Thy Self Thy Foe

This past Friday I held my first Creativity Class at Red Dot Gallery. It was well-attended by a fun and insightful group, inspiring me to share some of the things we covered and what I took from our interactions.

Highlights of this week’s class

We used the Without a Net Deck to practice analyzing images and sharing our personal take on particular cards. As usual, I was surprised and delighted by the various readings, all different than I’d intended when painting the images. One purpose of the exercise was to observe the change in our mindsets as our focus shifted from out-in-the-world mode to introspective. Analyzing a work of art is an excellent way to make that shift quickly.

I mentioned that Yale medical students are required to go to the local art museums to improve their observational skills by looking at paintings. I’ll be posting about that wonderful subject later. The practice of “reading” a painting will be a regular part of my creativity class, as it helps the viewer develop intuitive skills and stretch their imagination, and generally builds skills at looking closer instead of jumping to immediate conclusions about what is seen. As Yale Medicine Magazine puts it, their art workshops for med students are “valuable in developing essential skills that doctors need, like critical thinking and observational and communication skills, as well as bias awareness and empathy.”

The various readings of the Without a Net cards were touching and informative. It seemed that everyone saw their own tendencies in the images, each revealing the kind of hopes, fears, and questions that open one up to more insight and guidance. I know for myself that when I admit or share something of this nature, I tend to see new realizations in the days after. I related to the readings of each person in the room: about insecurities, mysteries, triumphs, bad habits, and daily life struggles.

Our topic for the week was Risk

I talked about how the name “Without a Net” is all about risk. A net can contain and trap you, but it can also catch you if you fall. Being free from capture carries the risk of facing the scary unknown beyond the net. And without a net below, there’s the risk of crashing (failing) without protection.

Creativity’s discomforts arise because of the risks involved. If our focus is outward, directed at the results of our work or the audience response to our work, the risks are constant. What are we risking? We risk losing.

If we focus on those who will judge our work, we risk losing respect of others. We might be humiliated or scorned.

If we focus on the outcome of our product, we risk losing space, money, energy, love, or time (SMELT.) If our work fails, we feel we’ve wasted all these things.

If we fail, we can lose confidence in ourselves and our work. We can lose trust in our ideas. This type of loss can lead to a vicious cycle that stifles our desire to create.

It helps me to be aware of these risks, because at least I’m not wondering why I’m avoiding being creative, maybe by making excuses or sabotaging myself. The risks spark major primal fears, which are come naturally for humans. To go forward and create with all the risks involved, I have to be willing to disrupt the safe, comfortable, and known. I’ll have to disrupt my self-opinion, my checkbook, my schedule, my sleep habits, my relationships, and most importantly, my ways of thinking.

The rewards of being creative are massive, and they’d have to be to get any of us to want to do all that disrupting. At the least, creativity is playful, builds confidence, relieves stress, creates wonderful relationships, and helps us build super-valuable life-skills (so many I’d be writing for days.) And it’s not a stretch to claim that when removed from an attachment to outcomes or judgments, creativity is an ecstatic, blissful, spiritual act of enormous power.

I have had loads of experience seeing these benefits in myself and many others. In my opinion, it’s totally worth the risk.

It’s not possible for our focus to be one hundred percent without outside expectations, but with a priority of enjoying the act of creation, those other risks (like SMELT) are not as scary, and not as miserable when they happen.

Our sophisticated project

We played with Legos. While enjoying a free-for-all of making whatever we wanted, we “toyed” with the idea of risk.

Some people (like me) ignored the prompt and went off unencumbered by thoughts or plans and simply built forms. Even with this lack of structure, we each came up with our own individual versions of random, and our arrangements weren’t the helter-skelter mess you might imagine. We each ended up with a palette of colors and shapes that had an element of harmony and balance. Like the others who went freeform, I enjoyed the liberating, joyful feeling of not having a plan.

Some people created bridges, houses, towers, or abstract structures, and their description of their work was telling in how it represented a part of their inner landscape. One person made abstract shapes that symbolized people in their lives, a touching and honest piece that exemplified how even hard plastic blocks can come to be about life and love.

In the end, I was pleased with these things: That I’d risked starting this class, something that would bring another creative alternative to Alabama. That our class achieved a level of honesty and insightfulness that I’d hoped it would. And that I’d be uplifted, energized, and inspired when it was done…a good indication for a teacher that a class is on the right track. I’m very grateful to the attendees who shared this First Class with me.

Look for future highlights of our Red Dot Creativity Class. Or if you’re in the area, please join us.