Local artist-writer Coeleen Kiebert uncovers the mysterious— and not so mysterious—creative process in a powerful new book
he accomplished sculptor Coeleen Kiebert has written a truly original and exceptionally helpful book about a fascinating subject, the subject of creativity. The book is called “All of a Sudden: The Creative Process.” In her acknowledgements, Kiebert writes: “This book is the outcome of the willingness of many to engage with me in the process of exploring, thinking about, and expressing the creative process.” It is a crowning achievement and a great example of the very creative process that is the subject of her book.
Kiebert is a local sculptor who works in ceramics and bronze and any material or object she deems important to the piece she is working on. She describes this as “the combining of separate elements or substances to form a coherent whole,” and emphasizes the importance of staying open to whatever may unfold as we work, of allowing for new possibilities: images that emerge unexpectedly ... in the clay or whatever medium we are working in.
We are given five definitive stages of the creative process (which I will not give away here). Kiebert believes “Everyone is experiencing these stages. They just haven't previously identified them as being a part of the creative process.” An important part of the creative process is to stay in touch with our moods and emotions, letting them flow into what we are working on. She addresses the connection between psychology and creativity, between the soul and creativity, as it was taught and written about by C.G. Jung. Like Jung, she believes the creative process assists the unconscious in coming forward. I find this true in my own work and feel deeply rewarded when a new image or insight comes to me ... truly magical.
Unlike some other books I have read on creativity, “All of a Sudden: The Creative Process” is not an academic book, not a preachy book. This is a book written by an artist who understands the complex nature of creativity and teaches it with an understanding of Jung, an understanding of Eastern influences, and an honest expression of her own moods, her own experiences, thinking and exploration. She shares the trauma of receiving a phone call at 3 a.m. telling of the death of her son David who was living in Japan. We learn how she dealt with this indescribable horror and the process by which a powerful body of work gradually emerged from her grief.
Kiebert believes we come into the world with creativity, that it is there right from the beginning. I read her words hungrily because I too believe this ... because I very much want to, and yet I know I carry residual doubts which stand in my way.
A video featuring Kiebert shows her on one of the tours to China she has led for a number of years. She is sitting on a wall of stone, Chinese hat shielding her from the sun, and makes a remark I find fascinating: Chinese painters never copy a scene, she informs us; they paint only from memory. I am moved to think I can rely on the consciousness that I have inside of me for all I need to create.
She discusses the value of doodles (almost every page offers charming doodles) and a practice she calls bag collage, which reveal images that help jumpstart us into our work. Interestingly, she writes: “I think style comes from the original form of a doodle taken to its limit. Really!” A doodle and collage work, she tells us, can give us a clearer idea of what it is we wish to say ... which brings me to another gem of hers: that it is more important to know what it is one wants to say than to focus on technique or style. I tend to focus on my style of writing, always wondering if it is good enough. No more.
“The major challenge,” she explains with stunning lucidity, “is to accept the gap between the reality of what's presenting itself and the still ephemeral vision I've brought into the process.”
And then again, a piece of wisdom I especially need: “A body of work usually evolves after it's begun, rather than from a commitment to an idea ...” I, on the other hand, work desperately hard to have my work figured out from the beginning. I should know by now this doesn't work.
She writes about her own experience with the elusive Muse, that unless she sets the process in motion, nothing will happen, that even if she does not have an inspiration to commit to, she has the process to commit to.
Kiebert is not without her demons which have led her to despair, even a paralysis that kept her from working. She describes a dry spell she feared might never end.
“The dry spell went on and on,” she writes. “It mounted into two years of struggle, depression, and self-examination. ... I was unable to create anything. I wondered if I had ever been an artist at all. I questioned whether I even deserved to be an artist. ... There were hours, even whole days, of floundering with the materials. Often, I questioned whether it was even possible for anyone to understand what I wanted to understand. Was there such a phenomenon as a creative process? And if there was, was I astute enough to grasp it? My identity as an artist was in crisis.”
I admire Kiebert's honesty in sharing herself as she does, particularly because I am learning only now to do so. I was raised by German parents in an authoritarian household where feelings were forbidden and repressed (except for anger).
I was not given books or allowed to see films. Sadly and innocently I roped myself into an authoritarian marriage. For most of my life I felt anxious and afraid. When I left my marriage, an instinct led me to graduate school to study psychology where I needed to give presentations in front of the classroom (knees shaking and the rest of me petrified) which over the years helped me to gain a modicum of confidence. Studying Jung and others began my years of self-exploration as I look back, a painfully slow but self-empowering journey toward freedom and consciousness.
I am now 77 and it has become clear to me why it is that creativity cannot exist in a repressive environment, that freedom is an essential ingredient for the creative process to flourish. I have been writing book reviews and personal essays for various publications. Kiebert's book “All of a Sudden: The Creative Process” has become my bible for improving my own process, if I can deign to even call it that.
But I am not ambitious. My energy is limited and I now live slowly, meditating and reflecting in the early morning and late at night.
However, as Kiebert advises, I am more and more in touch with my moods and emotions, which helps me not only with my writing but also with my relationships and therefore the quality of my life. I feel that Kiebert's creative process is a holistic one, one that has made my life as a whole more authentic and alive. There is much wisdom in this book. I keep it by my bedside to reread it, to absorb and ponder its teachings at my own leisurely pace. I feel it gives the reader much to think about, and I recommend it to one and all, no matter the level of their creativity.
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