How to Improve your Creative Abilities (and Help Save the World) — Part 2

In Part One we mentioned KH Kim’s research about plummeting creativity levels in America and offered five ideas for developing creative abilities in the form of artworks with explanatory paragraphs. This week we have five more works (#s6–10) with corresponding morsels about how creativity works and why it’ll save us all.


#6. Feel the pain and do it anyway

Wear the flaming crown, 2017, oil on canvas.

Developing creativity means, as we said in idea #3, walking through the flames of uncertainty. But if you get so far, rest assured, you are fortunate. Those flames are opening your eyes, mind, heart, and will, so you can do your best work. That work needs a vessel, and it is preparing you to be that vessel.

Learn how to transform your fears into confidence in the future. John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” The master creator has confidence in the future. Joseph Beuys said: “Death keeps me awake.” The master creator knows that death breaks the body but not the spirit. To be awake to the spirit before that moment is to wear the flaming crown.

Most people will delay this moment; it is not yet their time. We understand what it means to love comfort and certitude, to delay the walk through the flames. In today’s world, you’re told to “feed yourself first” and justify doing so because “this is the world we live in.” But if you want to become creative, you must surrender comfort for a constant stirring of restless potency and trade certainty for unresolvable unknowing. You must embrace the metamorphosis that begins to work within you, feeling it work its way through your cells like a hot wind.

#7. Work on your consciousness

Thought space drawing, digital, 2016.


In the discipline of becoming creative, you cannot advance very far without working on your consciousness. By that we mean your mental space, your feelings, your cravings, your desires — everything that flits through what you call your “brain.” We’re not talking about the fleshy instrument, though; we mean your soul. The brain is the mirror; it’s not the source. But we digress; that’s a topic for another time.

For now, let’s focus on your consciousness. Most of the time, it’s a wreck of flotsam and jetsam, with scraps of tunes, images, impulses, words, emotions running around in a blender. You’ve got to learn to quiet that down. How? People do it in different ways, but ultimately, there’s no substitute for good old fashioned sitting in silence doing nothing. Meditation. Not the sing-song type, not the breathing thing. Keep it simple. But we digress again.

Whatever your practice, it will take a while before you notice the light. But with enough time and practice, that light will grow, and start to illuminate the mess, and as this happens, the mess becomes less messy. The sharp bits are rounded and eventually dissolved. The hall of mirrors becomes a refuge of quiet and forgiving order. Then, the source has serious room to grow.

#8. Learn from nature

The Nest Walker, oil on canvas, 2010.

In the ancient world, humanity wasn’t so technologically advanced, but we had a more open and fluid way of belonging to the world. We had a poetic, rich imagination that beheld nuances, rhythms, and patterns of nature in such ways as to discern their wisdom.

That sometimes led to violence, and other times led to art — but you gotta admit, we weren’t so uptight and obsessed with ourselves. To greater and lesser degrees we acknowledged the divine order, the wholeness of the universe and our place in it. It was cool.

Nowadays apparently all that’s rubbish and that we’re just molecules that somehow learned to think. We’re not buying it, because we’ve seen the Nest Walker. He’s a minor deity, sure, but he’s undeniably real. We’ll tell you more about him in the future, but for now, just now that he’s the one who breaks things down.

Some powers grow things; some break them down. The Nest Walker takes the weakest and sickest baby birds back into his fold, plucking them from the nest so as to strengthen life. He delights over compost, the nourishment of the earth.

Learn from nature. Realize that everything that was made was made. The rhythms of the stars and planets; the waxing and waning of the moon; the pulsing of our blood, the flash of warmth in the stranger’s smile. The world is full of wisdom. Learn from it. Look for it.

In the future, we will once again be more imaginative, less “caught up” in our technologies; we will learn how to once again see, value, and work with — this time around with a new level of understanding and skill. If we learn to open our eyes and see.

#9. Lighten up. Play the fool

In Seeing the Eye Disappears #2, oil on paper, 2010.

You’re going to do stupid stuff from time to time. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll go down dead paths for years on end. Don’t sweat it.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, you do it and you go there for some reason. Discover that reason, and let yourself be the fool. You could be an addict; you could be a lousy parent. You might have done something really, genuinely terrible. Or you could just be so far from your potential that you hate yourself sometimes. Don’t. Don’t do it.

We all suffer our brains out on this path. I am suffering, you’re suffering; heck even that lucky lady with all the money is Suffering. Her. Self. To. Death. The thing is, you’re either doing it consciously, even willingly, or you’re in denial. If you’re among the rare beings who has so purified yourself that you suffer no more, well then you’re a bodhisattva and you’ve done your time; now you’re here to help redeem the rest of us.

Listen — the point is that you are already wonderful, amazing, bright and shiny, and endlessly creative. It’s just a matter of finding that power behind the mask and layers. Playing the fool, even if it leads to temporary disaster, is never a bad idea in the long run — because maybe, just maybe, you will find wisdom, growth, potential.

Lighten up and let yourself drift a little — or a lot.

#10. Find your source

Fra Angelico’s Heaven Over Earth, digital, 2017


Every creative person has to make decisions about their source. We love Basquiat and Bacon (sounds like something yummy, right?) but we choose not to draw from their same sources. We also love Rembrandt and Twombly and Gubaidulina; we endeavor to draw from their sources.

Source is a key question in creativity of all kinds, because it all comes from somewhere. You can choose to draw from hell (looking at you, Francis B.) or heaven (you the real, Sophia G.), or wherever you choose — the shopping mall, the grocery store, the bank, the street. But please, find your source. It matters.

One last thing. Don’t be like Basquiat and go crazy on drugs then die at 27. Not cool. Be more like William Pope.L. The longer he goes, the more potent his work. That’s because he’s got capacities, not just gifts. More on the difference next time. But it begins with this. Cultivate your source.



  1. Peter Hanson on June 7, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Awesome website! Great text and ideas. Love what you guys are doing!
    I still have somewhere the elevator speech you wrote for me!!
    I would like to keep in contact and know what you guys are doing.
    Peter Hanson

    • Jeff Barnum on June 7, 2017 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks Peter, be sure to sign up for our zine (at the bottom of all our website pages) if you haven’t yet! Keep in touch!! 🙂

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