Tag Archives: creativity

Why being impressionable is a good thing

‘Oh she’s just impressionable…’

This statement is weighted with a negative stigma that I’d like to challenge.  In my last blog post, I talked about the need to become ‘aware’ of ordinary things to break the ‘active but absent’ mindset that are bodies are accustomed to.  We’re all guilty of going through the motions in our daily lives – it’s pretty normal.  We as humans are creatures of habit and fall into routine.  The danger of this of course is that we don’t think or feel for ourselves.  We’re constantly bombarded with advertisements ‘LOOK HERE, BUY THIS, TASTE, FEEL’ etc.  With these directions, often comes empty promises of fulfillment and happiness.

Therefore, to ‘live’ as such, and to be present, we need to become aware and be humbled by ordinary things. Christophe Andre’s book Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art has been a brilliant insight into the importance of looking, and really seeing.  Much of my inspiration and thoughts have been catalysed by his writing.

Claude Monet has always been one of my favourite Painters.  I often get asked who my favourite Artist is, and when I was very young I panicked and exclaimed it was Monet. This at the time was partially true, and partly that I knew everyone would be familiar with some of his work, or at the very least, his name.  As an impressionable child, I began to look and marvel at the work of Claude Monet.  I saw his piece La rue Montorgueil a Paris. Fete du 30 juin 1878 at the Musée d’Orsay and was inspired by his ability to capture the spirit and the enthusiasm of the later coined ‘French National’ day through his urgent and lively brushstrokes, all whilst still sitting removed from the festival feeling in a balcony he reportedly hired to paint the scene especially.

Monet flagsMonet, Claude, La rue Montorgueil a Paris. Fete du 30 juin 1878, 1878, Oil on Canvas, 81 x 50.5cm Musée d’Orsay

This painting is a blur of motion and celebration that when is viewed up-close is constructed of what seems like very frantic brushstrokes. There seems to be little composition and structure, but when viewed as a whole it becomes almost like a snapshot of the day, full of life and vibrancy.

Claude Monet 1840-1926 - French painter - The Rue Montorgueil, Paris 1878 - The Impressionist Flags (4)Monet was inspired to paint a scene of people in France that have been hurt, but are moving forward to a greater and more plentiful life.  The term ‘Impressionist’ was first used as an insult in response to an exhibition of new paintings in Paris in 1874.  According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term impressionable means ‘easily influenced.’  As one of the major members of the movement, Monet would record fleeting, transient moments that influenced him through the medium of paint.  By painting scenes that he found influential, he was mindful and aware of the present moment.  He was so inspired by dancerly nature of the flags that he paid to paint on someone’s balcony.  The scene wouldn’t have been any better later, or any worse.  It just wouldn’t have been the same.  This was the impression that he was inspired by, it was perfect – the here and now.  You may find yourself asking, but how does this apply to me in my daily life?

Artist or not, we all can learn from Claude Monet.  Being impressionable allows us to be simply present to the ordinary moments of living.  This is important, because most often, it is the present that we ignore.  How often do you find yourself thinking about the past, or the future rather than concentrating on living in the present?  Being influenced by things we see and hear helps us fragment and interrupt the ‘automatic flow of our actions and thoughts.’  According to Christophe Andre, finding yourself being impressionable and therefore aware of the present moment is no doubt easier in more beautiful or favourable surroundings.  For example, it’s much easier to be inspired by a remarkable sunset than it is a washing machine. Knowing this, it’s easy to relate to Monet’s instancy to paint La Rue Montorgueil.  With this being said, we can be impressionable in any environment as long as we are prepared to make an effort.  ‘It requires a decision on our part to open ourselves up as often as we can to being touched, contracted and struck by life. This is an act of deliberate awareness.’  There may be things you see every day on your way to work, in your home that you’ve never looked twice at.  These ordinary items will never be the same twice.  Every experience you have is different, in the fact that it’s always unique – time passes.  Looking with the eyes of a new-born can help us reveal beauty in things that we may have considered unchanging before.

rouen-cathedral-monetMonet, Claude, Rouen Cathedral Series, Oil on Canvas, various sizes, 1890-1896

With over 30 Paintings in the Rouen Cathedral Series, Monet focused on portraying the distinctly different character of the cathedral depending on the light that was cast upon it.  This monumental effort by Monet acts as an ‘attempt to illustrate the importance of light in our perception of a subject at a given time and place.’  When looking closely at the Paintings, it’s quite extraordinary how the same building can almost take on a completely different persona due to the time of the day it was painted.  Monet, like a lot of the Impressionists, was inspired by light.  The effect that light had on an object or a place was a driving force to paint, because it was ever-changing.  We like Monet, can attune ourselves to be impressionable and look with eyes that want to be inspired and an open mind.  This ever-changing concept of light applies to everything, no matter how seemingly insignificant.  A pepper grinder today is going to remain a pepper grinder tomorrow, but where it’s placed may be different, the reflection will be different.  When we become aware of these little things, we’re alive – broken free from the shackles of the past and the fears of the future for an instant.  When we become aware and momentarily dismiss our staggered thoughts and just ‘live’, the world is a more dazzling, brighter and fulfilling place.

“The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” – Henry Miller

I’m working on becoming more impressionable, are you?

Sources:

Andre, Christophe, Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art, p 20-24. 119

http://lesiksarthistory.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/rue-montorgueil-vs-rue-mosnier-with.html

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/learn-about-art/guide-to-impressionism/guide-to-impressionism

http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/works-in-focus/painting.html?no_cache=1&zoom=1&tx_damzoom_pi1%5BshowUid%5D=4035

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Do you see things differently, too?

I was passing, and then I stopped.  There’s something special I notice about the scene.  I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is that captivates me – the architecture, the light, the viewpoint, but it does.  I have this experience every day with a telephone pole as I walk through the town of Aberystwyth.  Now this in itself might sound ridiculous and you may find yourself asking how can I possibly find beauty in something so…pedestrian? Truth is, I’m not entirely sure.  Each experience I have with the telephone pole is completely unique.  The light is always a little bit different, I’m a little bit different.  But alas, every day in my walk to the library I still stop for a moment.

It’s often remarked by family and friends that I’m extremely observant.  I notice colours in reflections, strange textures in tiles and make shapes in my mind with woodgrain.  I don’t observe everything, but I’m aware that certain things that most would consider unimportant captivate me and wholly capture my attention becoming the most important thing in the world for a fleeting moment.

It’s taken me years of this kind of seeing to bring it to full awareness and begin to realise what it means. I was always under the impression that it was my creative temperament that led to this appreciation of ordinary things, but the more I learn, this seeing is not exclusive to the ‘creatives’ amongst us.  Everyone without limit can find beauty in the banal.

Christophe Andre in his book Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art uses Gas by Edward Hopper to illustrate this idea of seeing ordinary things.  Hopper was renowned for his oil paintings of American Life that were all simplistic in composition.  Somewhat reluctant to discuss himself and his art, he famously summed up his Art by stating “The whole answer is there on the canvas.”  This feels like an apt statement when weighted with the appreciation for the ordinary.

gasGas, Edward Hopper (1882-1967) 1940, oil on canvas, 66.7 x 102.2m, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Andre suggests that when you begin to look, and really look you become aware of the silly detail of the Pegasus on the sign.  Then you see his three little brothers on the pumps which anchors your attention. You start to assume what could be happening inside the lighted house.  Is there music playing? Where does the darkened road lead to?  How long will it be before the man pictured sees anyone else?  For Hopper to paint this, it must have captivated him.  This moment is completely unique. You stopped because you will never again see what you are seeing now.  In the same way that you will never experience exactly what you are experiencing now.  This is the point – you understand.  This becomes the most important thing in the world – this seeing, this experience, this awareness… and this is living!  You are living life.

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All too often we find ourselves going through the motions in life. A work/rest alternate.  We absent-mindedly wander through our days, only to get up the next morning to do the same.  We’re programmed on repeat – ‘active but absent.’  Our lives are directed with signposts ‘Look now!, listen now!, taste now!, feel now!’  to ‘carefully delineated moments where we ‘have to’ be enchanted or moved (cinema, theatre, museums and galleries).’  If we allow ourselves to be victims of this signposted and dictated awareness we become robot-like.  This is why moments in appreciating the ‘ordinary’ and ‘normal’ are so vital to enriching our soul. We must appreciate and respect normal things. I agree that is much easier to become aware and mindful in a beautiful landscape but it is true to say that it can happen anywhere and at any time – with a little effort to ‘remain awake and present.’

How do we do this in our daily lives?

I went to grab a coffee yesterday in a busy coffee shop.  While I waited for mine to be made, I watched the barista work efficiently calling out different orders for collection.  After a few minutes she exclaimed “banana latte and a watermelon chocolate!” A woman came and lifted the tray with a quick thank-you but didn’t pull the barista up on her comical drinks.  She looked at me and grinned “I have a theory that if you shout anything, people will come and take whatever is ready.  Last week it was items of clothing, this week it’s fruit.”  I laughed, but after I left with my non-fruit flavoured coffee it really made me think.  People hear but how often do they listen?  We’re always in the doing mode, but we’re not often in the being mode.  Take the painting, how often has people just filled up the tank, paid, left, not experiencing the sights to be seen?  It’s important to practice listening to sounds around you, observing the light, smelling around you, tasting, touching – awakening your senses if you like.  Looking with the eyes of the new-born, as if everything is new.  You’ll be amazed at how much there is to see and sense.  This isn’t robot-like, but it is human being-like.  ‘We must be aware that we are alive. Living in awareness, touched by ordinary things, jostled by normality.  It means being enlightened by the benign and ordinary- dazzled and delighted by life.’

‘Never forget that every mind is shaped by the most ordinary experiences.’ – Paul Valery, Mauvaises Pensees Et Autres

Mindfulness: 25 Ways To Live In The Moment Through Art, Christophe Andre, L’Iconoclaste, Paris, 2011 (p.112-121)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hopper

http://www.moma.org/collection/works/80000

What we can learn from Chupa Chups

Bizarre title, right?

download

I’m halfway through reading a book called The Art Of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins. (St. Martins College of Art) Judkins hasn’t so much taught me anything through his clarity of thoughts, but instead has made me realise my make-up if you will.  Creativity isn’t a switch that can be flicked on when you arrive into the studio or grab a pen to write, just in the same way it can be turned off when relaxing in the bath or climbing into bed.  The very crux of creativity is a way of seeing, engaging with and responding to the world around you.  Judkins suggests that creatives are creative when ‘filing documents, cooking, arranging timetables or doing housework.’

We are all guilty of compartmentalising Creativity for as and when it is needed in our daily lives.  It’s exhausting to be alert and responsive all of the time.  I dedicate set time to be creative amidst applying for jobs and working, a routine that’s an unhealthy one. Why? Because I feel most alive when I’m doing something I feel that is worthwhile… and that’s usually creating something.

You may ask, what does Chupa Chups have to do with all this?

This is where Salvador Dali comes in.  Judkins uses him as a perfect example of a ‘switched-on’ creative.  Dali too felt alive with things that he felt were important – devoting his time and energy to a range of projects.

On January 20, 1952, Salvador Dali appeared on American Game Show Whats’ My Line? , in which a panel of four blindfolded celebrity panellists guess the identity of a mystery guest by asking questions that have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  Taking almost nine minutes to reveal his identity, the guests become more and more exasperated as Dali answers yes when asked if he was a writer, a leading man, a performer, a sportsman etc. One of the ladies laughs and exclaims ‘There’s nothing this man doesn’t do!’

And that’s exactly the lesson that should be learned here. Throughout his life Dali was a film-maker, a jewellery maker, an architect, a designer, a writer as well as a painter. He needed a house, so he made one – who knows your taste better than yourself?  He created a person – Dali’s Frankenstein – Amanda Lear.  Dali renamed her, made her over and constructed stories about her. His creativity wasn’t under a time constraint, it ran through him.  Dali designed the logo for the Chupa Chups lollipop.  Already having a name for himself as a famous surrealist artist and a place amongst treasured Artists in the Canon of Art History, it wasn’t necessary for him to design for confectionery.  He was open-minded and it to him it mattered, so he did it.  Not everything he turned his hand to was successful, and some endeavours are more celebrated than others, but what matters is the willingness to try.  Dali didn’t attempt to turn the creative ‘switch’ on and off.  Instead, he embraced it and is Internationally respected as a result.  His creativity went far beyond his surrealist Paintings that he is most renowned for, and when you delve a little deeper you can discover a man that breathed creativity, not confined it.

His attitude is something we can all learn a little from.

Judkins, Rod, The Art of Creative Thinking, Sceptre Books, 2015

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXT2E9Ccc8A – Salvador Dali appearing on ‘Whats My Line’