(Final chapter and excerpt from my new book Working From Home: An artobiography, out January 2022)
I remember it was sunny.
It was mid-2001, and I was in the office, as usual.
Working on a doomed and contentious pitch for IKEA or something equally unfulfilling. (I love IKEA, but this pitch was a politicised non-starter.) There were mutterings about the company moving to open-plan offices, which filled me with dread, as I wouldn’t be able to think. And I was trying to find my way out. Or ahead.
I’d done the career ladder, done the international thing, done the stay-at-home-mum thing and the house thing. I’d written (though not published) several books and knew I’d go back to that someday, since that had always been my first love. I even had a half-written novel waiting for me. But meanwhile, my marriage was beginning to fray, my interest in advertising had tanked, and I was tired of seeing good ideas massacred by mediocre, self-important dickheads.
In other words, I was stuck.
So I asked myself the classic unsticker question: ‘If I were on my death bed and looking back at my life, what would I most regret not having done?’
The answer was as immediate and clear as it was surprising.
‘Art. Visual art.’
Surprising, because I considered myself to be a dyed-in-the-wool writer. Surprising also because I’d always considered myself to be ‘failed arty’. After all, I’d pretty much failed the practical art component of my higher school certificate. (Justly. It was equal parts awful and misguided.) And it was very clear that the path to receiving pat, recognition and approval (my lifelong toxic cocktail of choice) was through analytical smarts, not arts. Creativity was nice as a fluffy hobby — useful for decorating the house and entertaining small children — but you had to be obviously exceptional for it to really count. Which I patently wasn’t. And which is why, when I joined the purportedly creative industry of advertising, I did so as a suit, not a Capital-C-Creative. And even then, I’d have tried to be a writer, not visualiser.
So the art message was a surprise. But the clarity and resonance of the message was undeniable, so art it was.
I marinated in it for the next decade. Mosaic (safely left-brain for starters), then clay, drawing, printmaking, bookbinding, painting, mixed media, fabric, clothes and collage. A mixed bag of ad hoc classes, autodidact reading — particularly on the creative processes of artists of all mediums — as well as endless rabbit holes and experimentation.
Of course, a glance around my house says it all. Art everywhere and a large studio stocked with different mediums and materials. An extensive library full of literature, art books, picture books, how-to books and creative biographies, as well as a trove of books on creativity, ideas and ‘what makes people tick’, and a kick-ass playlist I can use anytime I want to get into that headspace. Why the pop-psychology? Because once I’d really got a handle on real juice of the creative process, I wanted to take it back into my career. And because ‘creativity’ in business didn’t even remotely resemble my experience in the arts, I wanted to combine them, and play.
Well. That’s been an interesting process, I can tell you. It’s a weird space, where creativity is simultaneously revered and completely gaslit and dismissed. I started by trying to get Studio Thinking off the ground, to no avail. Too fluffy, apparently. Even when I was working in the creative space of design thinking, I was being repeatedly professionally advised not to feature my art on my website in case it detracted from my business professionalism. And yet.
And yet the thing that intrigued people the most, that made them look almost wistful when they asked me about it, was the art. That and the tentative, quickly quashed yearning of the thought that maybe they could do something similar.
Developing the work on wicked problems brought me closer back to pure applied creative process. After all, that’s pure strategy, and strategy is nothing if not a creative process. And now I’m circling back to Studio Thinking again. Because while creativity has recently become the flavour-du-jour in business, riding high on the back of the cult of innovation and change, they’ve predictably tried to codify it, stripping it of the inherent mess and ambiguity, essentially excising its soul. And then wondering, again, why it’s not working for them. Regardless of how many sticky notes they used.
So. Twenty years later and I’m back focusing on art, and more importantly for me, back playing with it for its own sake rather than for how it can help me do something else. And for the first time in ages (ever?) I’m ‘leading from the right hemisphere’ rather than the left. Which means that the art is now collaborating beautifully with the thinking and writing I want to do to make the books and artefacts I want to make. Because they seem to want to be made.
And here’s the thing. As humans, we are wired to create and to be creative. Not just to ‘produce’, to create. Our need for art is primal, as is our need for beauty, for play, for connection and for self-expression. We don’t make art just because we can. We make art because we have to. We always have. Which is why it’s such a powerful beacon for finding home.
Home is where the heart is. And the heart is where the art is. It’s even in the word…
Art was my way home.
Could it be yours?
This is an excerpt from my new art monograph, Working From Home: An artobiography, a limited edition work of art about works of art, and how making art can help us find home. Out January 2022.