Post from January, 2020

Finding the Rhythm

Sunday, 19. January 2020 23:02

Sometimes we have difficulty beginning a new project, even if it’s a project very similar to one we have done before. The reason for this difficulty can be any one of many. The trouble begins when we just jump into the project, not taking into account any differences from projects we have worked on before. Sometimes all goes well; other times there is a significant mismatch between our approach and the project. Things do not go well at all—at least until we figure out that the problem is that every project has its own rhythm, and we, the artists, must match that rhythm in order to make any headway.

This was brought home to me this week. There were five projects on my plate: one older one and four new ones. One was completed successfully; two were begun successfully; two were begun less successfully.

Project number one was beginning a course that I teach every semester. (Yes, teaching a course is a creative project—at least from my point of view.) From the first minute, I fell into old patterns, making such adjustments as necessary for the new group of students, and the semester began quite comfortably—for that course at least.

The second project was beginning a course that I hadn’t taught in four years. The material was the same as it had been; even the text was the same. The first day of class, however, seemed to be very much a muddle. Ideas did not flow. Nothing seemed to connect. Everything was so disjointed that I cut the class time short and used it to prepare for the second class meeting. When that class came around, I moved into the material and very quickly found the rhythm that would work for the material with this particular group of students. So, after a stumble, the course seems to be beginning successfully.

Project number three was casting and beginning the rehearsal process for a musical. The first night of auditions was more than a little weird—everything seemed off. The musical director and I decided we could make a show, but things did not feel quite right. The second night of auditions was a little better. Then came callbacks where we really began to see what we had to work with. So we cast and had the read-sing-through. It was very unsettling. We have not yet found the rhythm for the rehearsal period. However, having identified some of the issues, I have hope.

Project number four was a photo editing project, the kind of project that I have done thousands of times. The editing of this session had been problematic from the beginning. My usual workflow was not as smooth as it normally is for some reason I could not determine. About half-way through, I modified the workflow and things ran more smoothly, but not as smoothly as I would have liked. Finally, as I neared the end of the project a pattern of work emerged that caused the editing to really run efficiently. I had finally found the correct rhythm for the project and was able to complete it.

The fifth project is, of course, this post. The beginning was difficult, but once the organization suggested itself, a flow with a steady rhythm quickly developed, and that led to a writing period that was much briefer than I had anticipated.

In reviewing these projects, I have been able to discover the factors that prevented an easy flow from the outset. It was, of course, different for each project, proving that virtually anything can throw off one’s creative rhythm. Whether the causal factor can be discerned or not, we must make every effort to find and follow the rhythm inherent in our artistic projects.

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It’s That Time of Year

Sunday, 5. January 2020 21:40

No, not that time of year—rather, it’s that time of year when we begin to de-decorate from the holidays, or re-decorate, depending on who we are. Most of us only do the former, returning our post-holiday environment to “normal.” Few of us think about what de-decoration means in terms of our thought and creative processes.

There is little question that the holidays affect us mentally. Just google “holidays mental impact” or “holidays brain.” Interestingly, the vast majority of articles that turn up on either of those searches have to do with negative mental impact of the holidays, whether it’s depression or stress or anxiety or seasonal affective disorder. Occasionally there is an article that focuses more on the positive. Whether we perceive the holidays as a time for loving and celebrating and giving and socializing with friends and family or a time for depression, stress and anxiety, it’s time to put those things behind us and transition (back) to the non-holiday world.

Although much has been written about how holidays affect us as people, there is little written about how the holidays impact us as artists. Are we more or less engaged with our art? Is it a time for increased creativity or increased productivity, or is it a time for sidelining our creative thoughts and processes?

Regardless of how the holidays affect us as people and as artists, we are, at this time of the year, engaged in the transition out of the holidays and into something else. Our environment may be changing: we may be de-decorating, removing holiday decorations and restoring our rest-of-the-year décor. Others of us are re-decorating, removing winter holiday decorations and decorating with post-holiday winter décor. (There are those of us who are so conscious of their personal environments that they decorate for every season and every holiday on the calendar.)

Whichever way we approach the decorating opportunities, what is important is that this is a period of transition. Some of us are packing away the stress and anxiety that accompany our winter holidays. Others of us are putting away a happy time of socializing with family and friends, of gratitude, of giving and receiving. How we approach that transition may be as different as what we are transitioning from: it might be a time of reflection; it might be a time for reviewing what we have done and not done during the holiday period; it might be a time for reexamining and reevaluating our past work in general; it might be a time for taking inventory. Or it might be a time for looking ahead; it might be a time for actualizing those creative ideas that appeared during the holidays; it may be a time for reinventing ourselves; it may be a time for just moving forward.

Irrespective of how our holidays went or how we see our future, we must understand that how we handle of the transition can be of great impact—on our creative as well as our personal lives. Assuming that we decorated even a little bit, in de-decorating we are changing our environment, and there can be no question that environment impacts creativity. Perhaps instead of simply restoring that environment to the old “normal,” we should take some time to consider, then, going forward, take steps to make our environments more conducive to creativity.

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