Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Posted by Peg in South Carolina

Meg wrote about this topic near the end of last year. This is how she began her post:

“Which brings me to this point I've been thinking for a while. You know there is this big movement, most vocally in the Julia Cameron/New Age/Oprah universe, to free ourselves from constraints and let the Artist do as s/he pleases. Gazillion writers have called it by gazillion different names, but you know what I mean. Follow the muse; that kind of thing.”

Go here to read her entire post.

This kind of thinking that Meg is talking about here always upsets me. Yes, in my search for I-don’t-know-what, I have read lots of this stuff, including most of Julia Cameron’s books. And I have come to the following conclusion: this notion of creativity is terribly misleading.

Constraints are part of the game of life and no one can do what he/she pleases. Peak experiences, visions, great art, none of these comes without much preparation. Even that child-genius Mozart spent many long arduous hours studying under his task-master father before he published anything, and the first pieces he published are all imitations.

Read Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. Colvin is writing for the business world, but his book is must-reading for anyone interested in creativity at any level and in any area. Reading this book is the best antidote to the Cameron/New Age/Oprah fantasy that I can think of.

Related Posts:
Aiming for Excellence
Creative Intelligence and Weaving
Some Interesting Blog Posts
Weaving Resolutions for the New Year

"Freeing the Creative Spirit" was written by Margaret Carpenter for Talking about Weaving and was originally posted on January 14, 2009. ©2009 Margaret Carpenter aka Peg in South Carolina


callybooker said...

I'm not sure we have quite as much of the marketing of the 'creativity thing' over here, although I have seen Julia Cameron's books. It seemed to me that she was aiming at the person who has always been well-behaved and good at school/work/household duties and is afraid that they don't have it in them to be creative at all. In other words, not to produce Mozarts and Michelangelos, but to undo some of the negative messages that people have heard which prevent them from putting in those hours of practice - what is the point if you believe you are fundamentally 'not creative'? But I may be missing the point. I often do!

Peg in South Carolina said...

Hi Cally,thank you for posting. I think you are pretty much right about Cameron, though you certainly have to be a "good little girl and do your homework" with Cameron! But some of her books I find to be really quite good, "Letters to an Artist" (or something like that)), for example. Perhaps the non-marketing of the "creativity thing" in England is one reason there seem (to me at least) to be so many brilliantly creative people in the arts there. But I think the whole British approach is quite different from the typical American approach, and I've always admired it.

Janet said...

Interesting and timely, since a friend and I (both artisans) just decided yesterday that we'd have a go at The Artist's Way. I'd always avoided back in the day when it seemed like such a faddish thing, then wound up buying the book a couple years ago but ever actually read it.

Now from your post and the following comments, I wonder if I should stay the course and stay away from TAW, since 1) I don't really have any trouble with creativity, just motivation, and 2) I am anything but well-behaved and dutiful when it comes to homework or other chores.

Leigh said...

Gosh, I've not been able to do any blog reading for the past week or so and look at what all I've been missing! Very interesting series on the handspun shawl sampling, and this post was as well. Makes me wonder what ever happened to the old idea that an artist has to suffer to be truly great.

About 10 years ago, one of my stepsons had problems in school with spelling and grammar. It turned out that his teacher wasn't teaching them spelling and grammar in order not to stifle the children's "creativity." The shame of it is that most of those poor kids will struggle for the rest of their lives with poor writing skills because of that. Nothing is more discouraging to creativity than not having the necessary tools to fulfill the process.

Peg in South Carolina said...

Janet, I cannot answer your question. Perhaps you might give it a try for a couple of weeks and see what you think? But for an honest test, you will have to be "well-behaved and dutiful" as you so charmingly put it! Or you could try to figure out how to deal with motivation problems? Or maybe you are just in a phase where you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other even if you are not motivated?
Leigh, welcome back to blog-reading and thank you for your comments!

Lynne said...

I enjoy the rules, they set a standard from which to deviate. They establish a framework from which to hang the creative chaos. But maybe this thinking is a result of my architectural training.

Yet I still believe we need the total I will do as I please freedom to explore our art.

Everything in moderation.
It balances out in the end.

I'll have to find Colvin's book, thanks for the link.

Dorothy said...

This post raises so many different lines of thought.

One is that my sister who has good creative skills, but not the imagination I have, really enjoyed doing a "painting by numbers" recently. It enabled her to do a painting she was pleased with, which she'd not have managed without the kit. She's done some very nice cross stitch kits in the past, I have one she did and treasure it. She can do lovely work within that constrained kit system.

Another is that a lot of the design process taught on formal art courses is about enabling people who go into various industries to keep churning out new stuff, not necessarily about achieving high standards. People of a range of ability can learn a process to use and then produce something.

I think all great artists have worked within constraints - the really talented setting their own margins, maybe where no-one else has before. Picasso for example, had his own kind or rules. Even Jackson Pollock had some rules. (I'm one of those odd people that sees rhythm and harmony and images in Jackson Pollock's work.)

I was interested to find some review comments on Geoff Colvin, sounds like he's a great motivator, and has a logical approach. But you only go so far without talent, hard work is overated. The significance of the subconscious is underated.

I think this comment is getting a bit long.. interesting subject!

Peg in South Carolina said...

Lynne and Dorothy, thank you so much for your comments. They are well thought out and I appreciate them.

Jane said...

Good morning Miss Peg. Another thought provoking post.

When I was 16, I was accepted into a specialized school for Art and Design. My then current art teacher and mentor, sat me down before I went "off to the big city" and passed on some very good words of wisdom that I have held in my heart ever since:

"Don't allow the Bohemian atmosphere to cause you to stray from your own path. There is no self respecting, accomplished artist in the world who does not have self discipline.

In learning technique, and learning it properly, you are then freed to expand and improvise with the knowledge of *what* you are doing and *why.*"

He was so correct. This man made me sit and paint color/value/hue/shade/tint chart after chart; draw endless life drawings; paint endless water colors and oil paintings -- all while the other students in his classes worked on "paint a tree" assignments. I asked him why I had to to do all of these other things, and his reply was "You're an artist -- they aren't. You need to have a strong scaffolding upon which you can build your future work."

Again -- he was right. Color theory is second nature to me. Design is second nature. The Golden Mean is second nature. All of which free me to concentrate on all of the other parts of being a Creative.

The limits he set for me, eventually allowed me incredible freedom as an artist. And the self discipline? He was so right. . .

I learned to create for myself, and not for what is trendy or stylish. Good work will sell itself no matter what fashion is dictating at the time. Trendy will pass -- but timeless goes on forever. And ya don't get timeless without technique, and ya don't master technique without self discipline.

Great topic!!!

Weave on, Miss Peg!!

Peg in South Carolina said...

Jane, thank you for sharing this. It sounds like you had a wonderful education. I think the distinction between trendy and timeless is very important. Even in clothing, I have not been interested particularly in the trendy. I grew up with the notion that you bought clothes to last virtually forever. I have a jacket I made in a genuine Harrisville tweed 40 years ago. It was my first tailoring experience and i chose the fabric because it would hide mistakes. I am still wearing it and it shows absolutely no signs of wear. I have grown to truly love it and I still get compliments on it, even here in South Carolina!

Renee said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog Peg, funny that ours were both sort of on the creative process. I was intrigued by your post. To me books on creativity are tools for your toolbox. You take the tools you can use and leave the rest. You won't always need the same tools at different times in your life either as I am sure many folks know. I had a totally different impression from Cameron's Artist Way. Creativity is not one of those gifts that you either have been blessed with or not. It, like art, is learned, and yes, requires discipline. I enjoyed the different points of view on the comments. Thanks for your post!

Peg in South Carolina said...

Thanks Renee. I especially liked your point about needing tools at different places in the journey. Very important to remember!