Over the years I’ve had a lot of opportunity to reflect on my work and its development, particularly when I’m being interviewed. A clear pattern often develops between the interviewer and me. I’m always grateful for a really good interviewer, one who gives me myself.
Over and over again I notice many interview questions are very physical plane and mentally focused. My answers however point in an entirely different direction. For example, regarding the first book that I wrote, My Colors, My World, I have been asked something along the lines of whether I prepared for writing the book by researching childhood development in relation to color or was thinking about how as an artist I communicate through color. Basically, what were the things that led me to write about color. Clearly very good questions, I especially liked thinking about “communicating with color.” But the truth is I did not prepare or have much thought about what to write. I just knew I was going to write a story.
When I have a large project, or really when I do nearly anything, but especially art things, I often feel pulled, directed from some larger, inner knowing to create. I’ve learned that if I try to think it through in any way, things flatten out and flow less freely or wildly. I can make it happen appropriately, but it lacks some magic, some happenstance, some mystery that appears and resolves before my eyes. It’s like I’ve taken things to a more superficial plane through using my everyday thinking, which inevitably has the effect of limiting the possibilities.
But if I remain curious and open, if I feel the discomfort of uncertainty, of not being able to figure something out for a moment and trust, then things naturally start flipping and turning and landing and deepening in ways that are far more articulate and inclusive than my tiny, little waking brain could pull off. To me, that is what art is for. It’s a practice that teaches us to use more of our brains in a sense, to use the creative, unknown, imaginative parts that are deep within each of us.
We seem to have a generally superficial focus in our culture. Many of us just do. We don’t have time to think either because we are busy doing or we are stressed out and don’t have room for one more thing to think about. Creativity and creative thought are seen as extracurricular, less important. It is the first thing to be cut from schools, from life…because with other more real concerns we don’t have time to play, create something for the sake of process or beauty or knowing self. It’s seen as frivolous. We value very physically focused things in our culture right now.
So it can seem that Claiming Face is about making art and is extracurricular. But one of the primary intentions of the curriculum is to nurture and utilize creative thinking, or what I’ve come to call indigenous knowing. A sense of self, of knowing that originates within the self. Many times, it is easier- we are even encouraged- to look outside of ourselves to know something, sometimes even the smallest of things, instead of knowing and trusting ourselves.
When I sat down to write My Colors, My World, I opened to what story wanted to be written. I didn’t know what it was at that point, I simply found myself standing outside of my house when I was a kid. I was facing the sunset, hot pink light washing every surface. My world was hot pink, I was hot pink. I believe that to support a sense of belonging we must see ourselves reflected in our world.
When I didn’t find myself in books or any of the media I grew up with, I found myself in nature. I found myself in the hot pink of the sunset sky. Standing in the light of the sunset and being the same color as the sky, my entire neighborhood and my home, I knew that I belonged. That’s why color is important to me. And that’s why I knew to write about it.
Over many years of using creativity as my teacher, I have learned that if I want something to feel meaningful to me and speak to my heart of hearts, I must wait for it to rise up from inside of me. It is through creativity that I can more easily connect with this part of myself. But I do many things this way now. Everything is art. Everything is creative. Making art is a ritual in a way. It is a formal practice of engaging with creativity to learn the deeper lessons of trusting yourself and your own knowing and remaining open to the most creative and innovative path possible.
This part of creativity is challenging to put into words, because it is beyond words in a sense. It is something I’ve practiced thousands of times and still I’m learning. So it’s one of those things you have to experience. The Imagine & Reflect Exercises are part of bringing those experiences in.
Last week, you drew your attention to your face and claiming it. Your face represents so much, your personal history and family, your cultural background. Your face is your physical representation of self, but it is also much more. This week, we open up to the idea of connecting with some of the deeper aspects of ourselves that lie beneath our face, something more akin to our essence, our wisdom.
In the exercise let your imagination connect the different times in your life. Remember the inside feeling you had as a child. Don’t think about it linearly, for example I was a baby first, then a toddler. Let multiple moments and connections gather and layer organically. You may take leaps and bounds, jumping from one seemingly unrelated memory to another but if you’re open, you may notice one unifying aspect, or a theme, etc…Just gather. The way your mind organizes is uniquely your own.
Witnessing and learning to trust in this kind of process is the beginning of accessing your deeper creative thinking. Play with this kind of knowing for yourself. It will provide you with more depth and understanding of what lies beneath the Claiming Face projects. Next week we’ll focus on a project you can take into the classroom.