For 2018, I am not making Resolutions for my studio practice, I am making New Year Rituals.


Stones used for rituals on a beach

Over the last few months I’ve developed an intrigue about the power of rituals.  There are some rituals I have embraced which are ancient, handed down over generations and wrapped in religious tradition. Others are rituals I created for myself at times when I needed to outwardly enact difficult, internally made decisions. Once, for example, I was struggling with unwanted negative emotions about a particular situation. So, I sat on a sun lounger on a pebble beach In Dubrovnik and picked up a collection of smooth stones. Using a Sharpie I wrote the emotions I wished to rid myself of  and emotions I wished to keep on each stone – recognising and naming them. Later, sitting in blissful solitude on a jetty at sunset, I chose stones at random. The positive ones I set aside to bring home. The negative ones I held as I allowed myself to feel the emotion written on them. Then, I literally let those feelings go as I dropped the pebbles one by one into crystal clear waters and saw them sink.

Rituals are a form of creativity we often neglect. Maybe we see them as so much hocus pocus, failing to realise their practical power or we reject the concept for its association with forced religion from childhood or with ‘black magic’. Maybe we are just too busy to think about rituals, maybe we have never experienced their comfort or efficacy and so have never thought to embrace them. Perhaps 2018 is a time to look at them anew.

New Year itself is a kind of ritual, one common to all cultures, although we might do it at different times of the calendar year. A communal time to start the clock again, to reflect on how to be better, to be allowed to leave behind mistakes, seems to fulfil a fundamental human need for renewal. The Jewish morning prayer the Modeh Ani allows for the same ritual on a daily basis, thanking the Eternal for ‘restoring our soul’ as we sleep.

Your re-start ritual might be more concrete – who does not begin to think of ‘Spring cleaning’ around this time of year? Or maybe you need something symbolic without the religious or temporal context, –a friend wrote to me recently about the power of buying new household items after a divorce from a man who habitually misused and spoiled items that were important to her.  Regular goal-setting and planner-filling is a more executive form of starting over ritual.

For artists, considering rituals can be a creative endeavour in itself, a part of creative a whole life as a creative not just creating products.  Did you know that people actually work as Ritual designers? Rituals are merely elevated habits. Technically all rituals consist of a series of actions done by custom.  If you tend to perform your morning ablutions in a certain way each day without thinking what you are doing, then you are performing habit. If we deliberately create a sequence of actions and add meaning, habit can be elevated to a healing and motivating ritual.

You may simply add a meaning to an existing habit – like writing a personal grace to say with meals. Or you may identify a time in your day or life where you want to reflect, to access a higher power within you or to simply beat back resistance and con yourself in to getting going in a more positive way. In those circumstances you can start anew building a series of habitual actions linked to self-assigned meaning to create a ritual.

So, what are the potential benefits of doing all that?

  1. A ritual can operate as the entryway into deeper creativity.

Starting a sequence of events that eventually leads to creativity can create momentum and eventually act as a shortcut direct to the creativity itself. Many writers have rituals that involve lucky socks, the right type of coffee, the strolling three times around the garden – anything, frankly, but writing. Yet these actions  are essential to the ability to start to put words down. A fearful writer does not want to pick up the pen but will willingly pick up the mug and so the sequence towards writing starts before the reluctant mind knows it.

  1. A ritual can draw us into community

Creating can be a lonely process. A ritual that is common to others or includes others can rid of us paralysing feeling of loneliness. Programmes that allow you to work to a theme and share your work at a set time ) like the Twelve by Twelve project thats tarted my art career) are a kind of ritual. You could choose to write a novel at any time of year but the  movement NaNoWrMo ritualises the effort by setting a set time and a set format for the challenge and give sit power by ensuring that many people are doing it together.

  1. Creating a ritual requires you to align your physical and mental selves.

As creators we are not merely pairs of hands ( or even pairs of feet or mouths for those amazing artists working with disabilities). We have minds which produce ideas, souls which harbour concerns we wish to express. We have hearts that ache and love.  A ritual with meaning allows us to practice aligning physical activity whilst consciously accessing those spiritual and emotional parts of ourselves. Not only is that healthy but it tends to make for better art as we repeat the process in the studio and put meaning into our art.

  1. Rituals can tame monkey mind and banish doubt

I am a pretty average beginner golfer but one piece of advice that means I can now at least expect most balls to go in the general direction of where I aim them came from Pia Nilsen, coach to Anneka Sorreston. She talks about the decision making box. She outlines a ritual called the Decision Box, an imaginary area behind the ball. First you stand outside that area and you do your thinking, making decisions as to club, line, type of shot, wind direction etc. then, thinking over you deliberately cross into the new zone, the Box and simply execute the shot without further ado. if you are not sure, you stop away back into the decision making area. The idea is to get you to separate all the worry and second guessing from the mindless fluidity you need to actually hit that stupid little ball! In the studio you may try having a chair in which you sit and stare at the art making all the decisions and then when you step to your worktable let the subconscious flow take over.

  1. Borrowing from old ritual can spark creativity

Maybe there is an existing ritual from your heritage that you now find dull and lifeless? Or one from another culture you find fascinating but do not feel able to appropriate directly. Why not use that as a base to create something fresh for yourself? Last year I shopped for a Hannukah menorah for the first time and was delighted by how many ways the traditional shape of a eight branched candelabra could be reinterpreted. ( This one with creativity for the user built in was my favourite, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to spend that much. Maybe this year!)

  1. Rituals can separate ‘special’ from ‘mundane’.

Religious rituals, like the tolling of church bells to announce the start of worship or the lighting of cancels to welcome Sabbath are about the separation of holy from secular. Creative rituals can act as dividers, setting apart the routine and distracting demands of the everyday from the blessed flow of creative endeavour. Why not create a ritual that involves a leaving behind of something at the studio door and a picking up of it again when you leave?

  1. Rituals can connect us to our core beliefs.

If you are seeking to run a professional studio or another kind of creative business then rituals can link you to the organisation’s core values which in turn strengthens brand and workforce cohesiveness. ( See how Facebook , Etsy, Dropbox and other organisations do that here) Even if its just you and your paintbrush, having a ritual that reminds you each time you enter your studio of what it is you are aiming to achieve can be a powerful deterrent against grasping at shiny new objects and losing your way.

Do you have any favourite rituals you can share with us? Please leave  a comment below. Meanwhile I am going to indulge in ( and adapt) the most common communal ritual of today and wish you all a Very Happy and Creative New Year.