On Reading KEEP GOING

The book Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon couldn’t have entered my life at a better time. In short, Kindergarten is killing me, and “just keep going” has become a mantra on which I now depend.

My daughter began school earlier this month and adjusted well to everything new: new people, new wake-up time, new bedtime, new routine altogether. As for me, not so much. However, Keep Going not only reminded me of the interests and passions that continue to have possibility in me, but also convicted me of some misconceptions I’ve held and misbehaviors I’ve adopted as I pursue the creative life. Through his book, Kleon challenged me to think or act differently in a number of ways, including the following:

Ignore the audience
I’ve worked in the realm of business communications and public relations for nearly twenty-five years. The concept and reality of audience is my industry’s biggest concern. The audience’s needs. The audience’s reactions. The audience’s attentiveness and current opinions.

Kleon poses, however, that the work of a true and focused creative is unfazed by audience. We should make what we make because we feel compelled in our own souls what we want to make. We should not depend on others’ positive or negative feedback to drive what we accomplish from day to day to day. We should resist the urge to monitor clicks and likes and comments as some kind of personal validation.

Uh, guilty, and point taken.

Tidying has its place
I’ve become a sucker for books and articles and blogs on cool studio spaces. The thing is I can see myself spending about ninety-five percent of my time making sure I have the best back-drop for making art, with just a nickel left for actual art-making.

Kleon’s position: Tidying has its place, namely with the tools needed to make art. Knowing where to find a brush or pen or pad of paper is definitely necessary for getting the job done, but not so much staging an environment that gets us “in the mood,” is photo-shoot ready, etc. If things get too cluttered or out-of-control, we can use tidying as a way to explore new ideas, says Kleon. The mess may reveal a collision of media and subject matter and technique that we hadn’t thought of before.

Just do it
When I resurrected this blog thanks to the motivation of Show Your Work!, another of Kleon’s books, I was determined to claim the title of artist (this was my idea, not Kleon’s). “Title schmitle” is what Keep Going got through to me (and now I can’t help but hear the cast of Meatballs chanting in my ear, “It just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter…”—yep, I’m definitely a product of the 70s).

Kleon puts it this way: “Forget the noun, do the verb… Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.”

Along with this “doing business,” Kleon suggests that it be wrapped in playfulness, no end goal in mind. It’s okay to throw our work into the scrap heap. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to have fun with nothing to show for it. Imagine that.

Give gifts
I have also fallen prey to the glorification of Etsy and other money-making machines for creatives—that any success in these realms is the brightest jewel in the crown of creativity. I was absolutely moved and convicted by this quote from Quincy Jones that Kleon includes: “God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.”

If I’m going to stay on this crazy creative course, I want it to be pure in motive. I want it to be rich in spiritual collaboration with the Almighty. I want it to be less about marketing and earning and getting ahead, and more about simply being and enjoying, and giving through and from the heart.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon—this book may be among the top five game-changing books of my creative career. Not only did it encourage my ongoing adventures in exploring and making of art, which has become more difficult in the face of transition. It also challenged my integrity, and that’s definitely something I want to maintain no matter where my artistic interests lie or take me.

Dear readers, I invite you to keep going with me! Join me in learning more from Kleon through these video links:
“How to Keep Going” (Bond 2018)
“Creative Is Not a Noun” (Scratch@MIT 2018)

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On Seeing THE CREATIVE BRAIN

CreativeBrainThere’s nothing like a good documentary, and I ran across a winner on Netflix. The Creative Brain is written and presented by Dr. David Eagleman, whose twenty-plus years as a neuroscientist inspired this hour-long program. Watch The Creative Brain>>

Eagleman, who is also one of the authors of The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, interviews actors and musicians, nanotechnologists and architects, to “unlock the secrets of creativity.” His findings are both fascinating and motivating to those of us who define ourselves as makers, artists, and creatives—or who simply want to make an impact…

Human beings are special
Unlike other animals, we can “disengage our instincts” to see beyond the usual uses of things. For example, we can turn off our automatic response to eat when we see food. All of the possibilities that we are able to see in the world are “the foundation of our creativity.”

Originality is “bunk”
One of Eagleman’s guests describes jazz as a “mutt.” In other words, “being original is not about generating something out of nothing.” I think of all of the teachers, muses, and artistic ancestors who prove this point in my life—all of the books read and movies watched and music enjoyed. The list goes on. As a result, my contributions are the sum of a lot of input from various sources. Any originality is born from my unique life experience.

Creativity requires intentionality
Eagleman notes that, despite our great creative potential, humans remain wired to take “the path of least resistance”—to do what is easy. This path is the arch enemy of creativity. Eagleman closes his presentation with three tips for fighting the urge to live and work the same way day after day; I invite you to watch the show for these inspiring insights!

The program also concludes with a profile on a fine-arts elementary school, how it was saved from closing and now thrives given how creativity is “at the heart of every subject.” It just so happens that my own daughter will soon start Kindergarten in a similar setting, and The Creative Brain further affirms that we made the right choice. I trust that her education will help her become successful, innovative, and creative—to grow into an accomplished artist, musician, nanotechnologist, architect, or whatever she dreams to be!

On Reading THE GIFT OF ART

Though my latest read was written when I was just twelve years old—in other words, decades ago—it speaks so profoundly to my interests today. The Gift of Art: The Place of the Arts in Scripture by Gene Edward Veith, Jr. celebrates the biblical purpose of art: “glory and beauty.” At the same time, Veith considers art’s place among the more practical aspects of life: food, clothing, shelter, customs, etc. Veith says, “All of these are valuable gifts of God, essential parts of our humanity.” As I learn more about art and marvel at all of its forms, I couldn’t agree more.

The book cover also describes The Gift of Art as having a “liberating spirit.” I remain convinced by Veith’s arguments that God encourages creativity with very few, but very firm, boundaries. Here are a few of my very favorite key points from the book that support this theme and others:

[God] is the original abstract artist.”
In His making of the world, God also invented shapes and colors and concepts. No models or patterns to follow, just His good and perfect will. The ultimate creative process!

“Art is powerful because it heightens perception.”
Veith continues, “It does this partially by lifting an object or experience out of its normal context so that it can be apprehended freshly and more fully.” I expect to take this insight into my next visit to an exhibit—to appreciate even more the subject matter of an artist’s work and to stretch my understanding of the subject as to see it differently later in its “normal context.”

Art can never replace the Word of God.
Some Christian artists may feel pressured to portray the Gospel in their works. However, it’s essentially impossible—the Word is the Word is the Word. Art can definitely be inspired by it and founded on it, but the Word’s power is intrinsic to its medium and form. I love how Veith describes art as having the capability of being “sacramental,” communicating portions of God’s Word “not simply as an abstract doctrine but as a living and concrete reality.”

Art can help us understand a concept in a revitalizing way.
Veith offers this insight in a section titled “Recovering meaning.” He opines that art can help us recover in our hearts and memories the significance of our faith. The crucifixion. The resurrection. These, for instance, may be contemplated anew when observed in art.

“When art and religion are distinct, they can reflect each other.”
It all comes down to this: Enjoy God’s gift of art, be it a blatant expression of one’s faith or a whimsical seemingly unrelated experiment in color, texture, dimension, etc. God delights in it all, as long as they remain distinct—”…for the artist as a person, faith in his or her art alone leads to spiritual death,” says Veith.

Furthermore, Veith encourages our interests outside of religious doctrine; such interests actually help illuminate its relevance and timelessness and necessity. This is liberating indeed, just as promised at the beginning of reading The Gift of Art. So I plan to continue to immerse myself in any art and all art, trusting that it is one of the most divine gifts we are given in this life. I gladly receive it.

On Seeing NATURE: HINTS OF A NEW WORLD

As part of a spontaneous outing with my friend Judy, we stopped by the Opening Night Framing Services & Gallery for the artists’ talk on “Nature: Hints of a New World,” an exhibit featuring the works of Hazel Belvo and Marcia Casey Cushmore. Who knew we had happened upon such a momentous occasion! The exhibit was not only a grand representation of the women’s travels all over the country and world, but also the very last show to grace the walls of Opening Night—its owner is retiring and closing the business’s doors after forty-four years. Yes, we stepped into something very special.

It’s apparent that both Casey Cushmore and Belvo revel in the gift of color. Their works range from painterly renditions of bold and bright flower gardens, to gnarled and textured trees, to modular landscapes, to all-out abstracts. I loved every single piece in the exhibit—and even more so after learning more about the artists and their perspectives on art, life, and our precious natural surroundings.

Looking closer at “Gratitude” by Casey Cushmore

Marcia Casey Cushmore
Casey Cushmore’s portion of the talk was a tribute to the beauty and necessity of trees. She helped us consider how trees not only sustain our lives, but also serve as our best examples of community as it should be. Life-giving. Sheltering. Concerned about the wounded. Trees embody these positive qualities, and we humans can pay homage to trees—and, in all likelihood, save the world—by reflecting this kind of beauty ourselves.

My favorite works by Casey Cushmore were of trees painted with incredible texture. On closer inspection, the paintings were composed of small shapes and splotches of various colors, some of which were outlined with darker hues. My takeaway? I would love to try this technique using knitted items as my subject matter.

Belvo filled an accordion journal with drawings inspired by The Overstory.

Hazel Belvo
Belvo continued the conversation with musings on the “Spirit Tree;” it’s located among the forests of Minnesota’s North Shore and has inspired much of Belvo’s work. Along with Cushmore, she recommended The Overstory: A Novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning and tree-inspired book by Richard Powers. Belvo showed off a delightful hand-drawn accordion journal showing the progression of seeds to sprouts to seedlings to full-out trees—her tribute to The Overstory.

“Seascape Triptych I” by Hazel Belvo

I obviously have another book to read. In addition, I was intrigued by Belvo’s triptychs, each made up of one abstract landscape paired with two complementary paintings showing the detail of tree rings or another related pattern or texture. I’ve added a similar triptych to my list of assignments

What a treat to be in the presence of both of these women—through my meeting them and seeing their art, it was apparent they bear timeless talent and big hearts for the future of humanity and the system of which we are a part. Theirs is a noble pursuit indeed.

p.s. Hear from the ladies yourself! Listen to Ampers interview>>

On Trying POLYMER CLAY

Thanks to a sweet deal on Groupon, I attended the “Intro to Polymer Clay” class at Clay Squared to Infinity with my friend Sara. Located in “Nordeast”—the artistic center of the Twin Cities—Clay Squared to Infinity is equal parts tile showroom and creative studio.

The raw, gray warehouse walls provide the perfect neutral backdrop for the ecclectic samples of clay-covered teapots, vases, buttons, and beads. I spent an evening here with about twenty other students in exploring the basic techniques of color blending, pattern making, and project completing. My discoveries about the world of polymer clay were numerous…

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Rolling out “blankets”

Fun & simple vernacular
Forget big, unfamiliar, technical terminology when it comes to working with polymer clay. To create a Kandinsky-esque design (see above), we rolled “worms” out of our “canes” of clay, then wrapped the worms in little worm “blankets,” then cut squares from our multi-colored worm “loaves.” To achieve the effect of “fluffiness,” we formed “bacon” strips from our clay. No joke.

So many surprises
An element of mystery characterizes all of the methods we tried in class. There was really no way of knowing exactly what we’d end up with. The magic happened when we took a razor blade to our layered loaves to reveal the miniature designs inside. Some were dazzling, some were disappointing, but most were useable in way or another.

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I chose a frame as my final project—and notice the multi-colored “worm” beside it here.

Projects galore
We learned that you can cover just about anything with clay to achieve a finished project—anything as long as it’s bakeable at low heat (275 degrees Fahrenheit). Wood works. Glass works. Metal works. Some sturdy plastics work, such as the kind used for switch plates and ballpoint pens (to avoid an epic mess, be sure to remove the ink barrel before baking).

My project for the night? Applying the results of my mixing and rolling and cutting to the surface of a wooden picture frame.

Practice makes presentable
I laid out the little sliced rectangles upon my frame. When it looked fairly decent, I picked up the rolling tool. That’s when things went horribly wrong. My cute little round worm shapes morphed into mush, a lumpy and ugly mish-mash of mush.

Imagine barf topped by green olives with pimentos (I applied green and orange clay circles in hopes of redeeming the most unsavory background). Barf—yep, that’s what it looked like. My final project was not at all presentable and exactly why you’re not seeing a photo of it here. Believe me, you should thank me. I have no regrets about destroying the thing as soon as I got home.

Despite having nothing to show for it, I loved the experience and am willing to give it another try. Sometimes a person just needs to enjoy the process as the prize. There are no losers among courageous creatives!