"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Creativity and Self-Esteem

Jennifer is a freelance artist/teacher who develops textile art classes for students in an alternative art program. She also coordinates a program for inner city teenagers, where they learn to design and print T-shirts, which then become a source of income. Jennifer enjoys this work and is successful – as evidenced by her inclusion in three prestigious granting programs designed to place artists in the schools.

Jennifer is working with me to improve her skills as an artist, that is, we focus not on the teaching part of her career, but on the creative aspects of her artistic life. Design, color and technique are part of our work, but we spend about half of our sessions focused on making and the creative process. Because the problem is, Jennifer has a hard time allowing herself to create.

Jennifer is not alone in her struggle. NOT feeling entitled to do creative work, and by that I mean creative work just for the sake of creating, as opposed to the creativity required to plan and orchestrate a practical outworking like a class or for money – must be the most basic dilemma artists face. Jennifer has a hard time going into the studio because she doesn’t think she deserves to create just for herself. One of her siblings is a much better and more famous artist than she will ever be (in her mind, that is.) Her daughter is graduating from college. A new baby in the family needs one of the special quilts Jennifer always makes. There are plenty of reasons to channel energy everywhere but into the studio.

We have been working together for two years. During this time I have set assignments for Jennifer to complete but she usually finishes only half of what I assign. She never comes to our sessions with everything ready to go. She bemoans the fact that she gets distracted – everything she begins leads to something else. She enjoys the experimentation and has, in the past, refused to see any value in changing how she works. It’s just who she is.

Last time we met, I decided to try some new strategies. I talked about honoring our work. The group talked about what honoring means and I invited everyone to write an honor statement to share with the other members. Jennifer’s honor statement brought tears to her eyes as she read it. The main point in her statement was that she wanted to work on protecting her time in the studio, as hard as it was to do. She listed not answering the phone, and not getting into a playing around mode as two specific things she could change if she wanted to accomplish specific tasks while in her studio.

I was surprised that talking about honor affected her so much. A large portion of her session became intently focused on five pieces she has been planning for several months. Two of them were already completed, but three were only pictures in her head, and as usual, she didn’t know what to do next. After our discussion about honor, and subsequent conversations about how to go back to the idea of honor to get focused again, Jennifer had a breakthrough. There was a purposefulness in her work that I haven’t witnessed before. When we sat for our final discussion she was centered and met my gaze with real deliberation. Her evaluation of herself for the session was this: she was beginning to understand that no matter how she felt about her work and her right to do it, she wouldn’t feel GOOD, only sad and guilty, if she didn’t protect her time and commitment to make the art she was envisioning.

What was confirmed for me, through working with Jennifer in this session, is the belief that self esteem is directly related to whether we follow thorough with what we say we are going to do or not – and this is as true of saying you will go into your studio and make art as it is keeping your word in any other situation. When we tell ourselves we are going to create, whether it is painting or writing or some other art form, our self-esteem takes a hit if we don’t follow through


  1. Jane, Thank you for an excellent lesson here! Honor and commitment are lessons I've been working on myself, but when I run into the next stage of a quilt or something new I think I understand but am not quite sure, I bog down seriously. I do manage to pull myself through eventually, but I waste a lot of time at those junctures. I used to teach special education, all kinds of kids with serious problems. I learned to break almost any skill into smaller, achievable parts and to build on each until the skill was mastered. Maybe that's what I need to do at these times so I can maintain momentum--a simple achievable goal that is on track. Honoring my commitment to work is more than finally finishing a quilt, it's working and living and growing every day, not just the days work is flowing freely. I sure wish I could work with you on a regular basis!!! Thank you for writing.

  2. I have learned that I must trust myself. That means doing what I say I am going to do, whether it is said to myself or to someone else.
    My work is evolving quickly and I am out of my comfort zone. I know there is a learning curve involved, but it's hard to go in a new direction where everything seems new. Thanks for the guiding light!

  3. you are so dead on with this! I struggle with this constantly, and felt like you could have been writing about me here!