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Your Creative Expression is Unique

IMGP0871There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.” Martha Graham (1894-1991)

Martha Graham spoke these words in 1943 to an artist friend who was bewildered and worried about her acting career. Martha spent her life as a modern dancer, acquiring many awards and honors for her work and transforming the way dance is taught in America. She has been call “The Picasso of Dance”.

After her retirement in 1970 Martha became severely depressed, staying close to home and drinking too much. She was eventually hospitalized and spent time in a coma. Fortunately she survived and in 1972 she quit drinking and went back to dancing. She reorganized her dance company and went on to choreograph ten new ballets and other works. She seemed to take her own advice before it was too late and continued to work for another 21 years. She died in 1991 at the age of 96.

Her message to her friend is one we all do well to listen to. How often are we discouraged by our creative work, thinking it isn’t good enough or unique enough? I often tell my clients that once they are finished a work of art they should picture themselves in the act of letting it go into the world. The work has a life of its own and none of us can predict what that life will be. Perhaps it will go on to achieve noteriety. Perhaps it is a stepping stone to better and more mature work.

Recently I visited a friend who showed me a painting she had bought at a garage sale. The seller said it had belonged to her mother who owned several works by this artist. This one she didn’t like as much as the others. My friend couldn’t make out the signature but I recognized it as an original Tony Onley painting, one that had a note saying that it was done as a demonstration in 1985. Tony Onley is a well-known Canadian artist who painted watercolours of the Canadian north and coastlines. This particular painting has had a life, first in a home on the west coast of Canada and now in a home in Edmonton. It was bought because my friend liked it but now has added value because she knows who painted it. The painting will be treasured as a valuable addition to her growing collection of original art.

Each of us has a unique voice. Each of us produces our own unique work. As Martha Graham says so eloquently, “If you block it, it will not exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”

Try to disengage your feelings about your work from the work itself. Keep leaning from your experiences. Keep showing up, moving forward and producing the work that you know is in you.

3 Comments.[ Leave a comment ]

  1. That is a great quote, and thanks for the example. Your last sentence is excellent advice for all artists!

  2. Ellen Andreassen

    Hello. Thank you for this – it’s very timely. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts.

    • You are so welcome. Thank you for subscribing to my blog. Please feel free to continue the conversation at any time with your thoughts and ideas related to the subject of creativity and the creative life.

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