I’d like to talk about creativity today.
It’s a big deal, summoning something out of nothing.
To birth an idea or object into the world, where it can exist outside of us, and live on its own.
This elusive nature of creativity, (and the fact it’s better understood through a metaphysical prism, rather than a practical one,) means most people believe art talent is a gift that some have been given, and others not.
How many times have you heard someone say, “I can’t draw,” “I can’t cook,” or “I became a curator because my art wasn’t good enough?”
As a long-time educator, I assure you, I’ve heard all these exclamations before. (Many, many times.)
But in addition to being a teacher, I’ve also been writing every week for almost 10 years, which gives me a totally different perspective on creativity.
Weekly deadlines mean that being creative, for me, isn’t a choice.
I’ve got to bring the heat, every week, even when I don’t feel like it.
(When I’m tired, grumpy, or don’t find the world that interesting.)
That’s the aspect of creativity I wanted to focus on today.
The idea that we are not the master of our best impulses. That we do not get to dictate when, where and how the inexplicable elements of our psyches rise up from the depths of our consciousness.
It doesn’t work like that.
I often tell my students there is no such thing as an art boss.
If you’re an artist, making your own stuff for yourself, no one gets to tell you what to do.
You follow the whims of your instincts, and chase down stories you’re desperate to know more about.
In all my years doing this work, I’ve discovered that humans are interested in just about everything, so someone out there is going down a rabbit hole you didn’t even know existed.
And they’re likely doing it because they love it.
Because it gives them pleasure, understanding, information, or a fresh perspective on the world.
However, that well-spring, the ineffable part of us that drives our best efforts, also needs a break every now and again.
(Like the body, the mind occasionally needs rest.)
It’s why I’ve taken a couple of weeks off here, the last few years, because even I need those two chances to let my brain stop working. (A week in summer, and one at Xmas.)
I’m not quite there yet, at vacation time, so I’ve got to review a book eventually.
Before I do, though, I want to land one last point on this subject: stress, misery, unhappiness, and anxiety are really bad for creativity.
I remember how hard it was to make art, and generate any good ideas, when I was chair of the Fine Arts Department at my former college, 5 years ago.
I could feel my best self leaching out through cell walls, with each passing week, and the more I was pickled in cortisol and adrenaline, the less of an artist I became.
At the very worst moment, (and there were many,) an older, mentally unstable student came up to me, and screamed “Booooo,” in my face, like a witch, to unnerve and unsettle me.
(No surprise, it worked.)
It was a spontaneous act, which means she didn’t have any time to plan it, but invoking the vibe of ancient, black magic taps into a fear that has existed deep within humans for centuries. (If not longer.)
Here in America, we’ve all heard about the Salem Witch Trials in the 17th Century, and I even had a witch friend once. (Long story.)
If you haven’t seen the brilliant “The Witch,” which came out in 2015 and launched Anya Taylor-Joy, do yourself a favor and stream it, but I promise, you’ll never look at a goat the same way again.
Witchcraft holds an outsized role in the imagination of popular culture, mostly because of misogyny.
How hard is it to see that in a male-dominated world, the idea of super-powered women, conspiring by firelight at night, might scare the shit out of those in power, the men, who had no interest in relinquishing their control?
(Shout out to the Power and Control instinct.)
Even in the ubiquitous superhero stories of the 21st Century, witches are treated with suspicion, like Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch character in “The Avengers.”
And it’s a world-wide phenomenon, this belief in, fascination with, and fear of witches.
Which brings me to today’s book.
We’re taking a brief look at “Elf Dalia,” from Maja Daniels, published by MACK in 2019.
After this one turned up, it somehow ended up on my bookshelf, un-reviewed, rather than staying in the submission pile, so I magically discovered it today, when I was looking for some help from the creativity gods.
(I know I’m creatively limping, and promise to come back full of piss and vinegar after I take my summer break.)
Piss and vinegar don’t chase off witches, though, that I’m aware of, but as Monty Python taught us years ago, it is helpful to check whether they float or not.
All jokes aside, given the tens of thousands of years of shamanistic history, through the human record, I’m not surprised there are still stories of weird shit going down, far from big population centers.
What’s more human than creepy, little, out-of-the-way-places, in far corners of the globe, that give us things to wonder about?
Like Älvdalen, in northern Sweden, which actually has its own language, Elfdalian, spoken there, and nowhere else in the world.
And they executed 21 people under suspicion of witchcraft in 1668!
In 2012, Maja began exploring the place, because her family had a cabin there, I believe. (The book has very little text for context, but I think I have that detail right.)
Maja also discovered a trove of historical, black and white imagery, by Tenn Lars Persson, that also channels the occult, and those images are interspersed with the color photos, which she shot between 2012-17.
I admit, the portrait of the young woman with the “RETARD” tattoo on her neck made me blink a few times, and the ending images, with the creepy faces drawn on the black and white photos, are likely to give me nightmares tonight.
It’s a fun and creative book, this one, and it reminds me a lot of a “Some Kind of Heavenly Fire,” by Maria Lax, a Finnish offering I reviewed last year, so those Scandinavians must have some really weird shit in their collective mythology, for sure.
(If you doubt me, just watch “Midsommar.”)
So that’s what I’ve got for you today.
Some advice about not taking your creativity for granted, and a book that revels in the weird, strange, and unexplained, because really, there is so much out there we don’t know.
See you next week!
Original article: This Week in Photography: Hunting Witches.