I believe that we are all creative, even if we don’t call ourselves artists. I resisted this label for a long time myself, even though I’ve created things — books, clothing, photographs, collages — my entire life.
Maybe I never thought to consider myself an artist because I grew up in the Midwest, where lots of people make things without feeling the need to give themselves a label. Or maybe it’s because there were plenty of other titles I could choose from. Over the course of three decades, I’ve been a musician, an actor, a writer and a photographer. The names I called myself changed, but I’ve always felt more like myself when I arranged my life to protect and nurture my creativity. I did this naturally, even before I really thought about how I did it or what those choices meant.
I want to remind you that you’re creative too. You may not create for money or even show anyone what you make, but that doesn’t mean you’re not an artist in your own incredibly specific way. You don’t have to understand it fully to embrace it.
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique,” the dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once told her colleague, Agnes de Mille. “And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”
So what does your artistic energy point you toward? What makes you get lost in the moment of creation? What always makes you feel good, even when it doesn’t necessarily come easily?
Maybe you feel most at home in the shop, tinkering with new solutions or out in the garden, with your hands in the warm earth. Maybe your mind is quietest when your fingers are knitting or whittling or sketching. Maybe you feel calm when you sing or cut paper or arrange flowers. Maybe the people you love cherish your Sunday night dinners or your descriptive letters or your handmade quilts. Maybe you get a thrill when you find the missing element that makes a design complete, finally perform a tricky phrase perfectly or compose the photograph you envisioned in your mind.
These forms of creative expression (and whatever else sprung into your mind) are all valid. They all count. There’s no right or wrong way to create. Whatever burns in you lights the way for the path you should take. I encourage you to follow it, even if it doesn’t make sense to you at the time. Like Martha Graham said, we just have to say “yes” to keep our own channel open.
My friend Judy woke up one day with a burning desire to host an elegant high tea like the ones her mother used to arrange to welcome other expats to their home in Africa. She could have ignored it. Instead she jumped in, crafting dozens of exquisite sandwiches in a multitude of flavors, serving three of her favorite teas in delicate painted cups and tempting us all with a half dozen desserts, including a mind blowing Earl Grey custard, a luscious chocolate layer cake to a trifle so dense with cake, cream and brandy that it was difficult to keep it aloft. No detail was overlooked. She served infused sugars, arranged fresh flowers and selected the perfect marmalade. There were even rose petals in the ice cubes.
It was an extraordinary meal that I’ll never forget. It was both an incredible outpouring of hospitality (an art in and of itself) and an exercise in nuanced artistic presentation. It energized everyone present. Investing time and energy in your own creativity not only improves the quality your life, it can inspire other people too.
I needed a little inspiration that day. My own work is transitioning into a new phase and weeks went by where I didn’t feel like creating anything. I got my work done, but I felt like I was going through the motions. I didn’t feel blocked so much as much as open and waiting for the next thing. So I spent a lot of time watching, thinking and waiting.
This is not my natural state, but getting out of my comfort zone and supporting other people in their artistic pursuits recharged me in ways I never imagined. People are making art everywhere. Actively buying, promoting and supporting someone else’s work will recharge you both.
When I got completely stuck, I pitched a story about Unglued Craft Fest here in Fargo. Seeing over 70 creative people from all over the Midwest was bound to shake something loose, right? It did. It actually reminded me to go back to the tools and connections I already had.
I brought back the In Studio series, which I’ve always loved but drifted away from recently. It’s based on conversations I have with creative people about how they work and why they create. Connecting with creative business people led me to The Whimsy Hollow, a historic home that the owners transformed into an over-the-top fairyland dream that they rent out for parties and crafting sessions.
Every creative person had a different, and often very specific vision that they threw themselves into with gusto. Listening to them and watching them work gave me energy. I had new stories to pitch and new publications to target. I wasn’t creating just yet, but at least I was engaged and my wheels were turning.
I wanted to keep talking and stay connected. So I sought out as many opportunities to collaborate and support other artists as possible. I went to the Fargo Film Festival and saw more films in a few hours than I usually see in a year. I met other writers and talked about the connections between art, history and social justice issues at the UND Writers Conference in Grand Forks.
When the folks from Fargo-Moorhead Content Strategy asked if I’d be on a panel with other local bloggers I said sure. When Beauty Marks Boudoir needed models for a female empowerment shoot, I signed up, showed up and wound up doing yoga in front of a stranger with a camera. I asked to write guest posts and invited people to contribute to my site as well. (The offer still stands, if you’re interested!)
There are so many ways to interact with, support and appreciate other creative people. I’ve been making a point to comment on Instagram photos I think are really beautiful and to review books I loved online. My grandma and I are fans of the house-made gelato and chocolates at Sweet Dreams Confections, so we told our family about it and now my uncle and cousin are regulars there too.
Somewhere between the yoga photoshoot and that last dish of gelato (cookie dough, if you’re curious), the next steps appeared. I realized that I’m more creative when I partner with and promote others. I work best when I fully engage my senses, get outdoors and stay active, especially when I walk, hike, bike and practice yoga. My focus improves when I put my phone down, disconnect a little and work with my hands.
Many of the creative people I talked with echoed these themes. Suddenly, something clicked into place. My next big creative endeavor came into focus.
I’m putting the finishing touches on a creativity workshop that will explore provide simple ways to live a more creative life using the lessons I’ve learned from my own life and the conversations I’ve had with other creative people. I’m incredibly excited about it.
More details will be coming soon. If you’re interested in participating, contributing your thoughts or hosting a workshop (there will be a half day, one day and weekend option) please get in touch with me on social media, in the contact form on this website or in the comments below.
Being creative but not creating was a challenge. Feeling stuck is never fun. But if I hadn’t been blocked, I wouldn’t have had to brainstorm new ideas, new solutions, new routes. And I would’t have come up with a new project along the way.
If you’re feeling stuck or tired or discouraged today, just keep going. Keep putting in the work, but take time to slow down and listen to yourself, make connections with other creative people and trust in your own process. And keep your channel open. You’ll find what you’re meant to be doing soon enough. Until then, be gentle with yourself. It’ll all be okay.
So what about you?
What are you burning to create?
What are your creative challenges and set backs?
How do you work through a block?
Which artists are you most excited about? Tell us about them!
What kind of art do you want to explore this year?
How do you support creative people in your life?
Tag your pics and travel tips #PrairiePeople and #PrairiePlaces on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You could inspire an upcoming post on Prairie Style File.
Prairie Style File is curated by Alicia Underlee Nelson. All rights reserved.