Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Do your surroundings influence your Creativity?

We're selling our house.

It's been a great house. We've been here 20 years and our children have all gone to the local school and we've been happy in this house but everything is falling apart.

Now that our children are leaving home we're going to do it up and buy a smaller place. And this brings me to what is important to me as a creative person.

Call me shallow, but I love beautiful things. A walk through the art gallery leaves me feeling like I'm walking on air. A piece of beautiful music will bring tears of joy to my eyes. Conversely, a messy house, makes my head feel fusty and I can't think straight until the house is straightened up.

I suspect it is a female gene because my husband seems to be able to walk through snow drifts of mess and still function.

I haven't been able to write, I've been feeling overwhelmed by the house. At one point we had 9 people living here and three sets of furniture, as adult children moved back with their belongings. Now that some of them have moved out, taking their furniture I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

So we are selling our house and I want to live somewhere beautiful, preferably by the sea. I want to feel that uplifting sense of wonder when I walk down the road, catch a glimpse of the sea, see storm clouds rushing in ... you get the picture.

When I was a child I used to capture beautiful moments so I would always have them, like treasures. I still do. And I go fishing through those beautiful moments when I need a setting for a scene.

I feel more creative in a beautiful setting. I feel like I can't wait to get ideas down on paper (or computer screen). Bringing up our 6 children, we surrounded them with ideas both challenging and fun, we watched documentaries, and shared our love of music and art. Will they become creative people? I don't know.

As a teacher in a computer games college I come across creative kids all the time. And I wonder how they will get on in a society that values football players ahead of artists.

Can artists (creativity) be taught or is it born in us? This article looks at the question and answers it in a measured way. It raises the point that if you are living in the back of beyond and no one ever sees your art or hears your music, and you receive no stimulation from other artists, then you will never produce to your full potential. So as parents, the best thing we can do is stimulate our kids and stand back.

Maybe I am shallow, but I want to live somewhere beautiful. I believe I'm more creative in beautiful surroundings, especially, if the dishes are done.

Do your surroundings influence your creativity? Do you have to be sure the bed is made before you can write? Does it help you, if the cat sits on your lap and purrs while you write?


Dave Freer said...

Well, yes and no. Once I am deeply immersed in a book surroundings don't matter a damn. When I battling for immersion - I tidy. Obsessively. That seems to clear my mental space too. And as un-noticing as I am about my clothes I am about noticing about my places. Of course, you do realise my island would suit you ;-) Sea and mountain veiws which leave even stodge stirred.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Yes, Dave. When the writing doesn't flow, I clean things.

Your island sounds wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I also store up beautiful things in my head. Most of them show up somewhere in my writing.

On the other hand, I'm the World's Worst Housekeeper, mainly by virtue of being completely oblivious to minor and major messes. Dog hair dust bunnies arrayed for battle in every corner? Never registers. Filling half my office with the furniture of the another room, so it can be remodeled? No problem.

Dog resting his chin one knee, telepathing his desire to be petted? Time for a break from writing.

Rowena, we're going to be mostly the opposite on this.

Amanda said...

Before that moment comes when I am living and breathing a project, I might clean...but only if I can't find anything else to do. More often than not, I'm outside working in the yard, building something, refinishing some piece of furniture, something that involves working the body without necessarily working the brain too much. The only real cleaning I can guarantee I'll do at this phase is to clean my workspace. Not that it lasts long once I start writing ;-)

C Kelsey said...

I've been regularly attending a fitness class since December and that has helped my writing a lot. My surroundings? Eh, the last week I've been sitting on the living room floor with stuff strewn about and my computer desk so cluttered that the floor is the only place I can write on my laptop. ;)

Anonymous said...

Music helps me get into the moment of the story. And the cats annoy me when I'm in the moment (have 3 of them and love them, but not when I'm concentrating).

Housework. My bugaboo. My family doesn't understand why I can't concentrate on a story when the house looks like crap, which it does most of the time. I work full-time, am very active in Erica's part-time job of baton twirling teaching (I do the scheduling and supervising of the fire baton teams), and try to stuff a little writing in there also. I always feel like writing should come after the "necessary" things like housework and that I'm negligent if I don't take care of the housework first. So, my choices are clean up well (never going to happen) or find a way to concentrate without feeling like such a domestic loser. We all see what my only choice is, and I'm still working on it.

On a better note, I did start a fresh short story this week, and I'm excited about it. The beach, fantasy, surfers...yaaayy!


Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I think the ability to appreciate beauty and 'store' it to be taken out and used when needed is a great gift.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I mow. Walking up and down, pushing that mower which is really noisy so I can just shake my head and keep going when the kids try to tell me something, that is freedom.

And I find idea come more freely, when I'm doing something like that. As you say. Physical exercise with the brain in neutral.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


Going to the gym definitely helps. I do yoga and that clears my brain.

I'm glad I can't see your living room!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I also feel like I must meet my obligations, before I take time out to do the thing I love. So I have to know that the housework is done, a roast in the oven, a batch of choc chip cookies for when the kids get in from school ... etc.

Only one of this is at school now, but the still love my choc chip cookies.

C Kelsey said...


My living room is better today. I had to stay home sick and I ended up cleaning.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Glad to hear it, Chris.

For me, the outside environment is a reflection of what is inside my head.

So if it is messy, my head feels messy.

Chris McMahon said...

Reading that article, I cannot help but think by artist they are really talking about 'successful artist' in the context of the time. I think that's why they have emphasised the importance of the urban environment & the acclaim of other artist peers and artists as though this WAS creativity.

I do agree in essence though. I think talent is innate, but has to be developed. Part of that is the critical feedback you get from peers, so there needs to be some contact with the wider field. But what is 'talent'? In a large part this could simply be a great passion to reach a height of expression, not necessarily 'genius'.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't ever a very good housekeeper.

But with a bit of belly-button gazing and pseudo-zen reflection, I remember a time when my pre-schoolers and husband between them were utilizing all my time and making me feel guilty for not having any more to dedicate to them. I stressed out so far that I deliberately looked around and *chose* to not care about the state of the house anymore, just to squeeze some "me" time in there too.

I may have over done it. Any housewifely instincts I had don't seem to be reviving now that I have plenty of time and no children deconstructing behind me. I think I killed them. So sad. Maybe I'll pick some up if I find them on sale, somewhere.

Kate said...

Um. What is this thing called housekeeping? I have no knowledge of such an arcane art.

Creativity seems to be innate. Making the best use of creativity (i.e. learning the skills that your particular bent demands) needs to be learned. Some people need to learn a whole lot more than others, and some need more contact with peers than others.

The thing with the skills is that once they're learned, it's like riding a bicycle or driving - the skillset you learned gets out of the way and you can just do it, but the learning process is painful.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

LOL, Matapam.

Those cleaning instincts have been stiffled!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


I think any artistic area benefits from the stimulation of brushing up against other artists.

And genius is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...


That's right. You're talking about 'muscle memory' in sport. Or I guess in writing it would be called 'brain pattern' memory.

Your brain registers on a subconscious level that something isn't working with a scene and pulls you up. You go off and clean the house (or not, depending on your level of obsession) then when you come back to the scene, you know what is wrong with it.