By Carolyn Edlund
Tory Hughes is a polymer clay jewelry artist, writer, teacher and creative consultant living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She inspires students in her classes to embrace their creativity and think in new ways, and she coaches artists to get unstuck and transform their careers, making their dreams a reality. We spoke recently, and she agreed to give her thoughts on creativity and keeping your creative energy flowing.
AS: How would you define creativity?
TH: Creativity is an inherent, ongoing human process that translates energy into form. Everyone does it, just as we all breathe (form into energy) and digest (form into energy). Not everyone translates energy into form consciously, which explains a lot about life on earth right now. Ideas into objects and events. Thoughts into words and images. Energy into form. This includes the classic definition of creativity as “the ability to produce something new through imaginative skill, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic work”. But It goes farther: we generate everything we experience around us as we go through our lives. Innovation, invention, creativity, are all related. We can’t not create. However, we can create with increasing awareness and deliberation.
We can investigate what we really want to happen, and why. We can choose what is most important to us and go directly for that, rather than being distracted by others’ ideas. Other peoples’ ideas about our creativity are like other peoples’ ideas about our breathing. They may be useful opinions, they may have helpful tools to offer: but ultimately we know better than anyone else what’s really going on in our hearts and minds. We may not want to accept it, or look at it clearly, but go deep enough and we know. So creativity is the transformative force that brings everything into being, and we, as elements in this flow, participate in this. Very cool!
AS: What causes artists to get creatively blocked?
TH: First, everyone goes through some version of this. The propaganda out there says that if you’re a real artist you never falter. This is ridiculous. All artists, all people, stumble occasionally. Life happens. We are all human, and we are all in this together. In my experience, blocks arise when there is a conflict between the sets of goals that are motivating us. In other words: What we really want to do is running headlong into what we think we should be doing. And we are resisting, naturally enough. In every situation I’ve seen, when people can investigate their blocks without judgement, they identify pretty quickly what they really want. This is almost always the right thing for them.
‘Shoulds’ are an indicator that we don’t want to do something, that deep inside we know that’s not the right thing for us. If forced to do it we’ll probably resist, procrastinate and sabotage the action. Blocks also tell us when we need to look at other areas of our lives, and bring things into balance. This is actually another version of the same conflict mentioned above. In other words: When we know we need to take time off from trying to make art – to rest, integrate new knowledge, nourish our relationships, deal with internal issues that we have been avoiding – yet we refuse and keep trying to work harder, we usually make things even worse. Our wheels spin, we smell smoke, we have the brake and the accelerator down on the floor and we still aren’t going anywhere. Yech.
AS: How can an artist work on overcoming confusion and their internal fears about creating?
TH: Everyone has their own path through confusion and fear. First, most important, is to stop beating yourself up for being where you are. The panic and anger of beating yourself up feeds the conflict- more energy goes to the confusion and fear. We automatically translate energy into form, right? So we feel worse, and things around us get worse, and it’s all a mess. So just let that one go. Got it? Let. it. go. Second, breathe, drink more water, go for a walk in nature somewhere, the more the better.
Third, make sure you know why you are creating. There are no wrong answers to these questions, no matter what you may have been told: Why do you create? What is your intention for creating this particular thing? What is most important about it? What do you want to happen? What result do you expect? Is your choice of media and expression most likely to get you to this result? When you aren’t clear and solid in your intention, you aren’t clear on what you want to happen. As you go along, you have no end point to measure your progress against. And once you get somewhere, you can’t be sure whether this is the right place or not, because you never picked ‘the right place’ by selecting an intention.
Fear is the tool used by the programming in our heads to keep us from doing something new. There is a part of all of us, an area of our brain, actually, that perceives all new things, all change, as threatening. Check out Seth Godin and the lizard brain. Notice the irony? Creativity is defined by bringing the new into existence. But that’s what we do! Artists are on the edge of the cliff most of the time, looking over it to see what we can create. Therefore, we’ll always feel an edge of change, of newness. Usually we get nervous or anxious. However, we can choose how we interpret this energy of change moving around in us. We can perceive it as excitement – Wow, the new, change, excellent! – or fear – Oh no, the new, change, I can’t do this. Remember, we translate energy into form. We can do this deliberately. Choice is our tool. Navigating that inner conflict between our imperative to create, and our (antique) programming to never create, is done by our choices. In the end it’s all choice. There are no wrong answers.
AS: Do you have any final thoughts on emerging artists empowering themselves and their creativity?
TH: You are here for a specific creative purpose, whether large or small. Trust this. Your feelings are your guide along this path. If your heart and mind united say to do something, NO ONE has the right to tell you to do something else. If your fears are harassing them, paint or draw or write them into form, then tell them to leave, so you can get on with your life. Know your intention. Act on your intuition. Ask for help when you need it. Accept your unique gifts, and your power.