From Reviews

522 sides of paper – What I’ve learnt from 174 days of Morning Pages

Morning Pages, an essential tool from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, consist of three pages of A4, preferably done in the morning, and are of conscious long-hand thoughts that cross your brain as you proceed to write.

Having done 12 weeks of these as part of finishing “The Artist’s Way”, you’re then encouraged to continue writing them for the next 90 days in a sort of remission like state. I’m just coming to the end of my 90 day stint and felt it warranted a blog of my experiences with them.

The process of writing down everything long as it drifts across your brain to fill three pages doesn’t sound too difficult, or so I thought when I first undertook them. It’s amazing how conscious you suddenly become that you are recording EVERYTHING; soon your stream of thought dries up and you’re left writing “I have nothing else to say. Literally, can’t think of anything.” As with any skill, you adapt and actually realise it’s fine to have these drought like moments. Having a moment of having no thoughts are in fact thoughts themselves. Similarly, this method of notation doesn’t have to be interesting. You aren’t writing to impress or publish. Cameron herself describes these as the lint roller or dust buster vacuum for the brain to clear your head of clutter, and it certainly works.

Morning Pages are an exercise and a safe space. Within that you’re able to achieve quite a lot in just being able to effectively have conversation with yourself – at a reasonable speed so your hand can keep up! – and you’re able to tackle any nagging matters. It’s a space where one is able to gripe and moan and never let the world see, but know you have “exercised your chimp,”, as Prof. Steve Peters of “The Chimp Paradox” would say, and cleared it from your system. Even at times you may find you have been able to debate and come to a more rational conclusion or better perspective.

These three pages of A4 offer a space where you’re able to answer questions, even the most trivial or seemingly irrelevant. Being in a position where I effectively don’t have a solid go-to source for my mentoring and so therefore rely on different networks of people and peers to help me in my development in offering guidance. It’s very comforting to be able to rationalise and expand certain thoughts or queries thoroughly. Note: as thoroughly as your brain will allow before you end up writing things like “I need to buy ______ today” and “Must text _______”

So what have I learnt? Firstly, that my brain manages to sub categorise huge parts of my life and keep them separate, but it’s a struggle to deal with them, and all of their must attend to issues, at the same time. Having gotten into the practise of Morning Pages I find my thoughts are a lot more comprehensible and I’m able to deal with each one much more effectively and succinctly.

Having slowed down my thoughts I also find I’m a lot calmer. Not everything seems to fly into my head at break neck speed, and when things do I can analyse a lot better. Not just at a surface level too. I’m able to identify where these thoughts might have come from and how to resolve any deeper underlying issues. I’m always reminded in this of mindfulness meditations when you’re asked to consciously observe your thoughts, remarking things like “ah, there’s worry”. It has been a helpful process to not only address surface level thinking, but take into account anything deeper that may need resolution.

Have I learned much about myself? Nothing too sensational or epiphanic that I didn’t know before, having now been presented with my thoughts on hundreds of pages of paper. I’m still me, perhaps a more refined version though. I do realise I tend to spread myself too thin and I’m hugely critical (of myself more than anything or anyone else). I think this a battle everyone deals with though, I’ve just not been as aware of it in my own psyche before.

I’ll continue to use Morning Pages, maybe not as religiously. If I miss a day, I won’t beat myself up over it. They are a great way to organise my brain and put me in the best way to start my day. Big issues suddenly seem logical and conquerable and minor niggles are weighed up and soon vanquished.

I’d recommend to anyone, provided they are happy to sit and openly write that they haven’t a clue what they are doing or why they are doing it, and don’t mind sacrificing a few trees worth of paper to do so! It’s a useful practice, give it a try.

CHECKING INTO CREATIVE RECOVERY – A REVIEW OF “THE ARTIST’S WAY” BY JULIA CAMERON

Again, another book always on the recommended reading lists for any creative practitioner or artist, and one of the most talked about. It only seemed right in my own journey of creative evolution that I put myself through the 12 week process to examine my own creativity.

For anyone who hasn’t come across this read, Cameron was a scriptwriter in Hollywood, boasting Spielberg and Scorsese as some of her friends and colleagues. “The Artist’s Way” developed in response to Cameron teaching a class on scriptwriting and her students claiming to have no creativity, and also her own experiences as a artist. It has now taken on its own following, spawning many follow on works and groups around the world….

The book compromises of 12 chapters of working weeks, each focusing on a different aspect of your creativity or existence as an artist. Each contains essays written by Cameron exploring deeper the topics being spot lit that week and then some following homework.

Included also are a few rather lengthy chapters of introduction which set up the whole context for what you are letting yourself into and introducing two key concepts that come into use throughout the book: Morning Pages and Artist Dates. Morning Pages are three A4 pages of conscious thought, written longhand, preferably done in the morning. An Artist Date sets aside few hours each week in which you indulge your inner artist in something you want to do. Some of mine in the last few weeks have included baking, walking, painting whilst listening to favourite album, walking around a food market, visiting a gallery, the cinema the other side of London to see a very obscure choice of film.

In speaking to colleagues informing them I was working my way through “The Artist’s Way” it was interesting to see that many had rebuked the idea, trying it in the past and stopping after a few weeks in finding it not very helpful. Admittedly this undertaking isn’t for the faint hearted, some weeks with Morning Pages, Artist Dates and the homework set, it can be quite time consuming. Cameron also asks you to delve into the dark corners of your mind and confront a few home truths which can be quite uncomfortable. I stuck with it though partly because so many people had claimed to have such success with the book; I was determined to do all 12 weeks as a promise to my own development (even if I took nothing away from it I would be able to say I’d done it and able to talk about it from an educated perspective

To clarify, Cameron hopes that in undertaking her course you rediscover your creativity, or further indulge in your creative tendencies. I expected it to be very different to what it actually is. Whilst expected tasks like collages and drawing are included, there’s also quite a lot of analysing, making lists, comparing and documenting. I wonder if this is why some of my colleagues struggled with it, it doesn’t immeadiately scream “this will make you more creative!”. What it does do, and I only realised this as I was coming to the end of the 12 weeks, is present you with a huge amount of evidence about yourself and gives you permission to explore realms of possibilities you may rule out in the day to day running of your life. It’s an excellent way to gain a distanced perspective of you as a whole person, from an honest and well rounded point of view.

12 weeks is a long time and I can’t say I enjoyed what was asked of me every week. I had to bear in mind that it’s a process that has been devised and refined for a specific reasoning to cause effect. Overall, take it with a pinch of salt and read into it what you will. Cameron refers to God in the book quite often, but you don’t need to believe in such a concept or be religious, I certainly don’t. Cameron merely asks you to believe in energy greater than you and that I can get on board with – this book is about opening up to possibilities, the world and energies around you and letting yourself channel them.

Can I say I am more creative for having done it? I don’t really know, I wonder whether it’s a bit like going to the gym; you rarely notice the small changes as you are living them day to day. I can say though this book has provided me with some excellent tools which I will be using again and again, and also a more open minded approach to thinking and problem solving. There are also some excellent essays penned by Cameron that I will be re-reading as resources and means of support on aspects of living a creative life, or life as an artist. (It’s as good as turning up to Artists’ Anonymous once a week)

I’d recommend “The Artist’s Way” to anyone, whether they were wanting to pursue a creative lifestyle or not, it’s a really delightful journey to reconnect with yourself and your key values. You emerge from the 12 weeks a better, more coloured-in version of yourself. For those of you wondering, and maybe have read the radical changes that some people have made in their lives after doing this book, divorcing partners, selling their belongings etc, there’s very little in this book that asks you to completely change your world. Moreover, it merely asks you to reconnect with yourself and harness the power of possibilities.

“WHAT IS SCENOGRAPHY?” BY Pamela Howard

I’ve just finished re-reading “What is Scenograhy?” by Pamela Howard. I read it a few years ago whilst training as part of the reading list and it’s sat on my shelves gathering dust since. I thought now was an excellent time to revisit it.

Similar to my critique of Katie Mitchell’s “The Director’s Craft” this too feels a bit like a beginner’s guide to theatre design, more cunningly disguised as an elaborate series of essays, the key point to mention though (and Howard states as such) is that she is not a theatre designer. Howard is a scenographer.

What’s wonderful about this book is the subtle drawing of lines in the sand that Howard uses to show differences between theatre design and scenography. I’ve heard it being argued as the same thing amongst colleagues and peers, or rather that scenography is what theatre designers do. Having re read, I’d now like to side with Howard.

The craft and practice of scenography is an evolution of theatre design, theatre design 2.0, a more holistic approach . Her arguments take scenography into a new realm of design, to that of visual storytelling and interpretation. A designer, it could be said, merely will solve the problems of and create solutions to the list of prerequisites presented by the piece.

A scenographer, as presented from this read, is effectively a visual translator and close collaborator to the director – it is design in a much more applied and comprehensive manner from a greater stand point and concept. They have a deep understanding of the text, usually heavily analysed and prepared (to the extent that they could step in as director if needed, and Howard mentions having trained in direction as part of her training). They also seem to have influential say in the shape of the piece via their creations.

It has made me consider the idea of scenography in relation to puppetry. There is a difference here therefore to being a puppet designer, one who designs the things to be animated and then a puppetry designer/scenographer, one who would look at the overall concept of puppetry as a storytelling element. (This warrants a separate article before I vere off tangent wildly)

Howard’s book is a relatively easy read and highly accessible, punctuated with some rather exquisite drawings and diagrams from her own work. The 7 working chapters focus tightly on the elements that make up her practice and could be read as stand alone pieces with very little difficulty.

There is much to be gleaned from this book if, like me, you are in search of some inspiration and aspiring to develop your own practice. Read with a pad and paper by your side though, her ideas and tools are peppered randomly through the chapters and although explained well and thoroughly, if you were looking for them specifically in a focused turn-to-the-page-via-the-index-style-search you’d struggle.

Controversially, I can’t necessarily say I would recommend this to theatre designers, unless those designers are open minded and willing to accept a differing opinion and view point (there may be a lot of cross over with what they already do but haven’t considered it “scenographic” by Howard’s terms). It’s definitely a good read though to other theatre practitioners, particularly those who span several disciplines and class themselves as theatre makers. Similarly, Howard’s opus would offer great insight into anyone looking to investigate visual storytelling or understanding the semiotics of putting together a visual narrative.

“THE GIFT” – LEWIS HYDE

 

This book has been recommended to me by several colleagues, and indeed the internet via those “if you are an artist, you should read this” style lists. I can’t say that the blurb sells this book well, in initially reading it I was skeptical. However, having been so heavily recommended and labelled a “must read”, I decided to bite the bullet and see what the fuss was about.

First things first, it’s a mammoth of a tome. I read it on my kindle (purposefully for that reason, space in bag saving!) and it’s one of those books that seems to be a constant screen swiper. 50 pages later, you’ve achieved another percent and are told there’s another hour and 40 minutes left of the chapter. For anyone looking to tackle this, I’d recommend the kindle version.

This is a book of two halves, and it makes itself very clear in the contents and introduction. The first seven chapters discuss the concepts of gifts, gift exchanges and definitions between commodities, products and what makes a gift. The last 2 chapters are explorations and discussions upon the lives of poets Walt Wiltman and Ezra Pound.

Herein lies the ultimate problem in this book. Though wordy, the first 7 chapters offer interesting insight and discussion into what a gift actually is. There is great exploration into concepts such as commodities: when a gift changes into something else, and how gifts are used in different socio-dynamics. Whilst this doesn’t quite answer the book’s main aim, to explore “the gift” of creativity, it offers interesting reading and a good study into anthropology and human nature.

The last two chapters, the studies on the poets, seem to veer wildly off course and cloud the book’s focus. Pages upon pages of text that doesn’t seem relevant and more like a passion project for Hyde, the author, whose voice comes through clear in these sections. It made me wonder at times, as I trudged through this verbal treacle, as to why the editor had allowed these chapters to be left in at the length they are.

When we finally reach the conclusion, things seem to wrap up nicely, with a few useful gems that I eagerly highlighted. These are not enough to really spark other inspiring thoughts for research or contemplation; their appearances are brief, thin and fleeting. Instead there is too much excessive research and emphasis on areas that don’t really answer the book’s main objective.

This write up casts “The Gift” in a bad light, it’s not intentionally meant to. Perhaps it’s purpose was slightly lost on me. Despite providing information and discussion on quite a niche topic, there isn’t enough work in here discussing the effects of creativity as a gift, or the plights of artists as gift givers to feel it comprehensively fulfils its desired outcome.

Give it a read, but one I would move to the bottom of the majority of reading lists.