Carrie Able's full Keynote Speech on Creativity for the Kristal Elma Festivali Oct 5th, 2017 in Istanbul
the burning breeze
came back to me
and softly gained its sound
she said hello
and then goodbye
dissolving to the ground
the stale air abound
in its stance
a passing breeze
glistening with glee
joy and pain
its fleeting gain
comes and goes
This is a poem I wrote about change and how it is life's only guarantee...
the breeze personified tells me that be it joy or pain it is temporary.
Surviving the inevitable change we are born into is what turns us into adults.
By a show of hands, how many of you liked to draw or create in someway when you were 7 years old? When you were 14?
As I suspected we see a gradual decrease in the number of hands up.
Why is it that we are more creative as children, what did we have as children that we typically lose as we become adults?
When I first began volunteer teaching art to children I began to notice the similarities and differences between the children's art practice and most adults.
When children especially under the age of 8 are making art, they become so entranced in the moment of creation that their art is created instinctively and without much active thought. Rarely are they attached to an outcome or a judgement of what the physical work should be or should achieve. Their art is in the act of creation, not in the physical object that is a result.
What else do children have that we lose as adults? Well first they have less learned dogma. No one is born believing there is a correct way to hold a pencil or intrinsically championing their parents religion. Technique tends to be taught before creativity. It is something we all have, but it can only be facilitated and encouraged not measured by a grade or outlined in a lesson plan.
So when a child thinks of a creative way to use materials or a different way to write a song the teacher more often than not tells the child, "that is not the correct way to hold the pencil .... that is not the correct way to use these materials .....that is not the correct structure of the song. "
I was told very often as a child that becoming an artist was not possible, that I was using materials the wrong way. Undoubtedly this has happened to all of you at some point. Often when adults (or children) say these things it is because they have accepted the dogma passed down to them. Listen and observe but never blindly accept. Critical thinking is a cornerstone of a modern mind.
On my birthday a few years before my grandmother passed away, she told me that the only thing that makes you old is when you stop being open to new ideas.
You are never too old to begin something new. In my personal experience the rules are easier to break when you dont know what they are to begin with. When I recently began composing music, I found encouragement in discovering that Paul McCartney, Micheal Jackson, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, also could not read sheet music. I picked up a guitar for the first time less than two years ago and my debut album was released several weeks ago.
I always wanted to play an instrument as a child but I was incapable due to undergoing three major surgeries between ages 8 and 11. I was often absent and constantly doing make up assignments. This all happening pre internet in a very small town. My mantra became "Art is my light in solitude and my friend in darkness". After the last successful surgery I grew 7 inches within a year but have always remained aware of my own mortality and the fragility of life. I have come to view these weaknesses of body as the buds of my strength.
As we witness with historically significant artists Frida Kahlo and Andy Warhol pain and solitude as a young child is an intense breeding ground for a unique world view. There is something about the reality of death as a child that clears the otherwise foggy lens of adolescence.
Practicing different art forms allows me not just a divergent viewpoint but a space to exsist where words or images come readily. I often write a poem in seconds that comes to me while painting. I hear jazz and see imagery. I paint words and see sounds. Different Art forms are as humans are; inescapably connected. Great artists are curious and always learning.
While teaching one of the free kids art classes at my gallery, I realized how much of my advice to them as young artists is relevant to myself as a budding musician. What I stress first in every class is to not let anyone tell you that your way of making art is wrong. In fact if you are doing something "wrong" you are more likely doing something unique.
I recognize in my music that I do not have the extensive training as I do with art, and with my decades of experience in art it took me 17 years steeped in technical excellence to make a creative departure. It is possible for technical prowess to hamper creativity. I believe in a balance of both. As witnessed by the magical potion of the birth of Jazz music when the creativity of the African American musicians mused with the skill set of the Jewish musicians.
From the most technically skilled artist to one with no training Great Art is defined by passion sincerity and unique style.
What I have found in all art forms is that technically skilled professionals, (studio musicians, portrait painters, sometimes university professors) abhor the avant-garde of their profession the most of anyone.
I have always been very pro education, but higher education has not always been pro me. While I got into and attended a top ten undergraduate school, Duke University, I was kicked out of its visual art distinction program for not internalizing the suggestions of the visual art professors. Visual art in the sphere of higher education is a major that exalts uniqueness and creativity but expels students that don't conform to their idea of what that is. There is criticism for criticism sake as it solidifies a professors own self worth. In a paper I wrote predicting the rise of figurative painting, I have quotes from professors saying that was a ridiculous idea. Yet four years later the first time the Duke University Art Museum would gain recognition on the covers of respected art magazines would be for its solo exhibition of representational oil painter Barkley Hendrix.
Around that same time after undergraduate I applied to 12 different MFA programs and was rejected by every single one. While a BA is the highest degree I hold, I now have art professors from the same highly rated MFA programs I was rejected from submitting their own work for consideration to be shown at my Gallery in Brooklyn.
It was very important to my vision of a gallery that our curatorial process focus on the art itself and no external measurements of success.
My gallery's lead curator, while being much more educated than myself with a nearly completed PHD, shares my vision for focusing on the excellence of only the artwork itself with no consideration to biographical information.
Most figures we read about in history, be that an artist or a scientist or a musician were not doing exactly what their teacher told them to do. They considered but expounded upon the knowledge of their era, thinking creatively and experimenting. They were the ones that thought to do something different than anyone else had done before them (granted "history" is not always accurate giving the large omission of female contributions, but that's a whole other topic).
As I'm sure many historical figures were difficult to teach, I can now empathize with my former art instructors as I have learned through my volunteer teaching experience that the children who are the most creative are usually the most difficult to instruct.
What else do children have that adults lack? We have discussed their lack of dogma and attachment to a physical outcome of their creation.
Children also have more time to explore creatively because they're not inundated with tasks like paying bills. For adults the combination of these mundane tasks, in addition to learned societal dogma and an attachment to a specific outcome all serve in stifling our creativity.
Now what can we do as adults to create child like tendencies and behaviors that foster creativity while also suited to grown-up responsibilities?
Businesses such as 3M and Google have long implemented the 20% rule where 1/5 of their work week is free time for their own creative exploration. I have heard Google Employees refer to this as their Friday Project. This practice has generated some of the most innovative products and technology.
Google Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin highlighted the idea in their 2004 IPO letter:
"We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google," they wrote. "This empowers them to be more creative and innovative. Many of our significant advances have happened in this manner."
Huge 20% products include the development Google News, Gmail, and even AdSense.
How might a scientist or an artist implement this business strategy in their practice? Take for example Einstein (who was also a black sheep of academia) who developed his famous theory of relativity while working as a patent office clerk. Had he been beloved and accepted by academia he likely would not have had the support from those whose ideas his theory challenged. By having a day job and working in his off time, his creativity was truly free of bureaucracy.
A visual artist may use this same idea by doing commissioned paintings or a related and not draining occupation to support themselves financially while spending a dedicated portion of their time to their own creative ventures. For creators great change isn't made in a day, it is made in a small part of everyday.
Not all that has great social or artistic value has monetary value, and not all that has monetary value has social or artistic value. I am fortunate that my work as a visual artist has rewarded me monetarily since I was 14. I recognize that many great artists, musicians, playwrights, poets are not able to finically support themselves with their art. And I understand that this is not a reflection of the intrinsic value of their art. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime.
While I have been so fortunate to be making money from my work since a young age, this has also taught me that there is an outcome and an expectation of my art process. When I had my first successful solo exhibition with a gallery in my mid twenties, I learned that as the art which began as my emotional outlet gained monetary value, I now had an expectation from the gallery to self replicate. Meaning they did not want me to continue developing artistically, they wanted me to create similar work as that which was previously successful. Even successful artists must make room for innovation in their own practice.
In addition to self replication, another notion that can stymy any artist are imagined roadblocks.. When I was 5 my older brother told me I couldn't be a real artist unIess I had glasses, "all real artists have glasses" he said. So I was very excited when I was 9 years old and had to start wearing eyeglasses because although I had been drawing every day since I could hold a pencil. Now I was a REAL artist. It is apparent now how ridiculous this notion was, but it is not much more ridiculous than the idea I had as a young adult which was I would
be a "real artist" when I have my own art studio dedicated solely to art making. Growing up I often made art on the floor in the hallway or bathroom, and when I would go visit my oil painting mentor, who had a gorgeous studio for her painting, I was sure this was what a real artist looked like. So when I became a full time working artist with a separate art studio in New York Citys Tribeca, I felt the assurance of my childhood self that I had made it. I was a true artist even though I wore contacts instead of glasses now. As I gained more success with a solo exhibition in NYCs Soho, I no longer felt the need to prove to myself or anyone else my validity. The start of my Gallery in Brooklyn began with a dream to create opportunities for artists that I wished I'd had. In order to fulfill my new goal I had to give up my proper studio space for the gallery space, and now I find myself again in the off hours at the gallery painting in the hallway and the bathroom.
I have now learned the lesson that is already apparent to one of the gifted students in my gallery's free kids art class . When an adult after class saw her drawing and said "that's really good do you want to be an artist when you grow up?" without hesitation or irony she said "I already am an artist "
The day I moved to NYC I met Chuck Close who is a remarkable human being and artist. He sufferers from Heprosopagnosia, more commonly known as face blindness, he jokes that is why he is so nice to everyone. His propensity to paint and study faces is driven by his disability. He recognizes his students by their paintings and not their faces. He lost his father at a young age and says that was good preparation for later in life when he became disabled because he knew that even after suffering a tragic loss he would find happiness again. I shared with him an image of a painting of mine and told him I could empathize as I too lost my dad at a young age and suffered from physical illness. He assured me physical constraints as well as self made constraints are always good for your art, and I replied "Good because I just signed a lease on less than 200 square feet!"
I do not believe in the notion of the tortured artist. I do however see greatness in artists who have a physical need to create on a daily basis almost as if they were taking medication. They are creating for themselves as a comfort, but in the purity of that action the product becomes a comfort for others.
Art exists to provoke imagination and to show a reality that could be but is not readily viewable to our human eyes
Art exist to connect us with emotions that we may not otherwise find tangible.
I believe that the strongest art is polarizing, provoking either great love or great hatred.
I have been fortunate to encounter so many uniquely talented individuals in my life. Regardless of the talent (music, science, art) I have noticed a distinct duality: those who view their talent as a way to enrich the world around them and those who view that the world owes them something because of their gift. In my experience the former are not only more happy, but they are also more successful than the later.
Creativity is the act of materializing a vision, building something you see but doesn't yet exist. This was how I began my gallery, with a strong vision of the way it should be. I was pleased to hear recently from an art world veteran that my gallery is doing things they have never seen done before, making our own rules they see as becoming a model for other young startups. While a gallery seems glamorous (and it is,) I spend just as much time on logistics and cleaning as I do on hosting events. I have learned first hand there is no dream too big and no task too small.
Regardless of external success as defined by the societal standards of money and acclaim, I as a musician, poet, and visual artist will always uphold my primary goal of making the best possible art I can. As a gallery owner I am continually humbled by the brilliant artists with whom I have been so fortunate to work. I recognize that certain visions I want to achieve will come to fruition best through another artist's hands and my facilitation, like my gallery's current exhibition " Women of Kuwait" by Maha Alasaker.
It is when we realize how insignificant we are that we become significant.
Because it is in that moment we become aware of our intrinsic connection to our fellow humans.
In our modern times as the lines between artist and technology blur, we as creatives must not let technology guide our process, but instead focus first on our vision and in what ways technology can assist? Let's use the same drive for innovation in smartphones and apps and envision a world where a young girl walking home alone does not fear violence and rape. Let's envision a child not having to start their school day hungry.
With the creativity of a child and the aptitude of an adult let's envision a changing world where no human has to live in hunger or fear.
When its cold outside ...
And raining in your eyes...
Does your light...
When its bleak ...
And no sound...
Can you hear the song...
When the fears shutter free...
But the glory is yet to be...
Will you forge the righteous way...
With no visible path?