Focussing on creativity rather than skill – the art of Transition?

This summer I had the pleasure of attending a rather unusual type of art class: the lessons were about creativity with basically nothing taught about actual painting. That’s right. I spent a lot of time in front of a canvas with brushes I knew very little about how to use and paint I knew even less about. And I learnt more than I could have dreamed of, even painted some paintings.

On my way there I wondered: I am a transitioner, working to help people get away from the polluting and unfair practices of a dying industrial capitalism to a greener, people and planet friendly future. Did I really have time for this? I am not very good at holidaying and having just retired I thought I could do the class. If nothing else it would be change that could provide a rest.

It turned out to be an amazing two weeks and highly relevant for Transition too. The classes were Vedic Art, a form of art training developed by a Swedish artist called Curt Källman. Whilst attending the  Swedish Academy of Fine arts in 1964 – 69 he felt there was too little focus on the actual process of developing creativity and too much on tools and techniques.

He discovered the answer with Maharishi, the founder of Transcendental mediation. According to what I heard on the course, Maharishi described 17 principles to Curt which he developed into the Vedic Art program. The idea with the program is that you can learn about creativity by being creative with art materials, just getting on with it.

Why let techniques get in the way of developing your creativity? It makes sense, after all, what did the first guy do before techniques were invented? That is what I felt early on in an eco-village project I was involved with… our ancestors looked around and said; “right, what do we have?”.

Why get hung up on what other people think of your art? One main rule of the course is that you never comment on attendees work – you neither complement it nor critique it. The course teachers don’t do that either. Even if you beg for critique, they will turn it around ask you what you think.

Your studio space for a week. Your very own!

And it is very simple. You are only allowed acrylic or watercolours and you get a studio space with a table that is a sheet of wood on an old oil drum. In an old cow barn.

So you get to have a week or two of an amazing inner journey, guided only by the lectures in the creative process based upon the 17 principles.

In a way, you get to go on a journey through art history – from getting to explore what materials can do to exploring different creative approaches. After all, the artists who tried stuff for the first time – be it crude cave paintings or the latest modern art – stepped into the unknown. You get to do that in rapid motion, for yourself as you step into your unknown!

So what did I learn?

Time

One thing was about the use of time. I had all the time in the world, coffee and biscuits in the corner, and a sea view in the sunshine outside the barn. I was free to explore the creative energies stirring inside of me. Frightening in a way, challenging, and the pressure to deliver. Everyone else was busy painting away, I was drinking coffee looking at my sketch book. But creativity has its own rhythm you need to tune into. There will be times when you create furiously and other times when nothing seems to be happening. It’s natural, and could well be applied to Transition, and how group energy seems to come and go.

Love

Om the other hand, what about love? Love and appreciation of life, appreciation of what I see, appreciation of the gift of creativity that probably is the key to humanity’s survival on the planet? I went with love.

What would the world be like if we created stuff just out of love – not looking for approval or payment?

This is how I started: I had done a load of doodles, randomly on paper – during one of the exercises earlier. I collected them up and asked myself which ones I really liked. I put them all together in one drawing and sketched it onto a canvas and painted in the shapes. Below is the result.

Creativity is a survival tool

Without creativity, without ingenuity humans would never survive. I felt cheated by  my previous education in that the one thing people really need is the one thing not given attention to: getting to know, developing and expressing your creative powers. If we are to get through the coming period of multiple challenges we will need creativity.

It’s about clarity

All the time, on and off, I was connecting with whatever it is inside me that knows what to do. Kind of asking it. I would step back and look at the emerging work. And then stop. Leaving things awhile until the clarity hits you is good.

Having ways to get yourself going

On the other hand you have to get going, so I found having a few paintings on the go is good so when you come in the morning you can do simple touch up or sketch work to get you going.

My painting of teacher Johannes Källman, getting ready for our morning lecture.

One of the lectures was about knowing when you are done, when the picture is finished. I learn a lot from exploring just that aspect as I think I am the kind of person who starts stuff and never goes to completion, even though completing is fun, I think. It’s a nice feeling, getting to completion. In art terms that is signing and framing your picture and deciding how to share it. If you share it to get praise it might hurt you – both if you get praise and both if you don’t. So even the sharing is part of the process!

It made me think about why I engaged myself so hard in founding an eco-village about 10 years back. I expected everyone to not get it. And maybe a few who would get it. And if it worked maybe a few people would be inspired to see that we can live on the Earth in a lovely way, with a small footprint. Either way, I was not out for recognition.

It also taught me the value of leaving stuff, because when you go back to it you have renewed energy. There is a point where it is better to rest. I don’t know how many times I have pushed myself to finish something. Sometimes that is good. Sometimes not. The inner wisdom has to be a guide.

 

So here above is another painting I did. I want to share it not to get any approval but to share the amazement that I could actually get into painting without painting courses by focusing inwards on my creativity and learning to express that. If I can do it anyone can.

And that gives me true hope that we can handle these very uncertain and uncomfortable times where nothing seems to be working and very little seems to be right about our societies. We have it in us. We were given it. We are the artists who will bring on what is needing to be brought on. The canvas is in front of us an even if we have never done anything like this before … hey.. that was the way the first guy had it and we are here thanks to her.

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