Welcome to the first episode of my podcast! In this podcast I explore the role of not knowing in the creative process. I'm finding that as I practice letting go of what I know, the process of creating art becomes easier. I hope that you might find something in this podcast that you can use in your creative process.
Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay
I have to admit to you, I have a real love hate relationship with not knowing. I am an engineer. And so I just don't like not knowing. But you know what, it shows up all the time.
Hello, and welcome to the creative shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel.
This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.
Sunset Sketchers [00:00:49]
Back in the fall of 2018 I discovered a Facebook group called Sunset Sketchers and it was a fairly new group. I think it was started in the middle of 2018. It's an urban sketching group, and they go out to various venues and parks and open spaces cafes and bars, wherever, you simply pull out your sketchbook and you sketch, what you see right there.
Now I've been sketching, but I wouldn't consider myself an urban sketcher. But I had been sketching mostly mechanical things because the type of things that I create are usually mechanical. But I'd never really sketched from outdoors and from real life.
So when I found the group, I said to myself, yeah, that's something that I want to do. And other people around me, he had noticed it as well and suggested it to me.
But I felt so much resistance. I can't tell you how much anxiety I felt about joining this group. Why did I feel that anxiety? A lot of it has to do with not knowing. First of all, I didn't know the people, but I also didn't know what is expected and what would I be doing and how would I be doing it and with what materials. So it took me quite a while before I got up the nerve to go to the first sunset sketcher event.
Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are still alive [00:02:24]
It reminds me of a scene in the original star Wars where Luke is called to go on a great adventure with Obi-Wan. Obi-Wan asks him to come along and help fight the Empire and save Princess Leia, but Luke hesitates. He has all these reasons that he can't go.
There's a point though where he realizes that his aunt and uncle are in danger and he goes back and finds out that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru have been killed by the Empire, and it's at that point where Luke realizes that there's nothing holding him back from joining Obi-Wan, and so he does join him. It's a dramatic storytelling tool to show the audience that Luke is just like us, that he hesitates just like any of us would.
Of course in real life, it doesn't happen this way. There's usually no great dramatic turning point that forces us to go and try something new.
In my version of Luke story, my inner Luke goes home and he finds that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru alive and Uncle Owen will probably cuss him out a little bit. And then my inner Luke hides in the garage and comes up with eight more reasons why he can't join Obi-Wan to go on a great adventure.
Not knowing [00:03:44]
I have to admit to you, I have a real love hate relationship with not knowing. I am an engineer, and so I just, don't like not knowing. But you know what it shows up all the time.
And boy has as it come up a lot lately with all that's going on in the world right now with the pandemic, with staying at home, with not knowing if there's going to be work.
Not knowing when I can go out again. So not knowing is showing up quite a bit, and I'm sure it's showing up for you as well
But there's an aspect of not knowing that is deeply bound to creativity, and that's what I want to explore. Not knowing comes up a lot for me in my creative process, almost every creative project that I start starts with how am I going to do it? How am I going to build it? How will it turn out? Is what I create going to look like the idea that I have in my mind.
I actually like this. form of not knowing.
The reason that I like the subject so much is the natural tension that I feel when I start a creative project. There's that tension of, Oh, I can, I can sort of see it. I can sort of taste it. I sort of have an idea of what it might look like or I sort of have an idea of how I might go about doing it, but I really don't.
And so I just have to trust in the process. I just have to trust that as I do the creating, as I build or I paint or I write, or as I'm creating this podcast right now that, it'll turn out to something interesting. .
But boy, it's so frustrating! And here's the thing that I've learned about this is that it's uncomfortable and I have to sit with it even though I don't want to sit with it. It really sucks.
But, It's, it's a faithful partner...
Free Play [00:06:16]
I've been reading a lot of books on creativity, and all of them touch on this idea in some way or another. But it wasn't until last year or so that I really started to understand what it meant. In his book Free Play, Stephen Nachmanovitch has a whole chapter called Disappearing, and this is what he says. He says, "For art to appear, we have to disappear... And when we disappear in this way, everything around us becomes a surprise, self and environment, unite attention and intention fuse, we see things just as we and they are, yet we're able to guide and direct them to become just the way we want them. This lively and vigorous state of mind is most favorable to the germination of original work of any kind."
What I like about Nachmanovitch's idea of disappearing is it speaks to this idea of getting out of my own way. And just letting the creative ideas come forth, from wherever they come from.
And I also get a sense that I disappear from the final result as well.
Wired to Create [00:07:41]
Another book that I've been drawing inspiration from is Wired to Create by Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman and they have a chapter about intuition, and they write this: " Reflecting on their biggest breakthroughs, many innovators have described elusive solutions as coming to them in a sudden flash of insight, while artists often described their best ideas arising as if out of nowhere."
In another section, they quote Ray Bradbury, and here's what they say, "Author Ray Bradbury even insisted that a writer ought to avoid developing his rational thinking skills for fear that they get. In the way of his intuition.
“The writer himself kept a sign above his typewriter for 25 years that read, Don't Think! As Bradbury explained in the 1974 interview, the intellect is a great danger to creativity because you begin to rationalize and make up reasons for things, instead of staying with your own basic truth, who you are, what you are and what you want to be." End quote .
This idea for me has been one of the hardest things to incorporate into my creativity practice, because I love to figure things out. I love to think, and so I've had to make a conscious effort to not know and to be open to not knowing when I am looking for new ideas.
I find that I'm most successful where I can turn my frontal lobe off and get into that state of not knowing and just see ideas for what they are. What I've learned about this is that I can do all that figuring out later.
And that's part of the fun of creating is figuring it out, but I don't need to figure it out when the creative impulse first arrives.
Improv Wisdom [00:09:37]
Another book that has been very helpful to me and one that I reread often is Improv Wisdom: Don't prepare, just show up. It's by Patricia Ryan Madson and in her chapter about not preparing she talks about letting go of our egos as part of the process.
She says, "When we give up the struggle to show off our talent, , a natural wisdom can emerge. Our muses can speak through us. All of our past experience, all that we have ever known prepares us for this moment."
For many years, I have enjoyed watching improv, particularly here in San Francisco at Bay Area Theater Sports. And I've always thought, boy, wouldn't it be great take a class in improv? You know, what a kick that must be getting up on the stage. And for all those years, I just couldn't do it.
I just felt so much anxiety and fear about going up and getting on that stage. Last year, I finally did it and I can tell you it was a blast. You can't really imagine what it's like. You just have to go and do it.
And that's what I that's why I liked this book so much. And it really is true. You need to get up there without preparation, without any planning, without any thinking. You just go up and respond to whatever's in front of you.
And so I've been working on taking some of these ideas from improv and incorporating them into my creativity practice. But it's hard because again, I'm a planner. I love to plan things.
Wisdom of Not Knowing [00:11:23]
There's one more book that I want to mention, that really speaks to this. it's called the Wisdom of Not Knowing by a Estelle Frankel. The book pulls, many ideas and stories from the Torah and from Jewish mysticism. She talks about the many ways that not knowing shows up for us in our daily lives, in spirituality, and also in creativity.
In her chapter about not knowing and creativity, she says this, "Since the heart of the creative process involves bringing previously unconnected things together to form something new, this can only happen when we let go of what we already know and embrace the unknown. In the spacious state of mind of not knowing and not thinking new connections easily form.”
For me when I read this, it was sort of a startling revelation but it made sense as soon as I read it. It's like you can't make connections that form between unrelated ideas, unless you unlearn what do you know about how those things are connected.
Roaming Eyes [00:12:31]
I recently made a kinetic art piece that I call Roaming Eyes. It started with a test tube. I often go to Michael's and just roam the aisles and see what's there. And out in front they have a sale area where they're getting rid of little knickknacks for $1.50 or whatever it might be.
And in one of the bins I found this test tube was about three quarters inch diameter and maybe six inches tall. And I picked it up and I had no concept yet of what I might use it for, but I thought, well, it looks interesting. It looks a little bit , like a cloche jar, a bell jar that you can put over art pieces.
In one of my dream practices, I was imagining this test tube, and for some reason an image of an eyeball appeared. And that stuck with me. It's like, what's an eyeball doing inside of a test tube? But I wrote it down in my bullet journal and a while later I came up with this idea of having several eyeballs that would, you know, move around.
I guess my subconscious was working on it. I had no idea how was going to put it together. but that's when the fun began. And so I took that idea and eventually I built it with a few motors and some electronics and a little bit of programming.
And it turned out even better than I imagined it would. It's an example of where I can go if I just allow an idea to happen and just let my subconscious work on it over days and weeks.
Sunset Sketchers [00:14:26]
I finally did go on that great adventure. I joined Sunset Sketchers and it's been great. I've made a bunch of new friends. We've been getting together just about every weekend. Especially now with this pandemic, we've been doing our meetups over zoom. And that's been working out really well.
What I learned, it's all about just showing up. My better sketches are the ones where I don't overthink it too much, where I just look at shapes, where I'm just looking at light and dark. It's really helped me to see in a different way.
And here's what happened, in May of 2018, Sunset Sketchers held their first art show, and I displayed some of my art there. While I was there, I asked the program manager if I could use the venue for a workshop that I've been thinking of giving, and the program manager suggested, why don't you just be an artist in residence?
And I'm thinking, what? I don't know how to do that.
But guess what, I did. And it was, it was great. It was all great learning.
Thank you so much for listening to this podcast.
I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea or two today that will help spark your creativity.
I would love to get any feedback that you have you can email me at [email protected].
I mentioned a number of books and I'll put links to those in the show notes at creativeshoofly.com.
Stay safe and stay creative.
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