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Blog

A blog about creativity, culture and why it matters...

 

The Month in Mood Board - heat waves, creative restrictions & Stoker

Helen Davis

This month I was laid low by the heat wave which, while so invigorating to others, seemed to feed on my energy reserves. Cue afternoons holed up in darkened rooms like a limp Lady of Shalott who’d seen better days.

Which got me thinking about creative restrictions. You know, things like:

Can tragedy inspire great art? How does fear impact creativity? [Cos, I'm brainy like that :)]

But mostly, I turned my mini malaise into a movie-watching opportunity. Hitchcock rewatches, yes. But also new-to-me movies like Stoker: a film inspired by Hitch, fairytale, coming of age, and more...

Why don’t you cover a big cork bulletin board in bright pink felt, banded with bamboo, and pin with coloured thumb-tacks all your various enthusiasms as your life varies from week to week?
— Diana Vreeland
Mood Board July 2018.jpg

Stoker - Alice in Wonderland meets Norman Bates?

A dark-haired girl in white (Mia Wasikowska playing India Stoker) is running barefoot in the grounds of a Gone With the Wind-esque house. A be-ribboned box contains a key where shoes should be. Spiders between legs. Boiled eggs crack like bones.

The whole thing is ripe with Freudian and Jungian setting...

Says Mark Kermode.

A father dies. A beautiful but cold mother (Nicole Kidman) drinks. And a handsome, charismatic uncle - Charlie (Matthew Goode) - arrives:

Oh, in about sixty seconds your mother is going to tell you that I’m going to be staying here a while. But I want it to be your decision too. ... It’s… important to me.

He says, with a smirk, like a vampire or something.  India Stoker, like an anti-Alice in Wonderland, is about to go down a very dark rabbit hole:

You could pitch the film as ‘Alfred Hitchcock psychological thriller meets Tim Burton coming-of-age freak-out’, but in fact the whole thing thrums with a blackly comic eroticism that is Park [Chan-wook]’s own...

A Telegraph review muses.

 

Inside Jaws - a podcast on plastic sharks, fear & creativity

The work that I’m proudest of is the work that I’m most afraid of,

Steven Spielberg once said, which is kind of a good thing, cos according to the podcast Inside Jaws - about the making of the 1975 classic - Spielberg was pretty darned scared a lot of the time.

I think I was born a nervous wreck, and I think movies were one way to find a way transferring my own private horrors to everyone else’s lives. It was less of an escape and more of an exorcism,

The director has confessed.

While another thing to remember about Jaws is that Jaws - or Bruce, the remote-controlled shark - didn’t really work. Which meant Spielberg had to get creative:

I had no choice but to figure out how to tell the story without the shark… So I just went back to Alfred Hitchcock: ‘What would Hitchcock do in a situation like this?’ ... It’s what we don’t see which is truly frightening.

Something generations of terrified movie-goers would agree on. 

Find the Inside Jaws podcast here.


The War of Art - Steven Pressfield’s seminal classic

The Jaws theme tune - you know, duunnn dun… dun dun - tends to be my inner critic’s backing music of choice. In the middle of the night it might Carmina Burana.

Which is maybe why I’ve needed to read Steven Pressfield’s highly acclaimed book The War of Art - break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles.

But of course I’ve resisted facing my resistance:

What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness. We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction.

Pressfield continues:

There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.

Oh, yeah, so you have that feeling too? And it’s no small thing says Pressfield:

Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. ... Resistance knows this and uses it against us. It uses fear of rejection to paralyse us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation.

Sound familiar? Well, there’s only one thing to do, according to Pressfield, and that’s “go pro”:

This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. … When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetised rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.

Which is exactly what began to happen when I started - and before I stopped - the #100DayProject...

 

Heat Stroke - time out

I saw a pimped up painting of Mary Magdalene on Twitter the other day.  She was holding an electric fan and apparently writhing in ecstacy. The caption beneath read, something like: "Come on winter…".

That’s how hot it’s been this summer.  And, being a warm-weather-wimp I promptly got Exorcist-style heat exhaustion.

The upside? I got to watch some movies. And found some clear headspace.

Neverending to-do lists - and procrastination - can play havoc with creativity. But sometimes being pushed into a corner - like being stuck in bed, say - can wind up providing the very place from which to innovate:

In 1943 ... Matisse was a bedridden invalid, living in a war zone in south-east France with German troops in his basement and allied shells exploding in the garden.
It was at this point that he cut a man out of white paper, a drooping pinheaded figure, all sagging limbs and blazing red heart, mounted on a black ground with bombs detonating around him. He called it The Fall of Icarus… It turned out to be the first step in a process of radical reinvention…

He continued.

I don’t mean to suggest my mini-convalescence had any such effect. It just gave me a glimpse into what can be possible when you give yourself permission to create or even simply percolate.

Obviously the key is to let go of to-do list guilt without the need to get sick first

 

Can Tragedy Inspire Great Art?

One thing about travelling uber early when I go to London is I get to listen to the BBC World Service. Recently I caught this programme from The Cultural Frontline which asked:

Can tragedy, loss and death inspire great art? Matisse may have answered that question, but here a contemporary take -

Artist Petrit Halilaj uses his experience of conflict to inform his work.

His piece at the 6th Berlin Biennale in 2010 was a slightly larger reconstruction of the scaffolding erected when his parents rebuilt their house in Kosovo after returning to their then-levelled home after the war.

Says Frieze.com.

Writer Laia Jufresa explores the impact of the murders of over 30,000 people known as ‘the disappeared’ in her native Mexico:

It would be naive to claim art can do very much in the face of violence. But … I don’t think art is completely useless either. What it can do is focus on the individual stories, amplify the personal losses and make space for feelings, instead of leading us to the numbness that statistics often create.

While Lithuanian artist Julijonus Urbonas has designed a ‘euthanasia’ rollercoaster - yes, you read that right! And poet, writer and asker of questions Ben Okri is deeply inspired by Greek tragedy, in particular The Oresteia, which he said “burst him right open”.

Listen to the episode here.