I was drowning in a sea of misconceptions about what an artist was, what an artist did, and who could play a part in the cultural life of our time... “- Marsha Norman
Julia Cameron refers to creativity as “spiritual electricity,” and in the first principle in her book ‘The Artist’s Way’, she refers to it as “the natural order of life.”
Pulitzer prize winning playwright, Marsha Norman, refers to art as “our common language.”
In a speech she did on December 8th, 1995 — at the Kentucky Arts Council’s 25th Anniversary Celebration Conference — she said that she believes art “saves us from our singularity, from our separateness… It is the connection we have to each other.”
I believe that we are all creative. In our own unique way, we all have the ability to communicate our souls. I personally, express myself best through my hands. They write what I am often too afraid to say out loud. They communicate a language and a passion that are still learning how to speak. They communicate a side of me that once screamed at the ocean from the top of a cliff; they share the versions of me that are neither perfect nor agreeable.
As artists, we are not agreeable.
As artists, we break things and wreak havoc and mumble to ourselves in public.
As artists we are brave, opinionated, and so strong it would probably scare the conscious part of ourselves that respond to a name; an identity.
The creative life we yearn to live, and the creative self we yearn to be, has no limitations. There is no right way to be creative. There is no book you can read that will teach you the best way to express what’s in your heart. Only you know the answer to that.
“As I write, there rises somewhere in my head that queer and very pleasant sense of something which I want to write; my own point of view…”- Virginia Woolf (diary entry, 1921)
What is your point of view? What do you believe about the world?
“Creating is the act of paying attention to our experiences and connecting the dots so we can learn more about ourselves and the world around us,” says Brene Brown in her newest book ‘Rising Strong.’
I once believed that my point of view was wrong. In a short story I recently wrote, my protagonist admits to being afraid of seeing the world as herself because “no matter how many times I’ve tried to put that thought to paper, it still doesn’t make any sense.”
Add to the confusion, this quote by Eckhart Tolle who tells us that we are “not our thoughts.”
Then who are we?
I believe that our art is our answer to that question.
I believe that underneath our skins, we all have a story – a truth – that could change the world. I’m quoting several well known people in this little essay, but I think it’s important to remember that they are, in fact, people. Just like you who is reading this. Just, perhaps, at a different leg in their journey (and oh! how I resisted that word).
“We have a capacity for language. We have a capacity for love. We need other people to release those capacities,” said Jeanette Winterson in her novel ‘Why be normal when you could be happy?’
Perhaps it all starts with connection, with knowing that we are alone neither in our fears nor our desires. Perhaps it starts with the decision to assert ourselves as artists (as alive) without bowing our heads, and the simultaneous decision to practice our art daily until we’re able to communicate our souls as clearly as they want to be communicated. Hopefully we’ll continue doing that until the end.
“I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better” – Virginia Woolf (1919 diary entry)
Being an artist is a process. It’s a collaboration with time, with self, and with others. As artists we live inside of a question we need to answer. As a collaborator – someone who is alive with you at this moment – I want to hear, experience, and feel the answers to your questions.
While we definitely do need each other in order to grow, creativity has largely been turned into a competition. Okay… let me rephrase that: life has been turned into a competition.
Who can eat the cleanest, meditate the longest, achieve the most, climb the highest? “Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you” said the American Billionaire Mark Cuban.
I once lived my life that way, but that competitive way of living doesn’t feel right to me anymore. It feels like isolation. It feels like panic. It feels like fear.
And so I turn to my creative teachers. Those who have lived a life different from mine, and who have come to understand something that resonates deeply with me.
Sylvia Plath, in one of the letters she wrote to her mother, wrote:
“Gone is the simple college cycle of winning prizes and here is the more complex less clear-cut arena of line, where there is no single definite aim, but a complex degree of aims, with no prizes to tell you you’ve done well. Only the sudden flashes of joy that come when you commune deeply with another person, or see a particularly golden mist at sunrise, or recognize on paper a crystal expression of a thought that you never expected to write down.”
Edward Hirsch, near the end of his life, wrote:
“The older I grow, the more I realize the incredible beauty of the world and already I’m raging about the fact that I’ll be going soon. I haven’t really drunk enough and thought enough and loved enough and worked enough and made enough connections. I’ve wasted a lot of time. So now, when I’m confronted with this incredible world that I live in, instead of diminishing, my hunger for it increases.”
Life is… complicated.
“How much do we really know about true happiness? Burning creativity? Unbridled ecstasy?” asks Steven Kotler in his book ‘The Rise of Superman.’
As artists we all have the opportunity (the obligation) to share what we know about life by truly experiencing our own lives, but in order to do that we must be brave. Collectively we must learn to say what we’re afraid to say if we’re ever going to survive as a species.
Suppression and this belief that we have nothing to say is not only insanity, it could actually be killing us. We are living our lives together. We are here together. Where your foot falls it leaves a mark, whether you want it to our not (John Patrick Shanley).
In the last half of the Marsha Norman quote I started this essay with, she says “at the time, I thought of artists as a rarefied group of very special individuals. Like the best club in the world. And the hardest to get into. I didn’t know I was already in. “
You too are an artist, because you are alive. I believe that we all have a story – a belief, an observation, a perspective – that could change the world. But is has to be yours. It has to come from a place of truth. It can’t be didactic or superior, just vulnerable and honest.
Our lives are the result of our artistic collaborations. As we grow, we have the opportunity to grow together.
I’ve created this blog to be platform for those collaborations. A place where you can share your personal explorations (the questions you’re wrestling with – your creative labours) and discuss the dots you’re stuck on (referring back to Brene Brown quote), the dots you’re missing, and the dots you think you’ve figured out.
I believe that there is so much more that could be understood about the world if we each found the courage to share our voices; our lives.
Books mentioned in this post
*listed in order of their appearance.
‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron
‘Rising Strong‘ by Brene Brown
‘The Power of Now‘ by Eckhart Tolle
‘Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal‘ by Jeanette Winterson
‘Letters Home: Correspondence‘ – Sylvia Plath
‘A Fiery Soul: The Life and Theatrical Times of John Hirsch‘ by Fraidie Martz and Andrew Wilson
‘The Rise of Superman‘ by Steven Kotler
‘The Big Funk‘ by John Patrick Shanley
I wrote about the process of writing this essay on my personal blog: The Positivity Project. Read it here.
Latest posts by Christine Bissonnette (see all)
- A conversation about belonging at the Vancouver Writer’s Fest - October 28, 2015
- Creativity is our common language – it is how we communicate what we are afraid to say as ourselves - September 10, 2015
- “I left something important at home during week 1 at the National Voice Intensive” – entry by Christine Bissonnette - May 22, 2015