Creativity – The Most Important Lesson of 2020

Guest Blogger: Chelby Benson

Social Distance. COVID Hours. Sanitize. Disinfect. Repeat. This is all we have heard for the last nine months. As artists, fine arts directors, art educators and every career path forge their way through the unknown, the arts have faced an especially hard time. Even so, our ability to pivot, revise, and exhibit flexibility, allow us to forge ahead, all while remaining creative in our careers, hobbies and continuing to mold the future of the arts. 

By career, I am an art teacher. I love my job, yet in the beginning of quarantine, sitting excessively, clicking through comments and project submissions one after another, writing my own textbook, replying to email after email – it was like my soul was itching to do something hands-on. At the end of the day, I would jump off the couch and feel the need to be anywhere but inside, in front of a computer, even if that meant jumping off the couch and injuring myself, yes, spraining my foot, I felt like a wilting flower in a toxic field. Now that we have grappled with this beast, I have – with creativity and lots of coffee – figured out how to make art education successful, accessible, and engaging both online and hybrid. In the beginning of our covid quarantine last spring this was not the case. I thought, like many, I would have all of this amazing time to create. Instead, the few demonstration videos I created for my students siphoned all the fun out of what is known as, “making art”. I felt like I was failing as an artist, like a phoney. I encouraged and watched as my boyfriend made guitars by hand. Some of my friends flourished, cranking out handmade jewelry, paintings, or pottery… I was spinning my wheels… so I thought. 

The truth with creativity is this… there is a time for everything. We have to remember there is a time to absorb the world around us, a time to be inspired, a time to plan, and a time to create. Wait… what? NOOOO! I preach every day that creativity will find you working. I am always doing something so what was the problem?…. then it hit me. I have been doing creative things this whole time. I have been making art. It just isn’t in the mediums that call me an artist by degree or trade. 

For the sake of understanding which type of artist I am… I am the type that simply can never do anything the easy way, evidence of this- ceramics is my medium of choice. It is not convenient. How can one tell?  They don’t sell simple travel kits to take with you to Europe on Amazon. That is how one knows. For ceramics, you need a lot of supplies, a firing method, and lungs of steel. Here’s the thing about ceramics. It is toxic, it is attractive, it is dangerous, alluring, it is chemistry in action, and it all starts with dirt. Just dirt. So when drawing a blank with clay I go outside. Get back to where it all started. Dirt. 

I have walked a million trails and landscapes in Summit, Stark, and Cuyahoga county. It is good for the soul. I love taking pictures! No, I am not a photographer, and the end product is not intended to be photography, but to be an instant sketch, an idea, a captured moment of light vs. dark, an idea for a composition. All of the art elements and principles intertwine and mingle. Swiping through my phone I see these and it’s as if I am standing outside on a patio listening to the voices drift into the air. Ideas floating up, some sticking, some escaping. 

Food. If you don’t love food, you are not doing food right. I once heard a psychologist say, “Food has a lot of emotional baggage.” No wonder there are people who don’t enjoy it!  Attaching diets, relatives competing over each other’s secret recipes, the list grows… drop the baggage! Take food for its aesthetic and gustatory pleasures. Here’s the deal. You need food to live. So embrace it. Cherish it. Find nourishing food and thank it. There is nothing that spurs creativity more than the local farmers’ markets. Ingenuity, economics, and creativity in motion.  Not the neat, well-lit aisles at Whole Foods, (although who doesn’t love clean well-lit, waxed, and shiny vegetables, evenly spaced with stickers aligned, exactly where you’d expect them?) but these are local, from the dirt we walk on, from our neighbors’ yards; you can still smell and see the pollen on them! Back to the dirt. Search for the seasonal, unknown, fun ingredients. There are tons of farms and farmers’ markets happening. Get lost and drive through Peninsula and you will surely find a roadside farm where you can take in the charm, creativity, and discover the quality produce the valley has to offer. Then, after deeply breathing in the air and sinking your heels into the muddy graveled drive, get back into your vehicle and begin planning your masterpiece. Approach each meal like a carefully-timed series of compositions – each plate part of the symphony aligning for joy.  

Enjoy other artists’ work. Yes, COVID has changed how we access art, BUT, it has not taken it away.  People will always create. No matter what. We were created to create. We will do it in any confines. We must remember COVID has not taken away art, theater, or music, but it has forced us to become more creative. Work within new parameters. The creatives are fighting and will continue to fight back. We adapt, ebb, and flow, because there is something inside us bursting to get out – creativity. Find other artists’ work and find a way to lift them up. 

So where do we access this work? How do we support local artists in this time of need? First – remember each of us has our own level of comfort with leaving the house. THAT IS OK!  Here is my fall checklist compiled of extra credit opportunities I assigned my students and things I have stumbled upon in the community and online. In no ways is this a complete list. Just things I can recommend to feed your creativity here in Summit County. 

  • Illustrate your favorite recipe. Seriously. It’s a blast. Something you enjoy making. Bring those tastes and smells alive in your work, any medium. Need inspiration? Check out They Draw & Cook.
  • Force yourself to add something to a sketchbook everyday. Find a month-long drawing challenge.  Want to up your sketchbook game? Check out The Sketchbook Project and start a travel fund with loose change – when the world reopens, go to NYC and see your sketchbook on display! 
  • Summit Metro Parks Amateur Photography Contest – get outside, take photos, fill out the application, and drop it off before November 15!
  • Take a virtual trip to a museum across the world! Let Google Arts & Culture be your virtual tour guide. Choose a country, then a location & museum. Take it a step further: invite someone, make food from that country, and practice the language at dinner!
  • Looking for games and brainteasers to play online? Google Arts & Culture also has crossword puzzles, trivia, digital coloring pages, and more under Experiments! 
  • Visit a socially-distanced gallery, here are a few that are open:
    • Cuyahoga Valley Art Center – 2131 Front Street, Cuyahoga Falls
    • Canton Museum of Art – currently closed until Nov. 27th as they install new exhibitions. There is an awesome Monet & Impressionism display called “In the Garden,” coming soon! You must get tickets in advance online. 
    • Cleveland Museum of Art – You can get free tickets in advance and request a time slot.
  • Visit an outdoor socially-distanced exhibit in Cuyahoga Falls:
    • Check out “We The People” at High Bridge Glens Park. Cuyahoga Falls is proud to partner with Kent State University’s Global Understanding Research Initiative and the City of Cuyahoga Falls in sharing this exhibit. This celebration of cultural diversity provides the viewer an opportunity to learn about the individual journeys of community members. Portraits for this exhibit were taken by photographer Erin LaBelle. This outdoor exhibit is open to the public through December 7, 2020. The park is open daily from dawn until dusk.
    • Visit the Jenks Building right across the street, lots of interesting things are happening there. 
  • Interview an artist! Do you know any artists that use a unique medium? What about a musician, actor, or poet? Take the time to ask the questions you’ve always wondered. Or send them a letter of how you enjoy what they are offering the world. 
  • Enjoy theater virtually! Weathervane Playhouse is offering virtual classes for adults and children, and workshops! They also are busy filming movies which you can watch on their website! 
  • Make it a goal to buy local. If you have the opportunity to give or send gifts this holiday season, check out the wonderful local galleries and gift shops with local artists’ goods to make their season (and your gift recipients’ seasons) brighter.  
  • Take a class! There are a lot of places offering fully socially-distanced, masks-required (and disinfected between every class) art courses. I am biased, as a board member of the Cuyahoga Valley Art Center in Cuyahoga Falls on Front Street, but I cannot recommend them enough!!! The instructors are superb, the location is central to Summit County, and for the cost you get a big bang for your buck! Classes fill-up fast and are already booking for Winter 2021! Check out the class offerings at www.cvartcenter.org.
  • Check out www.summitlive365.com for more arts and culture events in Summit County!

At the end of the day, don’t let our current circumstances limit you. Look at them as a challenge to beat, design criteria to meet, and let these circumstances encourage creativity. Seek inspiration in all that you do. Admit what you are doing is creative, look close to find art in the details, and celebrate creativity

Chelby Benson is a Visual Arts teacher at Woodridge High School in Peninsula, Ohio. She teaches Drawing, Painting, and Ceramics and gets her students involved in creating art outside of school in her Community Art class. She is also the Spring Musical and Fall Play Director. Chelby teaches weekend and summer classes for middle/high school students and is also a board member at the Cuyahoga Valley Art Center in Cuyahoga Falls on Front Street. She volunteers at various theaters designing and painting scenic design for the stage.  Chelby graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a bachelors of science  in Pre-K through 12 Art Education, and spent most of her college days in a ceramics studio as a teaching assistant. 

Follow Chelby @woodridgeart and @woodridge_theater on Instagram.

You can also stay up-to-date with the Cuyahoga Valley Art Center on Facebook @CVartcenter.

Photos credit: Chelby Benson