There is a saying that when making art, the skill should reside in the artist, and not in the tool.
For me, creating art is all about simplicity, being in the moment, and about creating from an open mind. It’s a tool for self transformation as much as a way to gather people and create a healing, joyful space.
You can make art out of anything. It was a semi epiphany at the time- I was an art student, working part time in a Mauritanian/Moroccan restaurant in Montreal. My boss gave me a bucket, a plank, and a bent nail and asked me to create a shelf for the restaurant. When I replied I needed a budget to get some supplies from the hardware store, he asked, “aren’t you an artist? Come up with something!” He explained that a desert person can create beauty out of the simplest of means, that that is the true essence of creativity. He showed me some huge tent hangings his sisters had made out of reclaimed fabric, and some images of really beautiful mud murals from West Africa.
It was a good summer- we ended up collaborating on a big mural project on the sufi community centre next door, encouraging neighbours to bring their old cans of paint. People of all ages, from 5 years old to elderly residents of the area, came by to contribute and enjoy the art. We didn’t have to spend anything on materials! As artists, I think it’s really important to use our creativity to reuse materials and learn to make our own paints from natural pigments and plants.
Travel shakes you up and pushes you in new directions. Forces you to re examine the way you are thinking. A few years later, I was living in Amman Jordan, studying traditional illumination in an art school, while painting huge murals with kids and teens on the weekend. It was like being at two ends of the spectrum simultaneously.
While my style was just to go out in the world with raw inspiration, energy and a large paintbrush, using whatever was at hand, and hope that my art skills and gestures would communicate what words failed to do. On the other hand, the women illuminators at the Institute for Islamic Arts and Architecture were spending months and months working on tiny, intricate swirls of gold and lapis lazuli on painstakingly polished paper. I got to see the importance of a squirrel hair brush, and came to love the process of creating finely detailed work, too. They weren’t just painting. They were meditating, every breath carrying a prayer, every brushstroke improving upon the last.
I think the most beautiful art is one that combines ingenuity and freshness and is executed with meditative attention to detail in the present moment.
Allowing creativity to flow.
One of the reasons I have become so fascinated with geometric art is that the tools are ultra simple, the actions repetitive and meditative. All one needs is a compass and straight edge- yet the results can be so complex and profound. Peter Lu, a researcher in quasi crystalline geometry at MIT, was mind blown when he went on vacation to Uzbekistan. Right there in front of him, made by craftsmen from the 15th century, were the patterns MIT researchers had just “discovered” with cutting edge technology. Just a hint of the amazing connections possible with art.
Being in nature is also huge part of developing or “allowing” creativity to flow. For me, nature is a place of oneness, of being truly in the moment. Of complete presence, of quiet alertness. We can learn so much from just watching how it works. There is no waste. Everything is perfectly harmonious and rebalances the body and mind. Letting go of worry, of need for outcome and letting our hands be guided to making new connections. Watching a child encounter things for the first time is a prime example of the complete open mindedness from which springs creativity.
In my early twenties, I was on an exchange program in a small village in Senegal, living with a local family for a few months. People spend so much time together, and take care of one another. The only way to really get to know someone is to spend time with them, face to face. This was the case in the Middle East too where I lived for a few years afterwards. I was (and still am) an introvert, and was so used to hiding behind text and email- but people there are all about face to face conversation. They don’t want to go ahead and do a project or a business deal unless they have had some time to sit and drink tea and talk about family and life first, the things that really matter.
I think I got to see a lot of the potential there of just getting started a project, creating a village vibe and working together.
Letting go of ego.
I think one of the paralyzing things as an artist is the need or desire to want to achieve something, to “be” someone. For me, the truth lies in flipping that completely upside down. When you stop trying to be “someone” you can finally just be yourself. When you stop trying to “do” something, to force a direction for your work, you can finally can relax and allow the present moment to guide you, turn off the self criticism and just enjoy the process. That’s when the really beautiful and original stuff comes.