I’ve made some observations this morning about creativity and environment, and definitely welcome input from other creative people.
Since I am no longer committed to a full-time job, I often house/pet-sit for family, friends, and friends-of-friends. This week Gizmo and I have the pleasure to care for two ten-year old Chihuahua-mix dogs in a lovely older home. The floor-plan is open and there is an abundance of windows and natural light. The homeowners are very creative (she is a painter, he is a woodworker), and their home is filled with lovely personal touches, welcoming decor, and open spaces.
As I sat down at the breakfast table with my coffee this morning, facing a large window overlooking a large backyard, my fingers itched to write. I pulled out my journal and the words flowed. I also found I had a number of ideas for my books and blog. I haven’t felt inspired to write in over a year. Most of what I’ve written has been forced. I attributed that to the unusually bad health I have dealt with this year, but what if that’s not the main cause? I’ve written when feeling bad over the years. Actually, when I started writing in 2010 it was because of my pain and illness–I wrote even in the hospital to escape the pain. So what changed?
Sitting here, watching the shadows of a large oak tree play across the lawn, it occurred to me that I tend to write more when I’m house/pet-sitting. Is that because I have time alone to concentrate and write? Or is it environment? I spend a lot of time alone now that my sons are grown and mostly gone. So I started thinking about environment.
I thought back over the years to the periods when I was most productive and creative. As a child, I did a lot of reading, writing, and needlework while traveling, much to my father’s annoyance (“Put that book/knitting/notebook down and look at the scenery/go play with your brother! You can read/knit/write at home!”) In college I studied best in the library next to a window or at a picnic table outside. When I started working in offices, I was most cheerful and productive when in a private office with a large window. During my decade coaching swimming and teaching aquatics, I was in a pool or doing my paperwork at a table on the pool deck. I avoided the office as much as possible. As a college prof and high school teacher I always seemed to get a window-less classroom or office, but found excuses to hold class outdoors or in the libraries near windows.
When I became home-bound, I wrote, sketched, read, and did my needle-work in a chair next to glass patio doors, or at my desk in a large room with two windows. When I think of the various homes where I have spent time house/pet-sitting and being creative, I realize they all have work spaces by large windows.
Then I considered my “creative corner” in our apartment. I was so excited to set up my work space when we moved in last year. It’s in a corner of our bedroom (not ideal I know, but we are temporarily in a small space while hubby finishes graduate school and we wait to see where we will end up). I have a large desk, with five bookshelves above it, and a bulletin board to my left. The bedroom door opens up to box in my desk on the right, and I use the back of the door as a story-board and cover it with post-it notes and pictures. The one window is across the room and behind me as I sit at my desk. We are on the second story, and that window faces North. Any sunlight it might get is filtered through a lot of trees. Additionally, due to downsizing from a house twice the size of our current apartment, we have more furniture in this bedroom than I would prefer, so it seems very cramped.
All that is background to pose my question: What is the connection between creativity and environment? Is it the open space, the view of nature, the natural light, the lack of distractions, being in a new space, some combination of the above, or none of the above that inspires and encourages creativity and productivity? For me as a migraineur, I think a large part of the equation must be the natural light, as we have learned that the flicker and blue/grey light spectrum of fake lights actually trigger headaches and migraines. But I know many people are creative in garage or basement studios where there is no natural light at all.
I realize that creativity and inspiration are very individual, not only to the person creating, but to the art being created. Have you considered where you are most creative, inspired, or productive, and why that might be? I would love to read your comments on the subject. Meanwhile, I’m thinking of how I might experiment with my environment to see if that really does have such a large impact on my work.