March 9, 2012

On the Creative Process. ~ Kathy McCullough

I’m thinking a lot about art these days, assembling some thoughts on the creative process.

The creative process is the magic of transforming mere potential into the fact of the “actual”—and art is the act of making “if only” into the definity that is “indeed”—the deed of doing it.

However, the creative process often involves more sweat and effort than we bargain for. Joseph Campbell tells us to “follow [our] bliss,” but more often than not that heap of happiness is one illusive devil. He  plays a game of hide-and-seek with artists—offering a smoke-and-mirrors, difficult-to-grasp promise of meaning and beauty that would seem more fiction than fact.

For me the creative promise begins with a glimpse of potential—a sneak peak at what could be “if only”.   But too often the process of actualizing “if only” is more agony than art—more dream than reality.

Inevitably, for me, the process gets going with a glimpse—one that takes my breath away—but only for a fraction of second—gone as soon as I see it—almost before I see it.

Sometimes I see it from behind just as it turns away—illusion—dream—a whisp of I don’t know what—departing—leaving—gone.

Sometimes I see it obliquely—out of the corner of my eye—almost, nearly, never quite.

For me the creative process involves chasing that image, that illusion—that departing, nearly, almost gone. The creative process means making that image real, actualizing it, so it stands still long enough for me to touch it, feel it, know it in a tangible and transformative way.

When it’s potential trash that offers you that glimpse—the process of making that peak less seek and more found, less hide and more mine—is all the more difficult and at times so close to pain it seems counter-intuitive to continue.

But pain or not, today I thought I’d give you a sneak peak at this process as it relates to the trashed table I’m currently trying to transform, one I found along the side of the street on Sunday. It’s far from finished.I’m still chasing the dream.

(And to prove the illusive can, indeed, become real, I’ll also include at the end photos of another piece of junk furniture I transformed in Haiti.)

So, open your eyes to the potential. Sneak a peak with me at just how far I haven’t gotten.


Though this piece is far from finished, this process can end in actual art—the deed of transformation does become “indeed,” indeed. And to help you believe that, I’m adding below a few photos of a piece I completed in Haiti—one that began just-as-much junk and ended so much more than that.

The bar is nearly nine and a half feet long and lives on an upstairs patio at my partner Sara’s office in Port-au-Prince.

It was white, ugly, an eye-sore, really. But Sara wanted to save it. She thought it, like Haiti itself, should be given a second chance at life, that the bar could be used for receptions and to serve meals on special occasions.

The bar incorporates the logo of the NGO Sara worked for in strategic places, as well as decoupaged-maps of Port-au-Prince and each location in Haiti the organization works.

I also included stories from the local newspaper, highlighting big events in the news during the months after the earthquake.

I included text from the organization’s 6-month, post-earthquake report, as well as the names of almost all the people who had worked on the NGO’s reconstruction effort—folks from more than a dozen countries around the world.

The front of the bar repeats the organization’s logo above each flower petal:

As well as the names of staff in black and white circles:

The top of the bar includes the maps and newspaper text:

Completing this piece about Haiti reminded me that, indeed, beauty can come from unexpected places, even out of earthquake’s ruin.

But the bottom line is this:

I love the creative process and I love the “indeed” that it implies. I love the word itself—adore not only the feel of it in my mouth—but also the definity it implies.

More than anything I love what the word implies about the creative process. The act of creating—the tenacity of making—is more often than not a painful one. It’s a process of making “if only” into “indeed”—a definity, an actuality, an event—one, not only worth waiting for, but also worth working toward.

May all your artistic “if onlys” become “indeeds”—indeed!

And do something creative this weekend—take a risk—make a dream come true!


Prepared by Jill Barth/Editor: Kate Bartolotta.


Kathy McCullough is a writer, artist, and former university instructor. She lived in Vietnam during 2009 and Haiti in 2010, where her partner directed earthquake recovery for a major international NGO. She blogs at Reinventing the Event Horizon.

Read 37 Comments and Reply

Read 37 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant journal  |  Contribution: 1,375,490