One of the best things about VI is hanging out and collaborating with three very talented, creative artists (oh, and by the by: none of the three consider themselves to be “artists”). I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot recently, because my very good friend Daniel has asked me to work on a podcast with him that delves into the question of where an individual’s creativity comes from.
This question has prompted me to think about the definition of creativity. I watched a couple of TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson, who has a lot to say about creativity and the abysmal track record of the education system regarding same. He in fact titled his first talk “Do schools kill creativity?“; it is the most watched TED talk ever. Many of us have experienced during childhood the subtle and not so subtle comments from teachers and family about our creative efforts (“must colour within the lines”, anyone? “Oh, you’ve coloured the sky all wrong”, anyone? etc etc). Is it any wonder many people who pursue creative endeavours do not self-identify as artists? Their poor artistic souls have been crushed at an early age; they received the message that at best they can only be dabblers/hobbyists, not artists.
Sir Ken has defined creativity as “a process, not an event” on the one hand and “putting your imagination to work” on the other hand. I really like the quote about creativity being a process, because the embodiment of my own creativity is process-driven. I am still working on my own definition of creativity; at the moment I have “creativity is a license to experiment and explore”. I believe that it is or at least can largely be a risk-free license; everyone can be creative, try stuff out, fail, pick themselves up and try again without having to subject themselves to any judgement. The stakes only get higher when livelihood depends on being “creative”; I think you have to be extraordinarily courageous to take that pressure on.
Something I love about creativity is that there is no entrance exam or standard for entry to get creative. If you think you aren’t “creative enough” or “can’t do it” – throw out those books that are telling you how to be creative. Just bloody do something, anything. No matter how anxious you feel, do anything that interests you and don’t start off worrying that you don’t know how to do “it”, or aren’t doing “it” correctly. Just have some worry-free fun. You never have to show it to anyone. I can guarantee a couple of things about what will happen. The first is that whatever you do will very likely fall short of your expectations. My advice is to give up your expectations; instead simply consider what you would do different the next time (and make sure there is a next time). Soon you will experience the joy of losing yourself to the process of making “it”, and will likely feel the urge to make “it” again even better. Over time you’ll find that thing you made six months ago that you thought was so incredible and you got really excited about might start to look very simple and perhaps even “amateurish” to you. Because one of the other great things about indulging your creativity is that each thing you do builds on the last thing you did and if you keep creating on a consistent basis the progress in the meaningfulness, complexity and depth of what you make will be astounding. So give in to your creativity, and before long it will be a compulsive act that you can’t imagine living without.
The larger, deeper question is where does one’s creativity come from. I find that to be one of those scary questions (“what is my life’s purpose?” is another). I always think I should be mulling over and journalling about these deeper questions, but am truthfully always too scared to do it. I do think that creativity is innate; after all, no one taught us to crawl, or walk, or talk, or learn what our world is like by putting icky things in our mouth. We used our curiosity and creativity to do that, unfettered by “helpful advice” because we had no idea what the squawking from the parental units meant. But how our creativity ultimately develops into something we access once we are more mature is I believe a more individual thing that arises because of a specific trigger. My friend Daniel believes it comes from the dark side of the individual; I’m inclined to agree because that thesis is consistent with the scariness of the question. Or at least, I think my own creativity was born of darkness because I really, really don’t want to figure out the source of it (but I will some time soon). Leave a comment below and tell us how you define creativity and if you’re braver than I am, where you think your creativity comes from.