What’s the point?

By Laura M.

Here’s the thing about creative pursuits: not everyone is gonna care about them. You can record an album, write a book, or make a sculpture. But there may not be anyone on the other end who wants it. This is all well and good if you’re really only interested in the journey or don’t require external validation. If that describes you: God bless. You are so lucky.
For the rest of us, it can feel a little like we’re hollering into a black hole.

Rather discouraging, to say the least, when you get no response. But no response is not an indication of a lack of an interesting topic or dearth of talent. Sometimes it’s due to a lack of influence.

Take, for instance, the class that Ellen and I designed last summer. There’s a local community education program that allows anyone (and I mean anyone) to teach a subject to adults over a series of weeks at local community centers. We decided it would be fun to lead a class on how to tap into your best creative self. We met every week for 6 weeks to discuss the curriculum. We talked about the big idea (that everyone is inherently creative, it’s just a matter of tapping into it), researched the science behind it, and talked about different activities we could do that would inspire students. We arranged for guest speakers and made inventory lists of items we would need to supply during class. We mapped out a schedule of what would be ‘taught’ in each class and even factored in when ‘assignments’ would be due, what we’d ask students to provide on their own and what to do if students didn’t have access to the technology required. We participated in an open house where we dutifully sat at a booth with our materials and handouts and talked with potential students about our class. You get the picture here, right? You understand that we devoted a lot of time to this?

We told our friends, we posted on Facebook and Twitter. Registration opened and (did you see this coming?) NO ONE signed up. Personne (that’s French for no one.) NOBODY!

So get this: two weeks after our class was cancelled due to lack of enrollment, Elizabeth Gilbert came out with her book “Big Magic.” It’s a book about, wait for it…finding your inner creativity. In case you don’t know, Gilbert sold a gazillion copies of her book Eat, Pray, Love. It was even made into a major motion picture with Julia Roberts. So she’s kinda a big deal. This new book of hers (out last September 2015) has sold a lot of copies. I can’t find the exact figure but trust me – it’s a lot. She’s doing an online course in creativity, in conjunction with the book. Guess how many people signed up? 4,228 students.

So clearly we had a good idea but not the influence or exposure to recruit students. Lest you think I’m complaining, you need to understand that this very blog you’re reading came about because of the ‘failure’ of our course. We knew we had some good ideas and we felt like there was an audience out there comprised of people we don’t know.

Of course, this blog comes with its own set of hopes and disappointments.We’ve had some lovely responses from fellow bloggers and friends alike. But many posts are published to…crickets.

 

Where am I going with this? Well, I’m not soliciting SEO advice or suggestions on how to draw a bigger audience. I share my (our) experience because I think it’s what the majority of creators experience. It’s my belief that when you’re in this situation you have to figure out a way to be ok with it. And in the words of Martina McBride (and Brett and Brad Warren, her co-writers), “Do it anyway.”

So my query to fellow bloggers and creators: how do you get comfortable with creating something that potentially has no reward or audience?

P.S. I’ll admit that video makes me teary-eyed.

UPDATE

I shared this post via FB and I got these thoughtful responses:

from Bobby, a songwriter and poet: I just finished listening to the audio book attached here. The author talks about “creating for the sake of creating, how that has diminished in our society, and how important it is for many reasons.” His comments about “flow” and “creativity” helped me to see that much of the creative experience is just about getting into “flow”–a space where the soul is nourished, a space where the mind and the psyche can play. Many of these things I have known, but thought I was alone in my feelings. This book is like a license to be a creative person who does not have to answer to those who do not get it. Create. The opposite of that is “die.” https://www.amazon.com/Creativity…/dp/B000TG1X9C…From my experience: There are writers who thrive on being in the creative process; there are writers who live to have written. I’m the first kind. : )

from Darla, a potter and Zentangle instructor (who has her own WP blog site here): It is so hard to separate your identity from your creative endeavors. I can spend weeks developing a class, order supplies and no one signs up, then I’ll have an awesome group come in for a class and it’s amazing and makes it worth it. I guess we hang in there for the Sparks of shared experience that we are sometimes rewarded with.

from Brent Baxter, a songwriter (who also has a blog here): it always has a reward. The process itself and the joy of completion. Writing a song is fun. Yeah, I’d rather millions of people hear them than just a few, but every time I write a good song I get a good feeling

Denise, a writer, commented here on WP (see below.) Her awesome blog is here.

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Keep your day job

by Laura M.

There’s this nifty venue here in Nashville, TN called Cheekwood. It’s an old mansion that’s essentially been converted into an art gallery. The hilly grounds surrounding the manor are host to beautiful gardens (100,000 tulips in the Spring!) and amazing outdoor art installations from the likes of Chihuly, Bruce Munro, and Jaume Plensa (all mind-blowing!).

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Me and the sculpture “Laura” (named after his wife) at the Jaume Plensa installation at Cheekwood in 2015. 

A few months ago, Cheekwood held a pop art exhibit. I don’t know a whole lot about that form of art. I’m familiar with Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s soup can series, Roy Lichenstein’s comic book art…the real mainstream stuff. I walked through the upper gallery, checking out the small collection they had put together, not spending too much time on each piece. That is until I saw a bio on the wall of Corita Kent.

First of all, seeing a woman’s name in the pop art collection made me positively giddy. I wasn’t familiar with any female pop artists. [I’m sure there are more – please excuse my ignorance. I was a toddler at that time and have not studied that genre to know it well.] Second of all, she was a NUN! Sister Mary Corita Kent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in Los Angeles, CA.

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image of Sister Mary Corita from the Corita Art Center

Sister Mary Corita had always been interested in art. She got her undergrad and masters degrees in art and taught art at a college (eventually becoming the chair of the art department.) All the while she made art, predominantly silkscreen, serigraph and printmaking.

Having an interest in social justice and peace, Corita imbued her art with positive messages and affirmations: “Hope is the memory of the future,” “Life is a succession of moments, to live each one is a way of succeeding.” Her political activism eventually led her to leave the church and pursue art full time in Boston.

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image from the Corita Art Center

Depending on your age, you may recognize this piece of art by Corita:

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US Postage stamp 1985

Also in Boston in the 70s…

Psychologist Ellen Langer has spent her highly-respected career researching mindfulness and its applications to our daily lives. Through her research at Harvard University, where she is a professor, she has proven that mindfulness can improve our health, creativity and effectiveness. Jennifer Aniston is even making a movie about her and her work. You know a movement is legit when it makes it to the silver screen. 😉

As it so happens, Dr. Langer loves to paint. She took it up later in life (in her 50s). She’s not necessarily interested in the outcome as much as the experience she has with the process. She just really enjoys painting. Feeling the paintbrush in her hand, how the bristles bend as she presses it onto the canvas, the trail of paint the brush leaves behind…you get the picture.

Dr. Langer’s work is now sold in galleries as she forges ahead with her fascinating research on the human condition.

So why do I talk about these two ladies? Because I find them inspirational. Not just that they found a vocation about which they were/are passionate, but that they also created space in their full lives for creativity. Very much like Dr. Andre Churchwell, the physician/fashion designer/illustrator.

Here in Nashville there are a ton of people pursuing their dream of being a singer or songwriter. 95% do not attain that goal and work a day job in order to support themselves. In the instances of these ladies, their non-artistic occupation wasn’t their backup plan. Isn’t that a cool twist?

Ultimately, what I’m saying is: Creativity doesn’t have to be front and center in a person’s life for it to be valid or merit worthy. It can be a big part of it but not the be all, end all. It’s not like Sister Mary Corita became a nun because she couldn’t hack it as a printmaker. She LOVED her faith. But she also loved art and made room for both. So even if it’s not the main focus of your life, it’s still worth doing.