Enjoy this interview with creative person, Lisa Baughn, about what being creative really means anyway.
You talked to me before about having a “creative consciousness.” Do you consider yourself an artist?
I do, now. But that wasn’t always the case.
Right now I’m learning violin, I paint and I write and I like to wear creative outfits and makeup. My writing is taking the form of Facebook posts, social activist web content, poetry, and documents for my work, which I love. I’ve blogged about various traveling adventures and farming too. I’ve written professionally for websites and grants, and I wrote a Master’s thesis years ago which was really good in my opinion. I’ve created plans for tiny houses and done interior artistry too.
So, I do tend to fall within the conventional definition of “creative” or “artist.”
But there is a limiting idea floating around that “creative people” are painters, clothing designers or guitar players only. I don’t agree with this.
I think everyone is creative because I think human consciousness is infinitely creative. We are all exploding with creativity. It’s just that everybody’s genius gets expressed in all these different ways that our culture might not recognize as art.
The choices we make in our relationships are creative. The ways people choose to parent are creative. The things people will do with their evenings tonight are creative. Human existence requires us all to be creative all the time.
When I was younger I was insecure about my types of creative expression and I didn’t see myself as creative. I played piano, xylophone, and flute and was pretty good at all of them. I wrote. I crocheted. I did glassblowing and painted in my first semester of college. I’ve worked as a writer too. Still, I did not feel I qualified as creative.
I relied on skill and diligence and random ideas and just pure desire to create when I made most of these things, and thus thought I wasn’t an “artist”. I had this false idea that “artists” were born making beautiful things and needed no skill, no personal evolution, no practice, no outside inspiration, no smarts.
I guess there are indeed a few born geniuses, but I would question that idea as well–even Michelangelo studied other works of art when he was young. I think life is a creative process, and I think given support, love, and time to live life, every human being has the potential for artistic greatness, moment to moment, expressed in whatever ways he or she wants or stumbles into.
I think life itself is art. And we get to create whatever we want with it.
How did you become interested in your current creative practices?
I have always loved writing and I have some talent as a writer. So, I like writing because I’m proud of my perspective and skill in that arena.
But feeling like an “artist” is not necessary to create or to take on creative pursuit.
Just give something you like a try and don’t pressure yourself to be amazing. If it takes off and you’re having fun, keep going with it. That’s it! And, keep trying different things until something takes off for you. I drop creative pursuits that just don’t move forward in satisfying ways after a solid try, and I move on to something else. You never know if you might pick it back up again and excel with it later on after time has passed and you’ve done other things. Or maybe you won’t. Just try things and see if you bump into something that’s good for you and doesn’t hurt the world too much. And keep trying.
A kind friend recently gave me a ton of paint. So, now I paint and I have found that I love it. Most of my painting takes place with my caregiving client in her home, and I’ve taught myself through trial and error, help from friends, online videos and articles.
As for violin, I LOVE the sound of violin but I don’t hear it enough in the music I listen to. One day, I got to thinking maybe I could change that by learning to play it myself and creating the music I want to hear. So I bought a used violin and have taught myself some basics and some songs with my caregiving client. I’ve learned through YouTube videos, picking out notes and practicing.
I’ve never been very good at improvising and I always wanted to be, so I have focused part of my learning journey on growing that capability rather than just reading music. I’ve tried adding accompaniment to songs I like, for example.
In addition to all of the beauty and happiness creating brings me, I use music to interject art into spaces in our world that could use a little more play and magic.
I play songs for joggers and people who fish along the pond near my apartment and they love it. I also played on a street corner recently while I was waiting to get my oil changed. Since I hate traffic and cars and how socially detrimental they are, I was happy to interject something beautiful to that scene that was not totally devoted to traffic. Some people really enjoyed it!
Where do you “find” your ideas?
Ideas can be “found” in so many different ways!
My art is what my heart wants to make, things I love very deeply, things I feel, things I imagine, things I see, things I‘m going through, ideas or paradigms I’m exploring and whatever magic I’m capable of making up. I like touching upon and playing with deep ideas and possibilities that invite people to explore, think and play endlessly.
Constantly learning and critiquing the ideas I live out in life have been big players in cultivating my creativity. I’ve had some truly incredible teachers, and I’ve been fortunate to travel a great deal which has been a huge part of my education. I am always reading, thinking, learning and reflecting, and this helps me create in what I think are interesting ways.
Also, life builds on itself. The more you create and the more you just live, the more interesting and complicated and deep and beautiful your outlook/art can become.
Here’s an example. Last spring my neighbors had a bright, happy bed of tulips that had bloomed. They were super lovely.
At that time I really wanted to build something in the world that meant a lot to me, but I couldn’t figure out what to do. I wanted it to be magnificent and so full of life it could fly. So, I began painting tulips that expressed this idea of an endeavor just bursting forward and upward.
Once I got going, I saw all the tulips and their various colors and shapes as an opportunity to talk about “being ourselves” and individuality. There is so much advice out there that encourages us to “just be ourselves,” but I have found that this is short-sighted and overly simplistic. But, I was really into exploring what it might really mean to “be ourselves” and I wanted to discuss that, so I named it Living Our Colors.
Sometimes it happens in a simpler manner, I wanted to paint something heartwarming and special for my mom, and she loves Native American culture and art. So, I created this.
How do you decide if an idea is viable? Do you act on all your creative ideas?
If I get going on an idea and it’s going well, that’s how I know it’s viable.
But, sometimes it’s important to keep going with things that are only going so-so, because you might improve it later on in the process. Or you might not, but you might end up liking it anyway!
In the past I have not acted on all my creative ideas. I’m not very happy about that.
I am coming out of a terrible time of under and unemployment, where nothing I wanted to do was coming together because the economy went under and good jobs just vanished. It was hard to believe any of my ideas were worth anything after experiencing such a crushing dearth of opportunity on the job market. I gave up a lot of creative ideas during that time. I was profoundly lost and I had lost my sense of what was valuable, what would mean something in the world and support me.
However, I did create some things during that time. I wrote the fun blog you see below about gardening and WWOOFing (farming) on the road, and I had an amazing time doing it. But I didn’t find my work worth much because it wasn’t my desired “career” and the part-time jobs I was working weren’t paying me enough to live. My value judgments of my life and creative work were all tied up in whether I was making what the American economy tells us is a good living, and since I was not I didn’t see the value in my work.
That whole outlook I very much regret. But I don’t think I could have avoided it.
After too many years of upset over it, I finally got tired of participating in it emotionally. The idea that our economy is a credible reality in which all life and dignity and our dreams can be nurtured is just not true, and believing in that lie was really hurting me. I knew in my heart that none of what was happening was a reflection of my worth as a human being, yet the economy demanded I see myself as a failure. I had to stop believing in it all if I was to go on.
Now I am working to create my identity outside of this broken economy and the dead notion of the “American Dream,” a shift I got support and help with from the two brilliant minds at my favorite podcast, Dungey State University’s podcast, Deeper Dive, Walker Uhl and political science professor Nicholas Dungey. My paintings, drawings and music have all been a step toward self-creation and building a new reality for myself beyond the valuation of myself in the traditional job system and “climbing the ladder.” It’s a space where I get to create and grow no matter what happens to me in terms of money and jobs, and it’s making me really happy.
Have you ever reached an impasse where you thought the project had become impossible? What changed your mind?
No, because I have a habit of planning work from A-Z before starting. If I feel I can’t pull it off, I practice more on my weak points and refrain from starting it until I know what I’m doing. For example, I might paint half a dozen sunsets on scratch paper before I put one on canvas. I also sketch things out on paper to experiment with looks and shapes. So before I begin on canvas, I know what techniques I will use and I have an idea of what the outcome will be.
My writing is the same. I don’t write until the ideas have been explored as far as I can possibly take them and I can stand behind them as much as is humanly possible. It took me 4 years to write a 45 page Master’s thesis. But it was really good when it was done. I’m always out for greatness and excellence.
But like I mentioned, I am trying to expand as an artist right now by letting go and starting things I don’t necessarily have a command over or a plan for. Less control, more GO!
What else are you working on currently?
This painting is a collaboration between me and my 7 year old neighbor friend! She wanted a painting from me where we were all sailing on a boat together, so I created this.
I’m excited about this because I dared to try and find my way through new techniques and into a new style without a plan for what all that would be.
I’m also getting into drawing, I’m practicing by looking up drawings online and re-drawing them myself. I am learning about facial shapes, proportion, shading and emotion so I can integrate it into my work more.
How have you made it financially possible to focus on this?
I love that you ask this!
I’m as resourceful as possible. The only reason I am able to paint financially is because a kind friend gave me free paint. Also, I have a job that allows me to paint and play music while I work. Sometimes I’m paid for writing, and my mom bought the painting Where Spirits Play. I’m hoping to sell more and working towards that.
At the moment all my art is funded by my 4 part-time jobs. I like all my jobs–I work my jobs for money and also joy, and then, I get to spend my free time creating under the roof my jobs provide.
I’ve had financial help in many forms from family and social services over the years which is important to be up front about. We have a food bank in my city that is probably the most generous food bank in the country. I was on Medicaid for a year. I’ve lived with family members during college and the recession, and they’ve helped me out with resources at times. Without all of that, perhaps I couldn’t have afforded the violin, the canvases or the laptop repairs I’ve needed.
Someone who has had no help, who is struggling financially and who is still managing to create would probably have a more valuable answer.
What challenges have you faced in your creative work?
Moving forward from that which I have already expressed and into new realms. It takes hard work, time and even luck to move to the next level after you’ve created things you’re really proud of, things that have expressed everything you had to give up to that point in your life.
Also, every single time I sit down to write I’m nervous I’m going to fail. The art itself is generally a challenge to pull off, every time. But when I’m overwhelmed and scared I can’t do it, I remind myself that I’m always scared I’m going to fail, yet I rarely fail at writing what I want to write. I might not make any money off of it, and I might not impact the world the way I want. But I generally write what I set out to write.
Neither painting nor violin come as easily for me. Violin is a tough instrument, and I cast it aside frequently because I might not sound good that day and I’m just tired of trying. But I keep picking it back up again when I have the energy to move forward and I’m slowly but surely getting better.
With painting, I slog through many practice paintings, in the hopes that I will stumble upon a style I like.
I also remain very observant of nature, shapes, colors and others’ art when I’m out and about for inspiration. And I have breakthroughs at times: I come up with a vision for how I want to express something and I successfully develop the capabilities I need to pull it off.
Tell us something we don’t know about you yet:
That I am scared of almost everything in life and conflicted about almost everything in life. But I get up each day, jump in on the game of life and create/live anyway. I think in terms of possibilities, love and beauty, and I never give up on the idea that love and wonderful things are possible no matter what the situation is.
Lisa Baughn is an artist, intellectual, global citizen, social activist and lover of humanity in Ft. Collins, CO. She is working to move beyond capitalism to create and support more courageous, imaginative, inclusive and humane ways of living. Lisa has lived in Indonesia and Turkey and has visited 12 other countries. She is a freelance writer and strategist, has an MA in Geography, and teaches Geography courses as an adjunct at several colleges. Lisa never knows where life will take her and she kind of likes it that way.
Past installments of our monthly interviews with a creative person: