Revisiting Your Fundamentals: Foundations Propelling Progress
The mantra this month focuses on making the practice of honouring your creative spark a priority in your life. One of the best ways to honour where you are now is to look back at where you’ve been, not only to see your journey from a new perspective, but to appreciate and even revisit the foundations and fundamentals that have helped you move forward.
This is a constant in the dance world. Every class from beginner to professional begins with the humble plie, which in turn becomes a key preparation, connection and ending to more complex movements. The plie, in my life, is a reminder that just because we have moved beyond does not mean we have learned all there is to know. Every time we do a plie it can be different, feel different, serve a different purpose. It is never the same twice, though it is a foundational movement in our language of choreography across all disciplines of dance. Simply because we can do more than a plie does not mean we have no more use for it. It is a foundational movement upon which many other movements and skills are formed. It is the same with any creative process. The foundation we build as we begin a creative practice is the base that supports our journey and provides the necessary initial skills that we strengthen and evolve over time. Revisiting your fundamentals is a reminder that although we are growing and getting better, moving along a path of progression, we are never true masters over everything, and that is a humbling process that keeps us open to the vulnerability and grace that creativity needs to thrive.
The plie, if we continue this example, is also a marker of progress. We use it to evaluate our understanding of basic technique, as a tool to propel us forward into a new combination of movements and a measure against which we can evaluate our improvement class to class and year to year. It is an adaptable movement; complex in its simplicity. Simple does not mean easy. Fundamentals are versatile. The plie is a movement all its own; the foot position can change, it can be performed in palace or as a movement (a transfer of weight), it can be a preparation or a landing or a connecting movement. The plie is about tension - the movement lowers the body with a bending of the knees, but the feeling is of lifting upward, of lengthening the body. The impulse momentum relationship is alive in this movement even in stationary form as we push energy into the ground without relaxing our muscles to sink into the floor. The more we are able to use and enhance our performance and understanding of the plie, the more versatile it can become, therefore the more we have progressed from a simple understanding of a bend at the knee to an active energy spring loading or shock absorption mechanic. This use of a foundational movement propels us forward, allowing us to access new heights, both literally and figuratively.
Beyond the example of the plie, our creativity has a foundation. That foundation is built on principles and truths we hold in the core of who we are and in the hope of who we want to become. Only by appreciating and consistently checking in with those fundamental principles and truths are we able to adapt and evolve and grow as creatives and in our own unique practices.
Aside from the fundamental skills of a particular craft or discipline of creativity, what are those foundational principles creativity needs to grow?
My Five Foundational Fundamentals of Creativity
Creativity requires awareness in many forms. First and foremost it requires self awareness. A key component of creativity is knowing where you stand and exploring who you are. Whether you’re creating art or dissolving problems, having a keen sense of awareness to recognize where you stand in a circumstance or a situation, navigating inherent bias or understanding where you want to end up, awareness of all of these aspects and more is necessary for beginning and moving through a creative journey. Not only do you hope to have some aspects of awareness already in your tool box, but creativity can make you more self aware, of how you create, why you create, how you learn or solve problems, or the ways that you find easiest to communicate with others. Developing a keen sense of awareness of yourself, others and the world around you gives creativity a wider breadth of inspiration.
To be vulnerable is a difficult thing that requires tremendous amounts of courage. From baring your soul in a piece of art to speaking up in a meeting with a solution to a problem to speaking your truth to a friend or getting real with yourself and doing some serious reflection, being vulnerable is a very counterintuitive act. We want to protect ourselves, our world view, and our delight from a harsh and sometimes unforgiving world of judgement and fear. Being vulnerable doesn’t always mean you have to dig deep and share your emotions, sometimes it means standing up in a room full of people and communicating a new idea. Vulnerability can be sitting alone in a room and writing your heart on paper. It can be trying a new sport for the first time. It can be sharing music you love with a new friend. Vulnerability isn’t dramatic when you see it, but it does precipitate a dramatic shift in our relationship with ourselves, others, and our creativity. The more comfortable we become with being vulnerable in our practice, the more creativity can blossom in truth, and we begin to appreciate the resiliency of our creative spirit.
To me, creativity is all about self expression, which comes back to communication. Creativity has always been an outlet for expression of ideas and emotions. From painting a canvas to getting a tattoo, or talking through a solution to dancing your heart out, expression is a core component of what it means to be creative, and is a fundamental answer to why we have a desire as humans to engage with creativity. Though we all crave connection and belonging, we also have an innate desire to express our individuality and our needs. Our emotional responses are an expression of how we feel or how we react to certain stimuli. Verbal communication is the biggest way we express anything. From the way we dress to our taste in music, we are always looking for new ways to express ourselves in that search for belonging to a community of like minded individuals. It is a skill we need to cultivate as creatives - to express not only our thoughts or feelings, but to connect them in a deeper, more meaningful way to events, others and social narratives or problems in our world. Expression is the beginning of a dialogue, which is what creativity is all about cultivating whether that dialogue be with yourself, trusted people, or the world at large.
We cannot move forward without giving ourselves a large helping of grace on this creative journey. We are not perfect. Creativity is not always neat and tidy. We make mistakes as we explore our creativity, and that is all part of the process. It is not in knowing that we grow, learning takes place in the mess of failure. I feel like I use grace as a way to create space for freedom in the creative practice. It alleviates the pressure to be perfect, to be productive, to perform. Grace is allowing yourself to say ‘I didn’t do well this time, but that doesn’t mean I won’t in the future’. Grace holds space for our fragility while also being a reminder of our strength in challenge. Grace gives us room to grow and learn from mistakes, from failures. Grace allows us to heal through creativity when we see patterns of self betrayal, or self criticism, of negative self talk, of neglect. Grace is self compassion, and it is compassion for the work that is the creative journey.
This fundamental is what propels us forward. This is the key piece that keeps us going. It does not mean everyday. Consistency is building a pattern of behaviour, of habit, of ritual around your creative process and sticking to it. It can be regimented and scheduled, it can be flexible, it can be timed or amount, or goal based, but it is at its core, a principle of choosing to show up, to do the minimum for yourself and your creativity by acknowledging it. For me, consistency is posting twice a week, reading before bed, drinking my 40 oz water bottle everyday. Consistency is how we build patterns of trust within ourselves. It’s about follow through and accountability, proving to yourself that you can and will show up for your creativity, to cultivate a creative life that makes sense for you.
Do you agree with these five core foundational fundamentals of creativity? What would you add or take away? How do you engage with your foundation or fundamentals in your creative practice?