Come Together


I once had a client who considered himself completely uncreative. An entrepreneur with a thriving small business, Mr. Jones (not his real name) had a peculiar stance about artists: He couldn't understand why they were necessary, couldn't see why anyone would give them the time of day and considered their "sensitive" natures a bunch of malarkey. It is merely social habit, he said, that allows artists to get away with being thin-skinned and quirky.

As far as he was concerned, art had no business in "real" 9-to-5 life.

At the time, I owned a graphic-design studio, and we were designing marketing materials for Mr. Jones--a logo and brochure, if memory serves. The subject of creativity came up as I was presenting our concepts, and Jones wasn't shy about telling me his opinion, despite the fact that it was our creativity he had sought out.

"Oh, no, Mr. Jones," I told him emphatically. "Art is everywhere you look!"

I proceeded to passionately tell him that even the most mundane utensils of our lives--the chairs, coffee cups, lamp shades and door knobs--had elements of creativity, of design for function or simply a beautiful curve to add to its appeal. I don't think I convinced him. He mumbled something about "crazy artists" on his way out. I'm not sure he ever paid his bill.

Fast forward a few years, and I found myself working in marketing for a large corporation. Marketing is an odd duck of a field, a cross between statistics and research on one hand, and psychology and intuition on the other. It's a right-brain left-brain hybrid, if you believe in that sort of thing, and it's saturated with creativity: art, design and copy writing.

No brilliant marketing plan ever came merely out of a market-research study, and no clever turn of phrase ever sold a product without an understanding of what motivates people to buy. And not even the most beautiful model airbrushed to the nth degree can make a crappy product into a sales success.

Among the many people who worked in the research and statistical side of the department, I encountered a few who declared simply that they weren't creative. Not as crotchety as Mr. Jones, thank God, they were, nonetheless, convinced that because they couldn't draw or sing or dance on their toes the human gene for creativity had passed them by.

I asked one such self-biased young woman if she had a garden or if she cooked for her family. I asked her whether she had picked colors for her living room or if she had a favorite song. Then I asked her if she used problem-solving skills in her job. It turned out she did all of those things.

"And you say you're not creative," I said, mocking her gently.

Her eyes lit up. She'd never considered the things she did every day to be creative, having relegated "creativity" to the fine arts.

I've been lucky to work in several creative fields in my career, but in my family, it was my maternal grandmother (whom I never met) who was the "real" artist. She conducted the Vienna Philharmonic opera chorus for a short time. She played and taught piano, sang and taught voice, and in her 60s, she began painting. Several of her watercolors grace my walls. She smiles at me from a once full-length oil portrait (it was damaged during a bombing in World War II and the bottom half cut off). Her eyes reflect her sapphire-blue velvet dress; in her right hand she holds a simple bowl of white flowers.

Of my mother's three daughters, I was the one identified as having inherited my grandmother's artistic genes. But despite mama's best nagging, I can't draw my way out of a paper bag. I live in fear that someone will drag out Pictionary at social gatherings. And singing? The thought of karaoke makes my stomach hurt. No, my fine-art talent lies in appreciation, and that's OK with me. Few of us can create a masterpiece, but we can learn to value them.

The really fascinating thing about creativity, though, is its ability to draw us together.

Imagination runs high among the people who come through our offices at the JFP. Interns come to see if they have the chops to make it as writers, editors or journalists. Others come thinking they might have talent in photography or graphic design or fashion. My experience is that if they're confident enough to work at it, the talent emerges with a bit of encouragement. All talent and no practice, I've learned, doesn't work.

In my talks with interns, I tell them about the JFP's history and our purposes for being. One of those, creating community, often takes them by surprise. And if the purpose doesn't, our tactics will: letting people know who's doing what and where they can find it. We believe that listing local events, in other words, is one of the most important services we offer.

One of the first complaints I heard about Jackson when I moved here 14 years ago is that there's never anything to do. For a while, I agreed. Moving here from Washington, D.C., I realized if I wanted something to do, I had to search it out. Enter the Jackson Free Press in 2002, and that attitude began to change. Why? Because every day, the JFP provides a resource for anyone in the area to find something to do. And where a person finds an event that interests them, they also find like-minded people. Shazam! ... community.

Once a quarter, without fail, we publish an Arts Preview issue to let you know what's going on for the next three months. You're holding our 2011 Spring Arts Preview issue in your hands. Inside, you'll find all kinds of creative happenings, from gallery openings to concerts, from jewelry making to book signings, along with benefits for great causes.

Creativity seems to ooze from the moist air and fecund ground of Mississippi, and you can find mountains of it right here in your own back yard. Go appreciate someone else's talent whether you're a star creative or you're convinced you haven't got a creative bone in your body. Browse the listings and put an art show, a symphony or play, or even a book reading on your calendar.

If you identify with Mr. Jones and believe all art to be a waste of air, skip the arty stuff and head to our catchall category, community events. Go find your own group of like-minded folks. Create your second family, that is, and join the community.


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