When we abandon ourselves

antony gormley image

At the exhibition Found, at the Foundling Museum, Anthony Gormley has created this tiny new-born baby sculpture lying on the floor. Iron Baby – it tugs at your heartstrings. Who could have left it here, abandoned, lying all alone? Surely it’s in the wrong place. This baby needs to be held and suckled by its mother, not left alone on a cold, hard floor, forced to curl up on itself and seek nurture when there is none. Its vulnerability makes you want to scoop it up and comfort it in your arms. There are so many real babies that face this tragic fate, it’s heart-breaking – but seeing this baby on the floor got me thinking about a different kind of baby and whether they also get abandoned.

Creative babies.

By creative babies, I mean ideas or notions that come to us, in a new-born state, delicate, unformed, asking for our attention. An idea for a book, a business idea, an insight, a creative opportunity. This unformed creative baby arrives in a flash, in a whim, then passes like a cloud, and if we don’t see it or value it, then it slips away barely noticed. In the busyness and rush of the everyday, it’s easy to ignore these ideas that come to us. We may not realise their importance. But tiny gems could be turned into something, with attention, craft and work. This can only happen if ideas can be held and nurtured in the first place.

Imagine if J.K. Rowling hadn’t listened to the creative baby that arrived to her on the train? Or if Steven Spielberg had ignored the creative babies that visited him in the shower or car. Or Mozart switched off when the tunes arrived? Or if Robert Louis Stevenson hadn’t bothered to write down the strange dream he had about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hide. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck,  who made the incredible film, The Lives of Others, recounts one image that came to him – a man listening to a piece of music, moved to tears by it, knowing he was forbidden to listen to it. Donnersmarck knew this image had to be followed in order to make his film. Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple spoke about Steve Jobs, his gift of understanding the delicate nature of the creative process and how ideas needed protection. There are countless writers, artists, musicians, poets, film-makers, scientists, innovators who follow such inspirations to see where they lead, a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland (or in the Matrix). Maybe these ideas come to everyone. It’s just that only some people have the means to notice and take care of them.

On a smaller level, for those of us who are not creative geniuses, my question is – can we also learn to support our new-born ideas when they come to us and understand that they need looking after? Can we make a bit more space for the creative babies to arrive, or do we fill up our time with other less consequential stuff?  Our creative babies, on whatever scale or importance, need wholehearted attention and love, if they are ever going to have a chance to grow into something that can survive and stand on their own two feet in the world.