The Creative Experience

My first memory of a creative experience is of me applying water to an image and the paper magically turning a bright green. It is the most amazing experience and I am responsible for it! Suddenly I am aware that I am a source of change, and transformation. The feeling of exhilaration and excitement. It is very important to paint within the lines according to the teacher, who uses me as an example to others. I pride myself on being the only person who can actually do that. As I look around I see the messy surfaces of other kids' pages and I feel superior. This is what makes me special, different, I can do something that others can't. Suddenly my initial moment of awe and inspiration transforms into an identity crisis. Since I am so good at this, now I must get others to acknowledge it, otherwise it doesn't count. I try to show other kids how capable I am at painting within the lines. I want to teach them how to do it. It's not working. Surprisingly they don't actually care! They are completely content watching ugly blobs consume the original image of a beautiful princess. And they don't even seem to notice that everything is wrong and they are destroying something that could be so wonderful. So I keep trying, becoming even better at painting within the lines, proving to myself over and over again that this is what it is all about, this ability that others don't have. Eventually though, my resolve weakens as I become bored and soon forget all about this. Until I remember, until I spontaneously become aware of being the source of something, experience a creative act. My first piano lesson, my first choir practice, my first dance lesson - memories of creative bursts, each accompanied by a feeling of disillusionment later. 

I pursued art against my parents' wishes and I frequently complain about not having the support and encouragement as a child to develop more as an artist. If only they had seen how talented I was and did something about that, if only they put me in ballet school, if only they paid for painting lessons. However, as I am writing this, I am slowly realizing that the problem wasn't what my parents did or did not do. The main obstacle lies in that stubborn, feverish attachment to prove something to others - parents, professors, gallerists, art critics. This has really been my biggest demon and the biggest obstacle to making work that inspires me as much as it inspires others.

As I pick up the brush once again, I dip it in gesso and begin to mark the surface of the paper. The moment the brush touches the surface, my stomach turns in that very familiar way, my insides clench, and I begin yet another inner battle. Every mark needs to be perfect, has to belong, has to be justified - it has to "stay within the lines." I recognize my struggle, I don't like it, this should be easier. I lament having lost that innocence, that naive excitement, that sense of awe when I first discovered the magic of holding a brush, striking a key, moving to the music. And then the whole thing unravels in my mind's eye as I realize that I am the one choosing. That initial spark, that first insight, that first moment of magic, is still there in my body, in my cellular memory. I can choose to experience that or I can choose to focus on proving, justifying, defending something about myself. The insight is so simple. I dip the brush again, I consciously say "yes" as I begin to mark the surface. At first it feels "wrong," artificial, and then suddenly I see something I didn't see before, something beautiful, something profound, something that was behind a closed door. I feel a burst of excitement, joy, recognition. And this time, I choose to feel this is enough, nobody else has to see it, nobody has to know, this is mine.