CREATIVE HABITATS

DISCLAIMER

The contents of this article are for information and educational purposes only. Patriot Propaganda does not officially recommend using any of the tactics, techniques or procedures presented. 

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Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesise new things. STEVE JOBS

TO BE AN ART ACTIVIST,  you need a creative habitat. This is a place where we can cultivate our creativity and continually replenish it for the rest of our lives. There are many things to consider when creating a creative habitat. Some of these may work, and some may not, but the most important thing is understanding the concept and adapting it to suit your needs. Do what works for you, patriot.

FIND A PLACE

Physical and mental space is key for creativity. A space away from the ordinary routines, obligations, and distractions of daily life. What the author Virginia Woolf called “A Room of One’s Own.” 

Have you ever had a great idea in the shower, or when you’re lying in bed drifting off to sleep? What makes these spaces so conducive to creative thinking? Our mind is constantly working away. It’s making plans and alternate plans, playing out conversations both real and imagined, and revisiting and analysing the past. For most of our lives, our mind runs like a personal tabloid television news show in the waiting room of our consciousness: giving reports, speculating on events, gossiping, and hyperbolizing our past and future. Our creativity thrives when it can escape the chatter of our mind, or the chatter of other people. This can happen when we’re going out of town, or relaxing in the shower.

When we can turn off the distractions and quiet our minds, it’s like a new channel opens up for creative thought. This is why some artists like to go on retreats. When we can, we schedule our art activism workshops out of town in beautiful spaces. Beautiful churches come to mind… Or even off-season summer camps. This way, participants can put miles between themselves and the pressing concerns of everyday life. But while this can make it easier, we don’t have to leave town to be creative. 

An artist named Nancy works in her studio, surrounded by her tools and materials. Sometimes, when she can’t get there, she works from home. But since being creative for her looks a lot like spacing out to others, she puts on a special, bright-yellow “I’m-being-creative-don’t-bother-me” hat to ward off well-meaning incursions and conversations from her husband. You don’t need to do this (and Nancy’s husband sometimes wishes she wouldn’t). 

Having a space to be creative, more practically, also means preparing a physical space to work. It needs to be clear of clutter so that we don’t have to search for the tools and materials we need. With ample space to spread out to write and draw, and with everything we need visible and accessible, we create a space that fosters creativity. If this kind of space doesn’t exist in your home or workplace, find another location. In fact, leaving your normal surroundings can help promote the kind of break from habitual thinking necessary for new ideas. 

For some, cafés can provide the best environment to think, write, and be creative. But only certain cafés: those that have no internet access so you’re not checking email; that are far enough away from home and school so you don’t run into anyone you know; and that play music you don’t like so you won’t hum along and get distracted. Then you can write, sketch, and construct your ideas. 

Discovering your own creative space will take time, and a lot of trial and error (a lot a lot). Experiment with different environments and be attuned to what feels right for you. 

Finding a new space can be a good idea when planning creative meetings with a group as well. Next time a meeting is called, instead of having it in your organisation’s office or a meeting room, suggest having it somewhere you normally wouldn’t: 

  • A community garden
  • A rooftop
  • A gallery
  • A children’s playground
  • On a hike 

Sometimes just shifting the context from “the place where we work” to a place where we play, or can watch others play, is enough to loosen up thinking so that we can be creative in our planning. You might even like to do this in the back rooms of local bars. 

CARVE OUT TIME

Our creativity won’t thrive if the only time we make for it is an occasional weekend, or between phone calls, emails, and “important” meetings. We need to set aside blocks of time. Put it in your calendar if you need to, but give yourself a period of time for creative work.

Even once the necessary time and space has been created, there’s more we can do to clear our heads for creative work. Try this: write down everything that is pulling at your attention: the running list of groceries you need to pick up, the list of possible vacation plans, the phone call you need to make, and every miscellaneous to-do item that’s banging around in your head. Don’t be surprised if you can fill several pages. All of these items are taking up mental energy that draws from your creativity. Writing them down allows you to temporarily let go of them, to create the space you need for new material. Put the list aside; these tasks and reminders are not for now. This is your time to create. 

CREATE A ROUTINE

The most important guidance we can offer is to keep a regular schedule. Artists have to train like Olympic athletes. An Olympic high-jumper needs to train every day. If he doesn’t do the high-jump for four days, what’s going to happen? He’s not going to be successful. Keep a strict, five-day-a-week schedule for your art practice and approach your creative work like you’re training for the Olympics. 

We all have our creative routines. One artist may only be able to do creative work in the morning, from the time she drops her kids off at school at 7:30 AM until about 10:30 AM when her mind starts buzzing with all the pressing demands of the day. And she has to smoke one dart on the sidewalk outside her café, before she starts writing. 

Another artist will only drink coffee at his studio – a reward he gives himself for arriving. He then enables the SelfControl app that locks out the internet on his computer, and he’s ready to be creative. A creative routine also has other benefits: it provides our minds with little visual and tactile cues that “the creative work is about to begin.” You might want to add other prompts as well. Enter a specific room or sit in a special chair. Change sweaters. Drink a cup of coffee from a specific cup. These become triggers for the start of our creative routines.  

Experiment with what times of the day or week you feel most creative. Maybe working a couple of hours each day or night works for you. Maybe you need to build up lots of ideas before devoting long stretches of time every weekend. Play around with the rituals you need to get yourself going, or the rewards you give yourself once you’ve done your creative work. You’ll find the routine that works for you. At first it may be uncomfortable and may not yield much, but a routine will help to train your mind to prepare for creative work. When you show up at the gym in your sneakers at the same time every day, your mind and body come to expect a workout. The routine makes it easier to start the work. You develop a creative habit.

TURN DOWN THE PRESSURE

Once you’ve made a habit of showing up for your creative work, don’t expect to make masterpieces. If someone handed you a guitar and some sheet music and demanded you to play a composition perfectly the first time, could you do it? Of course not. It’s too much pressure. We need to practise, mess around, and make mistakes. George Bernard Shaw once said, “A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed, he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.” In order for our creativity to progress, we need to allow ourselves the freedom to make fools of ourselves. We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to being creative. As artists and activists we frequently self-censor our ideas because they aren’t clever or creative enough. Instead of striving to create masterpieces, we need to give ourselves permission to experiment in disasters: to muck about and test the ridiculous, absurd, silly, and, above all, stupid things. Unfundable things. Ultraviolent things. Insane things. Things that will make our bosses, boards, funders, or the police very nervous. We don’t need to act on these ideas, but we need to be able to think them. Don’t forget to capture all these ideas in your sketchbook of Crazy Wild Ideas.  

Working collaboratively presents new challenges to be perfect. Sometimes we succeed in turning down the pressure on ourselves, only to work with others who ramp it right back up. If you’re working in a group, make a concerted effort to develop an atmosphere of creative acceptance. This isn’t always easy, and it takes a lot of trust, but it is worth the struggle. We all need to be able to have silly thoughts and say stupid things and not feel judged. 

DO IT WITH LOVE

The best cage fighters in the world are not angry when they fight. They’re in fact very relaxed in the octagon. Although they’re facing potential death head-on, they have to remain loose on the mat. This enables the fighter to relax, fluidly read their opponent’s movement, and creatively dismantle them. Art activists – warrior artists – seeking to cultivate their own creativity should adopt the same mindset. 

The poet Jack Gilbert wrote: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.” This is good advice. If our process is rooted in vengeance, fury, hopelessness, or despair, our efforts will likely fail. If we only act when we are outraged, then that outrage is either going to consume us alive and burn us out, or ebb over time and leave us without motivation. Either way we won’t be art activists for long. Over the long-term, our creative process needs to be imbued with a sense of hope and optimism. In order to have this sense of equanimity, we need to treat ourselves well by living full and complete lives, taking breaks, eating well, going on vacations, and doing whatever makes us happy and joyful. Our work needs to come out of love. Relax man!

EXERCISE: CREATING YOUR HABITAT

Time: 15 minutes

To be an art activist it helps to have a creative habitat. This habitat is a place of your own design where you can cultivate, grow, and replenish your creativity. To create a habitat, we need physical and mental space. 

Creating your habitat will take time. Like any creative process, it entails a lot of trial and error, discovery and rediscovery. But in this exercise we want you to start thinking through, and trying on for size, the conditions necessary for creative work.

1.     Find a place. Someplace where you feel free to draw and write and think and dream. Someplace where no one will disturb you or look over your shoulder. What Virginia Woolf called “a room of one’s own.” It can be a closet, it can be a crowded cafe, it can be under a tree, it can be anyplace where you are at ease. In order to create freely you need to create a comfortable, non-judgmental space where you can work with abandon.

Where is this place for you? Write it down:

2.     Carve out time. How and when do you work best? Is it over small, regular intervals? Or do you need large chunks of time to sit and ruminate? Given the other responsibilities in your life, what’s possible? Come up with your creative schedule for a week:

3.     Create a routine. Now that you have a chunk of time carved out, what is your ideal creative routine? What do you need to put yourself in that creative place, and repeat it day after day? This may take a bit of practice to figure out, but take your best shot:

4.     Turn down the pressure. You need a way to remind yourself that creativity only comes when we free ourselves from the pressure of being smart, creative, and, most of all, correct. What are some ways you can ease the pressure on yourself? 

5.     Do it with love. What is going to allow you to show up for your creative work full of love? What can you do to take care of yourself? 

Once you’ve created a physical, mental, and emotional space for creativity, you’ll need to do the daily work to cultivate and maintain your creative habit. This may seem easy, but it’s really, really hard. Distractions arise, external and internal, real and imagined. Prepare for a challenge. Things that are worth doing are rarely easy, and this is part of your creative discipline. Find what works for you, keep at it, and eventually, creative work will become a habit. 

CONCLUSION

We hardly expect everyone will be a full time artist eh. Many artists have jobs, businesses, families, and other priorities, so we need to make time for our creative work on a routine basis. If you want to be an art activist and make a difference in the world, it starts with creating routine habits and a dedicated, inspiring space for creativity in your own life. Set regular times for creative work, lower your expectations to allow room for error, and be open to silly thoughts as they could lead to Eureka! moments. Finally, do everything with loving intentions. It’s impossible to think creatively when we’re pissed off, tense, and feel like crap. If all this sounds good to you, give the exercise below a try. 

REFERENCES:

This article was adapted from Duncombe, Stephen, and Steve Lambert. The Art of Activism: Your All-Purpose Guide to Making the Impossible Possible. OR Books, 2021.

Other References:

Sharp, Gene. From Dictatorship to Democracy. Serpent’s Tail, 2022.

Beer, Michael, et al. Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2021.

Popović, Srđa, and Hardy Merriman. CANVAS Core Curriculum: A Guide to Effective Nonviolent Struggle: Students Book. Serbia, CANVAS, 2007.

Marovic, Ivan. The Path of Most Resistance: A Step-By-Step Guide to Planning Nonviolent Campaigns, 2nd Edition. International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2021.

Sholette, Gregory. The Art of Activism and the Activism of Art. New York, United States, Macmillan Publishers, 2022.

Clark, Howard; Garate. Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns. Revised edition, War resisters’ International, 2022.

Thompson, Nato. Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Twenty-first Century. Melville House, 2015. 

Gavin, Francesca, and Alain Bieber. The Art of Protest: Political Art and Activism. Gestalten, 2022.

Miller, Matthew, and Srđa Popović. Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World. Random House, 2015.

Alinsky, Saul. Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals. Vintage; Reissue edition, 1989.

Bernays, Edward. Propaganda. Ig Publishing, 2004.

Abbott, Daniel. The Handbook of 5GW: A Fifth Generation of War? Amsterdam, Netherlands, Adfo Books, 2021.

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