5 Reasons Why Overcoming Your Dislike of Formulas in the Arts Helps You

“If one is the master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things.” —Vincent Van Gogh

In loving memory of artist Alice G. Mathieu (Mom)
In loving memory of artist
Alice G. Mathieu (Mom)

I speak of formula from the Online Etymology Dictionary’s entry: “Modern sense [of the word] is colored by Carlyle’s … ‘rule slavishly followed without understanding.’

My etymology is: Form + You + Là (there) = Works That Speak.

Artist: Alice G. Mathieu
Artist: Alice G. Mathieu

If you put aside self, principles can form in you the trampoline from which your creative ideas spring.

5 Reasons We Dislike Formulas in Creative Arts

1.   We fear what we don’t understand.

Embracing rules we don’t understand is difficult.

FormYouLà: Other than a great story, many readers can’t list the principles underlying their good reading experiences. Many art viewers can’t list, except what captured their

Artist: Alice G. Mathieu
Artist: Alice G. Mathieu

attentions, why a painting delights the masses. Audiences don’t need to understand the principles, but novelists, artists, and musicians can only perform better when they do.

2.   We discover the formulas require significant work.

Significant has a double meaning. Learning and using rules:

  1. requires significant effort and
  2. produces signifiant art.
Artist: Alice G. Mathieu
Artist: Alice G. Mathieu

FormYouLà: When my artist mother laid out ten watercolors of the same subject my eyes widened. The only difference was the hue of the gray she used for the shadows on the snow around a tree. She’d reworked the shadows until she satisfied her trained eye, and she wanted to know which struck me.

3.    We think others misunderstand our brilliance.

Possibly we’re better than many, but few of us inherently understand all the principles that make pieces pleasing to audiences. Nancy Durate said in her book Resonate, “The audience does not need to tune themselves to you—you need to tune your message to them.” Learning principles help you do this. Geniuses Beethoven and Michelangelo studied the principles of their arts. In Exodus 35, God gave two artisans the ability to teach others artistic principles.

Artist: Alice G. Mathieu
Artist: Alice G. Mathieu

FormYouLà: As I marveled at Michelangelo’s marble David in Florence, our guide explained Michelangelo made David’s head and hands larger than normal. Experts think he knew when the statue stood on the cathedral roofline as first planned, these significant parts would appear too small to viewers below. Part of Michelangelo’s brilliance lay in what he understood about perspective—and about his audience.

4.   We view formulas as infringements on our creativity.

A formula of chemicals lies in the potter’s clay. Colors rely on formulas based on mixtures of one or more of the primary colors. Words are combined to form a third word. Formulas abound. Once we understand the foundation rules underlying our art, our creativity becomes free to skyrocket.

Artist: Alice G. Mathieu
Artist: Alice G. Mathieu

FormYouLà: When I write in a character’s point of view, one rule is: action before reaction. For example, Sally stashed the letter under the mattress when she heard Jack’s approaching footsteps. The stimulus (Jack’s footsteps) should come first. This principle keeps readers in Sally’s experience, instead of me telling them information Sally doesn’t know yet.

5.   We think formulas are stagnant.

King Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Three-act plays have survived because they succeed in delighting audiences. The formula isn’t the problem. The challenge is the fresh creative spin we put on what’s proven to work. Only when we understand the rules can we effectively bend them.

Artist: Alice G. Mathieu
Artist: Alice G. Mathieu

FormYouLà: Authors of classics loaded lengthy descriptions and backstory into the beginning of novels. They had patient readers who weren’t shown TV images of everything. Today’s readers want to delve into the story now. Like TV shows do. They still need description and backstory but tolerate them better in snippets when they’re germane to the story.

If our desire to create worthwhile works for our audiences is genuine, we’ll humbly thirst to understand the formulas that have survived over time. Then we can exercise our creative spark on them to create our masterpieces.

What personal stories do you have of using or not using formulas?

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4 Steps to Prepare Your Cherry-on-Top Presentation

“Ideas are useless unless used.” —Theodore Levitt

A traditional banana split as served in Cabot's Ice Cream and Restaurant in Newtonville, Massachusetts.
A traditional banana split as served in Cabot’s Ice Cream and Restaurant in Newtonville, Massachusetts.

Suppose your boss approaches you and says, “Company morale is down. I’m giving all employees an hour off work and inviting them to the cafeteria to enjoy free banana splits. I want you to give them a short pep talk before the sundaes are served.” How would you go about your task?

Here’s what I’d do, hypothetically.

Image courtesy of Pixomar at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Pixomar at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

1. Determine the audience’s need.

  • Especially if you’re not an employee, you’ll need to do research. Look up what the company’s industry is facing. Look at customer reviews of its products or services. Interview employees.
  • Decide how you’ll fill their need.


Banana splits: As an employee, I knew the morale problem was associates’ fear of infringement on their work from other departments and management . My pep talk needed to show employees how essential all areas and levels were to the company’s survival.

2.  Get an idea.

  • While you’re brainstorming, don’t eliminate ideas because they sound ridiculous.
  • Play with the ideas that grab you most. Which could give a fresh spin? What can you squeeze from that outlandish idea?

Banana splits: I couldn’t give up the silly idea of basing my pep talk on a banana split. What wisdom could I squeeze from the sundae? Maybe I could compare the structures of the company and a banana split. I hoped a banana-split story would delight my audience longer than a speech full of business-speak.

Http:// 3.   Sign on the Internet.

  • Researching your idea may jumpstart a new direction for your idea.
  • Or you may discover gems that enhance your message.

Banana splits: My research unveiled facts that played well with my comparison idea.

4.  Prepare your presentation.

  • Start your talk showing you understand the audience’s present situation.
  • Tell them how things could be.
  • Present your solution in a manner that appeals to their emotions.
  • Tell a story.

Banana splits: I recognized the difficulties the employees were experiencing. I explained my research suggested the product quality, customer service, and ads came across to customers like dog biscuits and threatened the company’s survival and their jobs. I assured them they could shine like a banana split, if they changed how employees treated each other.

MP900314258I told them the banana split’s boat-shaped dish, designed by David Strickler, the inventor of the banana split in 1904, represented the company’s mission.

Banana’s were first imported into America in 1902, making them a relatively a new treat and were in demand in 1904. The banana halves that supported the rest of the banana split represented consumer demand.

The mainstay vanilla ice cream symbolized production. The strawberry scoop denoted product development with its fruitful ideas, while the chocolate ice cream signified energized marketing.

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The three syrups (chocolate, pineapple/wet walnut, and strawberry) characterized the areas’ tasks and expertizes. The syrups oozed together in the banana boat. This sharing of tasks and expertizes would improve their products, service, and image. Yum.

The whipped cream signified management, who had associates covered, providing them resources and breaking though red tape.

And what topped the banana split to represent the CEO? A marshmallow? No. Too soft and would get lost against the whipped cream. A nut? Who’d want a nut leading them? A bright red maraschino cherry? Now, that stood out! Many people didn’t like maraschino cherries. But the CEO was hired not to be liked but to lead.

The banana split I order. Strickler would keel over in a faint.
The banana split I order. Strickler would keel over in a faint.

I called for the banana splits to be served and asked everyone to feast their attention on their sundaes. Wouldn’t they enjoy being part of something that had such beautiful synergy—the whole outweighing its individual parts?

Hypothetically, they cheered and dug in.

What bizarre presentation idea worked well that you could share?

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5 Things that Spur Our Creativity

“Necessity is the mother of invention.” —Unknown

My list of things that spur our creativity is based on my experience and observations.

 MP9001827601.  Necessity

I think the necessity in today’s quote is twofold. First, if people have a need, they’ll get creative to fill it. For example, Apollo 13’s malfunctions and NASA’s creative solutions.

Second, I think many of us “need” to use our creative juices. Even without outer needs to stimulate us, we thrive on creativity. It energizes us, provides us a tool to understand life events, and gives us a means to express feelings.

For example, I learn best through application, so I practice the technique of writing internal stories to explain ideas to myself. In another post, I mentioned I created short stories to explain Biblical teachings to myself.

Woman with typewriter.2.  Suffering

A cartoon my mother posted in her art studio showed a disappointed artist appraising his painting. The caption said, “I haven’t suffered enough.”

Suffering can turn us to creativity. Creative endeavors can provide victims safe ways to deal with past abuses. Therapists have encouraged children to draw pictures after traumatic events.

I think, in general, adversity is often a catalyst to creative expression. One man wrote a novel after his divorce. He never wrote again. We writers can tell our stories of hardships through fictional characters. We might have no control over misfortunes, but we can write stories in which perpetrators receive justice or redemption. We can write healing stories in which heroes learn to forgive.

Artist Thinking3.   Environment

I think those who grow up with creative parents tend to recognize how their own imaginations can be applied. It’s what their parents modeled.

For example, I grew up observing my parents’ creative efforts in everything. The times my father helped me were when the aid involved using his creativity. He wrote a skit for my junior high talent show. He helped my third grade class make papier-mâché puppets. My parents always made our costumes. My mother drew paper dolls and their outfits for my sister and me.

I didn’t imitate my parents and pursue art. But I sought creative expression that fit my needs and personality and desire to help others.

MP9004430784.  Personality 

I’ve observed those of us devoted to creative expression are willing to spend much time honing our craft. Whatever is the main vehicle for our creative release (art, writing, drama, music, sculpture, solving problems), we seek a measure of excellence.

Personality also seems to spur how our creativity manifests itself. Some of us are curious introverts, researching to feed our imaginations. Others are extroverts infusing drama into our presentations. Some of us expressive types are idea machines for solving problems. Many of us use a mishmash of creative outlets.

5.  Creator 

42-15654076For me, the ultimate source of our creativity is God the Creator of all things. He gave us creative imaginations to heal and encourage us as well as to serve others.

Looking at the tiny veins under the tender skin of a newborn, I’m awed and inspired. God’s design to send lifeblood to every part of an infant’s body shows me how God considered every detail in creating us.

And what amazes me more is God’s statement that He made us in His image. He designed us to be creative like Him!

No matter what has ignited our imaginations, we can intentionally pursue our creativity to help others. Imagine the world if we did.

What spurs your creativity and how do you use it?

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