“It is the function of art to renew our perception. What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and, as if by magic, we see a new meaning in it.”
― Anaïs Nin
Right, Anaïs Nin circa 1920; Wikipedia
When is the last time you saw magic in the familiar?
Creative people have lots of tricks to pull the idea out from the things. In fact, sometimes finding the idea among all of the things is the most challenging part. I think that’s why most artists, poets, filmmakers, writers, designers work for themselves: to have the freedom to tap the ways they can sort through everything they absorb for the big idea, the big meaning, that they’ll be able to express on canvas, in clay, on their piano keyboards, in film.
(Following rigid schedules isn’t something that creatives do much, anyway. Since there are always some imaginative things to absorb, everywhere—in fact, ideas can simply come straight at you when you’re gazing at the web, checking your phone, reading online—there’s often no need to seek them out, they’re all right there for the taking.)
Is finding the magic in the familiar a skill that needs practice?
Recognizing the ideas that bubble up, for me, is a thing that needs constant honing. Like any skill, it gets better-defined the more ways and the more times I try it. Like a juggler, I always have many ideas rummaging around in my subconcious, and it takes a bit of skill to juggle all of them without losing them.
When it’s time to pull out the big idea, it’s like looking for that one little bit of magic in a giant haystack of ideas. Except when I look too hard, it’s elusive. As clichéd as it sounds, for creatives, it truly is connecting all of the dots.
What connects the dots for me?
It doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it’s the familiar. Looking for it, looking at it, but often just being part of it.
Sometimes, what’s as familiar as having a conversation with a close friend can pull all of those ideas together into that eureka moment for the right twist to a novel I’m turning over. Or making the same familiar drive to get groceries allows me to notice light cast in a certain way that inspires the next painting. Doing the most familiar things, the ones that are least likely to be demanding because they’re so mundane, can end up being springboards to some entirely new concept to explore with my camera. Finding the details through my viewfinder is a tried-and-true way I use the familiar to focus my vision.
What happens to all of those details that might become ideas?
Writers and artists like to keep journals. It’s a way to claim everything they see around them for future use in a new creative undertaking. Personally, I never want to let an idea get away. I might need it someday.
So my 35mm camera, my iPhone camera, numerous sticky notes of many colors, lists that I handwrite with my fountain pen and finally, thank goodness for Evernote (to pull it all together), serve the journaling function for me—all the potential ideas are captured, neatly tucked away, for that magic moment when it all becomes clear what the big idea is going to be. ♦