Back To the Drawing Board

I met a man the other day who, like many others, recently lost his job. There aren’t many jobs like his right now so he can’t see the way forward and is sometimes on the verge of despair.  Because I’m an artist, I’m used to creative problem solving and to not giving up. Making art teaches us to envision possibility and to have faith, even when we’re never sure how a piece will turn out or even how we’ll make our way as artists. It might just be that to solve personal challenges and global ones too, we need to grow our creative core. As a teacher, I’ve discovered the simple act of drawing can spark us up, whether or not we’re artists. It’s a myth that only talented people can draw.  Here’s how it works. Drawing, by its very nature, takes us out of our left-brain, verbal, linear-thinking minds into our right-brain, spatial, imaginative minds. It captures our full attention, almost effortlessly, even if we’re just scribbling. Habitual thoughts fall away, and feelings too. In this place of focus, we can receive new ideas and inspiration with greater ease and then take action. But we can take it further. When I began to teach drawing to adults, I saw immediately how many of my students panicked when we started new things. I understood it when I asked them to draw on paper five feet tall but was surprised at the way they stared blankly at their paper when I asked them simply to scribble. ‘But how do we do this?’ said one. ‘Just lines and squiggles, smudges, anything! Like a 2-year-old!’ They all frowned but finally began. We’re all inhibited when we don’t know the ‘right’ way or when the results will be unpredictable. We’ve been judged and graded at our efforts on all fronts since our school days. Is it any wonder we’ve lost touch with a real sense of freedom and creative confidence? Or that we think the authority lies outside of ourselves? Often, we choose to do nothing rather than fail. It’s easy to feel disempowered. To be truly creative, we need to let go of expectations and especially judgments so we can open to possibility. Often when we ‘fail,’ we get to go somewhere wholly new. In fact, this is the essence of what creativity is—to make something new or to make new connections between knowledge that already exists. Drawing can teach us the fundamentals of creative thinking—how to be fully present in the moment, to let go of expectations, to see what emerges and to build on strengths. It’s in the quiet moments, with our mind focused on our hand that inspiration darts in. It’s always there for us but we’re often so busy and so attached to old ideas that we don’t see it. To create with ease, we need to follow inspiration without hesitation. It will take us where we’ve never gone before. It will ask us to have courage and this will grow with practice. What we discover in drawing is what we can bring back into our lives. We can actually make drawing a regular practice, like yoga or meditation. It can be something we do in the midst of our day, for fifteen minutes or half an hour, to connect again with a place of focus and peace. It can be the pause that refreshes and we can use it to find our creative spark again. We’ll improve our drawing skills, of course. Practice does make perfect. But, more importantly, we’ll get ideas. When we sit down to draw, we don’t need to be ‘good.’ Drawing is a humble, even primal, art. It can just be fun. One drawing, one shift in mood, one opening in our minds—who knows where it goes? For all the problems multiplying in our world at present, artists are curiously multiplying too. Perhaps when the need is great, the urge to create something, anything, positive is also great. In Boston, the city where I live, there are hundreds of artist studios in every corner of the city and its surrounding towns. Once, studios were just for professional artists. Now, a lot people are realizing there’s an artist within each of us. Whether we paint or make jewelry or create a community garden or organize a public school initiative—there are many ways to solve the problems that confront us and to offer up our creativity. Ex-Beatle, Paul McCartney, asked us at the beginning of this year to make Meatless Mondays to combat global warming. The methane released by cow manure is a key contributor to ozone depletion. We can all cut down on our meat consumption—it’s a simple, brilliant idea. It hands the power back to us. We don’t need to wait for politicians to make new laws. A couple of young guys here have started a business where they pick up recyclable plastics from corporations, for a price, of course. There’s a business and a problem solved. A friend of mine is turning vinyl signage into wildly fashionable carry bags for us to take grocery shopping. There are two problems solved—the disposal of the vinyl signs and the elimination of the disposable bag when shopping. The man I met, who lost his job, will find a way forward though his future may be different than his past. Just as importantly we can radically change the way we’ve been doing business where only a few reap rich reward by envisioning new economic models. It’s time for that change and others. But first we need to understand and connect with our own creative energy and feel empowered again. As Gandhi said, “We need to be the change we want to see in the world.” The simple lesson of a drawing practice is that we’re all creative. The happiness and confidence that we grow in ourselves does change the world. So, back to the drawing board! ©Cat Bennett2010 [For The Huffington Post]    

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