Art+Culture Merida The Space Between

How to Become a Creative Shark when you Feel like a Mollusk

I draw like a 3-year-old. A 3-year-old who’s been cauterized by the impossible expectations of society, thrown back to Pre-K and told to ‘be free’. As a person who’s made a good living at being creative, it’s automatically expected that I can not only draw, but that I must be good at anything that involves engagement of the right side of my brain. So this is where it gets real people. Just because we’re good at one thing doesn’t mean we’re good at all things. Unless you’re Queen Bey. But she’s an alien in that regard so we’ll move on.

Being at odds with the concept of creativity really hampers the vision/mission I have for my own life, which is to be a creative shark and never stop moving. To eat up all the knowledge I can and experience things I’ve never experienced before.

It’s a good vision in principle but I am not from Generation X, nor am I from the world of technology, where failure is deemed to be just as valuable as success. Your average 3-year-old doesn’t know the paradigm of success/failure; she only knows she’s been given a tool to express herself and so that’s what she does. Without fear or self-judgement, she’ll pick her colors based on what feels good, which is the same as what she knows to be ‘right’. She’ll draw what she sees, not what others see. If I could draw like an average 3-year-old I would be forever happy. But that’s not what I expect of myself or what others expect of me, which turns my creative shark into more of a timid mollusk.

Courtesy Ivan Gabaldon

The city of Merida where I now live and work is recognized as a Cultural Capital of the Americas. I’m surrounded by art and culture and entrepreneurial expression every single day. It’s a city that creatives from all over the world, with backgrounds in science and technology, art and design, fashion and gastronomy, music and literature, theatre and dance, have decided to call home. Merida is a city that offers a fellow creative all kinds of opportunity to learn new ways of expression—a creative shark feeding ground if you will—and I promise this is the last time I will use that analogy in this story.

Recently I decided to take advantage of two creative opportunities that came across my path—one was a personal invitation to participate, which I could not refuse, and the other was one I committed to after weeks of internal debate. Let me start with the latter.

Zhu Ohmu

“Experimental Ceramic Workshop/Pit Firing”, led by master ceramicist Alison Palmer, seemed to be something I could have fun with. I’d built the proverbial coil pots in art class, thrown objects on a wheel in the back room of a hockey arena, and fell in love with the process of Raku the first time I experienced it. I felt ‘prepared’ to take this on (you can see where this is going) and became ‘extra prepared’ by researching Japanese masters of coil construction, and in particular, the work of Zhu Ohmu. Her work is freaking amazing. It’s also totally unrealistic that I would even CONSIDER emulating her—but ego is a funny thing. Suffice to say the first day was totally frustrating as I fought with the clay and my own need to make something commensurate with my reputation as a ‘creative’. I left the class with proof that I was out of my comfort zone, and my fear of being a failure was well on it’s way to becoming a reality.

I lay awake that night trying to figure out how I could open myself up enough to enjoy this class, but I awoke tired and unenlightened. Here I was again, trying to figure out my process ahead of time rather than letting the experience itself become the catalyst.

Thankfully on day two, we left coil construction behind and started working with slabs of clay. Most people were making plates and mugs and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. As I started slamming my slabs onto the table in frustration, enlightenment came; my inner 3-year-old was trying to assert herself and I started to pay attention. I had a pile of henequen (sisal) thread on my work surface and as I peeled off the slab I discovered I’d made something I hadn’t planned or anticipated. For the first time I felt excitement about what I was doing. I let go of the idea of perfection and embraced the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi – the acceptance of transcience and imperfection ­– and the rest of the workshop was pure joy for me.

The other creative opportunity that I experienced recently was a personal invitation from a friend to a half-day glass slumping workshop. I kind of panicked. I felt all warm and fuzzy that my friend included me but I was creatively inert at the idea of making a sun catcher. I’m not a crafty person – this is the realm of one of my sisters – but I am a SERIOUS creative, damn it, so how hard could it be? I looked at this as a problem rather than an opportunity so I tackled it like other problems—with RESEARCH! I immediately sent our instructor an email about the parameters of the medium, how big could we work, what kind of shapes could we cut etc etc. We had to come with a design of some sort but as I was unfamiliar with this medium and wasn’t prepared to wing it, I looked again to another creative for inspiration.

Accelorator by Ric Kokotovich

Artist Ric Kokotovich has a paper series called ‘Accelorators’ which reminds me of glass shards, so I used one of his images as my starting point. What I didn’t realize until I got to the class was how hard it is to cut glass by hand, and how ridiculous it was that I thought I could replicate this beautifully intricate image out of slumped glass. After our patient instructor could no longer watch me trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, she handed me bottles of tiny coloured glass shards and said, “Don’t try to make it perfect, just make it your own.” So I did, playing with the medium rather than working against it, and in the end, not only did I create something I didn’t hate, I made something I actually really liked.

I know I said I wouldn’t use the shark/mollusk analogy again but I lied. Here’s the thing. I’ve realized I need to be both if I want to tap into my best creative self. I need to search out and consume all kinds of information and knowledge, even if I’m not sure how relevant it is to my life in the moment. But it’s also important that I stop searching, stop moving, and curl into my safe little shell to reflect on all that I’ve consumed. Because after all, it’s not a shark who makes a pearl.

As published by the good people at Elephant Journal

1 comment on “How to Become a Creative Shark when you Feel like a Mollusk

  1. Mary Paston

    Great piece Alsn…. I understand your point…the best writing I ever did was with a group of friends playing around with words..the worst was in a formal creative writing class….yup… playful…see you soon

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