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New Mexico was beautiful!

Dear Friends,

I hope you’ve been able to enjoy our few classic Autumn days… It’s certainly getting chilly in the studio at this time when the air con is off and the heaters not on yet.

Much has happened. I had a trip to San Francisco for a conference/retreat for a few days in February then went with a colleague down to New Mexico. One of those wonderful earth-mother women, Gwendolyn is in my Coaches Mastermind team. We’d discussed running a retreat together at “Ghost Ranch”, Georgia O’Keeffe’s home for many years. We flew to Albuquerque (she lives nearby in Belen) and I caught the train to Santa Fe where I visited the beautiful O’Keeffe museum before catching the bus to Taos. Gwendolyn came and picked me up and we visited the Harwood to see the wonderful octagonal room that holds 8 large works by Agnes Martin. Gently and powerfully beautiful, it was a huge gift to see and be with these works.

We drove out to “Ghost Ranch” which took around 2 hours. Wow… The vast desert country with huge, partially eroded red rock mesas was breath-taking. “Ghost Ranch” was wonderful and I wish I could have stayed for longer. We could see Pedernal the distant mountain – the upper part looks like a stubby foot – that Georgia included in many paintings. I’ll put photos in the newsletter. There were beautiful purpose built art rooms with the front wall consisting of large glass doors, a nearby labyrinth, horses to ride and cosy rooms in which to stay. All in all, it looked very inviting. Lindsay, the event organiser, was generous with his time and I know we’d be very welcome and cared for there. For something completely different, late October would be a great time to visit.

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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 asa 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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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 (problems with my spine and my hands ironically) and followed the path of an artist. It was more than that though. 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 compared it to farming; about there being good times and not so good times, but you wouldn’t give it up, would you? He nodded sagely. It felt like he really heard me and understood beyond my clumsy comparison. In the last weeks before he died, he would step outside his usual ways of thinking, and seek to understand. As his ego fell away, 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.

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 CEOs 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 definitionCreativity 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 andresearcher, 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 sometimesdepends on dismantlinginner 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, persistingThere is a problem with all this these human qualities cannot be reliably measured.

Subjecting creativity to empiricism is tricky. Some scientists say if it cant be measured it doesnt 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. Dont you think thats 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. Justone 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.

There is evidence that the great artistic geniuses had at least one teacher 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 classroom that allowed creativity to flourish?’

Answer: Freedom to have ideas, a framework to give direction, a range of available materials toexperiment with, andunhurried 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 da Vinci was looking at eddies of water, the wings of a bird or the composition of a painting, his mind was inquiring. There was no separation in his 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.

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 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 Brainresearch 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 other stuff besides thinking and ‘nutting out a problem’ is important – the brain likes ‘changing channel’ if you will.

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, S?etsuYanagi. Here are some of his highly resonant thoughts:

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 mans first tools, his own hands, for the expression of his inner nature.

S?etsu 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 S?etsu 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. Andany 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 Nanas 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 Ests 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. Inotice 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

On creativity

It’s late at night…and I have a question – why do people think they are not creative? It’s a human gift to be creative….Maybe people think its super special because of being a ‘buzz-word’ currently… And possibly more available to ‘creative’ types of people. Do young children think this? I don’t think so.Creativity is ordinary in its availability to all, AND extraordinary in its infinite range of processes and results. Its just that we’ve collected a few unsupportive beliefs along the way.

Its a good idea to turn these around. Beliefs effect our genes – an area of new research called epigenetics (see ‘The Biology of Belief’ by Bruce Lipton PhD, 2005). So if you believe you’re not creative, guess what? You’re not! Lipton, cell biologist and writer, makes it clear that our beliefs are programmed mostly before we turn 7, and, thank goodness, can be re-programmed. A chapter in Lipton’s book ‘The Honeymoon Effect’ lists modalities that work with people in this way and he includes The Journey – an approach I have extensive training in.

Guess what else? Human beings are innately creative – it is totally natural for us to make things. Especially with our hands. And just as each person’s signature is different, so is their flavour of creativity. So get this – your kind of creativity is yours and yours alone. No-one else can create something the same way as you!

Creativity is a naming word. It is a name which sums up all the inner resources that come together to seamlessly be, think and do stuff that intentionally creates. The process is described as being creative. The evidence may not be apparent, but the process of making changes the maker – creativity gives inwardly and outwardly.

Creativity involves being and doing in a way that is fully engaged, engrossed and intrigued. There is a way there and process after. However, in the depth of the creative experience, the body, mind and spirit create in a state simply described as ‘flow’. Being in the effortless flow of creating, skill carries out an inspired vision. Remembering the ancient cave drawings of Lascaux, this has always been part of human experience.

Cultivating a skill provides a vehicle through which creativity can happen. It happens in you, through you, solo. Speaking with a university lecturer and colleague yesterday, she realised ‘I don’t have enough time in my life to NOT be creative!’ She was saying that being creative saved her time. I say being creative saved my life! You can read about that in the ‘About me’ part of my site 🙂

I’ve been invited to present at an upcoming workshop on creativity at The Australian National University, so my next post will be all about that. I’ll be sharing myths and truths about creativity; what gets in the way and how to facilitate one’s creativity.

Stay warm and well 🙂