.”  This seemed to get him into an energetic state and got his juices moving.  It had to, he listened to it for months for hours each session!  For as much as it sometimes annoyed me to hear this song on an infinite loop, I also “got” why it was he listened to it.  It was what got him into his own zone.  I used to listen to Thursday Afternoon by Brian Eno, which is a piece that is hardly even music, but a supportive soundscape that is reflective and great for drawing.  It is quite nearly background noise.  But sometimes, no music is the ticket, you just need to feel it out.

Reading

Honestly, I am putting this here only because it has helped me.  I don’t know if it will help you or not, but here is a try.  I have found very specific works by Walt Whitman to be incredibly  inspiring.  Leaves of Grass is sheer miracle.  He could turn a phrase in a timeless manner. Whitman is as alive today in my life as he was back during his own life.  Oddly, I find his other work about the civil war to be dreary stuff.  Whitman leaves me in a zone when I read the right stuff.  And who knows, maybe Whitman is like Prince was to my painter colleague who listened to the same song over and over.  But clearly, not just any writing will do it for me.  I need something that will push me over into realms of mystery, wonder, and even awe.

These are just a few sources for aiding in supporting your creative state.  In the end, though, you need to find what does it for you, observe how you feel when you do certain things and then make them part of a method that will work for you.

New Work

Perfumer2
©Parker Stafford

If you are an artist then you know the importance of new work.  Developing new winning designs is a way to not only generate renewed interest in your brand, but it serves an integral effect of helping to keep you creatively vital.  I know that for me I get a big bump behind developing new work that helps to push production for a while.  I feel better.  Life just FEELS better to me and my mind is working in a much more fertile way as I wonder just what might be next on the creativity front.  Its as if the world moves from few options to one where options are just bursting at the seams.  Such is the effect that inspiration has on us.

The last four years have brought unprecedented change to my life.  From a severe shoulder injury, to a divorce, to managing an eight-entity partnership to being without a home and without income.  Being instantly disabled was no fun. The doctor explained I would not do anything except therapy with my shoulder for an entire year.   The combination of pain killers and discomfort and my inability to work was like a depth charge in my world.  It shook my confidence, it took me back to square one, and it also gave me a solid period of introspection into WHY I was doing what I was doing and caused me to step back and look—really look—at the who when where and why’s of all of this.. When the tree was shaken in this way I had to look long and hard and honestly at WHY I was motivated to do the things I was doing.  Why was I running a business in production glass?  It isn’t as simple an answer as you might at first expect.  Having a marriage break up during this time was itself a double-whammy and was made much more difficult by a spouse who sought to put children in the middle of it all while also limiting my exposure to them.  The economy was in the doldrums and I had few options available to me as I recovered just enough to wind up in another pot of soup.  And in the midst of all of this very terrible stuff was a center of clarity and purpose…..and even design.  I don’t believe in destiny.  I believe we create much of this.  A life can have a design that often escapes our notice but emerges in times when we allow ourselves to grow quiet.  If you step back and look at our culture and world as a whole, we really aren’t known as the species that quiets itself.  What we take as quieting the mind is akin to a brief distraction from the normal rush of inner dialog that goes along with our days.  You just never realize just how much you do it until you are suddenly without it.  Boom.  The sound goes off. The lights go out.  You are suddenly suspended within a deep blue buoyant ocean of a place.  What happens to you in places such as these?  In sensory deprivation tanks the mind is known to feed information out of itself for its own consumption just in order to keep the information loop it is so used to having supplied to it, going.  We never realize any of this until something comes along to put the brakes on things.  Its relative, so breaking the frame of reference just a little does a lot to begin to shift awareness, feeling, and being.

So, putting away the violins for a minute, I want to say that one of the few things that has helped me get through this period has been the ability to create.  During this time period I have had some of the biggest outputs of writing in my life.  I amassed a 700 page manuscript for a book, wrote several children’s stories and began developing new work and classes for my studio business.  I have written music, poetry, maintained up to three blogs and wrote an article for an online magazine on the subject of nonduality.  I was asked to teach at two colleges locally.  Now I teach at just one.  Part time and perfect.  It keeps me in the mix with young minds that want to be involved in new and different projects in a collaborative way, much as was done this past semester with my sculpture students in making blown glass sculptural forms for the Glass Garden project that I wrote about a few posts down the line.

Being able to have friends who serve as inspirational source-points can be incredibly important for turning the boat in your life around.  I know that for me, the creative was the one force that made the difference between madness and great joy.  It wasn’t a crutch; it was a means for changing how I thought, how I felt and how I reacted to the world around me.  A curious thing happens in the brain when we choose to feel differently; we do!  Our bodies stop pumping out things like adrenaline, which is a stress chemical and begins to pump out things like endorphins, dopamine, and other feel-good compounds.  The body is actually a loyal servant to our own minds and feelings and will most often mirror our thinking and feeling state as precisely as it can chemically. If you care to know just how fast this change can take place, observe as you allow your feelings to shift from one mood to the next. Our bodies can shift on a dime for us if we realize that it is we who control the boat and where its sailing!  Too often, though, we wind up being mastered by our feelings, and this can put people into quite dismal places indeed.  At the end of the day, though, until you understand that YOU are in control of all of this, even your own so very crazy emotions (that feel out of your control), you wont develop the sense of personal responsibility and self mastery that is necessary to have the confidence to take charge of your interior life and put it into a more positive direction.

Shell form 5 -b sizedSo art and creativity was a powerful way through all of this for me.  This was good, too, because I like simple and nondogmatic.  I happen to believe or feel that all of this here was not meant to be difficult but can actually be amazingly simple.  Like falling off a log.  Instead, though, we often set up barriers to our success.  I know I have.  Lots of them.  Why?  it all comes down to self love.  Not selfish narcisism, but rather a reverence for your own self as a gateway to worlds of wonder and boundless joy and love.  We tend to mess it up somehow, self-sabotaging most often.  Somewhere along the line we begin to feel that we aren’t good enough.  We are then on the lookout for any suggestion that we aren’t.  Our minds actually are on the lookout for ANYTHING that matches this pattern turning in our minds or hearts.  The thing about these patterns is that they are like plants; they will continue to self-propogate and can wind up getting worse.  You can also in that moment choose to go in the other direction and actively change the pattern into something different.  You can literally change your mind.  You can change how it operates, how it responds, how it chooses from a list of behaviors.  One of the most powerful ways to change these negative patterns is through creativity.  By being creative, you are granting yourself permission to be happy and to enjoy what it is you are doing as well as to begin to consider not just new ideas but also allowing yourself to enjoy something that you may have felt edgy or uncertain about (because maybe you felt like you just weren’t GOOD enough at it) for some time now. Sitting down with a guitar and playing music alone might at first seem like a lonely thing to do, but it can also be an incredibly nurturing thing too. Giving yourself the freedom to dream wildly and creatively is another way of honoring your own insides. It can be a game changer, it really can.  We now know that the very substance of our brains actually undergoes change as we begin to rewire the brain by developing different thought and feeling patterns.  We can see how different parts of the brain begin to light up when we move away from anxiety and uncertainty and allow ourselves to play and have fun. Play and fun are not mere idle activities; they are the very substance of what gives us long lives, healthy hearts, bodies and minds, and productive relationships.  When we are happy, when we are engaged, everything moves so much more smoothly.

As a result of all of this I remind myself that I need to stop what I am doing periodically and design new work.  Already I have begun some very different things.  Who knows if they will be of any interest.  When it comes to developing new work you do what you like and what winds up selling helps to support the business and more innovation.  Its not unlike a publishing company or movie producer that has blockbusters that help subsidize the less successful but just as worthy lesser known movies or books. I can remember making some of the ugliest suncatchers ever.  They were an experiment that went wrong.  I took them to a show and placed them in a basket on the floor.  They were the first things to sell and were gone within the first hour of the show.  So there is no way to gauge popularity; do what you like, make what you love and leave the rest to the fates.  Really.  If this is about pleasing other people, you are going to spend many sleepless hours trying to do just that when the only thing that ever made any sense or works is pleasing yourself.  I know maybe that sounds self centered, but you know, I have noticed that when I am happy, those around me feel that happiness and respond to it.  If I am not right then those around me are most certainly affected.  Instead of seeking to fill your cup from others, fill it yourself so that you are overflowing.  If we each did this we would each be in a lot better shape emotionally, and socially as a species.

This year I have embarked on some very divergent ideas creatively.  I wanted to do fish for my home.  I made some out of ceramic.  I wanted a garden because of how being amidst living things make me feel.  Last week I had a hummingbird buzz around my head as I stood stock still watching it move through the garden.  Bees and butterflies by the dozen are zooming in and out of this garden and it just lights me up to watch.  It lights me up to watch people enjoy making art, enjoying what they are doing.  I am making new work in glass, more different than anything I have ever done and yet its also some of the most satisfying so far.  I am breaking away from the vessel more and pushing blown forms into sculpture.  I am beginning to make water fountains; this was something I had NEVER considered but once I saw the results of what I and my students had created, I was hooked.  I wanted one in my yard, too. I wanted TWO.  One in the front, one in the back yard!  Here is glass and color and water all in one place creating sound and movement. Maybe its not highbrow, but I am a simple man.  Sometimes the sublime speaks to us through the ray of light peeking through the trees, or in the particular pthalo green we have on our pallet for the day.  In each moment, tucked between the obvious and the esoteric there is something and it is waiting quietly for us to recognize it.  When we do, it doesn’t require grandiose visions.  Its as simple as a smile, as grand as a waterfall.  It is in both, and it waits for all of us.  The gateway is in allowing ourselves, which is so very much like what making great art and invention is all about.