You are an Artist: What do You Notice?

I didn’t manage to get a blog post published last week as I was in Cyprus having had the amazing honour of being invited to perform at a TEDx conference in Nicosia.

Truly one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, especially when my luggage (with all my clothes and equipment) didn’t make it onto the connecting flight from Paris to Larnaca. That’s a story for another day; Wednesday in fact when I’ll be talking about it on the podcast.

I’ve been asked by several people if I would share a transcript of the short talk I delivered. So I am taking this opportunity to turn it into a post, which seems to work well. The video itself is available to watch here.

Notice what You Notice

All people are artists. But we don’t always remember to notice.
And we don’t believe it.

We often tend to think that art begins with some act of imaginative creativity. It doesn’t. It starts with the ability to observe, to listen, and to notice.

This is where you find the inspiration to make a difference in the world; to make your impact and to express your unique response.

And amazingly there is enough inspiration for everyone. Why? Because it’s everywhere, it IS everything.

The world is here to be noticed and we become artists when we start noticing what it is and how it is that we as individuals seem to notice it.

I’m a songwriter. I write songs. Simple.
This is a response to noticing.

I have always reacted strongly to sound. I’ve long been fascinated by noise to the point where I want to play with it, experiment, and explore ways of using it.

And it is from this starting point that my desire to create music and write songs comes.

What about you?

What is it that you notice in the world that affects you at a deeper level?

In other words, what do you notice right now about what you generally seem to notice a lot?

And then…what do you DO with that?

This is the tricky bit.

It’s fairly easy to notice. It’s a part of life, it’s how we know where we are and what we’re doing. We can’t help but notice.

But art is the product of actively noticing and responding to what you passively can’t help but notice, and then turning it into something real, something that has the potential to make a difference to someone else.

Discover and Connect with Yourself

The American writer, Flannery O Connor famously said ‘I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say’. I find real beauty in this simple statement.

The innate human compulsion to create provides us with a way to discover and connect with what we have noticed about the world, and this helps us to understand how we feel or think about those things.

I sometimes think that I don’t know what I truly feel until I write a song.

During two years that I spent writing the bulk of my latest album I was helping care for John; a very close family friend who was suffering from lewy body dementia. Working alongside healthcare professionals and members of John’s family opened my eyes to the creativity and art in everyday life.

It showed me that when push comes to shove and you start noticing what you notice because you are forced to, you begin to find new and creative ways of approaching and dealing with challenging and painful situations. And within this place the artist can’t help but emerge from within every single one of us.

Noticing and Communication

Dementia is a most horrific disease. It is essentially the slow destruction of internal connections to the point where communication becomes extremely difficult.

The true challenge for us as carers was to take our time; to observe, to listen, and to notice what John was attempting to say beneath what at times appeared to be jumbled words and confused moments of behaviour.

Because when we took the time to notice, it became clear that these were not random acts and meaningless words. Rather he was expressing something tangible; his real needs beneath them.

The surface of the situation was filled with clues and communication. Perhaps John was hungry, thirsty, feeling lonely, maybe he wanted to say thank you or simply contribute something to a conversation. Maybe he just needed some reassurance.

As carers, by actively noticing what we passively noticed , i.e. by writing things down, by sharing seemingly insignificant things that happened while we were with him; by building up the bigger picture, we were ultimately able to better understand something deeper about the way John was expressing himself and his needs.

In learning to recognise these signs we could meet those needs in our response to him. That’s where the art is…

Art is the active response to noticing.

It was a poignant moment for me to get the message telling me about the theme of TEDxUnic, while I was on my way over to visit John in the nursing home earlier in 2014.

The theme was ‘Look Deeper’, which summed up our philosophy of care. It struck me that John was always there when we took the time to look deeper. His smile, his personality, his sense of humour. None of it ever really left him despite what it maybe felt like to us as the communication became harder.

There were always deep glimpses of John’s truth when we took the time to look beneath the surface.

Being able to write songs was a life saver for me as I sat by John over the weeks, months, and years, trying to process what was happening as I watched him slipping deeper into the tragic grip of that dementia. Music was a way for me to cope, and to notice how I was feeling and responding to that painful situation.

And I learned that art isn’t a way to cover things, or hide from them. It’s not a means of escaping the realities of life. Rather it is our everyday active response to noticing and feeling the very things that we as individuals notice and feel.

  1. Good blog sir. I think that succinctly puts it – though for me a word that comes along with creating a lot of my music is catharsis.
    I need to do it to heal. Like emptying the poison out of a wound before it can heal over

    Of course, many of my songs aren’t about me, so it isn’t applicable in all cases – sometimes stories just need to be remembered and told and there’s no one else who knows the story to do it.

    And lately a lot of my songs have been much happier, coz I think I’ve emptied out most of that poison now. I am a little worried whether I’ll still be accepted as a singer-songwriter though (are we allowed to have happy songs? 😉 )

  2. Hi andy,
    Tatiana here. Hellakool you went to çyprus! I tend to notice beautiful things in nature. I used to photograph them now I walk, meditate, swim and experience them directly through travel; also often i write about them.
    being a highly sensitive and private person I prefer to write books not blogs. I like to write them to express my creativity and innovative ideas, to put them out there for others to grow ; it is like planting sunflowers in a garden knowing they are beautiful and letting others watch them bloom. They are works of art in themselves and I don’t wish to interact after I have completed them. I am happy and I consider them self- contained works of art. I don’t really like interactive writing because online there are so many negative and ignorant people and I like to remain joyful and positive. I am so glad there is such diversity in art so I can enjoy a blog like yours, andy. Hope you enjoyed the Holidays and have a jappy New Year!

  3. This hit home with me as a writer and as a caregiver to my mother (has progressive bulbar palsy – facial and esophageal muscles atrophying). I deeply notice nuances and characteristics of people. I am not so careful or observant when it comes to details in other areas – household tasks, paperwork. My writing is the application of my noticing of others and myself. I would like to create art in other forms of actions.
    Kudos to you for being a steadfast friend and compassionate artist.

    1. Thank you Brenda. I’m so glad it resonated and that you notice in that context too. I’m very sorry to hear about your mother. That sounds so very hard. Thanks for sharing.

      I know – observation is certainly missing for me in some areas! Your writing is DEFINITELY a great response to noticing stuff about the way humans act, re-act, and think. Thank you for what you do!

  4. I really enjoyed your article. I believe your statement is a really good one because it points out a similar view I have always believed that a big part of art is the person as a filter to what they see. What I see gets filtered though my music and comes out as lyrics and melodies. Here in Addis, I see many artists paint wonderful things depicting joys and sorrows that you would never notice, but because of the way they filter it through themselves (their art) it comes out as something new. I like what you said about noticing because I agree that a lot of what I write (and other people I know) comes from everyday experiences. Great Job!

    1. Thanks Brian – very well summed up yes! We need to see the world through the way other people notice. This is a platform for empathy. Really like that connection. Thank you for your thoughts sir!

  5. Andy, this is possibly one of the best articulations of what art really is – at least for me. As a person who notices a lot of things, I often look for a place to actively express what I’ve noticed. For me, it happens in my writing. I love to write. And I’ve been trying to look at my writing more as an art. This blog post put that all together for me.

    I often don’t consider something I wrote to be “good writing” (or art) unless I am 100% sure it expresses accurately something I’ve noticed about life. You nailed it! Thanks.

    1. Thank you Teri! I love your response, keep up the writing – I love the process of writing because it totally shows you what it is you’ve noticed as well as allowing you to express what you THINK it is you’ve noticed! 🙂

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