Van Hollow Pottery
functional art pottery
View the following articles as they appear in their entirety below or click on Articles link to open each Article directly:
"The Sense of Freedom through the Immersion in a Creative Process (25 minutes)- based on Jim's Masters thesis. this video examines the psychological, spritual, and philosophical side of art creation - click on http://youtu.be/DZLoRVdVuSA
Wise Words - 2017
"Wise Words - 2017" (18 Minutes) - In the words of Christopher Morley "the only success is to live your life in your own way." This video, compiled by Jim and Sarah Young, contains wisdoms from over the ages to guide each of us to our own success -click on: https://youtu.be/gCR5XAXYuBw
IN A CREATIVE PROCESS
In my Masters thesis for an Art Therapy degree, I asked artists of every sort - painters, potters, photographers, even a poet - to describe the highly personal experience that artists often describe as "an immediate and felt sense of freedom" that comes from immersion in their art forms.
The article printed below is a synopsis of my research. It will review and analyze five stages of the immersion experience and draws references from interviews, psychology, philosophy, and poetry.
My hope is that artists will find affirmation for the values of immersion in their work that are often difficult to describe to people unfamiliar with the artistic process.
*To view a 25 minute video of this Paper illustrated with Pottery, click on this YouTube link:
THE CENTRALITY OF
FREEDOM AND PLEASURE
IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS
There are two kinds of subjects which a society discusses very little: those things it cherishes and those that it cannot understand. Art seems to fall under both of these categories. Ask any artist why he or she goes through the discipline, aloneness, sacrifices and often frustration of creating art, and the answer, accompanied by a look of incredulity, may well be something like: “because I like doing it” or “because it gives me pleasure”.
When questioned further, artists have also said that their work sets them free. “Freedom” is sometimes described as the condition of being without constraints. But beyond conceptual freedom there is a kind of freedom that can actually be felt. In fact, the feelings of freedom and happiness that artists feel while immersed in the creative process are the central reason they keep going back to their studios.
Artists frequently emerge from their studios after hours of focused work feeling more centered, happier and lighter. The feeling is sometimes described as a distinct and immediate sense of liberation. It has colloquially been labeled a “rush,” a “high” or perhaps a “flow” experience. Whatever the designation, creative people know that their work changes and uplifts their consciousness, at least for a brief period of time, and they know that the experience is pleasurable.
Beyond the simple acknowledgment of pleasure, however, there tends to be a void of understanding either of freedom or the sense of pleasure that artists and other creative people derive from immersion in a creative process. Precisely because there are few words that adequately describe the highly personal and individual feelings of freedom and pleasure endemic to the creative process, these feelings are often trivialized by society and even by artists themselves.
In my work as an art therapist, a potter and a teacher, I have conducted over a decade of research into the very nature of pleasure and freedom during immersion in a creative process. I once asked a group of eleven artists from different disciplines – pottery, painting, photography, music, writing, poetry, and sculpture – to respond in detail to this question: “What is your experience of freedom while being immersed in a creative process?” Their responses, while by no means exhaustive or conclusive, are interesting and revealing. A deeper examination of the psychological components of the art process reveals patterns that may shed light on the nature of art itself.
Creative immersion can be seen as having five stages, each following the other consecutively.
Phase 1 – “The Urge to Create”
In the first phase, artists described personal feelings preceding the creative experience. Nearly half of the respondents described a drive or urge that compelled them to go to their studios.
Artists sometimes described escaping conflict in their outer lives. A painter said; “one night, too upset to sleep, I went to my studio to find some peace.” Robert Grudin, author of The Grace of Great Things, described this process as using “conflict-filled passion to make sense out of a crisis-ridden life.”
Sometimes artists described visionary drive or the need to satisfy some inner restlessness. Art therapist Shaun McNiff, author of Art as Medicine, wrote: “artists often need gnawing and goading demons to stir emotions and provoke primal expression.” Potter M.C. Richards, author of Centering, said: “there lives a creative being inside of all of us, and we must get out of its way for it will give us no peace unless we do.”
These expressions corroborate the findings of Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, said succinctly that “creativity is a hunger”. Eugene Gendlin, author of Focusing, described the artist’s search for expression as follows: “you may be troubled by the failed sense of some unresolved situation. Notice that you don’t have factual data. You have an inner aura, an internal taste. At some moments the felt sense of what it is gets so vague that it almost disappears but at other moments it comes in so strongly that you feel almost new.”
Phase 2 –“The Nesting Phase”
Artists often noted a period of cleaning and arranging their workspaces. Many artists go into a “nesting” process, conducting routine chores such as cleaning tools, wedging clay, sweeping the floor and other seemingly mundane tasks. They frequently described with great feeling the sacredness of their workspaces.
Our creative self is restless, and the urge to prepare one’s space may be quietly compelling. McNiff noted: “we do not have to be psychotic in order to create from the soul, but the depth of an art work corresponds to the psychic environment in which it is created.”
Aloneness and vulnerability are key ingredients in preparation for the creative journey. American painter Robert Henri, author of The Art Spirit, wrote: “you have gone into isolation to find yourself. If you go through this winter, you will come out strong!”
Phase 3 – “Creative Immersion”
Entering the immersion stage is a distinct shift from the nesting phase. The artist begins to create and find a rhythm. The work itself may take on a sense of “otherness”, and the artist may actually be surprised and entranced to be participating in this process. As if a doorway were suddenly opened, a painter exclaimed: “then forms took place, out of chaos, and a dreamy serene landscape just emerged.” Another artist said: “I often cannot remember how I ‘did’ it.”
Carl Jung named this process “imaginal dialogue”, during which images or shapes come to mind. He said that success in allowing this process to occur was dependent on a “deliberate weakening of the mind and its inhibition effect.”
The immersion stage is where the artist transforms emotional energy into art. The degree of letting go varies by artist and circumstances. An artist may struggle with his or her hands and mind to create art that has what McNiff called “psychic authenticity”. This is the creation of art from outside of oneself. Such “pure” art may not be entirely possible but attainable only in small degrees, and the aloneness of the experience can either exacerbate or facilitate the letting go.
Deep immersion can be physically and emotionally demanding, and intuition is always the best guide. Artists frequently described time during this phase both as a “speeding up” or “standing still.” One artist said: “I like not knowing the time! It is relaxing and easy. My mind is not racing but flowing.”
Phase 4 – “Freedom as a Felt Sense”
This is the point where the art process seems to undergo another transformation. Artists recognize this shift. A potter said: “there comes a point in working when everything starts to click. My hands and the clay begin to cooperate instead of locking horns.”
Freedom is the unintentional side-effect of dedication to a process larger than oneself. The key to the experience of freedom is that it is an end in itself, but it cannot be pursued. It must ensue. Freedom as a felt sense is not an automatic by-product of immersion. Like a sought-after spiritual experience, it can elude the artist who seeks it directly.
It is at this point that the art activity which has consumed us can become intrinsically rewarding. This is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow, calls an “autotelic experience” or a self-goal. Most activities, he says, are “exotelic” or performed for external reasons and lack the quality of intrinsic reward.
Completion of the art process can bring a sense of transcendence. A poet in my study wrote: “when I am absorbed, I feel free from the connections to physical life.” A painter noted simply: “the space I was in was very liberating.” A writer said: “at this point I got lost in my work. It is the feeling that I associate with freedom. It is not a lonely, aimless lost but a very productive wandering through my mind.”
A potter gave this poetic description of her experience: “the inside of me opened up like a lily and everything just escaped. It flowed out through my eyes and my toes and my cheekbones. My eyes felt cold like fresh air. It felt good, like after you cry.” A painter wrote: “creating is a choice I make, and it makes life worth living. Most important, it gives me joy.”
Freedom invariably feels good. Gendlin wrote: “it feels good to have something come directly from one’s felt sense. It shifts the feelings, releases the body slightly. It gives one a sense of process, free from stuck places.”
Phase 5 – “The Return to Linear Life”
The final phase of the immersion process is the “coming back” or return to the everyday. This is where the ego resumes its control over thought processes. Time once again becomes a linear progression of minutes, hours and days. The aura of creative excitement yields to the ordinary nature of one’s familiar world as the “Muse” slowly departs.
This process can result in a kind of bitter-sweet melancholy, akin to a post-partum reaction. One artist described an experience of abrupt interruption of her immersion process. She said: “I can remember when my little children came into the studio and asked me questions when I was at work. It was with difficulty that I slowly switched back to the verbal to answer them.” Another artist described the need to consciously re-call her normal mental processes. She noted: “I must now call back what I describe as my logical side.”
In the “return” stage, one’s personality can seem fragile, broken or simply worn out. The artist may be somewhat edgy as if pulled in two directions. The experience of freedom usually abates and much of the newfound joy can go with it.
But there can also be sustained positive feelings. One artist said: “when I come away from this type of experience, I feel very calm and satisfied, deeply relaxed.” Another said: “the creative process heals me of stress and my clacking brain shuts up for a while as if I’m in a good meditation.”
Sometimes the experience of freedom can be re-stimulated just by recalling the feelings. Robert Henri wrote: “it is the nature of all people to have these experiences; but in our time and under the conditions of our lives, it is only a rare few who are able to continue in the experiences and find expression for them.”
Once experienced, however, artists long to return to the freedom felt during creative immersion. The feelings are powerful and memorable. Fortunately, “recovery” from creative immersion is never total. Each experience touches one’s inner core, and the urge to return is fueled by the bodily memory of good feelings.
Art may be one of society’s few condoned arenas for directly exploring our innate spiritual roots. Consider pottery for example. The studio is the potter’s sacred realm; the pots are the tangible evidence of the transpersonal journey.
The question might be asked: “if the clay and the studio await our presence, why do we sometimes hesitate and procrastinate in going there? Why do we sometimes experience creative lapses or “blocks”? The answer seems to lie with our ego’s tenacious hold on our thought processes.
Our egos hate to relinquish control. One of the ego’s two primary roles is to insure psychological survival of the individual by protecting his or her worldview. The immersion process itself can seem to the ego to threaten the status quo of ordinary linear thinking, and it may try to protect against too rapid expansion by providing excuses not to do the very work that provides our growth. Ironically, however, it actually takes ego strength to let go to our own deeper unconscious resources.
The second role of the ego is to insure growth and adaptation that attend our long-term survival. The resulting structural tension between “grow’ and “don’t grow” can be like driving with one foot on the gas and another on the brake. At such times one’s higher consciousness or informed intuition can be invoked to mediate the conflict.
It may seem odd, but an artist might actually mentally ask his or her ego to relax its inhibitory role to permit the immersion process to yield its fruits. The individual is the navigator, and artists with healthy egos have had plenty of practice slipping into imaginal reality with the assurance of safe return. We’ve done it time and time again, and there is plenty of basis for the ego to trust that the artist’s command “Open Sesame!” will not lead to disaster. Indeed, psychologist Milton Erickson constantly urged his clients to “trust the unconscious” as an ally which never brings harm, only good. As German philosopher and poet Frederick Nietzsche (1872) said: “Here, when the danger to man’s ego is greatest, art approaches as a saving sorceress, expert at healing.”
The artist, like everyone else, is pushed and pulled by desires. Unlike most people, the artist uses these desires as art elements. Then he or she synthesizes these elements into a style, and the practice of this style provides a sense of freedom.
Psychologist Rollo May, author of The Courage to Create, noted that what makes creative immersion a courageous act is precisely its spiritual nature. By approaching truth through creative expression, he said, the artist enters an “active battle with the gods (of conventional wisdom)”. The artist, in his or her efforts to relieve the pressures of indwelling creative urges, unleashes the healing power of the deep feminine onto the outwardly unreceptive social fabric. The result is growth and freedom, both for the artist and for society.
The immersion experience has been described as numinous or spiritually elevated. It has been acknowledged as deeply pleasurable, often ecstatic, and among artists there is widespread recognition that immersion in a creative process is salving in a soulful manner unlike most other daily pursuits.
Think about it, outside of the societally condoned practice of sexual release, we lack a tradition of ecstasy in our culture, and even sexuality has become culturally prescribed and distorted through mass marketing. The creation of art offers a rare and safe opportunity to achieve an elevated state of awareness.
Creativity is not an easy process, and the feelings of freedom and happiness are by no means easily replicated. Robert Henri said: “The pursuit of happiness is a great activity. One must be open and alive. It is the greatest feat man has to accomplish, and spirits must flow. It takes wit and intelligence and energy to be happy.”
Artists, poets and other creative people may represent a collective bridge between the day-to-day world and the vast untapped realm of the unconscious mind, the source of new ideas and tomorrow’s visions. But precisely because the immersion process takes artists into non-ordinary realms of consciousness, these experiences don’t translate readily to those who are unfamiliar with the creative journey.
M.C. Richards noted that the path to artistic freedom requires surrender of normal awake consciousness to experience one’s deeper essence. Freedom, she said, is a state of being in which one’s relatedness to life is unobstructed.
Potter and dancer Paulus Berensohn, author of Finding One’s Way in Clay, claimed: “the freedom I seek is not one that lets me do what I want to do but rather a freedom that equips me to do what I need to do.” Freedom in this instance is at the very core of self-expression.
How does an artist prepare for the journey of self-expression? Perhaps the answer is to simply leave everyday concerns at the door to one’s studio. Zenmaster Shunryn Suzuki wrote that only the empty mind is free of the ego’s tendency to hold onto its version of reality, blocking newness and spontaneity.
Poet Robert Frost claimed creativity to be a heroic process, demanding complete and blind immersion into the experience of physical life. The fruits of creative immersion, according to Frost, relate to the soul’s journey and, as such, are beyond human understanding.
Even if creativity and the soul’s journey are indeed beyond human understanding, perhaps we should still strive to understand our internal landscapes if only to heighten our respect and appreciation of the creative abilities we possess. By the law of attraction, what we put our attention to grows. By focusing on freedom and happiness, we direct our creative unconscious to expand in these directions.
Remember, however, that this discussion is about an internal process the artist undergoes; it is not about turning art into a mind game. Our focus is the art we create. Writer D. H. Lawrence cautioned against over-analyzing and losing what he called “pure relations” when one’s relationship to the art ceased to be direct. As Carl Jung also noted, during analysis of a phenomenon, “the bird has flown.”
The creative process can be a difficult journey, yet the artist’s drive to create is fueled by “pushes”, such as creative tension, and “pulls,” such as the hunger for freedom.
To achieve freedom, the artist must persevere beyond thinking into deep body sensing to tap the mysterious power of the unconscious. Under these conditions intuition replaces thinking, and even linear time tends to fall away.
Freedom is the great reward of immersion in a creative process. It is illusive yet real. It is neither a predictable nor readily describable. Its roots lie beyond the mental, perhaps in the transcendent realm, although it impacts both the emotional and physical body.
The attainment of freedom through creative immersion may be difficult, because it requires surrender of the mind’s iron-fisted control over thought processes. But the letting go is not without its rewards.
D. H. Lawrence said: “You’ve got to lapse out before you can know what sensual reality is, lapsing into unknowingness and giving up your volition. You’ve got to learn not to be before you can come into being.”
Rollo May poses an absolutely intriguing question: “What if imagination and art are not the frosting at all, but the very fountainhead of human experience?”
Creativity is its own reward. Freedom and happiness are gifts from the Muse sometimes given for diligence and surrender to inner callings. Yet we are not entirely alone in our pursuit of freedom. McNiff writes: “we artists support emergent expression, whose destiny is to appear and die, and to forever repeat this cycle. This is the point of it all – to do it again!” And again and again.
© 2007 by James G. Young
Compiled by Jim and Sarah Young
PART ONE - Happiness
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The U.S. Declaration of Independence (Adopted July 4, 1776)
“The pursuit of happiness is a great activity.
One must be open and alive. It is the greatest feat man has to accomplish, And spirits must flow.
It takes wit and interest and energy to be happy.”
“Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.” Helen Keller
“Oh. make us happy and you make us good.”
“If you feel happy, you are happy — that’s all we mean by the term.”
“No one can be poor that has enough,
nor rich that covets more than he has.”
“All you have to do is go to a hospital
and hear all the simple blessings that people never before realized were blessings — being able to urinate, to sleep on your side, to be able to swallow, to scratch an itch... [these things] educate us faster [than anything] about our blessings.”
If we seek greater serenity, we can strive to restrain our unrealistic expectations, to go out of our way to experience reminders of our blessings, to make our goals short-term and sensible, to choose comparisons that will breed gratitude rather than envy.”
“There is only one success,
to spend your life in your own way.”
“If true freedom were readily available and could be found without great effort, how is it possible that it should be neglected by almost everyone?
But all things difficult are as excellent as they are rare.”
“A man must become interesting to himself and must become actually expressive before he can be happy.”
PART TWO - Personal Freedom
“We have to live, and we have to die;
the rest we make up.”
“Everything costs everything.”
“Do few things but do them well.”
St. Francis of Assissi
“Adolescents sense a secret, unique greatness in themselves that seeks expression. They gesture toward the heart when trying to express any of this; A significant clue to the whole affair.”
Joseph Chilton Pierce
“If you don’t know where you’re going,
you’ll probably end up someplace else.”
“We dull our lives by the way we conceive them.
We have stopped imagining them with any sort of romance, any fictional flair.”
“The choices we make dictate the lives we lead.”
“What lies before us and what lies behind us are small matters compared to what lies within us. And when we bring what is within out into the world, miracles happen.”
“It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks,
that we concentrate only on what is most significant and important.”
“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that never otherwise would have occurred... Whatever you can, do.
Or dream you can, do. Begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”
“If you have a great ambition, take as big a step as possible in the direction of fulfilling it. The step may only be a tiny one, but trust that it may be the largest one possible for now.”
PART THREE — Awakening to Personal Power
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when it came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Henry David Thoreau
“The words ‘I am’ are potent words. Be careful what you hitch them to.
The thing you’re claiming has a way of reaching back and claiming you.”
“Where are you making for?
It takes so many thousand years to wake, but will you wake for pity’s sake.”
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation... But it is characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.”
“There are two kinds of people...
One kind you can tell just by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves...
The other kind keep moving...
They are fluid. . .moving forward.. .making new trysts with life, and the motion keeps them young.
In my opinion, they are the only people who are alive.”
Gail Godwin (from The Finishing School)
“A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may possess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It makes its claim.”
“Without vision the people parish.”
“You are born with a character; it is given;
a gift, as the old stories say, from the guardians upon your birth.”
“Man, know thyself and know the universe.”
Inscription over the doorway to the Oracle at Delphi
“My life is my message.”
“As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
“So often we run away from the responsibilities dictated (or rather suggested) by nature, by fate, even sometimes by accident, just as Jonah tried in vain to run away from his fate.”
“Man is asked to make of himself what he is supposed to become to fulfill his destiny.”
“Everything on earth has a purpose, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”
Christine Quintasket, Salish Indian
“Each of us is meant to have a character all our own,
to be what no other can exactly be, and to do what no other can exactly do.”
William Ellery Channing
“Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow, grow.”
“It doesn’t matter what we do until we accept ourselves.
Once we accept ourselves, it doesn’t matter what we do.”
“The real measure of our wealth
is our worth if we lost our money.”
“Every calling is great when greatly pursued.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
“Nothing can resist a human will that stakes its heart upon a purpose.” Benjamin Disraeli
PART FOUR - Living the Life You Took Birth For
“Everyone has a purpose in life...
a unique gift or special talent to give to others.
And when we blend this unique talent with service to others, We experience the ecstasy and exultation of our own spirit, Which is the ultimate goal of all goals.”
the world is young. For all its weary years of thought, the starkest fights must still be fought;
the most surprising songs be sung.”
“And so long as you lack this dying and becoming, you are but a dull guest on darkling earth.”
“What does a man gain by winning the whole world at the cost of his true self?”
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
“The reason why we are disenchanted with ourselves is because we entertain in the depths of our psyche; a kind of vision ..of what we could be if we would be what we might be.”
Pir Vilayat Khan
“We are raised on comparison;
our education is based on it; so is our culture.
So we struggle to be someone other than who we are.”
“I believe that every human being will leave this earth with an unfulfilled longing.
But I believe also that the loyalty to this longing will be the fulfillment of their life.”
“When a man tries to realize himself through the gifts with which Nature has endowed him, he does the best and only meaningful thing he can do.”
“For everything there is a season,
and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
“A wind has blown across the world,
It calls the brave and true’
To find a new Jerusalem
And build the world anew.”
“Here is a test to find out whether your mission on earth is finished:
If you’re alive, it isn’t.”
“Consider the lilies how they grow in the fields... they do not work and they do not spend... set your mind on God’s kingdom...
and the rest will come to you.”
Matthew 6:28-26 and 33-34
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