Yesterday I shipped two works of art out to their new prospective owners. One a commissioned work; the other, a piece from my own heart and mind…and just a little harder to let go of.
Here’s a secret, about artists…we don’t always create our works with the idea in mind that they are going to sell, oh no. Most often we create just because it’s in our soul to do so. And then, when someone asks the price, we stand a little speechless, suddenly feeling possessive, not quite sure if we are ready to let go of our creation just yet.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve parted with a piece of art, only to wish later I’d kept it with me a little longer. Because the truth is, I’ve never known an artist who could paint the same picture twice. Creation is an act that deals solely with the moment. What is in the mind, soul and heart at the time that the work is being created is poured into the piece, whether it is a portrait, a sculpture, a poem, a musical composition, or a coffee table made by hand. All the thoughts, ideas, and love behind the work become a part of it. And yes, there is love behind things that one creates: the love of the idea, the love of the materials, and the love of the process itself. The creative process. But what defines these moments, these instances where creativity takes root, shape and form?
In Lowe’s Home Improvement store last week, waiting on the attendant to mix the paint I needed to complete my kitchen do-over, I took out a slip of paper with the numbers and dimensions for all the new light switch-plates I needed to buy. Over a dozen, total. There’s nothing wrong with the current ones, mind you. They are simple beige plastic plates that function perfectly, but just seem dull now that new coats of paint grace nearly every wall of my home. I thought replacing them would add an elegant little touch to each room’s new décor, but I was startled to find out that it would cost at least eight dollars per switch for the nicer plates. And I needed a dozen.
There are levels in life to nearly all experiences one can have. For example, being a single parent. There are many single parents out there, and all situations aren’t the same. There are those who share the physical, emotional, and financial duties of child raising so equally with their former partners that they are actually still raising the children together, regardless of their relationship status…this is, of course, ideal for the children’s sake, but doesn’t constitute single parenting. It’s more co-parenting, really. Then there are parents who do the primary physical and emotional tending to the children, relying on the other parent for some shared financial support and also the physical care of the child a few weekends a month. They may also have a support person in the home, a new spouse or partner who shares in these responsibilities as well.
And then there are those like me, true single parents who shoulder the entire responsibilities of child rearing on our own, without any concern from the child’s other parent or any other support person to fill in the gaps. And for those of us in this situation, no decision that involves spontaneous spending of money is ever entered into lightly. We’ve learned that wolves lurk at the door when we least expect it, and when it’s all on you financially, you’re a little less likely to splurge, no matter how much money you make, or how much you might desire a little elegance. If you’ve faced down wolves at the door before, you know there’s always the chance that they’ll come back.
But mercifully, being creative is a way of life, not simply an act to be done spontaneously when time allows. It’s about how one’s mind works; how it processes a problem and arrives at a solution. It’s not just about making art or clothes or poetry, it’s not just some intangible realm known only to dreamy souls. Being a creative person is about choosing to live one’s life in a unique, extraordinary way that doesn’t yield easily to being told ‘it can’t be done.’ It’s not about just settling for what you already have or what would be the easiest solution to a problem, but in letting what lies within you dictate what will and won’t be possible in your life. I stood in Lowes that morning knowing full well that it would be risky and impractical to spend so much money on fancy, but unnecessary, switch-plates, but I also knew it would be useless to buy cheaper ones, for they weren’t much of a step up from what I already had. And I didn’t want to leave them as they were. It made all the renovations I’d already undertaken on my home seem somehow incomplete. And so I left with just my paint, and the question in my mind of what to do.
It wasn’t a real crisis, of course…just a simple glitch in my redecorating plan, but it was on my mind all the same. Then, halfway home my son asked, “Mama, while you are painting, can I make a collage?”
And there it was…the solution appeared instantly, tripping over my son’s words as his spoke, the idea falling down upon me so quickly I could barely wait to get home and begin. A mottled coat of oil paint on each plate and a few carefully chosen words and images torn from magazines, and voila! The problem of the dull switch plates was solved in a splendidly creative way, no money was spent, and I accomplished a more unique result than if I’d simply bought a dozen identical plates. The process itself was simple and fun, and the ‘renovated’ switch plates are now bright, happy little spots along the walls…appropriate really, for an object whose sole function in the world is to activate light within a space. But if something is to have just one function, isn’t activating light a pretty good one?
Creativity rarely arises from the desire to make money or receive acclaim from others. It often involves those factors, yes, but if it becomes primarily about external motivators like fame and fortune, it will lose its authenticity, for money and praise rarely walk hand in hand with love. And creativity must involve love, because both stem from the same source within us. They both arise from the internal desire we have to activate light within a space. To make visible, or possible, what without us might never have been.
No matter how much I may miss a painting I’ve let go of, I’d never try to paint it again. Creating the same painting twice would be like trying to recreate the same experience over and over. Nothing is the same the second time around, we all know that. However, there are many, many people who live their lives with this goal in mind. They long for something special in their lives, but when they are given a glorious new – but startlingly different – life experience, they cast it aside like rubbish because it’s unfamiliar. Blinders fully on, they can only see what they have created in the past, and they seek to recreate something similar for the future. Because what is similar is predictable, and the predictable is somewhat controllable, and if you’ve ever had your life turned upside down, there’s nothing you’ll long for more than some sense of control. But these are fool’s errands in the end, for keeping life within the parameters of the familiar and predictable doesn’t guarantee any real control over what might come next. It only guarantees doing the same thing the same way over and over, which after a few years, becomes about as exciting as my plain beige light switches.
The artist knows this, and it is the sole reason one rarely sees a painter trying to create the same image over and over. But creativity is not the sole possession of the artist, no. It It exists in all of us. It is the place in the mind where problems meet solutions, where torn images from magazines and a little paint and glue become dazzling new switch-plates, where great lengths are taken to ensure, mercifully, that instead of trying to recreate what was, we can be courageous enough to let the familiar go sometimes and step up to bold new roles, unafraid.
In my house now, the switch-plates are like snowflakes. No two are the same. They shout their presence out from the walls, and because of this, activating the light is a pretty easy task.
And thank goodness for that.