Given enough time to get to know each other, the four of us would probably have had a useful and even inspirational conversation. But if you read face and body language in the photomontage below, you can get a pretty good idea of how the session actually developed. Ludmila Ulitskaya is the only one who looks at ease, perhaps because she spoke no English. Her Russian translator mumbled so softly that I could barely hear a word so I don't know what Ludmila thought but she had a sympathetic face. David Galenson held forth longer than anyone else in a manner that seemed defensive but perhaps that's because I didn't agree with most of his approach to the subject and perhaps that's because I'm deeply involved in, and perhaps also defensive, about the process of creation, while he is deeply involved in the theory he has painstakingly constructed about it. Pamela Ryckman had done her homework assiduously and tried her best to orchestrate the session but it was no easy task. It was more like a set of monologues than a discussion but if I look disgruntled perhaps that's because I was disappointed by the many empty chairs in the room - only about fifteen people in the audience.
But perhaps that's because many talks on different topics were scheduled at the same time on each day of the Forum and therefore people tended to graze buffet-style, wandering in and out of rooms to sample what was on offer. Understandable perhaps, but not exactly conducive to depth and concentration. That's a lot of perhapses ...Quisas quisas quisas: remember that old Latin American song?
I had written notes to prepare for the session but, as often happens on such occasions, I ended up improvising. It all seems far away already but since we're still on the subject, herewith my notes:
I've been invited here because I'm creative and I'm ageing. But I'm not going to say how old I am because a number, when associated with age, instantly brings up stereotypes which I want to avoid. If you've been a committed artist all your life you never reach retiring age - you just keep on working, trying to do better - or as Beckett said: fail again, fail better.
For me, creativity is a metaphorical room I have to enter in order to switch on the state of creativity: the state in which I can make objects that can be called artworks. I don't mean that I must perform some arcane ritual before picking up a brush or other tool, but there is a definite difference between this state and the ordinary state in which I do the shopping, cleaning, socialising, internet surfing etc. The creativity involved in writing is different: I can think of sentences to write while doing the dishes or sitting in a noisy café. But to fully engage in a process which will eventually end up as physical artworks, in whatever medium, demands a deliberate decision to enter and stay as long as possible in a space where anything other than the work at hand is excluded. I can't explain what neurons in my brain need to be activated but I do know that it is like tuning to a specific radio station and that I need complete silence in order to connect.
One thing that ageing has done is to make me more aware that I have to choose to enter that state. It doesn't happen automatically just because I call myself an artist. I can decide to step into that room and make stuff (which may or may not be art) and keep on making more of it until my dying day, if health and energy permit. Or I can sit back and let age creep up while I'm surfing the internet, playing with my digital gadgets, watching TV, shopping and so on until suddenly I realise: hey, I'm old! I've got one foot in the grave and the other one is wobbling!
But in my creative space I've got loads of time ahead because the child in me is still able to make discoveries and perhaps produce the best work I've ever done. It is still possible, as many artists have proved, that you can be an innovator, a rule-breaker, even when you're chronologically old. Creativity is about breaking or bending the rules and ageing doesn't necessarily kill one's inner rebel. Some will disagree, asserting that the brain ages and that's that. Well, even experts admit that, so far, little is known about exactly what goes on in the convoluted grey matter inside our skulls. So it may be that the brains of artists...ageing and aged....can teach the experts a thing or two about creativity.
Something else that ageing does is to prod me to shed, rather than to accumulate things and concepts, getting rid of anything that interferes with finding out what my own inner voice is trying to say.
And now a few more photos from the Deauville do. It was an eye-opening experience which I'm grateful to have been a part of and I will not forget the inspiring people I met or whose talks I heard - too many to mention and do justice to.
Mercy Oduyoye, theologian, Director of Women in Religion and Culture, Ghana