I have been “cleaning out”-a spring habit passed down to me from my mom who probably had it passed down from her mom. It is not such fun work until you see what has been accomplished and/or you stumble across things you had forgotten you had. My cleaning binge was thwarted by a book I came across in my shelves called Learning by Heart: teachings to free the creative spirit. The book was written by Sister Corita Kent and Jan Stewart. Kent was a nun, an influential pop artist, and a charismatic professor at a small Catholic liberal arts college, Immaculate Heart in downtown Los Angeles from 1947 until 1968. She believed that everyone was an artist, “We can all talk, we can all write, and if the blocks are removed, we can all draw and paint and make things.” Stewart was a student of Kent. I had to stop my cleaning out and read.
I must have purchased this book shortly after graduating from college. The serigraphs that Sister Kent created are so reminiscent of the late 60’s and early 70’s. You could walk into any printmaking studio of this era and find a familiarity with color, theme, composition between Kent’s work and student work. I found myself having a flashback to the 60’s and 70’s.
Learning by Heart: teachings to free the creative spirit is a gem of a book for getting back to looking, seeing thru a child’s eye, creating simple tools for seeing the world, and looking at the everyday for sparking creativity. Each chapter has a number of exercises, based on the curriculum that Sister Kent used in her classes at Immaculate Heart.
My favorite word from this book is “Plorking” a word generated from the combination of work and play. Kent writes, “we tend to think of play as abstract, without a goal, and somewhat irresponsible-while work suggests a goal, that is specific, and honorable” Plorking is a word that combines these two concepts to recognize them together as one responsible act necessary for creating. “Playing allows you to slip into working, from which you can easily slip back into playing,” she wrote. “Then come those marvelous and rewarding moments when you are making and you are not conscious of thought or anything outside.” Years later, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Hungarian psychologist recognized and named this interplay of play and work as “flow,” a highly focused mental state. Taking a psychologist knack for language, Csikszentmihalyi defined attributes of flow as a state of complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. Sister Kent, using a term from her era might say that plorking is what leads us to “getting in the groove.”
Some of my favorite Sister Kentisms:
- Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes
- Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.
- Be self disciplined. This means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
The book has left a dusty shelf and has now joined on my bedside reading collection. I forgot all the interesting advice for seeing and creating Kent wrote about in this book. I am hoping to rework through some of the exercises in this book and I will let you know how it goes!
Thanks for reading!