Category Archives: Creativity

Why do I make art?

Well, I don’t, but this was the heading for a list of reasons given by US sculptor Ursula von Rydingsvard in the catalogue for her wonderful 2014 exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, UK. They say a lot about how I’d like to be and about the solitude/creativity connection. Here are the ones that spoke to me, and some reflections.

To ease my high anxiety, to numb myself with the labour and the focus of building my work

This speaks to me about the value of flow, of physical activity to release nervous energy, the expression of feelngs through creative work

Objects, or the process by which I concretize my ideas, feel so good

–  the sexual/sensual dilemma of being alone – finding ways to use touch, sight – all the senses – to nourish the need for physical contact

Because there’s pleasure in it

Because there’s pain in it

– because there’s aliveness in it!

Because my deepest admiration goes to those who have made art that interests me

-making use of inspiration, of the sense of deep connection with art that speaks to me

Because I need to use both my body and my mind. The labour of my body is what keeps me awake and alive, what numbs me and offers a kind of veneer between me and the things in life that are painful to face.

This is interesting. Is numbing a good thing? Is it avoidance? Maybe sometimes it’s necessary – some things have to be taken in, faced, integrated slowly – we can only take so much pain. Certainly a healthier numbing than alcohol or food! And it’s pouring out all the energy generated by strong emotions. Makes me think that I used to be much more aware of having lots of nervous energy. Now not so much. Is it still there, waiting to be accessed and channelled?

Because the visuals – that which I perceive through my eyes – are an extraordinarily important part of my life

Yes, One of my greatest discoveries in the past few years is art – looking at great art speaks deeply to me and nourishes my soul. And more generally, trying to look at the world mindfully can transform the ordinary.

Because I don’t want to be doing anything else with my life – that the building of my artwork feels like the most consequential thing I could be doing with my time.

Because I can run into a world of making, both physically and mentally

There’s the solitary! There’s the answer to the relationships dilemma: something that fills her life, gives her total satisfaction and fulfillment.

Because I like working with a group of assistants who become another kind of family

I passed over that one at first, but perhaps there IS something for me here: how to find a communal dimension to my passions? The idea of “family” based on shared passions and creative work rather than blood.

Because I like the daily rhythm of going into my studio

NB rhythm. Two things here: having a gentle, non-driven structure- and the discipline of that, to actually get into the studio each day. Of creating enough structure to give life rhythm and coherence without getting tied down by it.

Because it’s a place to put my pain, my sadness

Because there’s a constant hope inside me that this process will heal me, my family and the world.

Because I constantly need to try to better understand the immense suffering and pain of my family that I never seem to be able to really understand.

She comes from a Polish family, displaced in World War Two, so from a background of much suffering and loss. At first I didn’t think these were relevant to me  – I’m not creating great art, I have no such traumatic history. And yet – pouring body, mind and soul into creating, touching inner depths, bringing to the surface personal wounds and pain – which will reflect in some way the history of our family backgrounds –  each of us who heals and interacts  with those around us more healthily, with more wholeness – the wider world is touched and affected by that.

Because it helps me fight my inertia.

So pleased to read this one, as someone who struggles with that draining fog of inertia, lack of energy and motivation

Because I like embroidering around my long-ago Polish fantasies

I nearly ignored this one too, as being too personal, but maybe there’s a general truth in it around using the past, using dreams, using fantasy – of playing, embellishing, transforming.

Because I can reach into the future with my work

I like the principle of this – that we can all, even if childfree, create and nurture something lasting that will touch people deeply long after the maker’s death. It may not even be a thing  – it may be our model of a way to live.

And finally:

And also because I want to get answers to questions for which I know there are no answers.


Ursula von Rydingsvard’s words from: Ursula von Rydingsvard at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. YSP, 2014.


Insights into creativity

I had a rather strange experience recently. I’ve been working on an original idea for a quilt. Someone was interested and I took a selection of the fabrics I’d cut out to show her, outlining my thoughts. She played with them for a while and then made a simple suggestion that transformed the whole concept, giving it far more life and originality. It wasn’t offered as criticism or as an assertion of superiority – just entering into trying out ideas. Instead of being delighted, I felt all my enthusiasm and excitement draining away. Old thoughts – “you’re no good at anything”, “you’re not creative – why bother trying?”, “you’re hopeless”, came crashing in, I felt distressed and discouraged, and for several days I gave serious thought to disposing of all my craft materials and just walking away from any effort to find creative expression, back to how I used to be.

I’ve been trying to make sense of my over-reaction and also have been haunted by something else this person said – “I don’t think you really want to do it” – referring to my procrastination: talking a lot about being creative, collecting materials, but not making time to actually work on projects. There was truth in that rather harsh remark and I’ve had to allow myself to be challenged by it.

Two bereavements within 8 months are amost certainly skewing my reactions and emotions at the moment, which may partly account for the immediate and extreme response, but that can’t be all of it.

This morning I did an exercise from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s book “What we ache for: creativity and the unfolding of your soul”. I had to complete a series of phrases about my favoured creative medium, spending a set period of time writing all the responses that came to mind. I wasn’t sure whether to look at writing or sewing/other visual media, so I did two lists. The phrases included “When I write/sew I feel…” “When I write/sew I see… ” Another section of the exercise asked why I write/sew etc etc.

I did this exercise once before, but didn’t make much of it, but this time the answers were unexectedly revealing. What they seem to show is that I write to express what’s within, to explore, make connections, bring clarity and light to dark and confusing places, to understand myself better. Writing often brings fresh insight and revelation from my interior world. On the other hand, my visual work, much more limited and often bedevilled by feelings of incompetence and inadequacy, seems to express my responses to and insights into the outer world, to colour, pattern, texture, beauty, to emotions and thoughts sparked by what I experience through my senses. In Myers Briggs terms, writing expresses the iNtuition and visual work the Sensing parts of me. Which makes some sense of my struggles with the latter, as I’m stronger on N than S.

Words such as connection, wholeness, involvement, stimulation, fulfillment, were on both lists.

This is so helpful, as it lifts a burden from the visual/craft work. I’ve felt sad and discouraged because I don’t seem able, so far, to develop original ideas that speak deeply of what’s within. Maybe that’s just not why I’m drawn to these forms of creativity. Perhaps the attraction and desire to persevere, even though I’m not naturally talented in art or craft work, comes out of the desire to express my responses to what I’m given by my senses.

It also underlines the importance of continuing to write. I tend to dismiss that, as on the whole it’s not for sharing, and I wonder what the point of it is. But what I’ve said about it above answers that objection very clearly!

I tend to think of “successful” creative pursuits as necessarily being for other people as well as me to see (and, I must admit, as a means of validating myself, shoring up my confidence if I get positive responses). But that can also lead to panic, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, if what I produce isn’t “good enough” to show to others.

What about the procrastination? See “panic, anxiety..inadequacy”! It’s not as simple as not wanting to do it. It’s being almost afraid to try, to give creative work a serious place in my life, in case that just confirms inadequacy, inability to express myself as I’d wish, and leads only to disappointment. Yet the desire is still there….

I’m not going to set out a grand plan to remedy all this – the butterfly will flit away again before long. But the insights are helpful and I hope I can use them as I continue to reflect on the balance of different aspects of my life.