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Economic necessity can lead to burst of creativity

It is amazing how seeing something can immediately take you back in time. Visual images have the power to ignite memories of another place and time in your life.

That is exactly what happened to me this past weekend. I was in Savannah speaking to a wonderful group of ladies who had gathered there for a conference. After my program, my wife and I decided to visit the historic downtown area and do some shopping.

I always have loved Savannah because of its charm and history. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and there were quite a few people out and about enjoying the unusually warm January day.

As we walked from shop to shop, I couldn’t help but notice a whole slew of younger people bustling about carrying large pads, canvasses and other art supplies.

As they would walk past us, we were able to grab bits and pieces of their personal conversations. Just a few overheard words here and there easily provided us with enough information to know exactly who these people were. It didn’t take a genius to realize they were art students. And if we needed further proof, all we had to do was look at their clothes, hairstyles and accessories.

These were definitely unique and creative people. It was so refreshing to see these students gathering elements to use in their creative processes.

I am very familiar with the fact that Savannah boasts one of the nation’s major art colleges, the Savannah College of Art and Design. I know this because many years ago I attended the Atlanta College of Art. At that time SCAD had not yet formed. But just recently, SCAD took over the Atlanta College of Art, and together they have become one powerfully creative arts school.

Seeing all those students buzzing about carrying oversized pads and awkward supplies reminded me of hundreds of ants methodically hauling loads much larger than them from one destination to another. This sight took me right back to my art school days, when I was one of those ants. You see, with artists come a whole lot of stuff. And these creative supplies, much like the art students who carry them, simply cannot be forced to fit neatly into any normal box or bag.

As time quickly raced backward in my mind, I vividly remembered in brilliant Technicolor some of my art school days. Just seeing all the pads and art supplies reminded me of the art supply store that was housed in our school. We were sent there to retrieve the supplies we needed to create our projects and assignments. It was great that they provided exactly what we needed, but for those of us without much money it was extremely intimidating.

I can’t tell you the times I had to improvise with the supply list. I was definitely not one of the students who had access to their dad’s credit card. I usually had about $5 and had to perform a miracle of sorts with it. It was very clear to me that I could not afford everything on the list, so I had to delve deep into my creative mind and use substitutes whenever possible. One of the comments I receive most from people today is that they think I can create something beautiful out of nothing. When I hear that particular comment, I always smile to myself, because back in my college days I didn’t have a choice. I had to!

At the time, I didn’t realize how much extra work I was really doing. It was just survival. As I reminisced, I remembered how extremely jealous I was of all the students in front of me in line who just handed the supply list and their dad’s credit card to the cashier. It seemed so simple for them.

When it came to me, I would put the couple of supplies I could afford on the counter and smile at the cashier. As I counted my pennies to complete the transaction, I had already begun the creative thought process of how I could complete my project and make a good grade without the proper supplies.

As I look back now, I see that I really got more of an education than many of those other students. They may have had everything they needed when it came to the right supplies, but their grades proved they didn’t have what they needed creatively. And creativity cannot be purchased in any art supply store, no matter how much money one has.

As I saw those students in Savannah conversing about the creative process, I wondered in these current economic times how many of them were having to do exactly what I did so many years ago. I wanted to tell them not to worry. Because of my situation back then, I had forced my mind to go outside the realm of just the supplies and depend on the creative process.

I always have found that the creative process can be both comforting and magical. So, make the best of the supplies you have and also the ones you don’t when you create. I promise you will be the winner. Go out and create something beautiful this week!


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Mark Allen Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA; fax them to (478)474-4390 or call (478) 757-6877.