Simple creativity

Maud Lewis, the greatest Canadian folk painter!

I feel like my mind rarely get a chance to bask in its own thoughts, it’s always being spiked by something else.

Like a stubborn fat kid, it’s always chewing on some sort of digital candy. I hate how addicted I am to my phone. Sometimes I find myself scrolling through Instagram before I even know I’m doing it. It’s as if I’ve been put under some sort of hypnotic spell.

It’s become refreshing to be in places where there is no Wi-Fi. Without the internet, life tends to slow down and time suddenly becomes abundant. The best example of this is on a long haul flight where time slowing down is pretty much the last thing you want. While on the flight back to Sydney, sitting my small uncomfortable seat for 10 hours, I watched a wonderfully inspiring film called Maudie. It’s about Maud Lewis, a Canadian artist from rural Nova Scotia who was loved for her child-like disposition and cheerful, whimsical paintings despite her severe arthritis and difficult life. In her 30s, she married a grumpy fisherman after applying for a job as his live-in housekeeper. She and him lived together for years, up until her death in 1970, in an unbearably tiny house. When her husband went to work, she’d stay back to clean, make dinner and paint. She’d go for walks, studying the scenery, and then return to her home to paint them from memory. When she ran out of things to paint on, she painted every available surface of her home. Her entire house has now become the main exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

What I loved about the movie was Maud’s devotion to art and the sheer simplicity in her creative pursuit. Sure she had a tough life, but it was a simple one. I actually found it relaxing to discover a glimpse of a life so uncomplicated, so barren and lonely, but also brimming with creative freedom. She didn’t paint to make money or for the ‘likes’ on her Instagram account. She wasn’t counting her followers or milking her creativity dry for the rush of a new follower. She painted because she loved it. Whether she was paid for it or not. Painting was what set her soul free. It was her therapy.

Isn’t creativity is such a beautiful gift? We all have it, yet some of us indulge in it while others just bat it away like an annoying fly. I suppose it’s because creative energy feels so naive, like a young child. It bubbles up without any rhyme or reason and as we get older we start to question its logic, which it doesn’t have an answer to. My main form of creativity is expressed through writing. I absolutely love to write. But the logic part of my brain tends to speak up and questions these urges, it asks: why would anyone care what goes on in your head? Why bother when you’ll never be as good as other writers? But asking this it is like asking a young child what they think of the Einstein’s theory of special relativity. The kid is confused by the question so it just shrugs and starts picking its nose. Writing has become my own kind of therapy and I can’t explain why or how. It feels like I don’t have enough space in my head to hold all my thoughts. It’s like a glass that has been filled way beyond its capacity, leaving the water to spill off onto the counter and then on the floor and flood the place which is going to cost a lot of money to fix. So I might as well set up a system for the water to go in because it’s inevitably going to happen again. It’s an immense feeling of relief to get all of the tangled and messy thoughts out of my head and publish it for anyone human in the whole world to read. I get a kick knowing that right now, you are in my head.

I doubt Maud ever looked at her paintings and thought, what is the point of this? Or saw other famous paintings and thought to herself, “wow… well, clearly I’m nothing in comparison to them so I might as well give it up and sulk in the corner.” She painted because it felt good to her, and eventually it also happened to be enjoyed by other people. What a refreshingly simple way to live! Especially the fact that she relied on her own mental photographs of the things that inspired her. All her paintings have come straight from her mind and onto paper, like a human camera. How absolutely incredible.

It seems like years ago, writers, painters, and all sorts of creators expressed themselves in a pure, unrefined way to an audience that had patience and appreciation. Before the internet boom, people didn’t have the world and the thoughts of all its inhabitants trying to claw its way into their heads. It somehow felt more raw and pure. I suppose all art is born out of some degree of cross-pollination, but it feels like this digital age has become all cloudy and weighed down by frivolous distractions. Like an annoying Jehovah’s Witness, there is always someone knocking at the door of our minds. I wonder what would happen if we just didn’t answer the knocks?

It feels like creativity has been watered down for the “likes” or for those cool snapchat videos that evaporate in 3 seconds. I wonder if we could somehow win back our attention spans, expanding it beyond goldfish level, and give both the artist and the art the time and attention it deserves.

I crave simplicity in my life like never before. I admire a life like Maud Lewis; creating things for the uncomplicated love of creating them, having patience, living humbly and remaining buoyant with joy despite hardships. Perhaps I’ve projected my own ideals and aspirations of what it means to live a good life on an artist who is long gone, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Isn’t that what art is all about anyway?

It just makes me want to let my mind sprawl out, starfish style, marinating in its own thoughts. The pure ones. The ones that no one else has but me.

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