Creativity and the Mind Body Connection

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From the time I was a child I dreaded gym class. Gym class was when I had to wear unattractive clothes, get picked on and picked last by the jocks and jockettes, play sports I wasn’t any good at, and ultimately get dirty, sweaty and smelly. As a true child of the arts and humanities (and a bit of a girly girl to measure) gym class seemed to be the opposite of beauty and artistic ideals. Furthermore, as a fairly intelligent kid I tended to (and still do) live in my head quite a bit. My body was there but it was more of a vehicle for my mind and vocal chords. However, as I am getting closer to my mid-twenties with a few too many pounds and a quite a few artistic blocks, I’m finding myself reevaluating the mind-body connection and what it can do for me as an artist.

For centuries in western society people have believed the mind and body were separate and more importantly that the mind was superior to the body (Montgomery). After all, the mind was viewed as the being the center of reason, identity and spirituality while the body was seen as home to untamed emotions and primal urges (Ibid). However recent studies in neuroscience and cognitive science have found that this division is not the case. Mind and body, rather than being like two separate cliques who tolerate each other’s existence, are made to coexist harmoniously. Physical activity can, among other things, boost mood and stimulate brain growth (Siegfried). However, the most exciting discovery is from the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience which showed that regular exercise could boost creativity.

At first glance this might sound like bad news for artists and intellectuals who may still have nightmares about gym class. However there are ways that we can exercise to tap into this potential and none of these have to involve getting picked last for volleyball.

1) Dance: This might be the most obvious way to get physical activity for people who love the arts considering dance is an art. You can either find classes or you can do it at home with video instruction. There are several different branches of dance you can choose from (ballroom, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, belly dance, African dance, clogging…). Dance has been found to boost memory, improve balance and flexibility, increase energy, reduce stress and depression, and help the heart (in fact an Italian study found dancing helped people with heart disease improve more than biking or walking on a treadmill) (Knight). Dance can also help to make friends and expand socially (ibid). After all, knowing a few moves can probably do quite a bit to boost your confidence at the next wedding or high school reunion you have to attend. Of course for artists it can also be an opportunity for performance.
2) Walking/Jogging/Bicycling: I included these together because in many ways they are very similar in their benefits though they have their differences as well. All are aerobic exercises meaning that large groups of muscles are active which requires support from the heart and lungs (Lidor). You can either walk/jog/cycle around your neighborhood or if you’re an indoor type you can do them at a gym or at home on a treadmill. They all reduce weight and can prevent various degenerative diseases though cycling puts less stress on joints and thus is often recommended for people who are overweight (Ibid). However, as an artist you might take different approaches. Some (particularly if you are doing this outdoors) might use the time to gain inspiration from your surroundings or as a time to clear your mind. Others might listen to music or an audiobook for inspiration (safety note: if you are outside try to remain aware of your surroundings, especially be mindful of traffic).
3) Yoga: The term Yoga actually refers to a variety of physical, mental and spiritual practices to transform the body and the mind (Wikipedia). The type of Yoga that spread to the west and is most popular in America is a style known as Hatha Yoga (Ibid). However there are many types of Yoga a person can choose from. They range from the very physical styles of Ashtanga and Power Yoga to the more relaxed Iyenger and Hatha (WebMD). Yoga can have many benefits to health including increases in flexibility and strength, better posture, lower blood pressure, and better breathing (Ibid). It’s also been linked to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels and better immune system function (Ibid). However Yoga can also have huge benefits in quieting and clearing the mind which can help artists (or anyone for that matter) relieve everyday stresses and perhaps find the inspiration for that next great project (Ibid).
4) Swimming: Swimming is great for those of us that are especially concerned about the icky sweaty factor of exercise (and considering we only have about one more month of summer, now is a good time to take advantage of it). The benefits of swimming are numerous. First, you can work practically all the muscles in the body with a variety of strokes (Luebbers). Additionally it can develop strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness (Ibid). It’s great for people who are overweight or have joint problems or injuries since it doesn’t involve as much impact stress on the body (Ibid). There can obviously be social benefits (hanging out with friends at the beach or by the pool). However, like yoga, swimming can also allow for meditation which can lead to an artist being able to clear their mind and gain some inspiration.

I offer a challenge to my fellow artists; let’s get off the couch or up from our desks and truly explore our mind-body connections. Let’s dance, walk, jog, cycle, swim, do yoga, or do something else entirely if none of those work for you. In finding our mind-body connection we can be lead to a better understanding of ourselves as artists. Thus we can become more creative, productive, and can truly live up to our artistic ideals (even if we are a little sweaty).

Bibliography and Works Cited
Chan, Amanda L. “Regular Exercise Could Boost Creativity.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Colzato, Lorenza S., Ayca Szapora, Justine N. Pannekoek, and Bernhard Hommel. “The Impact of Physical Exercise on Convergent and Divergent Thinking.” Frontiers. N.p., 02 Dec. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Davis, Jeffrey, M.A. “Science of Creativity Moves Into the Body.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., 07 Nov. 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Dean, Jeremy. “20 Wonderful Effects Exercise Has on the Mind.” PsyBlog RSS. N.p., 09 Oct. 2013. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Knight, Madeline. “9 Health Benefits of Dance.” EverydayHealth.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Lidor, David. “Running Vs Cycling – The Similarities and the Differences.” Running Vs Cycling – The Similarities and the Differences. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Luebbers, Mat. “What Are the Health Benefits of Being a Swimmer?” About.com Swimming. N.p., 02 June 2014. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Montgomery, John, Ph.D. “The Body in the Mind.” Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. N.p., 27 Aug. 2012. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
Siegfried, Juliette, MPH. “How Exercise Affects the Brain.” How Exercise Affects the Brain. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .
“Yoga Health Benefits: Flexibility, Strength, Posture, and More.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 01 Aug. 2014.
“Yoga.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 02 Aug. 2014. .

Navigating the Creative U-Turn

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I haven’t written on this blog in about two weeks and I’ve had trouble picking up the guitar. It’s made me feel some guilt as I do tend to have a bit of a work/success oriented nature i.e. sometimes I feel my value as a person comes from what I produce or what I am doing with my life. However I’ve felt a slight sense of panic too. For most of my life, if not my whole life, I’ve wanted to be an artist in some sense and for the past few weeks I’ve suddenly been questioning myself about whether I have what it takes and whether I even want to be an artist anymore. In short I’ve been experiencing a creative U-turn (or perhaps in my case it’s more of a crossroads).

The Creative U-Turn is a term that was coined by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. It can be defined as a point when an artist stops pursuing a creative goal or project; generally as a result of fear, negativity, or pain. Creative U-turns can take different forms depending on the type of art and the artists involved. Cameron notes many examples of this; the painter who picks a fight with the gallery owner at his first group show, the musicians who record a demo that gets an enthusiastic response and then stop working together, the screenwriter who doesn’t make any changes on his script for an agent are all examples of creative U-turns (Cameron,155). However, while U-Turns can take different forms Cameron theorizes they are usually a result of some sort of fear.

How should an artist deal with a U-turn? Well, according to Cameron, we should extend ourselves some sympathy and compassion (Cameron, 156). Creativity can be scary and in fact life itself is scary (Ibid). It helps to remember that artists are not the only ones to struggle with U-turns and various forms of self sabotage (Ibid). Lawyers, Doctors, Office Workers, and Retail Workers struggle with their own forms of self sabotage too. Cameron also notes that Creative U-Turns and failures are often a part of successful creative careers. She notes the story of Blake Edwards who spent seven years in a self-imposed exile in Switzerland following being fired from one of his own films (Ibid, 157). He returned to directing after deciding that using his creativity would be a better way to heal then sitting on the sidelines and he became aggressively productive with his main regret being the time it took for him to get to that point (Ibid). 

Sometimes a U-Turn might even be necessary. In this case I’m thinking about author Liz Gilbert. After the major success of her book Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert suddenly found herself with millions of readers eagerly awaiting her next project. Over the next year she wrote a first draft of what would eventually become Committed. However after completing the manuscript she realized that something wasn’t right. In her words, “The voice didn’t sound like me. The voice didn’t sound like anybody. The voice sounded like something coming through a megaphone, mistranslated.” Gilbert put that manuscript away turned her attention to her garden and other pursuits (Gilbert, xiv). She wrote, “…this was not exactly a crisis, that period when I could not…figure out how to write naturally…I even started wondering if maybe I was finished as a writer. Not being a writer didn’t seem like the worst fate in the world…but I honestly couldn’t tell yet. I had to spend a lot more hours in the tomato patch…before I could sort this thing out” (Ibid). Ultimately Gilbert’s U-Turn ended when she realized that while she couldn’t promise that her next book would satisfy millions of readers, she could write something that she needed to write (Ibid). She limited the audience in her mind from the millions of expectant fans to twenty seven important women in her life and wrote the book for them (Ibid, xv). Committed was published in 2010 and since then Gilbert has continued her successful career publishing her recent novel The Signature of All Things in 2013.

Recovering from a creative U-turn can require a great deal of compassion and patience. According to Cameron, the first step is admitting it. You have to say to say to yourself “Yes, I did react negatively towards fear and pain. Yes, I do need help” (Cameron, 157). The next step is to figure out what obstacles are the most intimidating. In Cameron’s words, “An agent jump may frighten you more then a workshop jump. A review jump may be okay while a rewrite jump scares your talent to death” (Ibid). Often at this stage Cameron advises looking for help from other successful artists i.e. asking them how they have done successful rewrites, gotten agents, recovered from bad reviews or conquered whatever challenge that you are currently facing (Ibid). Self reflection is a key piece too. Cameron notes that before any project it’s a good idea to ask yourself questions that remove any blocks between yourself and the work (Ibid, 159). These questions are as follows.

1) What am I angry about? The goal is to make a list about any anger you have related to the project at hand. Examples could be anything from resentment about being the second artist asked to do a show, to anger at an editor or director who constantly nitpicks your work (Cameron, 159).

2) What am I afraid of? The goal with this question is to identify any and all fears about the project or people connected to it (Ibid). You might say in this case, “I’m afraid of people not liking my work,” “I’m afraid of not being able to live up to my past projects,” or “I’m afraid that the only reason I got the part was my competitor had a falling out with the director and now everyone will compare me to him.”

3) Have I left anything out? With this question you are supposed to ask yourself if your current issues are all there is. Have you left out any anger or fear that seems inconsequential or trivial (Ibid)? This might be the part where you say “Ok…I am somewhat afraid of seeing that one musician/writer/director/etc. that’s always so condescending when he talks to me at any events.”

4)What do I stand to gain by not doing this project? With this question you need to find out exactly how you benefit from any self sabotage. The most common example might be “Well if I don’t perform/write this piece no one can criticize it or me.” This is by no means the only example though; others might be “I can criticize others from a less vulnerable position ” or “My editor/mother/significant other/ex will worry about me” (Ibid).

Once you have asked these questions and identified all your angers and fears you can then be more able to let them go. At this point Cameron advises making a deal with your creative force and saying “You take care of the quality and I’ll take care of the quantity” (Ibid, 160). Ultimately, whether we reflect and make our deals with the universe or simply follow Blake Edwards’ example of going back to work and picking up where we left off, navigating our creative U-turns is a challenging but often valuable part of our journey as artists. I hope that you will share some of your own creative U-turns and recoveries in the comments section. As for me, I might just go pick up the guitar.

Bibliography and Works Cited

“Biography.” Official Website for Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert. Dave Cahill/River Net Computers, 2013. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/&gt;.

Cameron, Julia. “Recovering A Sense Of Compassion.” The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1992, 2002. 154-60. Print.

Gilbert, Elizabeth. “A Note to the Reader.” Introduction. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage. New York: Viking, 2010. Xiv-vi. Print.

 

 

Why The Arts Are Necessary (Part 2)

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In my last post I talked about the arts and their presence in our society from the earliest dates in human history (which could suggest their importance in our development as a species and society as whole). Of course there are those who might argue that the world today is different, that with the economy in the state that it is the arts are nice enough but no one really needs them. However numerous studies have shown value in arts education and extracurricular activities. Involvement in the arts has been associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive abilities, critical thinking and verbal skills (Smith). A report on visual arts in 2005 by the Rand Corporation argues artistic stimulation “can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing,” thus laying the foundation for social bonds and community cohesion (Ibid). Music education has been continually shown to provide benefits for brain activity, language development, increased IQ and improved test scores (Brown). Performing arts extracurricular activities and classes require students to make time commitments in regards to performance and practicing (Lawhorn). Relief from stress, self-confidence, companionship, and creativity are other benefits gained from the arts and other extracurriculars (BenefitOf). As a result of this information, there are many across the country who are attempting to take steps to revive arts education in the schools (Smith).
Perhaps there are still those that in spite of hearing these gains still wouldn’t want their children to be in the arts. They feel their children should study practical subjects and go into a practical (and preferably high paying) career such as business or law. However, these jobs require creativity and could benefit from some artistic experience. A lawyer, for instance, might benefit from performance experience. Advertising and marketing utilize art and music in campaigns for a product. A diplomat who knows how to dance will probably have an easier time at inaugural balls and state dinners then one who does not. Any business leader benefits from storytelling abilities to construct a narrative of their company to entice customers and inspire workers and stockholders. In her book “You Majored in What” Katherine Brooks ED.D. shows how many people go on to careers that don’t correspond with their major in college. In a graph comparing the actual careers of graduates with their majors in college an Art Major became a Special Prosecutor for the District Attorney’s office and a Dramatic Arts Major became a member of Public Relations staff for the Republican National Committee (Brooks, 4). In both of these cases studying the arts did not hinder these individuals from pursuing other careers and if anything they may have benefitted from their experiences.
As an Artist I’m inspired by our ancient ancestors who painted on cave walls, carved instruments and told stories. I’m also inspired by those who continue to support the arts in the schools and communities across this nation in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I’m writing this today because I believe in the arts and what they can do. My music and my writing could take me a long way or they could just be a deeply loved hobby (though I hope that will not necessarily be the case). However no matter what happens, I stand by my love for the arts and my belief in their value. I only hope that others will come to see it too.

Works Cited and Bibliography

“Benefits of Extracurricular Activities.” BenefitOf. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014. .

Brown, Laura L. “The Benefits of Music Education.” PBS Parents. PBS, n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2014.

Brooks, Katharine. “Chapter 1.” You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career. New York, NY: Viking, 2009. 4. Print.

Lawhorn, Bill. “Extracurricular Activities.” N.p., Winter 2008-9. Web. .

Smith, Fran. “Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best.” Edutopia. N.p., 28 Jan. 2009. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

Why the Arts are Necessary (Part 1)

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     Like many aspiring artists I have a day job.  I work at a Whole Foods.  If you are familiar with Whole Foods you might be aware of Nickels for Nonprofits. It’s a program where people who bring in reusable bags get five cents off their purchase for every bag used. They can either keep it or donate to a charitable cause. Overall, its a great program but there is one thing that makes me cringe. Whenever there is an arts based non-profit paired up with a non-arts non-profit I know from day one the non-profit not based in the arts will (and usually does) get more donations.

      There is a pervasive attitude within our culture that the arts are fluff that many of us are probably familiar with. Maybe some of you that are reading even agree with it. In some ways it is understandable. The lagging economy of the past few years has given many people pause when choosing a major or career. Liberal Arts education has come under fire from critics who claim that the arts and humanities are not as financially solvent as majors in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (Groux). Many of us have heard the joke about liberal arts students with the punch line “Do you want fries with that?” Writer David Wong of Cracked.com got in trouble with some of his readers in the comments section in one of his landmark articles “The Six Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person” for (among other statements) daring to suggest that people “need” entertainment.

     In spite of the fact that I may be a walking stereotype (the music business student that works in retail while trying to sing, write and get herself off the ground) I still believe deeply in the power of the arts. Moreover I fully believe that our ability to create and appreciate art is one of the main things that makes us human.

     Let us go back to the idea that got David Wong in trouble with his readers, that people need entertainment. It’s true that entertainment isn’t featured on the original version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In fact cognitive needs (knowledge, meaning, etc.), aesthetic needs (appreciation and search for beauty, balance and form), and transcendence (helping others achieve self-actualization) were not added until the 1970s (McLeod). Under that logic (as well as the logic of those who criticize liberal arts programs) our ancient ancestors in the Paleolithic era would have had no time or need for arts what with the daily business of trying to survive. However, archeological findings tell a very different story.  The earliest example of prehistoric art is the Bhimbetka Petroglyphs found in the auditorium cave of central India that date to 290,000 BCE (www.visual-arts-cork.com). This is at least 260,000 years older than the famous cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux in France.  Moreover, while art historians and paleoarcheologists believed that Homo Erectus and Neanderthals did not create art, this view is changing due in part to microanalysis of the second oldest example of prehistoric art the Venus of Behekrat Ram and conclusive dating of the Cupules (a form of rock art) at Bhimbetkta (Ibid). However the artistic endeavors of early humans do not end with rocks and paintings. The oldest possible remains of a musical instrument—a recorder like object created from the thigh bone of bear—may have been made around 50,000 BCE by Neanderthals living in what is now modern day Slovenia (Bonds, 3-4). The earliest indisputable instrument—a flute made from the bones of a vulture–dates to 34,000 BCE (Bonds, 3).  The human voice of course is as old as our species (Ibid). 

     One can imagine that with music and song came dance. Sadly we have very little ways of knowing the dances of prehistoric humans though we can possibly draw ideas from Native American and African tribal dances that have been passed down from generation to generation. However we do have evidence from the paintings and sculptures of the ancient Egyptians that dance played a large role in the lives of the people (Ancient Egyptian Dance). The Greeks also enjoyed dance and considered it, along with music, to be a civilizing activity (Ancient Greek Dance). In fact the Greeks distinguished between different types of dance and skilled dancers were highly prized (Ibid). We also have the Greeks to thank for theatrical tradition. Ancient Greek Theatre grew out of religious rituals dating back to 1200 BCE (Tripod). The first recorded work we know of dates from about 625 BCE when Arion of Corinth produced the Dithyrambic Choruses (reed.edu). From 600 BCE onward theatre continued to develop and reached its height during the golden age of Athens from 500-400 BCE with the plays of Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Aristophanes (Bonds, 5). Theatre of course is an outgrowth of the ancient art of storytelling. While it is impossible to say when the first story was told, the first written story “The Epic of Gilgamesh” dates back to at least 2000 BCE and predates The Iliad and The Bible (Sparknotes) (Mitchell, 1).  

     All of this evidence alone seems to show that the arts were an important part of the lives of ancient humans. Perhaps contrary to what the naysayers of liberal arts programs believe, the arts and the desire to create are a key part of our survival of a species. Whether we are consuming or creating art, the ubiquity of the arts throughout our history from the earliest times seems to suggest that we do need art in our lives to express our emotions, socialize with our fellow man, and understand the world around us.

Bibliography and Works Cited

“Ancient Art (2,500,000 BCE – 400 CE).” Ancient Art: History, Characteristics. Visual-Arts-Cork, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

“Ancient Egyptian Dance.” Ancient-Egypt-Online. Attic Designs, 2008. Web. 4 Mar. 2014.

“Ancient Greek Dance.” Ancient Greek Dance. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

“THE ANCIENT GREEK THEATRE PAGE.” THE ANCIENT GREEK DRAMA & THEATRE HISTORY PAGE. Tripod, 20 May 2004. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

Bonds, Mark E. A History of Music In Western Culture. 3rd ed. Vol. Combined. Upper Saddle River, London, Singapore, Toronto, Tokyo, Sydney, Hong Kong, Mexico City: Prentice Hall, 2010. 3-5. Print.

“The Epic of Gilgamesh: Context.” SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

“Greek Theater.” Greek Theater. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

Groux, Catherine. “The Debate on a Liberal Arts Education Continues.” U.S. News University Directory. U.S. News University, 7 Nov. 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

“History of Ancient Theatre.” History of Ancient Theatre. Tupelo Community Theatre, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

 “History Of Storytelling – How Did Storytelling Begin?” History Of Storytelling – How Did Storytelling Begin? Storytelling Day, n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

“The History Of Storytelling.” Essortment. Demand Media, 2011. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

 Mitchell, Stephen. “Gilgamesh: A New English Version.” New York, NY. Free Press, 2004.

 McLeod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology. N.p., 2007. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

 Tabarrok, Alex. “The Chronicle Review.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. N.p., 4 Mar. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.

 Wong, David. “6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person.” Cracked.com. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 04 Mar. 2014.