Creativity

Interview with an Artist: Suzanne Holmes Rutherford

Living your best life takes many forms and requires many skills. One of the top ten skills is creativity. Creativity and mental health and their influence on each other is interesting to me personally and professionally. Sometimes the greatest art is born of pain and suffering. Sometimes pain and suffering rob us of creativity.  Because it's interesting to me, because I hope I can spark some thought and creativity in my clients and readers, and because I selfishly like picking the brains of creative people, I decided to do a series of interviews about creativity and mental health. This interview is a special one for me, not just because its with an uber talented, thoughtful, and generous woman (check out how detailed her responses are!!!), but also because she's my aunt! I hope you enjoy her insight and wit as much as I do!

 

1. You're an artist. What kind of art do you do?

I'm a manual labourer lol. Pianist, writer, songwriter, playwright, mentor.  Sometimes I'm doing public performances, but most days I'm on my own working from home.

Some days I am playing for corporate events, seniors, high school musicals.   Or even royalty (three VIP solo piano gigs for HRH Princess Anne of Britain in 2013).

Other days I am a writer. I'm a published non-fiction writer with a Fortune 500 Company, but in 2017 I hope to publish some short stories and an illustrated poetry collection.

Some days it's taking the grubby fleece of daily life and spinning it into a song.

Some days it's being a judge at the national level for the JUNOS (Canada's Grammy Awards)

Some days it's teaching a developmentally delayed young adult to play that tune she loves by ear, coaxing her surgically altered fingers to press the keys in the right sequence.

Some days it's mentoring, encouraging young writers to share their stuff at an open mic at a monthly coffeehouse for community youth which artist friends and I helped run for years (hopefully resuming in 2017)

Some days it's creating an entire universe, moving the pieces forward for my two act rock musical for which I wrote the script, lyrics, music and arrangements. Pilgrim's Progress: The Musical has had two workshops with a who's who of actors and directors. It will have an international audience for its Canadian debut in October 2017.  

2. It's not uncommon for creative types to struggle with mental health issues. What do you see as the interplay between mental health and creativity?

No friction, no fire.

Auschwitz survivor psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's book Man's Search for Meaning is a frequent read for me. He's speaking from the furnace, right?

I believe we make art when we intentionally reflect on our personal quest for sanity, using our gifts to help understand why we're here.  But there's a flip-side: if we are not mindful about it, if we don't process life through our artistic gift, then it is easy to spiral into anxiety/ addictions (like I did today)

Being an artist is like being an alchemist. But the beauty of it is - you don't need the perfect combination of materials to make the gold. You can use anything, the hell and shit that life throws you, or the tiny lovely detail you notice, and transform it into something arresting, something wondrous and memorable. Being an artist is not about having the 'Midas Touch', it's about having divine eyes to truly 'see' the world around you, the world within you, the eyes to look beyond into the future and see what something could be, if you let it pass through your particular gift. 

But you need the energy, the physical, intellectual, spiritual and emotional energy to do that, to keep doing that.

Daily headlines tell me being an artist is a perilous pursuit.

But the best artists I know are some of the sanest, hard-working, balanced people around.

I find that the very act of making art brings clarity, renews sanity, and restores balance.

Making art means I have to have the humility to submit to my gift in life and the daily discipline to develop that gift to its highest potential.

I am fascinated by the power of humour to energize, slyly inform the audience and also affirm the artist. To laugh daily and to be joyful runs counter to the cult of meh, despair, nihilism and death in our society. Making art is increasingly a comedic (yes there is sorrow and tension but in the end you produce something vs, say, nothing) and a subversive act; it's a middle finger to the haters. Gotta love how Andrew Lloyd Webber named his publishing firm "The Really Useful Company" and that Stephen Spielberg's is "Dreamworks".  

3. You can't possibly feel creative all the time. What do you do to foster creativity and practice your craft even when you're not feeling it? Any tricks you've picked up to help you get out of your own way?

The artist as caregiver is my reality. Having enough time and energy to do my art is a constant battle. I was, of necessity, a stay-at-home mom for my special needs young children, one gifted and two profoundly handicapped. During those years I practiced for my national concert exam for my piano performance degree in chunks of three to five minutes at the piano. I wrote after the kids were in bed.  

Practicing and writing in small windows of time is a constant necessity for me as I continue to care for my loved ones. Reading, getting out to movies, concerts, theatre, eating with friends, encouraging and investing in fellow artists, and self-care are all important soul-renewing activities for me in what is essentially a solitary life.

4. If you could suggest one thing for my readers to do to help them live their best life, what would that be?

Love is the opposite of fear. Love is creative!

I want to rethink the 'artist' paradigm completely. The 'art gene' is not just bestowed on a favoured few, dooming the rest of us who got left behind the door to draw stick figures - badly. The birthright of every human is to be a creative person. Functional MRIs reveal that our every personal encounter biochemically induces physical changes to the structures in our brain. We are actually sculpting one another - for better or worse. Our lives are a vast interconnected work of art.  How awesome is that?

My sense of self-worth comes not from my bank account or reviews. I choose to believe that a loving Creator made me and, though I am very imperfect, loves me perfectly, unconditionally. This leaves me free to love and enjoy and encourage others and free to do my own art -  because I am so loved.

So every day I am free to make a choice: do I feed my own fears - or do I remember I am loved, and use my gifts to make art, seen or unseen,  today?

Suzanne Holmes Rutherford Hon. B.A. ARCT Piano Performance is a Canadian pianist, songwriter, and playwright.She has had a ton of fun judging the JUNO awards, playing piano for HRH Princess Anne, and getting pointers from Stephen Schwartz (Godspell, Wicked) for writing PILGRIM'S PROGRESS the Musical. The Muskoka Chautauqua Festival will showcase Pilgrim in October 2017; as it is the 100th anniversary of the Muskoka Chautauqua, all international Chautauquas, including the flagship New York State one and all affiliates will be in attendance.

Find Suzanne Holmes Rutherford on LinkedIn  

 

Interview with an Artist: Andrew Forlines

Living your best life takes many forms and requires many skills. One of the top ten skills is creativity. Creativity and mental health and their influence on each other is interesting to me personally and professionally. Sometimes the greatest art is born of pain and suffering. Sometimes pain and suffering rob us of creativity.  Because it's interesting to me, because I hope I can spark some thought and creativity in my clients and readers, and because I selfishly like picking the brains of creative people, I decided to do a series of interviews about creativity and mental health. This interview is with Andrew Forlines. He is involved in comedy and storytelling shows in Denver and was graciously thoughtful and vulnerable in this interview. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.

1. You're an artist. What kind of art do you do?

I perform and produce spoken word comedic arts shows in Denver, Colorado. I perform standup, improv and storytelling.

2. It's not uncommon for creative types to struggle with mental health issues. What do you see as the interplay between mental health and creativity?

We humans are terrible at accurate causal attribution, but I'll give it a try.

This is a broad question. I'm more comfortable approaching it from my experience.

I'd say that the environment the fosters comedic instincts is the same that creates mental instability. I was raised homeschooled in isolation from society. My parents are dogmatic fundamentalist Christian. Their worldview never meshed with mine. My use of humor was developed as a tool I could employ to distract and manipulate my captors with. It was survival instinct.

What caused me to use humor and my brothers did not, I can't say. We're all just along for the ride in a sense. Consciousness is only a small part of the larger brain, yet it's convinced that it's greater than the whole.

Maybe, high intelligence is the cause of creativity. Maybe the question ought to be, what is the interplay between mental illness and high intelligence.

It is documented that less affluent societies have lower rates of depression and suicide. When people are busy staying alive and fulfilling basic needs they don't have time to lament. Even in our society, less introspective, less ‘intelligent’ people constantly react to stimulus in their immediate environment. It's mindfulness by lack of capacity.

Mental illness and creativity are both caused by a brain looking for meaning where there isn't any. Maybe.

3. You can't possibly feel creative all the time. What do you do to foster creativity and practice your craft even when you're not feeling it? Any tricks you've picked up to help you get out of your own way?

Feelings follow actions. Not the other way round. The horse pulls the cart.

You feel a way as a result of doing something or not doing something. So I constantly put myself in situations where I'm forced to perform or create. I find people to collaborate with on projects to keep me accountable and to implement deadlines.

Improv has taught me that the capacity is inside me already. I don't need to ‘create’ something as much as I need to find a way to release what's already inside. If I'm in a situation to perform, something is coming out. I'll say something.

I focus on making good situations and performance opportunities happen to react to. And if I don't feel like doing something, I think about how glad I'm be having done it compared to how miserable I'd feel not doing it. Like going to the gym. I know I don't feel like going to exercise, but never have I regretted going to the gym afterwards. Think about the feeling you get when leaving the gym to motivate you to go to the gym.

Same with performing.

Plus, I have an appreciation for performing and a zest for life after surviving my homeschool cult childhood. That motivates me.

For a long time I wasn't allowed to engage with the world. Society was vilified vehemently by my parents and the homeschool cult I was raised in. Even after the physical restrictions were lifted and I aged out of their immediate control, the psychological prison persisted. Not only was I locked into grappling with and fighting against indoctrinated beliefs, I was also encumbered with all the coping tools I had developed over the years. Disengaging both has been a process.

Now I'm free. I'm like a starved man at a buffet.

4. If you could suggest one thing for my readers to do to help them live their best life, what would that be?

Don't need so much validation from other people.

The Crab Mentality is real. Most people want things to stay more or less the way they are. If you do something interesting they may try to nudge you back in line. There is great comfort for people in predictability and certainty. So pay them no mind.

Being homeschooled and outside the schools that implicitly indoctrinate kids into conforming to the social ideal, it makes my skin crawl to see an individual seeking approval. Don't sacrifice your individuality for group acceptance! The group has its own agenda.That's what drives me nuts the most about all you ‘normies'.

Andrew Curtis Forlines, @andrewforlines on Twitter, hosts FUNNY AF every Tuesday 10pm at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse in Denver, Colorado.

He also hosts Peer Revue at Denver Museum of Nature and Science and Sunday Assembly at Crossroads Theater. As well as many other shows!

Support the local Denver comedy scene. See a live comedic arts show once a month.

Friend him on Facebook to see what all he's up to. His goal is a thousand new friends in 2017.

 

 

 

Interview with an Artist - Anthony Crawford

Living your best life takes many forms and requires many skills. One of the top ten skills is creativity. Creativity and mental health, and their influence on each other is interesting to me personally and professionally. Sometimes the greatest art is born of pain and suffering. Sometimes pain and suffering rob us of creativity.  Because it's interesting to me, because I hope I can spark some thought and creativity in my clients and readers, and because I selfishly like picking the brains of creative people, I decided to do a series of interviews about creativity and mental health.

This interview is with Anthony Crawford, Denver based comedian, show host, podcaster, and writer. I was introduced to him when he featured at Comedy Works in Denver and then through his podcast “Talking Shop” where he geeks out on the business and craft of comedy. Lucky for me, he was willing to take some time from honing his craft to answer my questions. Enjoy!

1.     You're an artist. What kind of art do you do?

I am a stand-up comedian, actor & writer

2.     It's not uncommon for creative types to struggle with mental health issues. What do you see as the interplay between mental health and creativity?

I think it's because we're always studying & dissecting things that others have find fun & relaxing. Instead of having fun, you're too busy trying to figure out how they did it. At least that how it is with me. That coupled with the fact that people who like you want you to be "on" all the time....it gets old. Essentially life becomes your job with no way to clock out.....unless you quit.

3.     You can't possibly feel creative all the time. What do you do to foster creativity and practice your craft even when you're not feeling it? Any tricks you've picked up to help you get out of your own way?

I just try to do new things. Go to a place I've never been. Walking while talking to myself had been helpful as well. I look crazy but it helps. I also Google things I don't think exist.

4.     If you could suggest one thing for my readers to do to help them live their best life, what would that be?

They should remember that it can always be worse. What you're going thru maybe bad, but it could always be worse. They'll get thru it. A happy day is around the corner. Maybe change something in your everyday routine. Change can make a huge difference.

Check out Anthony at www.CrawfordComedy.com

Follow him on Twitter at @CrawfordComedy

Listen to his Podcast “Talking Shop” http://sexpotcomedy.com/category/podcasts/talkin-shop/

Take a look at my other interviews here!

Interview with an Artist: Greg White, Writer

For this installment of "Interview with an Artist", I interviewed Greg White, a good friend and a writer with a pretty impressive resume, including being nominated for an Emmy!

By seeing his often absurd work on Comedy Central, MTV, and Netflix's Puss In Boots, you may not guess that Greg is so wise, thoughtful, and grounded. Greg's approach to writing is steady practice of "just showing up", which I think can be applied to most areas of life. He spoke of managing creative pressures, building structure for writing, and he even shares some insight into finding fulfillment and not attaching to identity. Enjoy!

  1. You're an artist. What kind of art do you do?
    • I am a writer. Specifically, I write for television and film in Los Angeles. I've written for Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, Disney among others, and developed shows with MTV, FX, and Conaco. I was nominated for an Emmy and lost while wearing a rented tuxedo.
  2. It's not uncommon for creative types to struggle with mental health issues. What do you see as the interplay between mental health and creativity?
    • Something I see a lot in other writers is anxiety. Our career is a very uncertain one, with the potential for big swings in success, and/or long gaps between jobs. The people who can acknowledge that there are things beyond your control, and that all that matters is controlling what you can (i.e., the quality of your work day to day) are the ones who have the best attitudes in their lives and careers. I personally like this element of my job in that it reminds me daily that nothing is certain, and making good friends with the unknown is only going to serve me well in life. As for the role of mental health in creativity, perhaps manic states fuel some artists, but I prefer to be very slow and steady in my work. 1 or 2 hours a day of writing is often all I allow myself.
  3. You can't possibly feel creative all the time. What do you do to foster creativity and practice your craft even when you're not feeling it? Any tricks you've picked up to help you get out of your own way?
    • I will refer to Chuck Close, who once said, "Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up." I think if you are a person with a creative career, you must develop a systems approach to productivity. Identify the goal, break it down into small chunks, and chip away at it day to day. In other words, amateurs have the benefit of waiting for the muse, but professionals do not. Certainly, finding the joy in your work is key. I don't start writing something unless I know why I love it, even if it's something not of my own creation (as in freelance scenarios). You find your way in somehow, and for me it is finding the one funny thing that I want to play around with. In the absence of that, why do it anyway?
  4. If you could suggest one thing for my readers to do to help them live their best life, what would that be?
    • Filling my life and work with a larger meaning and purpose has been crucial to my happiness. I see my life and everything in it as one big process of discovery, and by approaching everything with this attitude, I seem to thrive. And for the love of God, get outside and move your body. Hike, run, stroll, walk the dog, get your hands dirty, pick up a heavy object, sprint up a hill. We are not meant to live in our heads. They are way too cramped. Further, do not identify yourself by any one thing. I love writing, but I do not identify myself by way of my professional endeavors. I love running, but do not identify myself by my race success. Be comfortable being about many things.

Follow Greg's mobility progress on Instagram at @thatgregwhite. Check out other "Interview with an Artist" blogs.

Interview with an Artist: Laura C a local writer, performer

Living your best life takes many forms and requires many skills.

One of the top ten skills is creativity. Creativity and mental health and their influence on each other is interesting to me personally and professionally. Sometimes the greatest art is born of pain and suffering. Sometimes pain and suffering rob us of creativity.  Because it's interesting to me, because I hope I can spark some thought and creativity in my clients and readers, and because I selfishly like picking the brains of creative people, I decided to do a series of interviews about creativity and mental health. This interview is with Laura C, a former stand-up comedian, and current storyteller and writer who shared how she has evolved in her creativity and is working on finding balance.

  1. You're an artist. What kind of art do you do?
    • I started out performing stand-up and improv comedy at the age of 19. I loved comedy and am still a huge comedy fan, but around the time I was 26 I started seeing a therapist and coincidentally I stopped performing comedy soon thereafter! For the past 5 years I've delved into personal essay, memoir type writing and live storytelling shows.
  2. It's not uncommon for creative types to struggle with mental health issues. What do you see as the interplay between mental health and creativity?
    • I view the interplay as mental health and creativity really tied to emotions. Ever since I was little I was very sensitive and able to access my emotions much more effectively than others, for better or worse. I experienced anxiety and depression early on which left me unable to focus or do well in school, but when it came to writing or performing I could reach an audience in extremely memorable ways. With mental illness, I was able to feel an overwhelming amount of fear, hope, anticipation, jubilation, etc that allowed me to see the world in a different way than others. At times it hindered me, but ultimately I'm grateful I could channel my intense emotions and share them with an audience.
  3. You can't possibly feel creative all the time. What do you do to foster creativity and practice your craft even when you're not feeling it? Any tricks you've picked up to help you get out of your own way?
    • I definitely feed off inspiration and seeing others perform, good or bad, puts me in the mood to want to create. After I go to a storytelling show, its hard for me to wanna stay in my seat cause I'll immediately wanna go home and start writing. So immerse yourself in your craft and its community, it will only foster growth. Creativity also seems to creep up at the worst times. I've definitely been a victim of my creativity not letting me get a good nights sleep, so if you ever feel that creative itch while you are lying awake in bed when its already 3am, my advise is to get it out! Even if you have to wake up super early the next day, get out of bed and get that creativity out! You might be sleepy the next day at work, but if creativity calls you should answer it!
  4. If you could suggest one thing for my readers to do to help them live their best life, what would that be?
    • Maintain balance. Being creative and overcoming mental illness can be a real polarity. The highs can be so high and the lows can be suuuuuuuper low. I really wrapped up my identity in being a comedian and let it take over parts and times of my life that should have been filled with loved ones, friends, family, or just having "me" time away from my persona of "comedian." But then there were times when I wasn't performing or writing and my creativity and imagination would manifest in other odds or not so convenient ways. It takes a while to find what works best for you but putting your self care and mental health came first for me.

Reach out to Laura here: facebook.com/denverstorytellersproject