“What is an artist? A provincial who finds himself somewhere between a physical reality and a metaphysical one…. It’s this in-between that I’m calling a province, this frontier country between the tangible world and the intangible one—which is really the realm of the artist.” — Federico Fellini
Questions about creativity, art, the creative process, the artistic life — however you phrase it, the curiosity is based on one thing: the fact that those who do not experience their own creativity are incapable of understanding those who dwell within theirs.
Fellini is right that the artist lives in a liminal world, between dream and manifestation. But so do we all. The biggest difference is that the artist recognizes that world of liminality; others aren’t aware of the fact that a part of them lives in that place of dreams all the time.
The best way for anyone to understand creativity is for them to be introduced to their own creative energies.
We live in a world that has systematically devalued and destroyed opportunities to experience our creativity. Standardized testing, rote teaching, drilling and killing — that is too often how our children are “taught”, and with that kind of numbing out, adults rarely have ever felt their own creative energy. And to live a life without ever having felt your own creative energy surging through your mind and body — well, that’s not living at all.
Pedagogical theorists are, finally, realizing how under-developed our students are when they are denied time to explore creativity. But after reading mountains of educational theory on “teaching creativity”, I’ve come to the conclusion that none of them know what they are talking about. Unless you are an artist, you cannot introduce someone to art. I saw this in the years when I was a residency artist in the state arts council programs. I remember one day, walking down the hall of a public school in New Jersey, overhearing a kindergarten teacher giving instruction to the children:
“We’ll be drawing pictures of apples today. And what colors are apples? They are red, green, yellow. There are NO purple apples. No blue apples. So, let’s be sure that we use the right colors, everybody!”
I wanted to scream. I wanted to rush into the room and push her out of the way, and tell the children, “YES there are purple apples! There are blue apples! There are polka dot and striped apples! And where are they? In your imagination! So draw whatever kind of apples you can imagine!”
It is impossible for a non-artist to teach creativity. There, I’ve said it.
So what we need is an avalanche of artists, a flood of artists, entering all levels of the population — interacting with the youngest children and the oldest seniors — inviting them to see their own purple apples, to imagine their flavor, to smell their perfume.
Our society needs its artists now more than ever. They are the shamans who will lead the way into that liminal province, that is the place where all is possible, pre-manifest and yet real.
So how does one begin to experience their own creativity? Here’s how:
Go find the artists. Turn off the TV, the computer and the smart phone. Surround yourself with live art, if only a little bit, each and every day. Go to an art museum, listen to all kinds of music (not just the kind you are most used to!), learn about the theatres in your area, and buy tickets — or better yet, go to their preview nights, when audience is often invited to view for free. Watch live dance performance. Go to poetry and literary readings. Attend open mics in your neighborhood. Read books – all kinds, but especially literary works and poetry.
Carry a notebook in which you can sketch and write. Consider taking music or singing lessons. Try acting. Draw. Take a pottery class. Dance — even if it is only in your living room when nobody is watching. Invest in some inexpensive art supplies – a sketchbook, some pencils, maybe some water color. Buy a cheap camera and start taking pictures. Buy a box or two of those magnetic word poetry kits and play with word combinations on your refrigerator each morning, as you wait for your tea or coffee to be finished.
Buy yourself a copy of THE ARTIST’S WAY by Julia Cameron and read it. Do the exercises. Follow her guidance.
Hang out with artists. Get to know some of the people in your community who are involved in the arts, and spend time with them. Get involved with what they do. Your life will begin to change. It will widen, and suddenly feel more infused with energy.
YOU will feel more alive. You’ll realize that artists are all around you, and that the world is filled with creative wonder. You’ll begin to feel the flow of that creative energy moving around and through you. You’ll never need to ask again, “What is creativity?” You will know for yourself, and it will feel wonderful.