While I was waiting for my flight home in the vast Hong Kong International airport, I reflected on the many things that had been stirred in me by the experience of being in Hong Kong.
Chief among them was a vague sense of fraudulence.
Although I’d just run a vital, stimulating workshop on cultivating creativity at the Asia Yoga Conference, my own artistic creative output had been sadly lacking for nearly a year. Instead of writing and taking pictures, I’d been focusing on getting ready for the conference, trying to market my new book The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World, publishing the books of my former mentor Gene Garber, and my counseling work with clients. These are all creative activities, of course, but they don’t provide me with the balance-enhancing inner gyroscope that writing and taking pictures does.
But, I thought as I waited for my plane to board, I really enjoyed that creativity workshop, perhaps more than any kind of teaching I’ve ever done. I wanted the opportunity to do more workshops like that, in more places hitherto unknown to me.
As I stood in line, mentally embracing the 16-hour flight home, it occurred to me that I could get back into writing and also set the stage for more workshops by writing a book about the Artists for Artists community I’d created on Boston’s North Shore, in Santa Fe, and now in Hong Kong. On the long trip home, the rough shape of a book on Cultivating Creativity began to form in my mind.
Early Bloomers vs Late Bloomers
In his New Yorker article “Late Bloomers,” Malcolm Gladwell contrasts artists such as Pablo Picasso, whose genius was acknowledged early in his career, with those like Cézanne, who did his best work late in life and only then received widespread recognition. “On the road to great achievement,” Gladwell wrote, “the late bloomer will resemble a failure: While the late bloomer is revising and despairing and changing course and slashing canvases to ribbons after months or years, what he or she produces will look like the kind of thing produced by the artist who will never bloom at all.”
Early bloomers, he observed, hit the ground running, but late bloomers need support as, through trial and error, they discover how to realize their talent. “Prodigies are easy,” Gladwell explains. “They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”
When I read this article a few years ago, I realized that “late bloomer” exactly described me, and also described most of the artists I knew. Unlike Cézanne, none of us has a wealthy father to support our experimental artistic endeavors. But if we were to bloom, we, too, needed support. So I put out a call to all the painters, writers, photographers, composers, and other artists I knew and we met to find a way to help each other.
That was in March, 2014. Four years later, we’re still meeting, and we’re still blooming!
Advantages of creative projects
In preparation for my Cultivating Creativity workshops, I asked several members of our group to describe what, for them, were the benefits of working on creative projects. Here are some of their responses.
- Meditative: “There’s a meditative aspect to having a practice, in my case painting. It’s complex, but in a way that energizes.”
- Grounding: “I like the touchstone effect. Without something to go back to, to keep involved with the creative process, it’s too easy to get caught up in the demands and responsibilities of my day job and how exhausting that can be.”
- Calming. “For me, writing fiction has a great calming effect. I forget time and hunger and fatigue and enter another, rejuvenating world.”
- Nourishing: “I find a creative project a source of nourishment I can go back to and reinvigorate myself. To see that portion of the journey and think, ‘Oh, wow, that’s great! I really did that?’ Or go back to another part and think, ‘I really struggled with that one.’ I get nourishment from what I’ve completed, and it pushes me to the next level. Going back to it keeps giving back.”
- Transforming. “I think that the nature of making art—good art—requires going deeply within and getting in touch with your deepest feelings. This can be difficult—you might revisit past trauma or unpleasant situations. But it can also connect you with exalting joy”
- Companionship. “If you have a project you’re working on, you’re not alone and you don’t feel lonely. I think there’s great solace in that. It’s a very deep relationship—like the relationship some people have with God.”
The North Shore Artists for Artists Group
Our group is the model for the workshops I’ve presented. We each began by asking ourselves the Miracle Question. More on this later, but briefly, it’s a question whose answer is a clear, actionable vision of our ideal creative lives.
Here’s the four-part structure we’ve evolved for the meetings:
- Check in: Where are each of us on our paths to our “miracles”?
- Discussion: A dharma-talk style of discussion based on a reading on some aspect of art or in response to a question about the artistic process. (More on the dharma-talk style later, too. It’s crucial to our evolution as a group that hears, sees, and supports each other in our creative work.)
- Show and tell: If someone wants to share work or get feedback on it, we share it. If not, we discuss other topics important to group members.
- Check out: We each commit to doing a specific task or experiment that we think will advance us toward our “miracle” and estimate how far we think it will take us.
Many of us, even if we think of ourselves as independent thinkers, are “obligers” – people who tend to complete things only if someone is expecting us to do so. I have completed every work-related project ever expected of me, but I also have about 500,000 words of unfinished novels and nonfiction books sitting in filing cabinets and computer files. They are like unwatered plants, withering in their pots. And I have more than 100,000 photographs nobody has ever seen.
Without the Artists for Artists group, I don’t think I’d have finished either of my recent books, Paths to Wholeness and The Art of Balance. Others in the group have experienced similar bloomings.
These are some of the benefits we’ve all experienced as a result of being in the group:
- Accountability. During the check-in and check-out, we make a commitment to keep going with our work.
- Exploration of our artistic natures: Our dharma-talk discussions of art let us deeply explore our thoughts and feelings about art with each other.
- Support. Show-and-Tell provides us with an audience, encouragement, and sometimes with ideas.
- Collaboration: Collaboration opportunities arise among members. Example: A visual artist group member is illustrating a book written by another group member. We’ve also talked about doing a group project.
In later posts, I’ll try to capture the essence of what we do in the group and how we do it.
I’ve also started a Cultivating Creativity Facebook group, where I hope to generate a global community of Artists for Artists. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/cultivate.creativity/ Once I have a quorum of Facebook group members, I’ll start actively guiding that process.
The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World at Cabot Street Books in Beverly, MA
The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World on Amazon.com
The Art of Balance Cheat Sheet (free eBook)
The Art of Balance Meditation Cheat Sheet (new!)
The Art of Balance Addictions Cheat Sheet (new!)
Paths to Wholeness: Fifty-Two Flower Mandalas
52 (more) Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
52 Flower Mandalas: An Adult Coloring Book for Inspiration and Stress Relief
Paths to Wholeness: Selections (free eBook)