Why We Need Art

I hope you enjoyed my last podcast with Barbara de Biasi giving us insight into the power of music. Among other things, there’s solid evidence that it can help delay dementia symptoms. Power indeed.

It’s no secret that I love my old movies. I often play one in the background as I potter about the house. One of the last legends of that long lost era, Olivia de Havilland, celebrated her 100th birthday last week. A few years ago, she narrated a documentary called ‘I Remember Better When I Paint’. As the title suggests, painting has been found to have hugely beneficial effects on patients with Alzheimer’s, helping them to reconnect with the world, and communicate more fully. It’s a very moving film, and documents, in part, the journey of the painter Hilda Gorenstein, known as Hilgos, whose own Alzheimer’s symptoms were improved immeasurably by a re-connection with the art she so loved.

As the head of one of the organisations that takes care of the patients says: ‘Creative arts bypass the limitations and go straight to the strengths.’

That’s a very powerful sentence, and has applications for all of us. We all can, and should, take strength from our creativity. The benefits are too great to ignore.

There are a couple of clips from ‘I Remember Better When I Paint’ on YouTube and you can find out more about the Hilgos Foundation, which is dedicated to using the creative arts to benefit Alzheimer’s sufferers, here.

Do we NEED art? Do we NEED creativity? By heck, we do, make no mistake.

Happy Creating

Mel

PS: Olivia is well and living in Paris

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New Podcast (hurrah). Top Books for Creative People

Hello Friends

We all need some inspiration from time to time, either somebody to give us a motivating kick in the proverbial, or just  time out to read some wise words in a good book.

Well, embarrassment of riches time, because in today’s podcast, I bring you wise words from three good books. I’ve chosen these books because I found them inspiring, not because I was looking for some books to review. I hope you’ll invest in at least one of them (or find them in your library), and I hope you’ll agree.

Don’t worry if you don’t agree, just tell me which books have moved you and I can maybe feature them in a later episode.

Here goes on Soundcloud:

I will post iTunes and Podomatic links soonest.

Have a great, creative weekend.

Mel

The Power of Persistence, or ‘Stay on the F***ing Bus’

The picture you see above is of Helsinki Railway Station, a Jugendstil masterpiece built by Eliel Saarinen in 1919. I present it to you for three reasons, the first two being that it is a stunning building, one of the world’s finest stations, and that I took the photograph. That’s not showing off, it just means I don’t have to pay anyone for the rights. The third reason is that it’s the closest thing I have to an image of Helsinki Bus Station, which is where I want to take you today. We only need to cross the road  and we are there, in a somewhat more prosaic setting than the one available to rail travellers, but that’s life, and that’s bus travel.

In 2004, Finnish photographer, Arno Minkkinen, himself clearly no stranger to a bus ride out of the capital, put forward his theory on what makes for a fulfilling creative life and career. It’s called Helsinki Bus Station Theory and illustrates the importance of persistence in pursuit of one’s own voice and of creative success. It goes like this:

There are around twenty four platforms at Helsinki Bus Station and all buses leave the city by the same route for at least the first kilometre. There are intermediate bus stops on the main road out and each bus stops at these too. Taking his own profession as his example, Minkkinen thinks of each of these stops as the first years in the career of a photographer. After,say, three stops,when you have built up three years’ worth of work, you hop off the bus and present that work to a gallerist (insert publisher/ producer etc. as appropriate). That gatekeeper knocks you right back by telling you your work is just the same as that of someone else who’s come along the same bus route before. Gutted, you jump a cab straight back to the bus station, because life is short, and you get on another bus. Three years/stops later, you hop off again, with a new body of work to show and the same thing happens. It turns out it’s just too similar to somebody else’s work and they don’t want it. Another tearful cab ride back to town to start the whole process again. And it keeps happening, always being compared to someone else and being rejected.

What’s the solution, how do we break the cycle?  Minkkinen is very clear here. ‘Stay on the bus. Stay on the f***ing bus.’ After a kilometre, the buses diverge, taking different routes out of the city. So, stick with the journey you’re on and you’ll find your own unique way, your own path.

Persist and thrive.

As I’ve talked about before, we all start out imitating or inspired by someone else. That’s OK. We need to do that. ‘Derivative’ is a much-derided concept, but, to me, it means we started with an idea used by someone else and then changed it a bit. Maybe not much, but that little bit is what makes it ours, and we can keep changing and refining, and at some point put forward our own ideas.

Remember the ‘What If?’ question I mentioned before? (See blogpost from May 3rd) If you stay on the bus, you give yourself time to ask that, as the road winds on before you. The twists and turns as the bus moves deeper into the suburbs or the Finnish countryside, well, they can shape our ‘What If?’ questions.

Arno Minkkinen also went through this process himself, finding his work compared to other contemporary photographers who had gone before, so he knows whereof he speaks. Personally, I think his work is beautiful and unlike anything I have ever seen. You can visit his website here  to see some of his astonishing photos of the human body integrated with nature.

So, dear friends, if you are nervous about getting on the bus, it is understandable. To decide to create a single work or a body of work is to risk rejection and accusations of non-originality. But, get on the bus, then stay on the bus. Remember, just because one person finds a reason that the work is wrong for them, doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong, or that it couldn’t be made better.

Go on, take the ride. But do stop to admire the lovely railway station first.

Happy creating.

Mel

PS: You can read Arno Mikkinen’s speech in which he first put forward the theory here.

What is ‘bad’ creative work? New podcast episode tries to answer.

Hello friends

My latest podcast is available now. (Links below.)

Painter, Alex Vassiliadis talks about the joy she gets from the process of creating, even if the outcome isn’t so great. Personally, I love this painting, it exudes such light and spirit. What do you think?

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Listen to Alex talk about her creative life in the latest Squatting Toad podcast, available now on Soundcloud and Podomatic. Up on iTunes very soon.

Podomatic link is here:

Happy listening and thanks.

Mel

 

Subvert and Find Your Voice – Making Creativity Happen (part 2)

Hello again Creative Friends

Last time we got very brainy with our old Greek friend, Heraclitus. A week has passed now, so let’s come back to earth a little and talk about you.

Sometimes, when you call a good friend, you just say ‘Hi, it’s me!’. You don’t even need to say your name, because you are recognised by your voice, your unique voice. (Or by Caller ID, but let’s just pretend we’re back in the 1980s for today’s purpose. Ah the ’80s.)

When you speak you have a recognisable and unique voice. When you create you also have a unique voice. For most of us, that creative voice doesn’t come immediately, you have to work at it. For some of us, the light bulb moment takes longer than for others. For some of us, it can feel like all we produce is derivative or sub-standard. But we know we are our own harshest critics, so let’s examine that bit objectively.

Who decides what is sub-standard? Life isn’t school, where you can be given a ‘D’ because your teacher says your work isn’t good enough. Lord knows, nobody has greater admiration for teachers than I have, but they have a job to do, which is all too often focused on getting the kids exam-ready. That’s the System for you. Take away those strictures, now that you have passed your exams, and you can also subvert the System. Do you think that Marcel Duchamp would have passed his A-level art with a signed urinal? I mean, where’s the skill in that? And yes, that picture above, it’s art, not just random sanitary ware.

As for derivative, well, everybody copies. Only by taking inspiration from others, can we find our own voice. The trick is to keep at it and ask the Killer Question.

What’s the Killer Question?

‘What if?’

Yes, it’s that simple.

TODAY’S EXERCISE

  • Get a copy of your favourite painting or poem. ( This exercise also works well with jokes. Seriously. I am always serious about jokes.)
  • Now get your pencil(s) out and  copy it, but not completely. Change a colour, an object, a phrase, a word, all the time aiming for it to still make sense to you.
  • Keep asking yourself The Killer Question – ‘What If?’
  • What if I replaced green with blue? What if I used fewer words? Or more words?
  • Keep another blank sheet of paper to hand to note down your own, independent ideas as they come, so you can work on them later.

Derivative? No way! Just inspired.

Never stop asking ‘What If?’.

Out of the old, springs the new. It’s all about curiosity.

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.- Dorothy Parker

And out of that curiosity springs your own take on the world. Your Unique Creative Voice.

If your curiosity is aroused about Marcel Duchamp, you can read more about him here.

And watch out for my newest podcast, which will be available here very soon.

Until next time, Happy Creating.

Mel

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