For a good chunk of last year, depression visited me. Depression in my life is the flood of heavy dark voices in my head that isolate me, mostly because I don't want to repetitively externalize what is going on in my head. It just does not feel like it would be helpful for anyone. So I have learned that these visits pass, and I ride them out.
In 2023 I feel a visit of awakening, sparked by listening to and reading, ideas and perspectives shared by Rick Rubin, one of the world's most respected music producers. Rubin's work spans 40 years, and crosses musical genres, including rap, hip hop, country, rock, metal, folk, classical, instrumental, vocal, and more. His new book, The Creative Act: A Way of Being, grabbed my attention, lighting up my mind, speaking to me in ways that caught me by surprise after a dark period.
My brain has been flooded with ideas. Many come as flashes of light, temporarily lighting a way, so many of them that it feels as though a path is emerging.
The larger, more constant, lantern of light is a title of one of the chapters in Rubin's book, the idea that 'Everyone Is A Creator'. It is inherent in being human. We not only live life, but we make the life we live, using what we have available. Some people live this out loud as artists, as photographer Jack Leigh put it,
"An artist is anyone who has to express what they have inside".
I have lived in and out of this practice, reluctant to speak of and embrace myself as artist. Truth be told, I have often hidden behind the self expression artistry of others, secretly and not so secretly admiring their courage to risk being seen.
Rubin expands on this notion of artists in his book,
“...many continue to share their work and risk criticism in spite of this. It’s as if they have no other choice. Being an artist is who they are, and they are made whole through self-expression.”
There is a prejudicial history of this "self" centeredness of artists, and a "risk of criticism" that has caused me, and so many people I know, from avoiding embracing identities, characteristics, and practices of artists, creators, and makers.
But Rubin's thinking and practice widens the lens that we see the world with, embracing the idea that we are all a part of, and participant in, a much wider creation. In an interview with Malcolm Gladwell on their podcast, "Broken Record" Rick Rubin claims the view that
"Your self-expression is not about you".
In part, what is important about creations of art is that they move energy through people. Expressing that energy ignites something vital in others.
“Much of art’s greatness is felt on a gut level. Your self-expression allows the audience to have their own self-expression ...Great art is created through freedom of self-expression and received with freedom of individual interpretation. Great art opens a conversation rather than closing it. And often this conversation is started by accident.
I was reminded of this last night as I watched, HALLELUJAH: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song. (on Netflix, or to rent on Apple TV, Prime Video, Roku, YouTube, Vudu, or Google Play). The film follows the journey of the creator, the creation, and the interpretation of the creation.
Many of us do not embrace this fundamental aspect of our human experience as creators, and co-creators. Rubin provides an off ramp from embracing an identity and practice as a creator,
“If a creator is so afraid of judgment that they’re unable to move forward, it might be that the desire to share the work isn’t as strong as the desire to protect themselves. Perhaps art isn’t their role. Their temperament might serve a different pursuit. This path is not for everyone. Adversity is part of the process. We are not obligated to follow this calling because we have a talent or skill. It’s worth remembering that we are blessed to get to create. It’s a privilege. We’re choosing it. We’re not being ordered to do this. If we’d rather not do it, let’s not do it.”
Here are some thoughts holding my attention today.
Many of the people I have come to know throughout my life and work, have been channeled into a world created by others, for the purpose of keeping them apart, in the name of security and safety. The opportunity to participate as creator of a world where they might belong has been denied, or at least severely limited by cultural and societal forces far greater than them. People who are restricted in living as creators, are often destined to be imprisoned in a separate world created by others.
It is a choice to embrace life as a creator, but choosing not to do so leaves us without the resources, skills, practices, and the community of support of fellow creators. I have observed disabled people, parents, siblings, and supporters live each day as a creators, by necessity. Creativity is required to live in a world designed to exclude.
Rick Rubin's writing brought a vital hope to me. In widening the lens of creation, he also widened the lens of creators:
“Those who do not engage in the traditional arts might be wary of calling themselves artists. They might perceive creativity as something extraordinary or beyond their capabilities. A calling for the special few who are born with these gifts. ...Creativity is not a rare ability. It is not difficult to access. Creativity is a fundamental aspect of being human. It’s our birthright. And it’s for all of us. Creativity doesn’t exclusively relate to making art. We all engage in this act on a daily basis. To create is to bring something into existence that wasn’t there before.”
I found comfort in Rubin's message,
“If you begin with a question and use it to guide an adventure of discovery, that’s the work of the artist.”
Today I live with a couple of questions:
Where might I/we find others who embody creativity and life as artists working to create communities that embrace inclusion and the beauty in diversity?
How might I/we make the implicit nature of this creativity explicit?
Rubin's writing conveyed a sense of joyful possibility of traveling together with others:
“Whatever you choose, it’s helpful to have fellow travelers around you. They don’t have to be like you, just like-minded in some way. Creativity is contagious. When we spend time with other artistic people, we absorb and exchange a way of thinking, a “way of looking at the world. This group can be called a Sangha. Each person in this relationship begins seeing with a different imaginative eye. It doesn’t matter if their art form is the same as or different from yours. It’s nourishing to be in a community of people who are enthusiastic about art, who you can have long discussions with, and with whom you can trade feedback on the work. Being part of an artistic community can be one of the great joys of life.”
I am blessed that I am not beginning alone. I have great companions exploring the creation of the JustUs Cafe. I live with hope of expanding this community. If this piques your curiosity and interest, please reach out by email (email@example.com), or comment below.