I was 11 and in sixth grade. My teacher, Mr. Finnegan, gave us an art assignment. To this day, I remember my reaction. My young mind froze. I still hear its panicky response. "OMG, I have no idea what I'm going to make?" A complete blank was I.
I raised my hand. He came over to me. I asked, "Mr. Finnegan, do I have to know what I'm going to make before I make it?" He responded, "It's a good thing to know ahead of time what you're going to do." I tell you, that did not help. In fact, it SHUT ME DOWN! And for a very long time!
In my young mind, 'not knowing' meant I was inadequate, incapable, and destined to fail. (A bit of context here, starting in first grade, I was always an excellent student, got good grades, and each teacher's pet. There was a lot at stake!)
Even as I recount this to you, I'm feeling that 5th grade moment and its long-lived impact. I see how strongly connected the 'panicky impulse' is to my struggles with unfamiliar obstacles.
So, what does this have to do with 'creativity being a fish'? Bear with me, it's all coming together from the 'unknown' as I write this. That's the point! Pure, spontaneous creativity arises from the Great Unknown, The Void, The Mystery! Like the water to the fish, it is the sea in which creativity swims.
So rather than dreading it, what if we forge a new relationship with the experience of not-knowing and willingly step into it and swim, even if we flail a bit? What do we have to lose? It's just paint on paper! Yet, seeing beyond our ingrained messages seems no little task.
As one steps up to the paper receptive to this Great Unknown, rather than panicked by it, so much wonder and magic awaits our courage. Imagine leaving behind the demons of control, acceptability, comparison and what we think it means about us even for a couple of hours. Sure, all those conditioned aspects of the mind will present themselves, but each time is another invitation to swim back into the sea of the Great Unknown leaving behind the known. The unknown holds so much more juice!
What if not knowing how to paint a body, or a face, or eyes realistically and in proportion means that you are being invited into a new world of the unfamiliar & strange! What if painting without a plan or knowing how in a schooled way ignites curiosity, wonder, release and a deep sense of your unique authentic YOU-NESS?
What if you allowed the deep well of suppressed feelings to surface with unrecognizable shapes and colors wildly, or even in tiny details of dots and lines going every which way? Or, if strangely out-of- proportion beasts and bodies brought freedom instead of familiar debilitating self-criticism? What if any of this meant nothing about your character or talent? What if this swim in this ineffable sea brought wonder, emotional freedom, and joy, asking only that you be its willing conduit and witness to the authentic, unique creature that you are?
Now that, to me, is the ultimate freedom…The permission to not have to know anything before creating it, for pure, raw, spontaneous creativity arises abundantly and benevolently to awaken our aliveness like nothing else I know.
So, in retrospect, I say 'Thank You, Mr. Finnegan!', for setting me on a circuitous path to The Great Unknown and its gift of supreme creative freedom from having to know anything to take part in life's greatest rush…Creativity!
May your New Year bring new adventures in Creativity. Let's go for a swim!
P.S. Don't you just love the acronym L.I.F.E…Love In Full Expression.
(Thank you, Suzanne Giesemann & Sanaya)
“Susan, this is remarkable! Really a lot of fun and revelatory! Just by playing with the paint and brush strokes, it released a lot of stuff I didn’t even know was in me. It’s nothing I conceived painting to be like. Very calming and relaxing, too. This just might be my new wellness practice! So fabulous!”—K.P. -Vero Beach
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