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Rethinking creativity

By | 2011-04-14T09:00:00-04:00 April 14th, 2011|Opinions|

Parting Glances

A recent issue of Scientific American carries an article on creativity. One main point is that it takes approximately ten years for whatever you’re doing — art, music, cooking, golf, bowling — for it to become second nature. Perhaps automatic.
That is: if your creativity is done on a daily basis, with a solid foundation centered on underlying principles (say, in art: line, color, perspective, techniques of application, knowledge of materials).
A concert pianist, for example, might start out practicing three, four, five hours daily — ten years worth — before the creation of music becomes interpretive and technically “fluid.” Unique. Seemingly effortless. Special. A total atunement with the creative process; nexus to source: the composer who composed the music to begin with.
In my own creative life I’ve found this ten year “rule” to be quite possible. (Actually it’s a time flexible rule of thumb.) My art training began at Cass Technical High School. I was a commercial art major and received an exemplary art grounding in the basics.
At CT the commercial art program included three courses in design, freehand drawing — one each in charcoal and pencil — a course in wash, water color, jewelry making, a course in the history of art and of architecture. Oh, yes: hand lettering. (There was no Letrapress. We used compass, ruler, and ink pens. It was, to quote Mrs. Dorothy Skewess, our instructor, “Exact. Meticulous.” And often frustrating.)
I was a lackluster student. I got by. But somehow through the process of sitting-in-class osmosis I learned the fundamentals. Whether I realized it or not these basics at some subliminal level became operative in my life, affecting how I viewed — and continue to view — my esthetic and visual world around me.
Upon graduation I got sidetracked. I worked as an OR Tech, a New York Central RR claims clerk, quit to become a full time Wayne State University English major, and then a writer for nearly 40 years of various publications. I did no art to speak of during this time. None. A turning point happened in 1981, during my alcohol rehab at Cottage Hospital.
As part of hospital program therapy, new rehabs were told to go through magazines, clipping and pasting pictures reflecting our mood. I misunderstood, cut and pasted several collages. A nurse even offered to buy one. A year or two later I had three of these collages matted and framed.
I showed them to an artist friend who suggested I submit them for jurying at the Detroit Artists Market. All were accepted. I was elated. It’s been nonstop since 1985. I’ve done close to a thousand art pieces, and gained a personally rewarding amount of recognition for my creativity. I’ve also gained some insights on that creativity.
First: Unless you’re a genius there are no shortcuts to creativity. Master the basics. Take courses. Dripping paint on a canvas does not make you an artist. Random strumming a guitar doesn’t make you a rock star. Pay your creative dues. Get good instruction. Ask questions. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Second: Share your gift gratis now and then. While it’s certainly great to get payment, it’s also rewarding to enrich the lives of friends and others by freely giving of time and talent as a gesture of sharing. Importantly! Use your special gifts to benefit our LGBT community. Fundraisers. Auctions. Active participation. God knows there’s talent abundant in our community. Build bridges by sharing.
Thirdly: Each time you participate in your personal act of creativity tell your brain thanks. If you compose a song, mentally say thanks. If you write a sonnet, say thanks. Cook up an intuitive recipe and say thanks. Get in flamboyant drag. (Well, use your own judgment here.) This may sound silly. It’s not.
Let Gratitude Be Thoughtful. LGBT!

About the Author:

Charles Alexander