Getting creative in difficult times

We’re in an economic recession — and many of us are seeing our world become smaller.

We can no longer travel as we once did, splurge on a new pair of shoes, or eat at our favorite high-end restaurant. What actually changes the way we feel is the sense that that we no longer have as many choices. We feel diminished by that limitation. On the other hand, having options provides us with a sense of well-being, hope, and power.

While it is a huge challenge to try to change our objective reality, it is more than possible to change our sense of having possibilities — we can, in our own minds, create a broader horizon for ourselves, which will give us some real comfort.

There is one place where our choices are limitless, one place to which we can always travel. This place where we can have anything, be anyone, or go anywhere is in our own imagination. If we focus some of our time and resources on engaging our imagination, we will feel better about our lives, regardless of our external circumstances. Exercising the creative muscle is all about seeing new possibilities. And seeing new possibilities gives us hope — and it allows us to immerse ourselves in a different reality.

An artist is constantly making choices – choices about colour, lines, shadows and subject matter. An actor chooses to define his character in his own very unique way. A writer tells a story that comes entirely from within. A musician creates his own unique tone and timbre to convey a mood that is inside his soul.

We can counter the sensation that our world is shrinking by turning to our imagination and participating each week in a hands-on creative activity. For example, taking an art class, an acting class, or a writing class, singing in a choir or playing an instrument moves us into a new world. It changes our inner landscape into a rewarding and exciting place to be.

Imagination addresses a primal need

I believe strongly that we have a primal need to imagine. After all, we learned to play peek-a-boo and sooth ourselves with a teddy bear long before we learned to walk or talk, or even feed ourselves. If we have no way of engaging our imagination, we feel hungry for something without identifying exactly what that is. Using our imagination is an activity that satisfies an essential need we all have, whether we know it or not. It’s a need that goes back to our early childhood.

It is no accident, that even during these challenging times, art schools, dance schools, and music schools are managing to hold their own, and in some cases thrive. People looking to spend their time in meaningful pursuits, are still willing to pay and to take courses in the visual and performing arts. Art supply stores are also reporting a good volume of sales over the last six months.

The arts lift your spirits and take you away from whatever is troubling you. They offer you an alternative world — one of your own making — a world that offers challenges, joy, inspiration and a great sense of accomplishment.

A challenge for you

Pursuing one of the arts is not the only way you can exercise your imagination.

Here’s one way you can do it without even leaving the house:

Make a list of all the ways you could use a dinner napkin — besides putting it on your lap at dinner! (Hint: think of it as much bigger, or much smaller. Think of it in many different settings — not necessarily in your home.)

A $50 gift certificate towards a course at the Avenue Road Arts School will be sent to every person who comes up with 25 uses for a dinner napkin before April 15, 2009.

Send your ideas to[email protected].

Lola Rasminsky C.M. is the Founding Director of the Avenue Road Arts School in Toronto. The school provides classes to 1,000 students each year aged 9 months to 90 years in a warm, supportive environment.

Photo © Vikram Raghuvanshi