All in the Family

Creative Commons License photo credit: Gusjer

I have spent the past week at a family reunion: my parents have been hosting their four children, four grandchildren and associated partners at their country home in Nova Scotia. It’s been a lovely, if somewhat hectic visit, and has kept me away from the writing table for the most part…

However, in pondering what aspect of creativity I might like to tackle next in these pages, it has occurred to me (as it often does) that my immediate circumstances might offer some inspiration. More precisely, I have been wondering about how my family, both immediate and extended, may have influenced my creative development, as well as the ideas and thoughts about creativity that are the subject of this blog.

And of course this isn’t just about me – as always, I don’t think I’m particularly special or unique in this and likely the same kinds of influences are operating in your life as well, whether or not you consider yourself particularly creative. I want to think about this in a more general way, starting from my own experience and extrapolating from there.

a slice of life

My own immediate family is a fairly eclectic bunch, though the sciences, particularly those in the biological realm, are rather heavily represented – a biochemist (my father), a plant geneticist and a marine biologist and ecologist (brothers) are joined by a budding economist (sister). My mother is a painter, musician and gardener, helping me fill out the arts team a little. Mind you, the others have various artistic leanings as well, which we’ll return to a bit later.

In the extended family are several more scientists, two pilots, and various teachers, nurses, engineers, a couple more artists (including a somewhat famous writer/director, my cousin Brooke), a handful of entrepreneurs of various stripes and, of course, numerous parents and practitioners of the vastly under-appreciated art/science that used to be called ‘homemaking’. In other words, a fairly typical cross-section of people who have found rewarding ways to make their way in the world.

Over the years many of these people have influenced me, some subtly and some powerfully, and this is obviously nothing revolutionary. Our families influence us, big deal, right? However, as I think about this, what I realize is that some of the deepest and most empowering influences on my journey of creative exploration have come from very unexpected angles.

For example, because much of my immediate family are biologists, and I wanted to be able to keep up somewhat with conversation around the dinner table, I have made something of a lay study of evolutionary theory. I don’t claim a full understanding of the subtler details, but I have a pretty good grasp of the basics… and it has absolutely informed my ideas about creative community and the Ecology of Mind… about which, more soon…

Moreover, in exploring the similarities and differences in our worldviews, my more scientifically oriented family members and I have had some extraordinary conversations that have served to develop and refine my ideas about creativity – in ways that might never have happened if we were all artists and musicians. I cannot say for sure, but I like to think that perhaps my own different life focus has influenced them to be more creative and open in their work as well.

the spice of life

What I am getting at here is that cross-pollination of ideas from different fields and disciplines is not a luxury but a basic and essential element of the development of a creative mind. Artists have, I think, a tendency to develop a kind of ‘tunnel vision’ when we discover the thing that lights our fires, whether it be jazz piano or watercolour painting or ballet or Haiku.

I think this is dangerous and can lead to an atrophy of the most important creative muscle of all: the synthesis of ideas or influences from seemingly disparate realms. The indefinable richness of a truly creative work often comes from the discovery of unexpected connections, the sudden recognition of the Pattern Which Connects.

And what I am suggesting is that we all have a rich source of these connections in our families, just waiting to be mined. The inexplicable differences between siblings or cousins that lead us along different paths can bring perspective and insight that we cannot find on our own, with our more limited frame of reference.

Maybe this is not just about family – or maybe yours is not as large or close-knit as mine. No matter. Look at the people around you, friends or neighbors or colleagues. Find out more about them. Explore the connections that arise from your different perspectives on shared experiences. If your family doesn’t get along, consider where compromise and consensus offer something to the creative process…

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below – how has your family influenced your creative life? How do you think you’ve affected theirs? Are you open to input and perspectives from radically different fields, even those that are not traditionally thought of as ‘creative’?

p.s. I’m pleased to announce here the publication of a guest-post for Ariel Hyatt’s ‘Music Success in Nine Weeks’ blog, about the re-launch of her blogging contest – check it out by clicking on the banner below!

Music Success in Nine Weeks