on-going mostly unedited stream of thoughts

being creative is not just about making things

I place a lot of value on creativity in my life, and this has been pretty consistent throughout my various life stages. For a long time it was tied to my identity which was tied to my work, and later on it was more of an existential thing: like to me there is not much point to my life if I am not expressing my self in a way no one else can. However recently I realised being creative is not just about self-expression or creating things. It is about developing the pathways to see things in a different light, including opportunities, paths, perceptions. I can be making a ton of things for example, but still remain quite fixed on how I perceive myself or how I should lead my life.

This matters a lot when one encounters obstacles or unexpected events in life. When we can only imagine our selves in a certain, fixed way, it would also seem like there can only be certain pathways we can take, or must take.

drawing of someone facing a fixed path versus potential multiple paths

This is especially true if we’re fixated on our identities – a business person must start another business if their existing one fails. It may never occur to them they can stop being a business person. Or it is simply unthinkable because without what we’re known for, who are we?

It also applies to routines, habits, things we think we like and dislike. I get anxious and disturbed when I cannot live my routine, mostly because my chronic illness may rear its ugly head if I step out of my monk-like existence. But living in a very fixed way has made me a dull and unhappy person, and I find myself questioning the point of having stable physical health when my soul is slowly dying. I wonder if there are less binary ways to think about this, and this is where it would take some creative flexibility and experimentation.

I realised developing a creative practice may impact the way we live our lives in unexpected ways. Learning to take photos have expanded the way I look at things and has awakened me from my auto-pilot mode when I navigate from place to place. I am seeking beauty, and beauty appears quite readily once I open my eyes to it. Learning to draw has taught me that there must be acceptance in order to move forward, and there could be unexpected surprises when I accept the natural ways my art wants to unfold. The mistakes become part of the art, and what I intended to make takes a life of its own. There needs to be intention in making art, but once the process occurs I had to learn to let to. Sometimes I think I have misunderstood that I am the one making art, but it is art that is being made through me.

We are vessels for art: like a cookie cutter we can only make art in the shapes we are in, when the self changes the art changes too. So in order to develop new ways of making I have learnt that I must change, or I will be limited to the boundaries of the person I am. When I change, the ways I make things change, and they inevitably change me in return like a never-ending feedback loop.

drawing of a creative feedback loop: we make art, and art makes us

I live with a lot of fear in my life, afraid of loss, of losing what I have. It makes me upset when I can no longer do the things I used to do. But in trying to avoid more loss I am slowly losing my self because I have confined myself to such a tight space to live in, afraid that even mere breathing will trigger more loss. I believe I am fragile, unable to withstand more breaks in my life. But now I know this is so because I am unable to envision that I would have the capacity to develop new ways of living.

I have done this several times in my life: this breaking apart. But they have always been forced by circumstances and they were painful. And hence I live with a lot of fear because I know such is life, that it would be inevitable to experience more life-changing events. But can I develop my creative capacity to an extent that I can feel that at the very least I’ll be able to tap on it to find new ways of being when the unexpected occurs?

Again like in many of my posts, I have no answers. There are reasons why I am fixed in such ways — after all they are how I’ve coped and survived. It is difficult to think of myself in new ways when I’ve been operating in this outfit for so long. But through the act of making I’ve started to notice the subtle changes of my self taking place: suddenly my hands are able to take me to places on the paper I’ve never encountered before. Making is not mere producing, it is a continuous intricate interaction with our selves.

Maybe I thought I’ve always needed to make giant leaps, but the most profound changes I’ve had were always slow and subtle, like water wearing down a rock. But this is only possible if I am able to stop being fixated about what I think I want, versus what possibilities can be unfolded. I can only imagine to an extent of the boundaries of my imagination which is informed by the expanse of my experiences…

…which is why it is important to keep on having the spirit to push these boundaries and accumulate more experiences. It is difficult as I am often spiritually exhausted, but I hope my art will continue to enliven me in ways I cannot imagine, and that the creative manoeuvres I have to make in order to keep on keeping my art alive will somewhat keep me alive too.

I wrote a draft of this post in a hotel at penang in the morning, and later on in a cafe I drew the accompanying scribbles with pen and paper followed by editing this post on my phone. All of which I seldom do these days because I tend to assume I need a stable work space to write, and the pandemic has made me even more fixed in my ways of being. But since I started drawing in cafes on this trip I wanted to embody more of this “on the go” spirit, which speaks to the intention of this post I guess.