Creativity: When Barriers Become Doors

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

How has 2017 treated you so far? As we round the corner to the year’s completion–and as we anticipate Thanksgiving later this week–this would be a good time to take stock of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the year from a writer’s perspective.

Without knowing the specifics of your year, I am confident that the year contained a mix of achievements, shortcomings, and setbacks. Maybe you didn’t see your career progress in any significant way. You’re still grinding away on a novel that you hope will eventually be molded into a structure that compels publishing’s gatekeepers to take note and to express interest. Or maybe that nonfiction manuscript came into focus, and you found just the right way to construct it, resulting in a contract. But now thoughts of how you’ll market it have sent you skidding off into despair about how to do that.

Whatever your situation–one full of thanksgiving for your major steps forward in your publishing journey or one rife with wondering how to hold on to hope–this week is a good time to ponder how to take any detours or barriers you’ve encountered and turn them into assets.

Creativity: Turning Roadblocks into New Ideas

For inspiration, I’d like to draw your attention to Dale Chihuly, a renowned glass-blowing artist. His website, which showcases his work in all of its splendor, describes his foray into glass blowing this way: “Dale began his career with weaving. During a weaving class at University of Washington, he first incorporated glass shards into woven tapestries in 1963. This foray into glass led him to blow his first glass bubble in 1965, by melting stained glass and using a metal pipe.”

As his career just began its ascendancy, in 1976 he was in an automobile accident that threw him through the

The aftermath of being thrown through the car’s windshield.

windshield, causing him to lose sight in his left eye. Despite the challenge of seeing his work without the depth and perspective of two eyes, he continued as a glass-blower.

As matter of fact, the next year he used his new way of seeing to break with 2,000 years of glass-blowing tradition. Instead of pursuing the creation of symmetrical shapes, Chihuly took the glass in the opposite direction and began to use gravity and centrifugal force to create asymmetrical designs.

Another Blow to a Blossoming Career

But then, another setback. He injured his shoulder scuba diving, forcing him to step down from his coveted master glass-blower position. It appeared Chihuly’s career in the physically-challenging art of glass would be over. But then  a life-changing moment occurred.

In his own words, “Once I stepped back I enjoyed the view.”

What he saw was his art from a new angle. The unwanted changes gave him a different perspective. Dale could not have imagined that his limitations would position him to see limitless possibilities. And yet, that’s just what happened.

Creativity: Finding Another Way

He now sketches what he envisions and finds glass-blowing artists who are eager to blow the glass with Chihuly breathing down their necks–quite literally. The artists have the eye-sight and physical ability to shape the glass, but they bow to Chihuly’s creativity and oversight of the work.

In 2008 I had the privilege of viewing a major exhibit of his work at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco. While photos give one a sense of the scale of each work, to see glass-blown pieces that fill room after room and open one’s senses with color, light and shape as never before imagined, is breathtakingly inspiring. To say Chihuly broke the mold is akin to saying Edison’s inventions affected our lives.

For his exhibition in Jerusalem in 2000, in addition to the glass pieces, Chihuly oversaw enormous blocks of transparent ice brought in from an Alaskan artesian well to form a wall. Lights with color gels were set up behind them for illumination. Chihuly said the melting wall represented the “dissolution of barriers” between people. Which strikes me as symbolic of how Chihuly chose not to see barriers when faced with the physical impossibility of continuing his work. Instead, he created a new way to see glass art and a new way to create it.

Creativity: What About You?

What do you view as your shortcomings or setbacks? Lack of education? Lack of time? Poor book sales? Inability to see what would make your work publishable?

How could you see those shortcomings or setbacks not as barriers but as doors to a new way of seeing?

What would happen if you stepped back and took another look?

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