Saturday, February 4, 2012

7 Snippets of Wisdom on Creativity

Last week, in my post, Two Questions for 2012, I pondered:
  •  How do I bring out the best in myself creatively?
  • What is the thought process that would best allow me to integrate that sanely into the necessities of my life?
While I was pondering, I put those questions to a smattering of people with various creative pursuits. After all, seven heads are better than one.  Or something.  

I absolutely loved the variety of answers!  And you will too.

Dave Werner, Chef, Faunbrook Catering
Creativity:  Cooking
My art is more artisan. My art is temporary. My art is time sensitive and goes bad if you don't use it quickly enough. Tomorrow, quite literally, my art becomes poop.  I cook.  A lot!  Being in a corporate environment, we are much more constrained by costs than in a restaurant. I am also challenged by having the same audience every day. My creativity comes much less from exploring the new than finding ways to reinvent what I have used a million times. How do I alter the taste, color, texture and appearance? It's about making the finite infinite.
Photo by Kara Stewart, Art in Photography
Nancy Cordaro, My Coneflower Ranch
Creativity:  Photography, teaching, soap and candle making
When I was teaching full-time, my kids were little. My creative juices were channeled entirely into my teaching. Luckily, I taught second grade and my principal encouraged us to think outside of the box. Since leaving teaching, I've tried many things to feed that creative desire: playing guitar and violin, writing, and soap and candle making, which has turned into my company.  Photography has been the thing that has brought me the most inspiration. Collaboration has been a great motivator for me, especially in teaching. When I begin to lose enthusiasm, it helps me if I get together with my friend to shoot. Getting out of my comfort zone, meaning my regular shooting location, helps too.  Last week I went to shoot the Philadelphia Chinese New Year festivities. Wow, what a high! It was completely out of my comfort zone and my subject and style (I'm a country mouse), but it made me feel like a child on Christmas morning.
His and Hers by Nancy Cordaro

Alison DeLuca, Author,  The Night Watchman Express and Devil's Kitchen
Read Alison's awesome blog at Fresh Pot of Tea.
Creativity:  Writing
I always loved to write. It seemed like a type of magic to me, that I could imagine something and make it appear on paper. My first attempts were the usual results of a beginning writer. I started and abandoned several novels, and wrote very dreary poetry. One reason I didn't complete any of my first books was that I hated my own handwriting. The PC was a revelation to me. With it, I finished a screenplay, a biographical interview with my mother, and more short stories. I wrote a complete fantasy novel that was just as immature as my other efforts. However, this first manuscript showed me that I could sit down and write a complete book. I loved creating the world for my characters, I adored doing the research, and I was fascinated by how the tale unfolded. I was hooked. I continued to teach, but after a day of classes I would come home, throw dinner in the crockpot and write for as long as I could keep my eyes open. Over the next few years I finished a series of books about a group of kids and a magical island princess. That series became my Crown Phoenix books.  The act of creation is a journey. It is a treasure hunt without a map, and who knows what lies beneath that big X?
Alison DeLuca's Devil's Kitchen

Creativity: Music
My creativity mostly involves writing and recording music. Trying to mesh my creativity with the other responsibilities of life does not sit easily or comfortably much of the time. I did spend years earning a living writing and recording music, so I know how that goes, too. Making your hobby your work, or vice-versa, is not always a fulfilling (or sensible) thing to do. I often break from music completely for weeks or months at a time - don't pick up an instrument, don't listen to music for pleasure or even in the background. Sometimes it just fills me with unease. Of course, this plays complete hell with any practice regimen or attempts at fluid competence on an instrument. That said, when I come back to playing, it is almost as if with a fresh pair of ears and hands. Things feel different, and new sounds, harmonies and melodies come out. Sometimes music is just a fun thing to do, a nice way to pass some time, exercise some gray cells. At other times, it is a necessary procedure, almost like an exorcism. My most satisfying musical moments are usually the result of collaboration with others, and this is what I am currently pursuing.

Photo by Kara Stewart, Art in Photography

Sally Iliff West
Creativity: Sewing, Quilting
Sally says, "Of course I would like to spend more time in my sewing room than I actually do. The 'higher priority' list gets in the way of the 'want to do ' list, so that limits my sewing/creating time. But I do occasionally commit myself to an afternoon of sewing and thoroughly enjoy it!"  Sally also brings out the best in herself creatively by searching for inspiration among her colleagues' sewing/quilting projects with the Schuykill County Quilters Guild and by being observant to things around her. Her latest fascination is with Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture and geometric stained glass window designs. While she would like to create a wall hanging based on his geometric window designs, she says, "That has to remain on the back burner for the time being. I have too many other irons in the fire."  Sally was asked to teach a workshop this spring to interested guild members. While looking forward to it, she thought, "I won't have time to do that!" But then she weighed the not too intensive prep time and thought, "I'll have fun doing it, and the guild members really want to learn this particular technique." 
Stack and Whack quilt by Sally Iliff West

 Jay Sinclair, J. Sinclair Photography
Creativity: Photography
Note: As a professional photographer, Jay is making a distinction between his work for professional reasons and his personal work.
I want my personal work to be meaningful and cohesive, but I end up over thinking it. I let perfect be the enemy of good. I have the creative tools but attach so much importance to perfection that I stand still with indecision. To combat this, I have resolved to select and finish some small and intentionally imperfect projects. Making them small, 10 photos, 3 photos, 1 day or a week, makes them finish-able. Some things don’t need to be finished but you need to finish something!  Making them intentionally imperfect keeps me from becoming creatively motionless by trying to make it perfect. Again, this will help make them finish-able. It has the side benefit of allowing/forcing me to try creatively new things that may fail but may lead down an undiscovered path. My next “big” personal project may not come out of these small projects or new paths, but it will keep me ready to grab it when it does present itself. It will also keep me from beating myself up for being creatively frozen!
Old Salem Coffee Pot by Jay Sinclair

Randi Byrd
Creativity:  Cooking
I have a rule for myself to relax and consciously appreciate the food that fuels my body and brain. No matter how stressful and packed a day may be, I have to eat sometime!  If I'm going to the grocery store anyway, then why not buy ingredients that I'll really play with and enjoy? Yes, I have to pinch pennies like everyone else, but considering that I don't waste my money on clothes, shoes, or much of anything else, why not treat myself to a taste of bliss at least once a day? If all else is chaotic in my life, there should always be one thing built in to look forward to with a sigh. I like to think about food as a vacation in my mouth! Hey, if I'm go, go, go and working all the time, vacation must be built in somehow! Tender chicken simmering in coconut broth infused with aromatic kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and chilies are my Thailand destination and the spoon my ferry.  However, my most favorite vacations are always shared with friends.
Randi Byrd's July 4th salad with spinach, feta, pear, strawberries, pecans and mint

See?  I knew you'd love it!  Seven different perspectives on how to bring out the best in yourself creatively, and the thought processes that would best allow you to integrate that creativity sanely into your life.  

Several people mentioned collaboration with others as something that brings out their creative best. Some mentioned perseverance and being open to failure, starting small, stepping outside of your comfort zone, finding new ways to think of familiar things, timing, and being intentional in your creativity.  And creativity as a journey, and a mapless treasure hunt.

I find it very helpful to hear from others' thoughts on how they bring out the best in themselves creatively, and what thought processes best allow them to integrate their creativity sanely into their lives.  We may not come up with any magic bullet answers, but it helps to know that others struggle with the same things, and to hear ways that they remain stunningly creative through it all.  

And I'll leave you with three of my favorite quotes (I have a lot) on creativity:

"The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct . . . the creative mind plays with the object it loves."  -- Carl Jung

"The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create - so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency, he is not really alive unless he is creating."  -- Pearl S. Buck.

"An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need but that he - for some reason - thinks that it would be a good idea to give them."  -- Andy Warhol


  1. Lovely blog, Kara! The quotes are fantastic, and the pictures, as always, are breathtaking.

    Thanks so much for featuring me and my book!

  2. Really enjoyed reading and participating in this blog post, Kara. It was a great opportunity to reflect on something that I've never considered before.

  3. Kara,
    What creative friends you have! And, I love the Peal S. Buck quote - it's one of my favorites too.

  4. Thank you for these thoughts, Kara. There seem to be as many ways to be creative as there are people … very interesting how these fascinating persons keep their minds curious!