Existence is an endlessly creative process. It finds expression in everything we experience. Right along the evolutionary timeline of humanity, there has been a constant process of applying basic and higher faculties to problem-solving in survival, and to rituals which connect us to each other, to the divine and to the earth. Everything that marks our presence here is the result of creative thought and action. Often a need of some kind will stimulate the imagination to conceive a solution, which is then processed through practical faculties to take form in the world. It could be a suspension bridge, a new fashion design or a piece of music.
Those who are wired for art and creativity make contributions to culture that can be hard to put a price on. In a world driven by value, there is a huge challenge in pricing one's art. It can often be undervalued in terms of the time and skill it demands. And at times it can apparently be overvalued. But for the people who cannot live without making, the financial compensations are often way down their list of priorities.
In the summer of 2019 I had a long and fascinating discussion with my friend Dave Bailey, about art and creativity. He makes beautiful leather journals, of which I have several. We played with the idea of co-authoring a book about what craft can teach us. I even had the title: Make/Manifest. We talked about something based on Bristol artists and makers. Then life got in the way. But in the summer of 2020 I reached out to him when putting together the book Wisdom: Now and Always. In our interview he talked about art and craft in his typically insightful way, and I was again inspired by his perspectives. We further discussed the idea of collaborating on a book, and even got as far as a list of questions for interviewees. I wished to move faster on the book, so we agreed that I would continue alone. So I soon found myself seeking out contributors, and within a week had begun the process of interviewing and transcribing.
Over the course of the summer and autumn 2020 I interviewed 23 people, many of whom have won or been nominated for the top awards in their art forms. These include music and music technology, painting, sculpture, stained glass, tattooing, performance art, motion capture, photography, calligraphy, poetry, illustration, graffiti art, animation, filmmaking, and TV production and development. We went deep and wide in the discussions, exploring their mediums, their inspiration and motivation, their connection with the audience, their challenges and triumphs, and their secrets to professional longevity.
I was thrilled to interview people whose work I admire, and in some cases grew up with, or have used in making my own art. Some are fellow activists, such as Kaz Tanahashi, Dr Rama Mani, Dr Eda Elif Tibet, Charlotte Mary Pack, and Chipo Chung, who wrote the foreword. Some of them are teachers, either in person or online. I have learned a great deal from the YouTube channels of JHS Pedals, Red Means Recording and Proko. Maggie Murphy teaches her students lessons from 30 years as a television development executive. Dr Claudia Kappenberg does likewise in terms of her long career as a dancer and performance artist.
A number of the contributors work in ancient artforms, tracing their profession back millennia. These are mainly the sculptors, painters, illustrators and musicians. In fact Muazzam Ali Khan, the Qawwali singer, is part of a family tradition of Sufi musicians and singers going back centuries. My namesake Miguel Mendonça continues the legacy of the great illustrators who draw world-famous DC Comics characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Others have had a hand in defining the evolution of their art and craft. These include Dave Smith, one of the pioneers of synthesizers, and Reuben Langdon, who has been doing motion capture for movies and video games for as long as anyone. Also Pete Lord, who along with his colleague Dave Sproxton, brought clay animation to the world at large, through the development of Aardman animation studios. Lady Pink was among the group of New York graffiti artists who took it to from tagging to the level of meaningful public murals, like Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros. Her work, spraying paint on walls, has its roots in one of the oldest surviving artforms - the hand stencils on cave walls.
Some of the artists in the book, like Charlotte, produce individual pieces, which each buyer may treasure. The photos may go around the world on Instagram, but the work itself is best experienced in person. For others, like Corin Johnson, their work may be viewed affixed to a building, or erected in public spaces, to be viewed by tourists and locals for decades or centuries. And those who work in film and television will share their work, their skill and their passion with millions or even billions of people around the world. When I watch episodes of Rust Valley Restorers, featuring Mike Hall, and co-created by Matthew Shewchuk, I know that millions of others are sharing in the joy and connection I feel. It was such a pleasure to interview those two creators for the book, and be able to tell them in person who much the show means to me. It was the same with Pete Lord, whose early TV creation Morph was one of the best bits of my week as a child.
It is a genuine privilege to be able to bring together such extraordinary people and dive into their experiences. It was intriguing to hear David Hurn talk about playing Monopoly with the Beatles. And to hear of his philosophy of honesty and integrity in his photography. It was fascinating to ask Herman Rarebell what it was like to play in front of stadium audiences all over the world. To play on Wind of Change and have a song forever be the soundtrack of the fall of the Berlin Wall. And to survive the 80s in of the world's biggest touring hard rock bands. He recently recorded with Lee Pepper, who I also interviewed. The purity of his joy and passion for music is something that is incredibly refreshing and inspiring. He talked about tuning into the sound of a pebble skipping against the underside of the car as he drove. Kari Barba described profound experiences with octopi, which then became part of her signature in her tattoo work. Many people are now wearing elements of those experiences on their bodies.
Artists are wired into reality in a powerful way, and read and interpret it in ways that we can all benefit from. They have always had an important place in society, as they have a way of sensitizing us to more of the dimensions of existence, allowing us to experience life more fully. Our senses become that bit sharper, and perhaps our hearts and minds a little more open. Life would be less colorful and meaningful without them. But most of all, they can help awaken our own artistic and creative potential. For many of them, that may be their greatest legacy.
Formica Coriandolo shared one of the most extraordinary stories, in which she described the philosophy of the Damanhur spiritual community in Italy and how it was made manifest in the underground Temples of Humankind which they excavated in secret and filled with the most astonishing art - created by people with no formal training. It is a living demonstration of the power of human potential and collaboration. This is all the evidence anyone will need of our often untapped artistic and creative potential.
Every reader will find illumination in these conversations. They will find answers to questions they did not realize they had. This was certainly the case for me. I got so much more from the process than I anticipated. By now, having interviewed around 90 people for my books, one might expect that I would be ready to be blown away, but that's not true. People are so full of what is new to you - in information, in their experience and in their perspectives - that if you are open to it, you can always be surprised, and can benefit enormously.
In addition to finding these people to be fun and fascinating, there is a cumulative effect of inspiration and encouragement. For those who feel their artistic ability and creative potential is lacking, these interviews are reminders that there are so many ways to approach your creative journey that you can always find a way forward. Hard work and commitment is the foundation. Deciding that you will keep going, that you will work at your craft, is the essential starting point. Karma yoga - effort without expectation - is a very helpful way to approach this. It can be overwhelming to give yourself a mountain to climb, but if you simply decide to do something each day, and find ways to improve and stay inspired, your level will improve, and thus your satisfaction. And as satisfaction increases, this feeds back into your motivation. It's a simple mechanism, and it works.
The rest of the lessons I will leave you to discover in Make/Manifest: A Life in Art and Craft. It is out now on Amazon.