Il Borgo Santo Pietro in Tuscany, Italy

Being artist-in-residence at Il Borgo for April this year was an unforgettable experience! It was as much about meeting great people as being inspired to create in different ways. Delightful guests came to visit me in the studio, set in the gardens. Some took a condensed version of my Zen Drawing & Mandala course. The staff were wonderful. By the time I reached my table for breakfast perhaps twenty  people had welcomed me with buongiorno! I’m grateful to the owners and the staff for their many acts of kindness and hospitality. It is most unusual to be able to step behind the scenes of a 5 star hotel in Europe and to also partake in some of what the guests experience. I shared breakfast with them on the beautiful terrace and a special weekly dinner of Tuscan produce. I had time to wander the Renaissance style gardens and be inspired by the beauty of spring emerging daily from the cool with its exquisite colours. I was given a space to work and whatever materials I needed. All this inspired my palette and will eventually be born as a new series of paintings I hope in time for exhibition next Spring. I will keep you informed…Here are some photos…More soon 🙂

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Thankyou

Me@mandalaclass

Yesterday was the 4th and final day of my Autumn course – The Meditative Art of Mandalas, or, the full title: The Meditative Art of Making and Contemplating Mandalas…anyhow, it went well. ‘It went well’ is a very inadequate description. Let me explain. I was working with a group of people who listened and became present, who responded with openness, vulnerability and creative truthfulness. What else could have happened but for them to make beautiful, luminous mandalas?! Their insightful questions and the enquiry evident in their work inspired me to rewrite my course as it went, deepening the content to align with their seeking. What a privilege it is to work in this way. It has been the most enjoyable, most rewarding course I’ve ever given, thanks to my awesome students.

We covered a lot of territory and there is so much more! Making and contemplating mandalas are like opening doors into infinite possibility…One thing I know for sure is the course is too short. However, to make the course very affordable, it was condensed. I’d like to do a follow-up day where we get the opportunity to revise what we learned and bring it altogether in an inspired design and share lunch. Participants might let me know if they are interested in this.

The leap from colour theory to application was a bit too big and I could have made that a more enjoyable learning experience with smaller practical steps. I love what colour can do – and it is empowering to be able to harness the luminous effects! I would certainly like to extend our learning into a retreat where there is immersion in nature, yoga, massages and wonderful nourishment for body, mind and soul. What if we were to live mandalas in a supportive environment for 5 days?!

I’m about to be artist/teacher in residence in Italy and teach some of this to the open and willing. A visit to Assisi will be inspiring, and then onto Copenhagen to meet with wonderful people. And after all that, you never know what might happen, so watch this space! 🙂

Mandalas forever, with love xo

Mandala Classes

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Last Sunday was the first day of my series of workshops – The Meditative Art of Mandalas. Graced by the listening presence of 8 remarkable people, I realise I’m on a learning curve with them. Their insightful questions and wonderful creative responses are teaching me.

So much has come together for these classes to be happening. I’ve thought about, developed, planned, written, rewritten and revised this course several times during the last year. It has grown and continues to stretch out beyond its current form. It will go online, but there is more work to be done!

Meditative art is richly rewarding territory – not just historically, spiritually, artistically, and creatively. The two faces of meditative art – making and contemplating – can open awareness into one’s deep inner calm and highest intelligence. I don’t need to tell you this is a very good place to be! Worries melt away and epiphanies can happen. I’m hoping my students will tell you about it at the end of the course 🙂

We simply do not have good ideas when stressed when cerebral circulation is focussed in the reptilian part of the brain. The familiar stress and worry treadmill learned from previous generations – going harder, faster – is costly in terms of health, relationships and well-being. Meditative art is a much smarter and surprisingly easy way to access inner calm and creativity. A small time investment (that’s in you, by the way) can give you access to your super cool calm self and the best ideas you ever had, while your blood pressure is dropping and stress hormones ebbing away!

Me@mandalaclassTo bring into service my artistic skills and research together with what I’ve learned from seeking to grow and find a more peaceful way to live…working with people who are ready to shift out of distressing or stressed ways of being in the world…now that makes me very happy indeed 🙂

photo courtesy of Ted Edwards and Belconnen Art Centre, 2015

The New Year and Fear

Blessings for the New Year, Dear Friends 🙂

On the second day of the year, my dear old Airedale became seriously ill and the following heart-wrenching day, she said goodbye looking into my eyes, knowing, loving and fearless – what a remarkable dog! My heart feels heavy and sad at the loss of a dear friend.

Death puts things in perspective. Its a reality check; it helps determine our priorities and choices. Is it what we fear the most – the loss of life?

Instead of feeling fear, humans are known to avoid it and perhaps develop addictions, obsessive behaviours, anxiety issues, depression or, fair enough, run faster!

I didn’t know my own anxiety issues were about not facing my fears. In fact, I didn’t even know I was an anxious type of personality. As my Journey coach and teacher said to me – anxiety can be like wall-paper – you don’t notice it. But then the pieces fell into place and I could see where it started and how it became reinforced and manifest in my life. The day we spent together was revelatory. Being led to recognition set the stage for facing and surrendering to feeling fear – the cold, annihilating terror … which, most surprisingly, dissolved into nothing. No thing except a sense of true, peaceful benevolence.

In a recent Cocreate article where creative leaders in US advertising were interviewed, I was surprised to read the words of this guy Patroulis who was commenting on what he will do to be more creative in 2015:

Hunting down fear and killing it wherever it hides. In conversations. In ideas. In briefs. In executions. In how we’re shaping our own business. Fear is the enemy of creativity, and we’re on too much of a roll right now to give it any air. We owe that to our clients, our partners, and anyone who might interact with anything we make. Chaos often creates fear, but chaos is also where all the opportunity lies. And we’re living in a wonderfully, fantastically, excitingly chaotic world. Creatively. Technologically. Behaviorally. And that’s something to enjoy instead of fear.

How does one hunt down and kill fear, the paper tiger which seems so real? The Journey process of addressing fears is an intentional one of being curious, attending to emotional experience and hanging out with fear for the short time is seems real rather than fighting. It is powerfully effective once you know how. Being afraid of fear and not wishing to address it equates to staying small and comfortable, whereas allowing the range of emotional experience is liberating. Journey coaching to face fears is a game-changer indeed.

MANDALA Course – Art for Calm & Creativity

Hello Dear People…have you ever noticed that the busier you are, the less you seem to achieve? The day seems to zip by in a blur when I have a busy head, but when calm, time opens up and things fall into place without the efforting. This is so counter-intuitive, its difficult to trust. I learned that working harder was better and the more I tried, the more I would achieve. Sure, I achieved results, but I also got deeply fatigued, seriously ill and not many friends!

There’s another way.

Being present in the moment to what is happening now rather than mulling over the past or stressing about the future is often called mindfulness. Coming back to the body and sensations is key to stopping incessant worrying and becoming present again – present in one’s life and able to connect with one’s feelings, and with other people. Meditative art is a way of becoming calm and present. Life can flow along without the struggle.

You can learn some easy ways to get lost in your creativity and find yourself in the present moment in my course in Feb/March 2015:

the meditative art of MANDALAS 

at Belconnen Art Centre

Making mandalas is a form of meditative art that anyone can do. Making and contemplating mandalas can spark your creativity, enhance your clarity and bring a sense of calm, reducing stress and anxiety. In this intensive course, Suzanne combines her doctoral research about the painting of light; her painting and teaching experience with coaching skills for you to experience ways to make your own luminous mandalas. Sometimes called Yogi Art, the teaching of the meditative art of mandalas imparts the skills for enriching any yoga and meditation practice.

WHEN: 4 afternoons 1.30-4pm on Feb 15, March 8, 15, 22

WHERE: Belconnen Art Centre

COST:  $395 for 4 sessions or $120 per session

CONTACT: Suzanne here  

BOOKINGS: The venue needs to know numbers by 1st Feb. Bookings after that may be able to be accommodated – check with Suzanne

More on Course content…..

-Learn key points from the work of scholars whom all acknowledge the calming and healing power of making meditative art

-Experience checking your body for tension and mind for worry and notice how meditative art give you tools to feel more comfortable and calm.

-Be informed about the tradition of Yogi Art and mandalas in cultures world-wide.

-Experience guided meditations and visualisations to help clear negative thinking and find the truth of your creativity

-Discover your personal colour harmonies

-Create your own unique, luminous designs

-Notice and see more than before

-Be surprised, delighted by and grateful for your unique creativity

-Find out about the symbolic meanings of colours and simple sacred geometry

-Make 4 different kinds of mandalas for your personal meditation

-Revise and take away the skills and methods to continue your own meditative art whenever you like.

Hill End artist-in-residence

I am away from it all, or, most of it. Hill End is at the end of the road, an hour and fifteen minutes substantially elevated and west of Bathurst. An old gold-mining town, established in 1872, a number of artists have made this place their home. It is charming with its enormous trees, old buildings and ruins. There are a lot of kangaroos, feral goats and rabbits. The sun’s light is both clear and soft here in late Spring, a gentle breeze teases the leaves and a range of birdsong, flies, bees and whipper-snipper fill the air. And I miss my Dad. Tomorrow it is 5 months since he died. Tomorrow is also my birthday. It will be the first one that I will not hear him say ‘hope you have a good day Suzanna’. It will be day spent mostly alone and a bit with strangers here in this relatively remote place. Dad told me to keep painting. He had not understood why I had to stop being a Physio and follow the path of an artist. Around 6 weeks before he died we had a conversation about this. I could sense him searching for something to ask me, and he decided to tackle the art question: why do you do it? I said: It’s like farming Dad; its tough, but you just have to do it.’ My words were not eloquent but he got was I was meaning: I didn’t feel I had a choice. He nodded. In the last weeks before he died, he went beyond his usual ways, ego fell away and his expressions became open and child-like. He became gentle and kind. It breaks my heart to remember him say “I’ll miss you Suze” and “…keep those paint-brushes revving!” He would have loved it here at Hill End. And I am painting.

the talk…

I was right – wonderful people came along to my free talk. Many thanks – you know who you are 🙂

They heard a Shaun Tan story about a Dugong and a little boy who who followed his intuition, living creatively.

They heard about common-garden, or ‘little c’ creativity and the ‘Big C’, the relatively high calibre creativity of masterpieces and celebrities and the super-human kind of leaders that businesses want…

They learned that the Big C is built on lots of little C. An example was the inspiration for Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

They heard my definition of creativity:

Creativity is what happens when we surrender to the creative process. It starts with inspiration and evolves with attention, action, nurturing, dedication, skills, failure and progress….and something results whether it be visible or not. The process makes something, and changes the maker.

They were there because they wanted to know how to upgrade their creativity.

But…’I don’t have time.’

The first way is to believe it is important. They learned they are creative; that no-one else’s creative expression is like theirs, and the refusal to acknowledge and use it, leaves part of the self undeveloped, like a closed bud.

The second way is to be present and bypass excuses – ‘I’m too busy, worried, stressed, depressed etc’ . They learned that in the present is the only place where we are open to inspiration.

The third way to upgrade creativity was to actually make something. And while there wasn’t time to make the skyscraper that was really a diving pool (acknowledging Chris Endrey’s great idea), we got to doodle about it. We learned the language of visual thinking and made some glorious doodles.

Wonderful! Thank you all so much for playing 🙂

Chris, Hannah and Catherine won coaching sessions with me and Fi-Fi won the lucky door prize – Congratulations!

 

 

An alarming proposition

I’ve been doing an online course on Creative Thinking through the Uni of Minnesota. One of the resource articles caused a sensation back in 2010, and continues to resonate. Published in Newsweek,  titled ‘The Creativity Crisis’, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman report on the undisputed need for creativity. As an example they cite an IBM study of 1500 CEO’s who identified creativity as the no. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. The authors note, however, that what is needed is not what is actually happening – creativity is statistically falling in the US.

Creativity, in the research literature from business, science, psychology and engineering, has become synonymous with problem solving, or as it is referred to – creative thinking. Once especially regarded the territory of the arts, though not exclusively so, the creativity of artists of every stripe has provided a leading edge to cultural development and change. Now, nations, such as China, understand the epic nature of looming problems and are making creativity a national priority. Apparently, there was no concerted effort, policy-wise, to nurture creativity in the US, while the opposite was happening in China and Europe. It doesn’t look so good for Australia.

Bronson and Merryman proceed to quote a most shocking suggestion – ‘Researchers say creativity should be taken out of the art room and into the home room’. A number of points emerge from this ‘solution’ which demonstrates a belief in an implied unworthy and exclusive ownership of creativity by the ‘art room’, and a lack of researchers’ creative thinking. A thoughtful unpacking of the idea is worthwhile.

Firstly, creativity is not an entity that is in or able to be removed from the classroom. A mercurial human experience, creativity is a way of being and doing in the world that creates objects, ideas and solutions, through us. The oft-quoted EP Torrance, of Torrance Creativity Test fame (1966), wrote that creativity ‘defies precise definition…Creativity is almost infinite. It involves every sense – sight, smell, hearing, feeling, taste and even perhaps the extrasensory. Much of it is unseen, nonverbal, and unconscious.’ However, current scientific theory asserts that creativity is a skill. This disturbing assertion seems akin to the Cartesian split – take the skill, leave the ineffable.

As an artist, educator and researcher, I can say, as would all my colleagues, creativity is not a skill, per se, rather creativity employs skills, depending on the task at hand. Creativity is inclusive of much more than skill as Csikszenmihalyi considers at length in his comprehensive text – Creativity (1996). Creativity, in its embrace of seemingly paradoxical traits, is linked with genius. Of course it is desirable, and sought after, and most people have far more potential to be creative than they will ever know.

Learning of skills help with the skill-base, as specificity of learning has shown. A focus of online courses on creativity is the DSD – ‘do something different’. The DSD is about demonstrating non-compliance, a feature of creativity noted by Torrance in the 60’s. However, there is much more. To start with, creativity also needs to be allowed.

Allowing might seem terribly simple, but it’s not always. Limiting beliefs, doubt, cynicism and control issues can be hobbling. Allowing creativity sometimes depends on dismantling inner barriers. See, creativity is seamlessly integrated with intention, inspiration, imagination, wonder, curiosity, desire, seeking, authenticity, openness, willingness, supported processes of learning, making, failure, flow, resistance, freedom to change direction, interruptions, being flexible, inventiveness, exploration of raw materials, persisting…There is a problem with all this – these human qualities cannot be reliably measured.

Subjecting creativity to empiricism is tricky. Some scientists say – if ‘it’ can’t be measured ‘it’ doesn’t exist. Black-and-white attitudes have caused our world a lot of problems, and ruthlessness undermines the very nature of humanitarian solutions sought. Lets move on. In the search for answers about creativity, artists have been observed, questioned and tested like interesting pinned creatures, however, their wisdom about facilitating creativity is not sought. Don’t you think that’s odd? A great athlete tells of her training regime – what helps and hinders her… There is a history to this strange state of affairs. The first is the dominance of rationalism – and creative people have been labelled as irrational, if not mad. Possibly a second reason is the opinion of famous writers on creativity. Just one opinion in his book Six Thinking Hats, Edward de Bono, on wearing the green hat of creativity, dismisses artists as not necessarily being able to teach about creativity. For the most part, de Bono does not cite research.

There is evidence, however, that the great artistic geniuses had at least one teacher who was a creatively active person. Artists who teach, and this is how many of us make a living, impart much about creative practice to students. This is well known, but uncharted, un-funded territory.

Let’s return to the art room for a more helpful solution… Alternative solution 1: Ask ‘what were the conditions in the art room that allowed creativity to flourish?’

Answer: Freedom to have ideas, a framework to give direction, a range of available materials to experiment with, and some unhurried time to devote to making.

Might it be possible to allow this freedom, the encouragement to do something authentically different, not just for the sake of practicing non-compliance, but also for the sake of making something beautiful, grotesque, something useful perhaps, fired by inspiration and enthusiasm and nourished by enjoyment? This is living. Does not anyone care about feeling like they are alive?

With regard to designated ‘free’ time, in her talk titled ‘Nine Lessons Learned about Creativity at Google’ – Marissa Mayer discusses their 80:20 rule where Google employees have 1 day per week to spend on whatever project they like. Mayer reports the finding that 50% of overall productivity happened in that 20% of ‘free’ time. It is possible for disciplines interested in innovation and creativity to engage with the arts and find out more about what remarkable things artists are doing despite the odds, despite the marginalisation by the over-culture of rationalism and associated superstition of science being able to fix everything, as noted by Wendell Berry.

Artists solve a myriad of problems every day. They are old hands at dealing with failure. They can teach a thing or two about creativity. And so I propose alternative solution 2 – Why not make the art room the home room? Consider the great polymaths and how there was no separation between the arts and sciences for them. Regardless of whether Leonardo da Vinci was looking at eddies of water, the wings of a bird or the composition of a painting, his mind was inquiring. There were no walls in his far-ranging inquiry. While painting he may have found the solution to an anatomical problem; while dissecting, an answer to a question about a painted figure’s posture. As an artist and a science major, I drew and painted my dissections, noticing the direction of muscle fibres and later ‘saw’ them in my mind’s eye as I palpated an injury, and then as I drew the figure…

The most obvious way the arts might offer approaches to enhance creativity and problem solving for science, engineering and business is through providing hands-on sensorial, explorative experiences of both problem solving and failure through making.

Irrelevance is actually important, given that the greater the range of experience, the more vast is the information from which to make neural connections with. Use of the body and senses provides billions of bits more information than thinking alone to add to ‘the pot’ – the brain’s raw material. This is very much supported by the famous Secrets of the Creative Brain research of Prof. Nancy Andreasen. Visual art students generally develop a high level of visual literacy. Visual thinking, requiring visual literacy, is a highly effective method of problem solving. There is a visual thinking revolution currently happening – see the work of Sunni Brown, founder of Doodle Revolution.

Doing sensorily rewarding activities beyond ‘nutting out a problem’ is important. The brain likes ‘changing channel’, chugging along gently making unprecedented neural connections in a state of REST – Random Episodic Silent Thought – when epiphanies can occur. As a case in point, Einstein said he had his best ideas while in the shower.

The wisdom of the body can contribute enormously to problem solving – human hands were designed to make things. Children, and learners of all ages, benefit from opportunities to physically develop and materially explore, re-wiring the brain and facilitating new connections for the possibility of extraordinary innovation. Using our hands is imperative, in the view of the great leader of the crafts movement in Japan, Sōetsu Yanagi:

Fundamentally, human beings, whether Eastern or Western, need belief, free play of imagination and intuition in their homes and workshops or they become starved. All the cog-wheels and electronic brains cannot assuage these human needs in the long run. It is for lack of such essentials that we turn to….destructiveness. Basically this is not so much a revolution against science and the machine as a seeking of a means of counterbalance by employing man’s first tools, his own hands, for the expression of his inner nature.’

Sōetsu Yanagi, ‘The Unknown Craftsman – a Japanese Insight into Beauty’. New York: Kodansha, 2013, p.90-91

In summary, my suggestions for increasing creativity at work –

– ALLOW: address what ideas stand in the way of being creative through education and coaching.

– FOSTER: allocate time and a pleasant place with materials to make things; to do things that are not just different, but enjoyable, calming, and without attachment to outcome. This really takes the pressure off, reducing stress rather than demanding staff to ‘be more creative’.

– EDUCATE: Education and coaching can assist greatly with allowing and nurturing creativity.

Coming soon….free talk and ’10 ways to nurture your creativity’ postcard! 🙂

A question about creativity

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composition in threads, Suzanne Moss to the left, composition in threads by Kathleen Moss

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Recently, an academic asked me whether an individual’s creativity was a limited resource. A good question given there is so much in the media about limited resources. Sure, neither is creativity a fossil fuel, nor is it a tank that runs out of fuel. Nevertheless, it can feel that way sometimes! Note the link between creativity and vitality? When tired, one rarely feels like being creative. When immersed in making of some kind, however, there is a vitality that comes in too. They are linked.

On my Home page, I cite the vital Martha Graham speaking of a channel for creativity and keeping that channel open for creativity to flow through. I like the idea that creativity is unlimited…and in the flow of making it certainly feels that way. One feels part of something much larger. The way creativity is spoken of by scientists is that it is a skill demonstrated by divergent thinking and that it can be developed. They are speaking of creative problem solving skills and as such, they leave a lot out….problem solving skills  can be taught – that’s the easy part. Enhancing access to one’s authentic freedom of expression is a different proposition. This is the path of a person seeking. Coaches are guides for this kind of  empowering personal work.

Creativity is life-force, generative and continuing. Keeping ‘the channel’ open is our challenge. What does this mean in practical terms? Caring for one’s mind by dismantling limiting beliefs and opening up to possibility; caring for one’s body and caring for the inner life, or soul by acknowledging and allowing feelings, reflecting on ones choices an actions and unfurling one’s gifts. 

This is not a conclusive list by any means. Creativity is an infinite resource with many signposts and many paths. The founder of the Japanese Craft Movement Sōetsu Yanagi wrote of how

‘Every artist knows that he is engaged in an encounter with infinity, and that work done with the heart and hand is ultimately worship of Life Itself.’ And ‘any work of art, is not an expression of the maker alone, but of a degree of enlightenment wherein infinity, however briefly, obliterates the minor self.’

All of life experience provides a rich and unique collection from which to draw endless connections for creative thinking and being  –  reminds me of the small box I found crammed full of my Nana’s embroidery threads…

on wonder and the creative process

As promised, I’m writing about my creative process. I’m reminded of a time around 6 years ago, when I decided to document every stage of making a painting so that, in theory, I would learn more about being in the flow of my creative process. You see, often I would get to the finishing layer of paint and wonder how I’d made it. This stepping sideways to try to see the process ended up in the making of a really boring painting and the experience of not allowing the flow of creativity to take over. My mind was vigilant, frequently interrupting the process and so, of course, there was no complete surrender to it. The mind cannot make paintings on its own. Creating is a holistic experience. This I know but cannot explain because it is not explainable. A singer is not singing with his or her mind, but with their entirety, agreed? Suffice to say it is, as Clarissa Pinkola Estés calls it – the mysterium. Creative flow cannot be observed by the person in it, or perhaps a better way to say it is that the depth of creative experience is not possible without trust and surrender into it. There you go.

Now, I can talk about what happens in the early stages of making something. Before anything can happen creatively for me, there is wonder. Sometimes inspiration, the spark of an idea, happens. I notice and observe, which is just noticing for longer than usual, and take time to see what happens if I keep attending.  And then as I really see, its as if I become part of what I’m seeing. The ‘I’ is no longer as I gaze upward. Do you ever feel like the sky? Perhaps this began when, as a very small child, Gran would take me out into the night and we would look into the heavens. Sometimes she would say things like ‘ring around the moon, rain will come soon’ or ‘red sky at night, shepherds’ delight’! ‘Evening Bliss’ is a painting I made about being blissed out by an amazing plum, pink and velvety sky-show while on the bus heading West out of Sydney. A good sky for shepherds.

Ps. Digression is a big part of the process 🙂

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©Suzanne Moss, Evening Bliss (on the way home), 2012