The story goes like this. On his deathbed in a Paris hotel, writer and unremitting wit Oscar Wilde said, “That wallpaper is killing me. Either it goes, or I do.” While the image is funny, strangely touching and possibly not even entirely true, Wilde had a point. Sometimes artistic creation and life itself can seem to be in a duel to the death. We juggle life, work, human relationships; and often our pursuit of that elusive creative dimension gets pushed aside. Contemplating for two years by Walden pond or bicycling for months in Bali would no doubt awaken our more creative selves—but such a journey inevitably ends, and we are back in real life. Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do. The challenge becomes how to think of creativity not as an grand gesture, but as a way of life.
1. HAVE A ROOM OF YOUR OWN
In her lectures to two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928, Virginia Woolf argued that, in order to create, women need money and a room of their own. Although she was reacting to the literal problems of financial dependence and patriarchy that female artists of the time experienced, she also speaks more broadly of a woman’s personal liberty to live a creative life.
Give the creator in you space to expand. Protect it from everything and everyone in your life, including those closest to you. This is your garden for cultivating your passion. Whether you convert your attic into a studio or find a simple tree stump in an open field, choose a space that centers and inspires you. Weave it into your daily life and keep your passion alive amidst your responsibilities. As a young mother in the 1950s, Alice Munro wrote in her bedroom while her young children napped. Jane Austen worked discreetly at her desk in the family sitting room while her mother and sister sewed nearby. Lee Krasner turned her small apartment into a studio, and painted when she wasn’t waitressing or modeling. She eventually became a full-time painter and heavily influenced the abstract expressionist movement along with her husband Jackson Pollock.
A space of your own can be as simple as a notebook. Carry it everywhere and write down your ideas as they come to you. Our subconscious minds work powerfully as we focus elsewhere, and sometimes the best ideas surface when we’re falling asleep or buying pasta at the market. Allow your mind to create freely as you go about your life.
2. CREATE RITUAL
While publishing an article or watching friends devour your flourless chocolate cake can validate your efforts, true fulfillment lies not in the finished product, but in the creative work itself. Distinguish between acknowledgement and achievement. Find joy in your labors. Strive for mastery.
This is an invitation to step back from what you are creating and the concern over how good it is or isn’t, and focus on how you create. Process is vital. The more highly individualized your process of creation, the more individualized your work becomes and, therefore, more unique. Perhaps you work best with a hum of activity around you, or only in the solitude of early morning, or only with a cup of oolong tea. Remember Jo March’s thinking cap in Little Women? How she worked best in the stillness of night? When you discover your best time and method of working, you discover a better you. Don’t try to live someone else’s artistic life—sculpt your own authentic way of being creative.
3. GO INTO THE DARK
Be bold. Forge your own path. New territory can be intimidating, but remember that the unknown is simply an opportunity to create. Know when to break the rules and free yourself from what your friends or coworkers might expect of you. Think of George Sand and Coco Chanel, who both threw out their corsets for men’s pants and dared society to have them live tamely. They met with resistance, but they changed the world. Take that path less traveled (we thank you, Robert Frost, for that image) and you will be pleasantly surprised at how the world opens itself up to you. Your creativity will mature while you yourself evolve into the artist and woman you are meant to become.
4. UNDERSTAND BALANCE
Life in the modern world encourages multiplicity rather than simplicity. We are challenged by the opportunity to do so many great things. You must evaluate the landscape of your life and what you are willing to downsize or relinquish altogether for more focused creativity.
Balance is elusive if sought daily. Life, work, passions, and human relationships more realistically settle into place over weeks at a time. Allow yourself to move fluidly between each area of your life as needed, creating a beautiful balance in the long run. And do a little each day. Small, consistent efforts can foster a surprising amount of productivity and ingenuity.
In her brilliant and revolutionary contemplation of women and art, Gift From The Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh questions the point of incorporating creative pursuit into her life at all. She had work she wanted to accomplish amidst her obligations to her husband, aviator Charles Lindbergh, her five children, her friends and community. She seems to echo Oscar Wilde’s deathbed quip with her delicately raised fist: either art or life! But she ultimately decides that, to be at peace in her life, she must create. She says in one of her journals that “one writes not to be read, but to breathe.” Life and creativity can either seem at odds with each other, or can blend into a strange mélange that allows for our fullest and truest way of existing. We strive, we breathe. We figure it out as we go along.
Image via The Saturday