We watched a superb documentary film this evening thanks to Netflix called “Inspirations.” Famous dancers, choreographers, sculptors, musicians, painters, glass blowers and architects address in the film where their creativity and passion for their work comes from, how they view the world, and how they live their lives. This is a terrific exploration of the sources of creativity from masters of diverse art forms. Several quotations really stood out for me.

On the subjects of art, artists and creativity, these were insightful:

There is [an] artist in everyone. That is why people like art. They don’t spend their life doing it, but they like always something in [the] art. (dancer Louise LeCavalier)

I feel that all buildings have voices, and it is important how they echo in the mind. So it is my job to create the right environment. (architect Tadao Ando)

Lots of people have the ability to be creative. A lot more than are creative. But, you get stopped along the way somewhere. And then if you decide this is what I better do… you can work towards that, you can help yourself be more creative, and I think the people you are around will influence that. I always told the students that the most important thing they could ever do was be around artists. Then you begin to understand as a young person what the creative process is like. Artists have a tremendous effect on you. It is the way that they work, and the way that they are, that influences you, not the work itself. (glassblower Dale Chihuly)

At the end of the movie each of the artists was asked to give advice to others. This was one of the best responses:

Yes never plays the gallery, I think. But you never learn that until much later on. But never work for other people in what you do. Always remember that the reason you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself, that you felt if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself, or how you co-exist with the rest of society. And, I think it is terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfill other people’s expectations. I think they generally produce their worst work when they do that. (musician David Bowie)

On the topic of risk, David Bowie also said:

If you feel safe in the area that you are working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

On the subject of how you should approach your work each day, and how your view of the future should fit into your view of the present moment, this quotation was provocative:

Don’t expect anything. Just do it because you like to do it. Because you get pleasure in the day to day activity, not at the points in which a work is formulated, nor at a point where it is presented, simply in the day to day slog. The idea that you just find pleasure in everything that composes what you do, and not necessarily in the apexes which lie ahead. As soon as you start looking too far into the future, you negate any of the pleasures you get from the little incidental steps that make up each day, and those outnumber by far all of the “large experiences.” If you don’t get any pleasure from those, then frankly it is not worth doing. (choreographer Edouard Locke)

I was struck by the dynamical way in which each of these artists embrace the world and their work. They recognize that their own creativity and work is not an individual achievement, but something which is built upon the influences and ideas of others. Their ideas are new syntheses of old ideas and previous influences, as well as contemporary influences. These can be people, the environment, or just their experiences of the moment. These artists try to be very intentional about the environments in which they work, because they recognize the tremendous influence that casts on their own creativity and work.

Great lessons here at many levels, just as applicable for the teacher-artist in the classroom as the painter, dancer, or architect I think. I highly recommend this film. If you choose to show clips of it in class, however, be aware that at one point David Bowie does use some profanity, and one of the chapters is about the subject of “sex,” although it is not graphic or offensive.

We need MORE emphasis on the arts in our schools today, not less. We need more TIME and EMPHASIS on creativity and original thinking. Thankfully, our school has Destination Imagination (or DI), which is probably the best single activity in public schools today. If you have children in school, find out if DI is an available activity. I strongly believe participation in DI will pay present as well as future dividends which will far outweigh the impact playing on any type of sports team could have. Many people would disagree with this I am sure, but that is my opinion, and I think the validity of this will be borne out in time. Every child is different, and not everyone is going to like DI or thrive in the environment it invites. For my son who has participated for two years in DI, however, I can’t imagine anything better for him in a public school setting.

Who knows where our creativity and the creativity of our children will lead us? We don’t. That is inherent to the dynamical nature of creativity. Wonderful to spend an hour and a half this evening listening to some incredibly talented and gifted artists talk about their own lives, work, and world-views. It was definitely inspiring! 🙂

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