Grief and creativity seldom sit alongside each other very comfortably, even though the latter can be the cure (or at least a genuine comfort) for the former. Still, the thought of creating anything, of having to make aesthetic choices and of needing to express your still tattered and torn emotions, through your particular artistic medium of choice, is daunting, if not downright off-putting. It was in this frame of mind that I attempted to make a painting, last week. Bear in mind, this was before the horrific events in Paris, last Friday. I’m not sure I could have approached the easel at all, with that still fresh in my mind, along with everything else.
I didn’t feel much like painting. Lately, I haven’t felt much like doing, thinking or feeling anything. Mourning a loss is a complex process, that’s for sure. I wasn’t in the best of spirits. The weather was constant drizzle – the perfect backdrop to a miserable mood. I forgot to take my reading glasses and I couldn’t find my brush washing canister, so had to improvise with an old food container (which is the reason, I think, that I forgot to think about taking my glasses, in all the frustration of having to substitute for the right tool with an improvised second best, at the very last minute). It has to be said that my mind hasn’t really been on painting, since my mother and then my father passed away.
I didn’t take my phone with me, to photograph the result, because I was convinced that the painting I was going to make wouldn’t be worthy of photographing. My expectations of a getting a good result were rock bottom. This was going to be an evening where I went through the motions, shrugged at what I made, moved on and forgot all about it.
Grief distracts you in so many ways. It can be a creativity killer, because you just can’t focus, anymore. So I didn’t. I had very low expectations about painting anything of merit at all. Consequently, I just didn’t bother trying. I let it go. Instead of striving to produce a good result, I just painted and let the brushes and paint do the talking. Paint and be damned!
Oddly, surprisingly and unexpectedly, I painted one of my better portraits, even if I say so myself. To think that I almost cried off and didn’t show up at all! There’s a lesson in this. By setting myself a very low expectation, turning up, letting go and just letting it happen, something inside me, somehow, managed to produce a portrait that wasn’t too bad at all. There’s freedom in just letting your art come out, without trying too hard, or attempting to control and direct the minutiae of your output, like a micromanager. It’s too up-tight, constrained and locked down. Allowing the art to simply bleed out of your soul has a cathartic feel to it, but also a comforting one. You experience genuine relief at the loss of pressure to perform.
I have a very dear friend, who I have known nearly all my life, whose mother passed away suddenly, quite recently. She is a theatrical director and is called upon to make creative decisions and provide decisive creative direction, in order for what she produces to be a good show. Right now, she’s in the middle of rehearsals and opening night is looming. Feeling similar to me at her sudden loss, she expressed how she just wasn’t in a frame of mind to make all those decisions and answer the constant barrage of questions about how the show should be. Ten minutes before her meeting with the production designer, who would want even more direction and decisions that she just wasn’t in a state to give, I made the following suggestion:
I told her to trust the professionalism and creativity of the people around her and instead of giving them the answers, to give them free rein and encourage them to make their own artistic decisions, autonomously. Instead of fretting over details she didn’t have the thought-space to deal with, the alternative was to delegate and encourage, challenging her designer to produce something outstanding. If I know my dear friend, I’m sure she took my advice. I’m equally sure her creative team will rise to the challenge and produce something much better than expected. I sure hope so.
Sometimes, instead of trying to control and perfect everything, in your artistic pursuits, it’s useful to simply take what you get. Make the variability of your inputs an integral part of what you ultimately create. Let it happen. Go with the flow. Let it go.
*Cue theme music from Disney’s “Frozen”*