This Is What ‘Maudie’ Taught Me About Creativity And Simplicity

still from the movie Maudie

I feel like my mind rarely gets a chance to bask in its own thoughts, it’s always being spiked by something else.

It’s soaked in technology and addicted social media. Like a stubborn fat kid, it’s always chewing on some sort of digital candy. I hate how addicted I am to my phone. Sometimes I find myself scrolling through Instagram before I even know I am doing it. It’s as if I’ve been put under some sort of hypnotic spell. As a person who is prone to comparison and ridiculous overthinking, social media only wafts those flames.

I came to a wonderful conclusion while on the flight back to Sydney, where I sat distraction free on a small economy seat for 10 hours without internet. There are five options on a plane: read a book, write, watch a movie, look out window, and of course: attempt and fail to sleep. It’s actually refreshing to have such limited options. It would be even better if the sleeping quarters were more comfortable, but I suppose one can’t complain when you are whizzing through the clouds at a thousands miles an hour to go to another part of this amazing planet. After reading a book, I angrily attempted to fall asleep (I can never get the pillows set up right which causes severe irritation). I looked out the window, focusing on the blinking light on the wing as it cut through the clouds, thinking about life. After obsessively checking the flight map, counting down the minutes until arrival, I ran out of options. I decided to go through the list of movies and found one called Maudie. It starred Ethan Hawke who I love, and was about a Canadian artist from Nova Scotia which immediately made me think of my sister. It’s the life story of Maud Lewis, an iconic painter who was loved for her cheerful, whimsical paintings despite her severe arthritis and difficult life. In her 30s, she married a grumpy lonely fisherman after applying for a job as his live-in housekeeper. She and him lived together for years, up until her death in 1970, in an unbearably tiny house. When her husband went to work, she’d stay back to clean, make dinner, and paint. She’d go for walks, studying the scenery, and then return to her home to paint the landscapes from memory. When she ran out of things to paint on, she painted every available surface of her home. Her entire house has now become a main exhibit at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

What I loved about the movie was Maude’s devotion to art and the sheer simplicity of her life. Sure she had a tough life, but it was simple. I found it actually relaxing to discover a glimpse of a life so uncomplicated, so harsh and barren, but filled with the release of her own unique creativity. She didn’t paint to make money, even though over time she did start getting paid for it. She just did it because she loved it. Whether she was paid for it or not, painting was her therapy, it made her happy.

Creativity is such a beautiful gift. It’s a part of us all, yet some of us indulge in it while others just bat it away like an annoying fly. I suppose it’s because creative energy feels so naive, like a young child. It bubbles up without any rhyme or reason and as we get older we start to question its logic, which it doesn’t have an answer for.

I love how Maude just follows her creative urges without overthinking or questioning them. My form of creativity is primarily expressed in writing, I love writing. But sometimes I feel embarrassed by how much of my own personal thoughts I’ve shared to the world. I wonder why anyone would even bother to read what’s in my head. I wonder if I’m being judged. I question the value in it. I compare myself to other more talented writers. I wonder what the purpose is etc etc. But it’s like asking a young child what they think of the Einstein’s theory of special relativity. The kid is confused by the question so it just shrugs and starts picking its nose. I’m learning to push those questions away because sometimes there are no answers to creative urges. Writing has become my own kind of therapy and I can’t explain why or how. It feels like I don’t have enough space in my head to hold all my thoughts. It’s like a glass that has been filled way beyond its capacity, leaving the water to spill off onto the counter and then on the floor and flood the place which is going to cost a lot of money to fix. So I might as well set up a system for the water to go in because it’s inevitably going to happen again. It’s an immense feeling of relief to get all of the my tangled and messy thoughts out of my head and publish it for anyone human in the whole world to read. I think it’s so cool that right now, you are in my head.

I doubt Maude ever looked at her paintings and thought, what is the point of this? Or saw other famous paintings and thought to herself, “wow… well clearly I’m crap in comparison to them so I might as well give it up and sulk in the corner.” She painted because it felt good to her, and eventually it also happened to be enjoyed by other people. What a refreshingly simple way to live! Especially the fact that she relied on her own mental photographs of the things that inspired her. All her paintings have come straight from her mind and onto paper, like a human camera. How absolutely incredible.

It seems like years ago, writers, painters, and all sorts of creators expressed themselves in a pure, unrefined way. Before the internet boom, creative people didn’t have the world and the thoughts of all its inhabitants trying to claw its way into their heads. They’d draw inspiration from things in their own singular state. Like a forest, or the way the light casts a shadow on someone, or a bar with amazing live music and not feeling the need to capture the moment on a device that will contribute to a three second newsfeed. It feels like the modern age has become all cloudy and weighed down by frivolous distractions, our minds are in 87 different places. There is always someone knocking at the door of our minds asking to be let inside. Sometimes we don’t even know we’ve let them in. I wonder what would happen if we just didn’t answer the knocks?

I crave simplicity. I want to live like Maude Lewis, creating things for the uncomplicated love of creating them, not overthinking, living with singular attention, playing with naive creative urges, living humbly, and remaining buoyant with joy despite rejection and hardships. Perhaps I’ve projected my own ideals and aspirations of what it means to live a good life on an artist who is long dead, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. Isn’t that what art is all about anyway?

It just makes me want to let my mind sprawl out, starfish style, marinating in its own thoughts. The ones no one else has but me. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Canadian writer and art therapist based in Australia.

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