Monthly Archives: October 2010

Process vs Product

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Art and Culture

My love of knitting scarves causes the wise one in the house concern. He says it’s a sure sign I’m getting old. While I don’t disagree that I am getting older, I see my knitting habit as more artistic expression than rocking chair material.

Choosing a yarn that will match a pattern and suit the person I plan to give my creation to opens a world of texture and colour to me. I consider the feel of the yarn between my fingers, and how it will look in a gift-wrapped box. I put a lot of time and thought into my work- a lot of myself.

And yet, sometimes I wonder why I fuss so much. The receiver of my gift can go to any major department store anytime and pick out a no-less beautiful scarf for under $20. Better yet, she can go to a second-hand store and buy one for under $5. When she looks at what I’ve given her, she doesn’t see the hours I painstakingly counted stitches and undid rows, or the satisfaction I got from doing something special for her. All she sees is a scarf that looks like the one she got at Wal-Mart.

In our Western culture, we value product over process. Perhaps we should reconsider this. The machine in China that made the Wal-Mart scarf didn’t care about my friend like I did while knitting each stitch.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

The Scarf

I almost didn’t pick it up, almost left it there, half soaked in a mixture of rain and dirt. It wasn’t mine and I had no need of it. At the last moment, thought, I bent down and scooped it up.

I shook the debris off and made an inspection. What appeared to be moth-sized holes dotted the four corners. The knitting wasn’t quite even, with sporadic larger loops crowding their way in.

I don’t know what made me hang onto it as I continued on my way home. I just couldn’t abandon it there, uncared for.

Once home, I put it in the sink and washed it, revealing the bright orange it had once been. It spent the afternoon drying out on the clothesline. I took it in before the rain started again.

My husband asked me what I was doing with the ragged-looking scarf. “Nothing,” I said, “just giving an orphan a new home.”

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From Ghetto to Tourist Attraction

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Healing through Creativity

What on earth would make 275,000 tourists a year visit a ‘ghetto’ in Detroit, Michigan?

Welcome to the Heidelberg Project. This two city-block outdoor art installation is in part a political protest, and in greater part a statement on how art can bring a community together to heal its marred identity.

After the 1967 Detroit Riot in which 467 people were injured and 2,000 buildings destroyed, many neighbourhoods never recovered. Decades later, buildings remained burned out and decayed.

In 1986, armed with bright paints and imagination, artist Tyree Guyton began work with local children to transform one such neighbourhood on Heidelberg Street. Abandoned houses became sculptures and vacant lots turned into outdoor galleries. The result became the Heidelberg Project. Here, creativity exploded onto buildings, streets, and sidewalks in colourful paintings, sculptures, and reclaimed community spirit. It also became an implicit criticism of the lack of government efforts.

Today, the community has a renewed sense of pride. Their neighbourhood is recognized as one of the most influential art environments in the world, and is visited by thousands annually. They have created a new vision of themselves, one which affirms their identity as creative overcomers.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer  

Wake Up!

Plastic row houses cram themselves together into a Twinkie-Cream-Puff landscape.

Pale hues blend into the suburban creed of blasée. What do you stand for, you houses? Who are you? Do these questions mean anything to you? Do you even understand them?

Wake up! Take a can of crimson and splash it across your faces! Throw off your mass-produced identity and create one of your own. Come to life, you pastel creatures, before it is too late.

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A Song for a Moment

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Healing through Creativity

As a teenager, I volunteered at a nursing home for a number of years. I loved going there, listening to the same old stories over and over, smiling at the hunched over figures parked in wheelchairs at the front desk.  

Most of the residents did nothing all day, just sat and looked with vacant eyes at their surroundings.

There were, however, daily activities for those who didn’t protest at being wheeled or walked to the lounge areas. There were story-readings, crafts, piano playing, even the occasional visit from community children. But one activity stood out to me more than all the others.

Twice a week there was a sing-along. Most of the songs were from an era well before mine. I would watch in awe as the mood in the room changed- hands clapped, heads nodded, smiles broke out. And voices! Oh, to hear these passive, passive people sing softly, then more loudly, a little more, and finally with gusto as the songs erupted.

One lady in particular amazed me. She was sweet and quiet, not much of a stand out. But when she let out her voice, I’m sure heaven opened up. She had been a glamorous professional singer when she was young. Nothing of those days was left, except that powerful, crystal clear voice. When she sang, I no longer saw her as a shadow in the halls, but rather as vibrant, youthful, beautiful- a star! I wished that moment would go on for her.

But, as the songs ended and music faded, she too faded back into her  identity as a slumped figure in the corner, a rag doll placed back in the toy box. How I wished for her to keep the music playing in her mind so that she could keep on singing.

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer      

The Coat

The smell of mothballs wrinkles my nose. I blink, turn away, and regain my composure. This is the right box. I remove a yellowing veil, then a round-collared suit jacket, and peer into the bottom of the box. There it is, just as I had remembered it.

I hesitate. Just seeing grandma’s light blue tweed jacket floods my mind with images of the linoleum floor in her kitchen, the rickety chair I stood on to get to the counter, her taking my hand and giving me Georgie, my favourite stuffed bear.

I unfold the coat and put it on, staring at myself in the mirror. For a moment I see her face looking back at me. She is smiling, a tear in her eye.

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Raw Hope

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Healing through Creativity

Lynn, Massachusetts is not an easy city to live in if you’re a kid. As a kid here, odds are you’re one of the 76% of children who comes from a low-income family. You are 47% more likely to drop out of school than kids in the rest of the state. And, you could be one of the 6 out of 10 teens who has reported witnessing an act of violence sometime over the past year.

Your life is pretty tough here, so why not join one of the 36 gangs that keeps trying to recruit you? In a gang, you’ll get identity, community, challenge, and power.

You’ll also get a dead-end life of crime.

Then again, you have another option. Raw Art Works in downtown Lynn has 40 art and film groups for children and teens aged 6 to 18. In this safe and structured environment, art therapists, studio artists, and professional film-makers create art together with at-risk youth. Youth discover their desire to create, and gain confidence in their abilities. They find out who they really are, and value what they can contribute.

If you do choose Raw over gang life, you’ll gain identity, community, challenge, and power- without the dead-end.  You’ll likely be one of the 90% of Raw’s high school seniors who has built strong, trusting relationships with peers and art mentors, and is on their way to attended college.

In the darkness, you’ll experience raw hope. 

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer      

Rosemary

Ever since the first time I saw her handing out food to the homeless downtown, I knew there was something different about her. She had a laugh that was too loud, a nervous tic when she smiled. She was the kind of person who would show up to a fancy do with red and green striped knee-highs. She fit right in at the soup kitchen.

There was also something else about her that stood out to me- it was something in the way she served out meals. She was part of the crowd, not standing sanctimoniously above it. She, too, was poor, a misfit from society, one of the hungry masses. As she gave, she too received. From her companions, she was fed with warm greetings, wide smiles, and heart-felt thanks.  

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Art as Transformation

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Healing through Creativity

There is some pain that words cannot express- a crash that robs a six-year old of his parents, a child diagnosed with leukemia, years of struggle with mood. No words can console, no words can erase.

For healing to occur, pain must gently be released from the inner soul where it has taken residence. Only then can losses be grieved and solace be sought.

Sometimes creating art can be used to free deeply buried emotions. Images become metaphors for feelings, and symbols represent traumatic events. Colour and shape become the visual voices for re-experiencing profound pain in a way that helps transform terror and despair into healing and hope.

Slowly, over time, and with guidance, images and symbols can be transformed to tell a new story, one beyond the pain, one that includes a renewed passion for life.

Do we make room in our lives for symbolic expression of that which words cannot express?

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer      

Lionfish

No predators, lots of prey. Suspended in my element, free from gravity, marking time by the gentle ebb and flow of sunlight and darkness, rhythmically waving delicate fins through invisible resistance yielding to my touch.

                                                                          Effortless.

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Connecting through Music

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Healing through Creativity 

Imagine a group of eight people sitting in a circle on hard wooden chairs. The room is deafeningly quiet. Eyes fall to the floor, feet shuffle, backs stiffen.

An older woman whispers to the young girl beside her. The girl looks up, then into the eyes of the older woman. There is a moment of hesitation; slowly, the girl nods.

She takes a breath and a soft melody begins to flow from her lips. Its minor key affect the others as they lift their heads, drawn in by the mood. She sings of autumn leaves falling and the natural decay of the world.

The song ends and all eyes are wide. A young man asks where the melody came from. Another talks of the longing he experienced while the girl sang. A conversation is born about loss and hope. The room fills with conversation and connection.

This scene is based on a case study of a music therapy session in The Handbook of Music Therapy. It demonstrates the power of music to act as a bridge to verbal communication and interpersonal connection, transcending preoccupation of personal pain.

Music can have a profound effect on us at critical times in our lives. What emotions do your favourite songs evoke in you?

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer      

November Rain

The notes build higher and higher, lifting me off the ground with them. They carry me further and further, and then… suddenly… release me… floating- I’m floating, suspended in the moment.

I soar, letting the note carry me gently through stillness, vapour, and bliss. I am absorbed, my senses hushed.

Then, gently, it brings me back to myself, where I await, patiently, ready to soak in the souvenir of the treasured moment.

The world around me slowly comes back into focus, the fridge, the cupboards, that splatter on the tile. I’m back from my journey through the realm of timelessness and solitude. Back, but not as I was.

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It’s All in the Genes, Baby

Notes on Creativity theme of the week:
Creativity & The Divine

Supposing that The Divine created us, to what extent should we re-create ourselves?  That is, how much do we improve on the original design before we go so far as to destroy it?

Along the spectrum of self-improvements, we have hair dyes, anti-aging creams, plastic surgeries, organ transplants, artificial limbs, and so on all the way up to genetic engineering.

Some improvements are small and harmless, and do nothing to alter the fundamental structure of the original.

Other improvements propose to eliminate design flaws. For example, genetic engineering holds the promise of one day stopping genetic disorders such as Down’s Syndrome and Klinefelter Syndrome. The thought is that these disorders are not part of the original design and that getting rid of them restores the creation to its intended design.

Genetic engineering could also be used to enhance more desirable characteristics- eye colour, height, intelligence. This, then, leads to questions around the value of one human being over another.

Perhaps the most controversial of genetic engineering is gene splicing. This technique involves taking pieces of one type of DNA and inserting them into another. This could lead to an entirely new species- a completely new kind of human, an ‘improved’ human. Is this what we ultimately want?

When I started this post, I drew the line before eliminating design flaws. I didn’t think we should stop someone from having Down’s Syndrome. But then I asked myself: if I were given the choice to come into this world with it or without it, which would I choose? And now I’m not so sure about where to draw the line. What do you think?

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Today’s 4 Minute Writer      

Clone

If there were two of me, how much better life would be! I would always have someone who knew how I felt, agreed with my views, and enjoyed what I liked.

I could sleep in on Mondays and still be at work, not do my homework and still get straight A’s. I could skip the broccoli and just eat dessert, miss all the fights and just kiss and make up.

The only problem I see is if she were like me, she would want what I want and there’d be nothing left for me.

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