Creative serendipity – the art of finding what you didn’t know you were looking for

The current trend of tidying up and throwing away is all about creating order and simplifying your life.  De-clutter and your life will be happy. Japanese writer Marie Kondo, author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” (the KonMari method – only keep things that give you joy and fold your underwear origami-style) and more recently “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning” by Swedish grandmother, Margareta Magnusson, have been trying to impress on us the need to pare back to make life easier for ourselves and for others.

While I acknowledge that I need to de-clutter – I have a garage full of boxes of things and stuff that are no longer used but perhaps one day will be and often feel a stifling sense of being hemmed in; I have way too many clothes and shoes that I no longer wear and a study full of books, some of which are re-read or picked up or used as reference material; shelves of beautiful art books and art magazines and boxes full of work/teaching material.  Then there are storage boxes full of art-making material: oil paints and mediums, acrylic paints and mediums, gouaches, brushes for all the different types of paints, pastels, charcoals, a printing press, paper (drawing paper, watercolour paper, printmaking paper), printing inks, copper plates, etching tools.  And then there are many small boxes full of bits and pieces, mostly paper, that I have collected and used in my collages including Japanese Chiyogami paper, old letraset sheets (typeface transfers), images cut from magazines, gold leaf, stick-on dots and stars, old rubber stamps.  A wondrous mix of odds and ends.

I’m sure if I had a proper studio things would be better organised and arranged for easy access.  As it is, I rely on having to put things away into large plastic tubs and a variety of boxes once I’m done with a project which does make finding things difficult.  A short while back I spent days looking everywhere for my gouaches and then thinking I must have thrown them out in the last move, went and bought some more only to find my box of gouaches the very next day.

Sometimes though in my searches for things I find visual art pads and sketch pads with collages I’d completely forgotten about, or partly-finished. They often inspire me to do something else.  For collage work it’s often a case of coming across random items and thinking they might work well.  It’s whatever catches your eye and your fancy. Making a collage is all about putting together a range of disparate elements on a page.  There is often no plan, it simply evolves. It’s what I love about working in collage.

American collage artist, Lance Letscher avoids organising his boxes of source material so that he can find unexpected things when he starts searching; he depends on the chaos of stuff, of things lying around. Irving Welsh is also in favour of chaos and deliberately doesn’t organise his music collection:

“I don’t organise my CDs and vinyl by genre or alphabet anymore …. Having it all haphazard means I can never find what I want, but the benefit is that I always find something else, which is cool.  I believe that art is as much about diversion as focus and planning”. In her autobiography Agatha Christie talks about the importance of messiness when re-visiting her chaotic notebooks:

“ [If] I had kept all these things neatly sorted and filed and labelled, it would save me a lot of trouble.  However, it is a pleasure sometimes, when looking vaguely through a pile of old notebooks to find something scribbled down, as Possible plot… with a kind of sketch of a plot.  What it’s all about I can’t remember now; but it often stimulates me, if not to write that identical plot, at least to write something else.”

So by all means, de-clutter and organise, but let’s not forget about the value of creative serendipity.

With acknowledgement to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter – a perfect example of randomness and coming across things you didn’t know you were looking for or were interested in.

Searching for the right one

I’m in the process of re-doing my website and need to find some new banner images. Seems straight forward enough. But I’ve spent hours looking through so many photos that my head starts to spin and my eyes glaze over. And I still can’t find the right ones.

My problem is that while I have an idea of what the photos should look like (colours, format, style) I don’t really have anything specific in mind. And none of the photos that I’ve looked at have made me go “Eureka”.  Instead, I’m being like Goldilocks – this one’s too dark, this colour palette’s not quite right, that image isn’t really what I’m after etc.  

This, coupled with the fact that I’m also looking for specific images for a new website at work means that I am feeling visually overloaded. Sadly too, when I search through images on Google/Safari, they’re either too small or belong to other people’s websites or they’re they’re the wrong orientation or simply just don’t fit the bill.  Searching through stock photos can be more fruitful but again its so time-consuming:  one category can give you options of looking at photos in up to 100 pages. Who has the patience? Especially when there are so many other things I need to be doing. I start to scream and reach desperately for the wine bottle.

So unlike Goldilocks I remain forever trying, forever searching for the one that’s “just right”.  Who thought that finding images could be so hard.


The joys and tribulations of the driving commute

Every Sunday morning we get up and get ready to head down south where I work two days a week.  It’s a tedium we try and mitigate by doing nice thing for ourselves, like either going to yoga or having an indulgent breakfast.  And then into a quick clean and pack before heading out.  We generally leave at 2pm with a view of arriving somewhere around 5pm.

The drive should only take 2.5 hours.  But Ms Google has informed us today that there is a long delay – 30 mins of red highway and so our arrival is timed for after 5.30pm.  Why?  Who knows.  Ms Google doesn’t seem to know.  All she knows is that there’s congestion.  At the moment we’re stopped.  Traffic isn’t moving. All seems to be going well the other way – cars moving fast with no congestion.  On this side of the road: nada.  No movement.  It’s an exercise in frustration.  It seems to happen a lot.  And it doesn’t seem to matter what time or day we leave.  Heading back to the sunny coast we leave after 4pm on either Tuesday or Wednesday and same thing: delays and congestion.  The supposed 2.5 hour journey generally takes 3hours+.  Its tedious but also gruelling.   But the most frustrating part of it is not knowing the cause of the congestion.  Too may cars?  Or is it just the roadworks (that have been going on for over 10 years – without sight of person or vehicle making any progress)? Or something else.  

I had considered public transport.  But the logistics are impossible Queensland is just not commuter friendly.

And now Ms Google has revised her calculations:  delay = 1+ hr. Grrrrr………

Yoga and the chanting of mantras

When I first started practising yoga in Sydney it was usual to start and end the class with a collective ‘Om’ which is sounded out as A-U-M – three different sounds with a vibration felt in your throat and then your lips (although in the Hindu tradition its just a very nasal reverberating Oh sound).  It’s a sacred sound and mantra in Hundiusm, Buddhism, Jainism and Skikhism and is traditionally chanted at the beginning and end of yoga sessions. 

It’s a weird thing to do at first – the expelling of breath whilst projecting the sound – you never know how your voice is going to sound out loud and there are always concerns of self-consciousness: “will I sound off-key?” etc.  But it’s a powerful way to connect and at the end of a class its always interesting to experience how much more energy and freedom that mantra emits.  It’s a great way to open and close the practise and gives a tangible sense of connectivity.  Rolling Oms are my favourite: it’s where you just keep chanting Om in your own breath cycle and it creates a beautiful mellifluous sound because everyone’s breath cycle is different.  It also removes the fear that you will start before anyone else.

Having moved to the Sunshine Coast I’ve discovered two lovely yoga studios – one of which incorporated a more elaborate mantra (Shanti Om) which took me a while to figure out (and therefore left me sitting with my discomfort).  But the other studio I joined doesn’t Om.  It struck me one day that there was this sense of incompletion at the end of each session and I realised that what I was missing was chanting this mantra Om.  I asked the yoga teacher who informed me that it was part of studio’s policy (part of their ‘brand’) to not Om.  Why?  Because it might put people who are new to yoga off – make them feel uncomfortable .  She suggested that I could always chant inside my own head.  But that defeats the purpose. Two things struck me as being really strange:

  1. that the yoga studio considered itself a brand; and
  2. the assumption that people couldn’t cope with having to make the Om sound. Conversely it was considered OK to sit with hands in a prayer mudra and all say ‘namaste’ at the end of class.

What gives? 

It led me to think about the business of yoga: what yoga has become/morphed into and how muddle-headed it all is.  On the one hand it’s promoted as the contemporary panacea to all the world’s (individual’s) ills, yet on the other hand it distances itself from the root of its origins as a spiritual practice. 

I have to say, I have had the privilege to be part of what I consider a truly authentic yoga studio and have come across many wonderful yoga teachers , and it is thanks to them that I have been able to develop and deepen my understanding of yoga – physically and beyond.

But I’m not at all certain about the business of yoga.  The yoga studios who set up chains and become a ‘brand’.  What does that mean?  My experience is that they train their staff in a certain way and present their classes in a certain way (despite each yoga teacher having their own personal style, it remains very formulaic) and are not really interested in their community unless it benefits them.  That sounds cynical doesn’t it?  It is.  And I hate that I’ve become cynical.  But I also hate the imposition of a certain way of being that is purported to be either ‘zen’ or ‘yoga’ that really has nothing to do with what yoga is about.  A lack of authenticity.

So I’m curious:  to Om or not to Om?