Tuesday, March 18, 2014

18 ways to have a very happy and not so oppressively formal artist's life

"The Informal Artist" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
 I spotted this perfect gem of an article on FaceBook, in which  Carolyn Gregoire describes the various habits of a creative mind, and while reading it, I thought yes, when I do these various things I am most definitely living a happy artist's life.  Much of it is common sense and reads (to me) like my own resilience strategies.  I also thought Edith Kramer's life exemplified most of these habits.  So I'll summarize these 18 ways to be a happy artist and include various interesting links from Gregoire's article.   She seems most most interested in the ideas of Scott Barry Kaufman (Author of Ungifted: Intelligence redefined and Scientific Director of The Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania) but there are a lot more links.

1. Daydream -
If we think back over our most amazing insights, flashes of creative thought, they usually occur during what we might call daydreaming.  Our grade school teachers may have discouraged it, but a 2012 study suggested it is probably a highly engaged brain state and neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.  Kaufman and Rebecca L. McMillan suggest that mind-wandering can aid in the process of "creative incubation."  So now I'm wondering, is there a way to daydream with deliberation? Say for instance you had a difficult creative problem to solve, what if you used Gretchen Miller's "Relaxation Bottle" to actually induce a daydreamy state of mind?

2. Observe everything -
Always take notes, keep a journal or an art journal with you at all times. Your life can be an adventure if you are actually paying attention.  Edith Kramer always had a notebook and drawing pencils every where she went.  Joan Didion believed in keeping a notebook with her as well.

Want some inspiration?  Here's an essay by Henry James on "The Art of Fiction."  And here's Joan Didion's essay "On Keeping A Notebook."

3. Work the hours that work for you -
Do you know if you do your best work late at night or early in the morning?  Mason Currey has edited a book full of examples, (major inspiration!) Daily rituals: How artists work.  So when we figure out what time of day is creatively optimal, we can structure our day accordingly.

4. Take time for solitude -
In "The Courage to Create," Rollo May said "In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone." Again, this was something Edith Kramer valued a great deal.  If you ever had the opportunity to visit her while she worked in her loft, you got the importance of quiet, undisturbed, creative time alone.

Our culture seems to discourage us from being alone in so many ways, but in actuality solitude can be the key to producing our best work. For Kaufman, this has to do with giving ourselves the time and space for daydreaming and mind wandering.  "You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it," he says.  (It's hard to find that inner voice if you're spending all your free time with your mobile device.)

5. Turn life's obstacles around -
Everyone knows stories of pain and heartbreak.  We may even spend a lot of effort avoiding this kind of experience.  But what creative folks tend to do with these stories is create art.  Research in post-traumatic growth, an emerging field of psychology, suggests that many people are able to use their hardships and even  trauma for personal growth. This Scientific American article describes research which shows how trauma can help people to grow in the areas of interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and seeing new possibilities in life.  All of these add to our overall sense of well-being and happiness.

6. Seek new experiences -
Kaufman believes that we have a drive to explore our world, both internal and external, which can be seen in intellectual curiosity, openness to new experiences, openness to emotions, and openness to possibilities.  Allow for this drive and we will be happier artists.

7. Develop a daily practice -
Kaufman also believes resilience in our work is a prerequisite for creative success.  He would encourage us to work hard, creating body a of work so that although we may not love every piece, if we create enough, there are sure to be a few pieces which we can appreciate.  Want some inspiration with this one?  Ira Glass has a nice video here, and Steve Kotler wrote this interesting article on Einstein's ideas about "failing often."

8. Ask the big questions -
If we want to encourage our creativity, we need to encourage our curiousity.   We need to allow ourselves to live an examined life and of course this is not something our culture encourages.  And there is no age limit to being curious about life.  (If I learned anything from Edith Kramer, I certainly learned that!)  We can look at the world around us and ask why things are the way they are, and how they might be otherwise.  (It's probably that very thing that makes the dominant culture a little nervous about creativity.)  There's a nice blog post on how observing the world around us can lead to creative breakthroughs here.

9. People-watch -
Be observant and curious about the lives of others, take every opportunity to do a little people-watching.  Many artists have generated some of their best work this way.

10. Take risks -
Of course taking risks, leaping into the unknown is exactly what we do all the time.  Every time we create something from nothing, we are taking a risk, going against the dominant culture's preference for passive consumerism.  Be brave.  It's worth it!

11. View all of life as an opportunity for self expression -
Why not view our corner of the world as a co-created work of art! When we see the world this way, life is full of opportunities. 

12. Follow your true passions -
According to the Handbook of Creativity, edited by Robert J. Sternberg, we (creative people) tend to be intrinsically motivated, often motivated to act from some internal desire and rewarded through inner satisfaction rather than extrinsic reward.  We are often energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and often just thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to motivate a creative act.  Perhaps a little self observation and research is called for, in the service of creativity?

13. Broadening our perspective -
Kaufman suggests that one of the important results of daydreaming is that we get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking for a bit.  This of course helps us in our creative work.  It allows us to let go of the present and it also allows you to imagine someone else's point of view.  And taking another person's perspective can really move us towards more creative thinking and new solutions.

14. Get into Flow -
Csikszentmihalyi had written a lot about getting in the "zone," or into the flow state, which helps us create at our highest level. In this state we transcend conscious thought to reach a state of effortless concentration and calmness. We become immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder our performance.  Csikszentmihalyi says we get into the flow state when we are doing something we enjoy that we are good at, but that also provides a challenge.
We find the thing we love, and we build up our skills which results in the flow state.

15. Surround yourself with beauty -
Semir Zeki, professor of neurobiology at University College London (UCL), suggests that surrounding ourselves with the things we consider to be beautiful is very good for us.  But we knew that, right?  You can read about the research here.

16. Connect the dots -
Look for the possibilities.  Develop your artistic vision. Artists and writers often say that creativity is all about connecting the dots that others might not think to connect.
"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things." - Steve Jobs
17. Be willing to shake things up -
Diversity of experience, more than anything else, promotes creativity.  We like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life feel monotonous or mundane.
"Creative people have more diversity of experiences... habit is the killer of diversity of experience," says Kaufman.  So develop a habit of shaking things up, embrace diversity!

18. Make time for mindfulness -
We understand the value of a clear and focused mind, our work depends on it. Meditation and yoga practices can be a very helpful tool for tapping into our most creative state of mind.  Mindfulness practices can improve memory and focus, help our sense of emotional well-being, reduced stress and anxiety, and improved mental clarity.

(#45-63 out of thousand ways to have a happy life )