"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.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bring Out Your Eight Year Old

The other evening I visited with friends after a long day working my stand at the Festival of Quilts, held every August in Birmingham, England. We were enjoying a little relaxation on the patio of our inn.

I’ve brought my snap together hula hoop along on this trip. I’m going to spend five weeks on the road and knew I’d need something to supplement my yoga practice. Got to keep that blood going or the body rebels. Hooping is great fun – you can dance by yourself any time you want to. The snap together hoop is an invention rivaling sliced bread! Easy to put together, lightweight and portable. Crank up the music and you’re good to go.

Sharing the hoop seemed like a great idea. The evening breeze was perfect; the sun was dipping low on the horizon and the folks enjoying their drinks laughed easily and often.

So I was surprised at the response the hula hoop provoked. Only two friends jumped at the opportunity to try it out. The rest held back as though I’d tried to pass them a loaded pistol. Hmmm.

Eventually almost everyone hooped for at least a couple of minutes, laughing and game about the new experience. Few of us are good at something the first time we try it out. It’s taken me five months to hoop consistently and I’m still not that great at it.

How is hooping related to creativity? It’s the realization I had after the evening ended. If we’d been a bunch of eight year olds, we would have clamored for our chance at the hoop! It’s the bugaboo maturity thing. Are we afraid we’ll look foolish? Do we doubt our abilities now - when once upon a time we believed we could do anything? Christine Northrup observed that seven year-old girls rule the world – at least in their own minds. But then adolescence begins, and self-confidence takes a tumble.

So now I am observing my own reactions to the new experiences of being in unfamiliar surroundings. Nothing like a five-week road trip to challenge your perceived sense of self.

I am determined to bring out my eight year old as often as I can on this trip – confidently embracing any opportunity to learn something new or imagine an approach to my art work I hadn’t thought of before. It’s a good creative strategy. Probably a good Life strategy too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Creative Impulse

Life is LIFE - new, exciting, precious and cautious - all rolled into one.

Life is COLOR and BALANCE.

Living is all those qualities. Color, balance, caution, preciousness, excitement. Today I witness to ENTHUSIASM. It's what gets us here, right or wrong. AND what drives our choices, right or wrong.

YES, he IS hula hooping with two hoops while also balancing one guitar and playing the second. His prelude to this assortment of talents: "Two hoops, two guitars and two screws loose." If you are ever at Pike Place Market in Seattle, look for him. Or maybe he'll turn up on Leno.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Protect Your Energy

Creative ideas require incubation. Talking about an idea too early can sap the energy right out of it.

Observation: Most of us feel obligated to talk about our creative ideas on demand.

This week I was teaching another group of favorite students on Whidbey Island at the Northwest Pacific Art School. The third class day usually includes a critique of pieces in progress.

Here’s the setting: students work with white fabrics the first workshop day, tearing the fabric into swatches and immersing it in dye. The second day we dye the fabrics again and learn to make printing tools. By Wednesday we’re printing our pants off – adding flour paste resist, and using lots of luscious textile paint. Participants are propelled by visions of metallic leaf dancing on the fabric. It’s the final sublime addition to the gorgeous and complex cloth.

I’m the guide, so it’s up to me to call the printing to a halt in order to spend an hour evaluating design and color. We hang up the works in progress and talk about getting stuck and unstuck. I suggest hanging pieces on a design wall in order to get a better perspective from across the room. I suggest that sometimes another opinion can help. I suggest that a significant other is usually not the right person to ask. Everyone nods knowingly and laughs.

It doesn’t matter whether comments come from a spouse, a good friend or a colleague in a critique group. It doesn’t matter whether they’re well intentioned – meant to be helpful or a show of support, or slightly mean-spirited – a comment driven by envy or by the fear of being left out. When comments come, it’s a sign you aren’t taking care of yourself. Recognizing this gives you something to work on.

Good ideas need time to manifest. A Buddhist master once observed that sharing a newly acquired devotion to spirit or faith isn’t appropriate. Creative, spirit-filled activity requires private space. Otherwise the idea may dissolve back into the unconscious. The opportunity to sustain it will be lost.

A few ground rules help. Establish these in your own mind by inventorying your needs and creative style. Ground rules could include:

- An agreement within your household that a closed door signals an artist in early exploration mode; one who prefers not to be disturbed.

- An agreement within your household, that comments, while eventually welcomed, are to be invited rather than freely offered. If I leave a new piece on the wall in the living room so I can see it when I walk in the front door, my daughter just pretends it doesn’t exist until I am ready to ask for her opinion.

- One of the biggest joys of friendship is respect – part of the opportunity friends share to nurture each other. I want my good friend Niki to see my work. I want to know what she thinks. But she doesn’t volunteer an opinion until I invite one and I extend that courtesy to her in return.

- Critique groups are different beasts, but there are rules of thumb for them, too. The main thing is to decide why you are there and what you want from the group. If you practice articulating your needs to the group, and you are also clear about what you don’t want from them, you’ll probably get better advice. It will be the advice you really needed, uncluttered by personal preference or comments concerning parts of the piece that can’t be changed or undone.

All of this requires attention to detail, and sharing in a friendly, thankful and open way. We’re grateful when our loved ones are interested in our projects. We don’t want to offend anyone, or create an atmosphere where we can’t share the joys of the process. And it isn’t as if we don’t ever want advice. But it’s up to you to protect your fragile ideas through the hardening off stage – like protecting young plants until they are strong enough to be transferred outside into the cold spring soil. Eventually you’ll want to share the flowers and fruits of your labors with everyone around you. But during the initial thrust of new growth, you need to be protective.

Take a shot at discussing this with the people who love you, and offer to do the same thing for them. And feel free to use this essay as the starting point. Let’s see if we can deepen not only our attachment to our process, but also to those who inspire, delight, frustrate and embolden us. A little creative communication goes a long way. Wouldn’t it be terrific if it gave you the privacy you crave?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Visiting Barbara Lee Smith

I’ve been on a week’s vacation prior to teaching at the Pacific Northwest Art School next week. I am lecturing on Tuesday night so if you are in the area, come by and visit with us. It’s free!

Barbara Lee Smith is one of the most influential artists in my field. (There’s a hard one to define – Surface Design? Textiles? Mixed Media? Gosh, when are we going to get past the need to Name?) The author of the groundbreaking Celebrating the Stitch, she was instrumental in guiding textile processes into new and uncharted territories. I had the great luck of collaborating with Barbara in 1997. Our exchanges – literally, as in real time mail - and figuratively, as artists, colleagues and friends – profoundly influenced my own development as an artist.

Barbara’s studio in Gig Harbor is a place of shadow and light, which is appropriate, since her work is all about shadow and light; color and nuance. She was working on new pieces for a one-person exhibition at the Gregg Museum in the fall, and she graciously invited me into her space while she was working. The photos tell it all. The importance of organization, the impact of being surrounded by the things we love, the exchanges that consume us as artists when we are engaged by both material and subject matter.

I was reminded that Barbara has been working with Lutradur for over twenty years. Only surprising because if popular advertising were to be believed, one might think Lutradur was just invented yesterday.

Which led me to two strands of thought and the message of this essay.

First, an acknowledgement of humility, and an encouragement to learn something about those artist folks who were working in the field long before some of us came along. I’ve been guilty of it. Witness your history. Find something out about it and be grateful. We so cavalierly assume we are the cutting edge, the new world, the Now. If you don’t know where you came from artistically, do a little Googling. We have a rich and fascinating recent past and it’s definitely worth exploring.

Second. Pick something and then stick with it. While I was in the studio I admired one of Barbara’s pieces and this is what she said. “I think I am finally getting somewhere.” That’s probably with at least five hundred completed works under her artist’s belt. Daunting yes, but anyone can do it. You just have to begin. And not swerve. I love silk Habotai and when I get home, I’m going back to it. I see there must be more to discover. I welcome the opportunity.

Thank you, Barbara.