Wild Women, Wild Voices
Wild Women, Wild Voices : Art as Transformation


Art as Transformation

By Judy Reeves | Updated 5/14/15
a selection from Wild Women, Wild Voices

I was in kindergarten, and our class and all the other elementary school students were sitting cross-legged on the polished hardwood floor of the cafeteria/auditorium for the performance of Aladdin and His Magic Lantern by a visiting high school troupe. Never before, in all the books that had been read to me, in all the stories I’d been told, in all the dramas played out on records or on the radio, never before had I experienced such magic. Before me, and me alone, because now all the other students had faded away, appeared mysterious tents draped with brilliant fabrics and furnished with satin pillows as large as my father’s easy chair. The play began, and actors adorned in colorful costumes and tasseled shoes with turned-up toes performed their roles. And there was the gleaming magic lantern itself — pure gold, I was certain. Then suddenly a loud drum sounded, and out of a cloud of smoke appeared the genie! ready to grant any wish Aladdin might desire. My wish: that this could go on forever.

This was the first but not the only time I was transformed by a theatrical performance. Nor is theater the only art that has this powerful effect on me. Music, dance, art installations, paintings, films, books, and poetry: I witness art and through my witnessing I am a participant in the making of art — a busker performing in the park where I stop and watch and put my dollar in her basket, a poet reading her work who hears my holy silence at the end of her poem, the man on the banks of the Mississippi River who invited me to look at the moon through his telescope.

“Creativity is interactive and art is alchemical,” said Jean Shinoda Bolen in her essay. “Its power is in its capacity to affect and transform the artist and the audience.”

Listen to how these Wild Women relate their experiences being transformed by art:

“We were in the Louvre in Paris,” said Angie. “As we came down a low staircase from one of the open galleries, there in front of me on a five-foot concrete pedestal, so that she stood above the crowds, was Winged Victory of Samothrace. She soared above the crowd breathing liberty to me....I stood before her in tears, the crowd surging, and me lost in her presence.”

“I was crazy-lucky to hear Claudio Abbado conduct Anton Bruckner’s Symphony no. 9 at the Lucerne Summer Music Festival,” wrote Gina. “At one point the symphony struck such deep chords of resonance in my being that I was crying and shaking. The sound waves in the concert hall seemed to dissolve the boundaries of my skin and bones, erasing any delineation between me and the music, allowing me to merge with its expression of sheer beauty and joy.”

Notes for Nurturing Wild Voice

  • It’s okay to not know where you’re going.
  • It’s okay to not know how to get there, even when you think you know where you’re going.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Such experiences have a mystical effect; we’re changed in a deep, soulful way that inwardly has no language and outwardly often expresses itself in tears.

But it isn’t only in grand, sacred places that this magic happens. “Art transformed me in a pigpen,” said Anitra. “I was on my knees in the mud and pig sh*t when I noticed that my body had left and I was purely an eye looking through my camera lens.”

And sometimes witnessing another’s artful expression inspires us to create our own. “That mosaic table I saw twenty years ago in a gallery transformed my life,” said Jill. “I dreamed about it all night, bought it in the morning, and have been creating my own mosaics ever since.”

Sylvia related, “On a certain day in 1991, I had an encounter with a monarch butterfly and my first poem appeared to me. That was the beginning of, so far, twenty-two years of writing poetry...and eventually being able to call myself ‘a poet.’”

Exploration: Art and Transformation

Exploration In this Exploration, write about the authentic moments in your life when art transformed you. Make a list, if you like, or take one incident and write about it for two pages.

Remember to use concrete words. Or if you do use an abstract word such as beautiful or wonderful, show what is beautiful or wonderful to you. Abstract words make the reader guess what you mean; they call for judgments. My “beautiful” and your “beautiful” may be very different. Write in specifics, not generalities; write the names of things. Go for the details.

Your Creative Process

Ah, we creatives are a quirky lot. We have all these habits and perform all these rituals, often without thought, but other times we swear that they are invocations to the muse and that we couldn’t possibly do our work unless we first (fill in the blank). It’s said that Colette picked fleas from her cat before she settled into her writing, that Baudelaire kept a bat in a cage on his writing desk, and that Henrik Ibsen kept a pet scorpion on his. I’ve readily admitted to my light-a-candle routine, which is only the first of the rituals I perform, and here I sit at my candle-lit table with all my polished stones.

Artist and writer SARK said, “Your creativity in action is so needed by the world and the people in it. No other person has your eccentric blend of ideas, attitudes, and perceptions.”

I love that “succulent wild woman” SARK used the word eccentric to describe us. Eccentric is generally thought of as a polite word for describing someone whom we think of as a little crazy. An “eccentric” is slightly odd, maybe not necessarily dangerous but, “you know,” they say, and roll their eyes. To be eccentric is to risk disapproval. In this sense, making art is dangerous.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life,” Georgia O’Keeffe purportedly said, “and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Making any kind of art takes courage. And so it is no wonder that we have our quirks and idiosyncrasies. These rituals are calming for us, touchstones that both ground us as we begin the creative process and at the same time allow us to leave the safe place of “normal” and enter into the unknown, where anything can happen.

I asked Barbara to describe the feeling and tone of the process of making her art. “Fear and anxiety,” she said, “because my mind is all about having to do something purposeful, great and [I] fear failure.” But like O’Keeffe, Barbara said she does it anyhow. “Once I’m in it there is a sense of spaciousness — my world expands because my mind follows my heart.”

“There really is such a thing as being in ‘the flow,’ submerging in the work/play of creating that does away with concerns about results and shuts up the critic so that I can enjoy the process,” said Lavina, who both paints and writes.

“I’ve come to accept the friction of frustration as a prerequisite for creation,” said Carol. “Once I have successfully started a project, the frustration gives way to deep concentration that takes me out of any self-consciousness. In the groove!”

Maybe you’ve had the kind of experience that Barbara, Lavina, and Carol speak of. I sure have. When I’m in the process and have surrendered to the work, I am unaware of time passing, of the outside world. Athletes call it being in the “zone” (and by the way, some of them heed some pretty quirky rituals, too, before they enter the playing field). In writing about creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the now-common term being in the flow. Eckhart Tolle and other spiritual teachers call it the ever-present Now. For me, it occurs when I am totally present, aware, and focused and there is no strain, no trying. It is simply doing/being. Sometimes I get so caught up in the fluidity of the process that I can hardly keep up with the next word or shape or image or color; at other times it’s like a lazy river, just rolling along, easy as a summer day. I am at one, at peace. I am enough. More than enough: abundant.

And this, I think, this sense of Yes!, this sense of being at one with ourselves during the creative process, is an authentic expression of our natural wildness.

In Fearless Creating, creativity coach Eric Maisel wrote, “This wildness has many faces. It is an amalgam of passion, vitality, rebelliousness, nonconformity, freedom from inhibitions. Think of this wildness,” he said, “as ‘working naked.’”

Exploration: Making Art/Working Naked

ExplorationHow do you express your natural wildness? How do you create? Do you make art or write or spend creative time as part of your daily life? What is your creative process? What rewards and gifts do you receive? And what is their price? That is, do you have to give up something to receive these gifts?

Imagine that you are writing an essay or an article for a publication or for submitting to an anthology on the theme of creativity. How would you write about your creative process? Write two pages — more if the piece wants to go on.

Next: Nurturing Your Artist/Creator »

From the book Wild Women, Wild Voices. ゥ Copyright 2015 by Judy Reeves. Printed with permission from New World Library. www.NewWorldLibrary.com.

Judy ReevesJudy Reeves is a writer, teacher, and writing practice provocateur who has written four books on writing. More »
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