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Linda Dessau : Improvisation in Life and the Arts

Improvisation in Life and the Arts

What I learned from chapter 1 of the Stephen Nachmanovitch book Free Play

By Linda Dessau

Can you be an artist while you're washing the dishes?

In this article I share some of my learning and impressions from a chapter of the exceptional book, "Free Play", by Stephen Nachmanovitch.

This subtitle of this book, "The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts", speaks of bringing the improvising we do as creative artists into our daily routines and interactions. The chapter we'll be discussing is titled, "Inspiration and Time's Flow".

At the end of the article I'll provide some in-depth questions to help you explore this topic further.

In "Inspiration and Time's Flow", Nachmanovitch challenges us to experience free play and creativity in our "ordinary" activities. He states the ideal existence as one of nonstop flow, and he quotes Balinese philosophy that "We have no art. Everything we do is art."

Here are 10 key points of learning from this chapter:

  • Conversation is a form of improvisation. The sentences we create may never be heard again. This is a delicious reminder that anyone is capable of improvisation in life and art.
  • In creating a work of art, there are two kinds of time — the flash of inspiration and the labour of capturing that in a form that can be shared with others. Performance introduces a third kind of time. It's so helpful to distinguish between these times because often when someone is struggling with their art it's with only one of these three (at a time). Artists can suffer from negative and distorted thinking which can convince us our creativity is in trouble, when really it's just one aspect of the creative process that has us temporarily stumped.
  • Improvisation exists in ONE time and outside of time. Everything happens at once; those rare and beautiful moments of being in the flow. Virtually all of the 19 creative artists I talked with for my Creativity Interviews book mentioned this state of flow. It seems like one of the main things keeping us in this sometimes difficult world of the arts — that glimpse of "flow" that we've all seen, some more than others.
  • Our aim is to improvise in our common day-to-day activities, without being attached to their outcome, "because the doing is it's own outcome". So often we think our job is to make things turn out a certain way, to control our own fate and to keep everything together. When we let go of that job and just concentrate on doing what's in front of us, we enjoy a freedom and enjoyment of our everyday tasks that can't be possible when we're focused on the future and how things might turn out.

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