Creativity is everywhere and in everything. Every book, movie, painting, dance, poem, song, play, sculpture is the result of someone’s creative act. Cool, but no big shock since we think of art as creativity. Beyond the expected works of art, everything that’s ever been made — buildings, cars, furniture, city designs, gardens, relationships, people!, everything!! — is a result of someone’s creativity. Wherever you are right now, look around. You are sitting in a sea of creativity.
I’m fascinated by what inspires us, what comes through us, how art of all kinds comes into being. I read about it, teach about it, listen to what all sorts of people have to say about it.* I observe my own creative process as I teach, dance, write, draw, cook, and live.
Even so, creativity is an utter mystery to me.
It’s no coincidence that in English the word inspiration means both to receive breath and to receive an idea. No coincidence either that there are direct etymological connections between the words inspiration and spirit, the breath of the divine. Creativity is the very essence of life.
When we breathe in, we are taking something that is not us, the atmosphere, which allows us to live on Earth. When we receive inspiration, it, too, comes from outside of us to animate our time on the planet. But where does it come from?
One philosophy is that inspiration comes from each other. Kirby Ferguson, the creator of the brilliant short films, Everything’s a Remix, and Austin Kleon, author of Steal Like An Artist, agree that creativity is a process of copying what is already in the world, combining what exists in new ways and then transforming it into something new.
True enough: it’s all been done before. But really, this just begs the question of where the idea to copy this thing, to combine these things in this way come from? Where do we get the vision to transform something into something new? Where does that come from?
Stephen Cope, author of The Great Work of Your Life, teaches that creative outcomes are not our business. All we can do, he says, is to show up to plant the seed. In a 2012 workshop at Kripalu, he said,
Your job is to show up in great shape. Give it your very best. Show up well-nourished and well-rested. Give yourself recovery time. Prepare the soil then let it flow.
Well, thank goodness. Thank goodness I don’t have to sit down at my computer, or my drawing table, or the dance studio and think, Okay, Susan. Create. Go. To be inspired is to be touched by something other than us when we create something. My job is do my best, show up, be open, present, and willing to receive the mysterious gift of whatever comes through.
Elizabeth Gilbert, talks brilliantly about the mysterious entity of creativity in her 2009 TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius. She tells the story of being completely stuck and in despair while writing her book, Eat Pray Love. She says,
I lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room and I said aloud, “Listen, you, thing. You and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that it isn’t entirely my fault. Right? Because you can see I am putting everything I have into this. I don’t have any more than this. So if you want it to be better, you have to show up and do your part of the deal, okay? But if you don’t do that, you know what, the hell with it, I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”
When I create a routine or an essay or a drawing, I usually start with a vision or little spark of an idea and steer it, think it, follow it through. For my latest routine, Inspired, it went a little differently. My friend asked me to teach a class at her church. One night, without thinking about it, I sat down and drew an image and wrote a description for the class, Breathing in Spirit. Huh. Okay.
As I put together the class, I kept stumbling across music that inspired me or was about breath or inspiration. Halfway through teaching the class, I had the feeling that a routine wanted to come from what I’d begun. So I kept following inspiration: a song my yoga teacher played in class that made me cry, another suggested by a friend, another I’ve wanted to use in a routine but never have. I didn’t even really feel like I was doing it so much as I was letting it be done.
This is the invitation of Inspired and the invitation whether you’re dancing with us or not. The invitation is to show up, do your best, and see what comes through. Pay attention to the times and places and people and circumstances that inspire you. Spend time there.
Prepare the soil and let it flow. Be inspired.
* Want to explore deeper? In addition to the books and talk mentioned above, here are some of my favorite sources of inspiration about our sources of inspiration:
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
- Daring Greatly and Rising Strong by Brené Brown
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
- Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
- The Icarus Deception and What To Do When It’s Your Turn by Seth Godin
- A Writing Life by Annie Dillard
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- John Cleese talk on Creativity ~ https://vimeo.com/8993610
- Interview with Liz Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyUYa-BnjU8
- OnBeing Blog post ~ http://onbeing.org/blog/three-eternal-so-far-truths-about-living-and-writing/7442
- BBC Reith Lectures by Grayson Perry in 2013, especially 5 November 2013, I Found Myself in the Art World ~ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03969vt