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Understanding the Paradox Of Artistic Creativity

By Dee Dwyer 

Writing about the Eastern Shore’s many artists and artisans has caused me to think more deeply about how people go about unleashing their creativity in a materialist culture that too often discourages that very creativity. 

As a poet, I think first of my childhood and my schoolteachers. I remember my mother reciting poetry over the kitchen stove, poetry that she had memorized in her school days. And I remember my father reciting Robert Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” that comes to me this time of year, imaging Service’s hero being so cold that he walks into a furnace to get warm for the first time since going north.  

I started writing poetry in grade five or six at Robert Jamieson Elementary School, where I feel in love with the taut 3-line form of the Japanese haiku poem. Here’s an example of a haiku I love from the Japanese poet Issa: “Don’t worry, spiders, /I keep house/ casually.” I responded to the haiku’s glimpse of --or image-- of nature, and the slight surprise that comes in the final line of that short poem.  

I was encouraged by my English teachers as I continued to write haiku in junior high and then branched out into writing longer poems when I was inspired by life around me. And I carried around a book of poems by Gwendolyn McEwen and read them whenever I could—even when I didn’t understand a poem. I just listened to the sound of the poem and let the meaning seep into me as I reread the poem 

Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, got me thinking about the paradox that we all have to overcome to leave more creative lives, to grab the magic that comes our way.  

In Big Magic, she writes, “I approach each sentence as if the future of humanity depends upon my getting the sentence just right. I care, because I want it to be lovely. Therefore, anything less than a full commitment to that sentence is lazy and dishonorable. But as I edit that sentence –sometimes immediately after writing it—I have to be willing to throw it to the dogs and never look back.”  

So for Gilbert, in order to live the creative life, a writer has to learn to live with the paradox that what she writes matters, and doesn’t matter, all at the same time.  

There are many tricks like this that artists use to get to that lovely line –or the shape of a pot --or to the correct spin of the yarn. I might ask myself, What is my purpose? What are the motifs in my work? What is my bliss? Even when I’m not focused on my own artistic creation, I find these questions are helpful for releasing creativity in simple daily tasks, from decorating a dinner table to connecting with people.  

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