The creativity myths that you don’t know are hurting you

Here’s a video of my nephew (four years old) singing in the way we all should sing about being artists. Most of us have a lot to learn from kids about creativity.

Is he asking if that paint is applied with skill? Nope.

Is he in turmoil about whether he deserves to be painting? Not a chance.

Is he wondering whether assuming the identity of an artist is presumptuous or self-indulgent? Well the song says it all.

He’s in a lucky position that you may not have found yourself in as a child. Nobody is going to tell him he’s wrong to call himself an artist. His parents aren’t going to shut him up for belting out his little tune. They’re not going to tell him that there are more useful tasks to be getting on with.

But he’ll still have to keep his wits about him to maintain that creative confidence as life goes on.

Just by being a human who goes to school and – hopefully – gets a job one day, he’ll be exposed to some of these negative myths about creativity.

So for his sake, I’d like to be part of any effort to highlight, dismantle and replace them with something better.

They probably weaselled their way into your brain years ago. So let’s weed ‘em out and try on something new.

Creativity Myth 1: To be creative, you have to be talented.

What if everyone could benefit from expressing their creativity, regardless of so-called talent?

I’ve heard it again and again in my workshops: “I’m not an artist”, “I don’t have any creative talent”, “I’m no good at creative stuff.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Even more wrong than these statements are the silent conclusions drawn in their wake:

I’m not an artist (therefore there’s no point me making anything).

I don’t have any creative talent (therefore the art I make is pointless).

I’m no good at creative stuff (therefore it’s acceptable for me to be bored and uninspired in my life).

Creativity is not reserved for ‘real’ artists

It’s wonderful that a few talented, committed artists are put on a pedestal of eventual fame. Their work is placed in galleries, it fetches eye-boggling amounts at auction, books are written about them and their names go down in history.

My full respect and gratitude to those who do perfect a craft, to the writers who devote their life to it. This is the art that transforms culture and inspires millions. But, there’s a middle space that’s been forgotten and neglected and judged.

So what about the rest of us? What about all the creative humans who’ve just got the odd hour to spare? What about our mediocre, ordinary, even ugly creations?

We end up judging them, hiding them and – worst of all – not even creating them in the first place.

I say let’s celebrate ordinary creativity. My nephew knows he’s an artist because he simply put paint to paper. He knows that it’s worth singing about.

The benefits of unabashed creativity are huge.

The sense of vibrancy, self-expression and experimentation are life-affirming and joyous. So let’s not allow any art-shaming elitism to limit that in the lives of many.

It’s simply not realistic for most of us to devote our whole lives to art, and this absolutely mustn’t get in the way. By internalising the belief that ‘it doesn’t count’ unless we’re talented, we shut the door and keep it shut.

Fuck it. Just make something anyway, whatever it might be. Keep the creative spark alive and don’t let judgements about talent or unrealistic expectations stand in your way.

 

Creativity Myth 2: The thing you create matters more than the process.

So now that my nephew has committed paint to paper, will he be agonising about the perceived value of his artwork?

(In case you want an answer to that rhetorical question, check this second video, circa 2 minutes after the first)…

At what point do we get so wrapped up with the idea of value? Who told you that it was only worth investing your time in something if the end-result held some kind of objective worth?

This is another punishing, puritanical, perfectionistic idea that serves only to keep creativity in the dark.

It makes the simple pleasure of creativity subordinate to achievement.

In school days and beyond, there’s a lot of emphasis put on the product of our creativity. It can seem like the outcome is way more important than the process. There’s no point in painting if that painting isn’t good at the end (who gets to decide that anyway?).

Never mind how you felt as you were making it, never mind the idea spark you had at the start, never mind the other ideas it opened up in your mind as you went along.

Start to emphasise the process of creativity over the product

The joy of the paint in the pot, glooping onto the page. The fun of playing around with words when you write a little ditty. The satisfaction of stringing together three chords so that they almost resemble a tune.

It’s good to dabble. It’s ok to pull your paints out again after a 10-year hiatus and wonder where the time went.

Don’t wait until your work is any good before you enjoy making it. Because that day may never come.

Sorry, but it’s true.

And it’s ok.

Enjoy it now, just the way it is. Coax it out like a sweet and timid bunny rabbit.

Celebrate your clumsy creations as if you were talking to a four year-old.

Listen to the way you talk to yourself whilst you create something, and after you’re done. Is that the way you would speak to a small child when they looked up at you from their latest squiggle, eyes gleaming?

Most of us are way too conditional about our art. We’re harsh task masters and don’t give ourselves permission to play, experiment, try things out. No wonder we end up ‘not finding time’ to grow our creativity.

Creativity Myth 3: Your creativity only gets space once the laundry is folded

On the subject of ‘not finding time’, our third and final myth takes over.

It represents the perceived conflict between being a functional adult and simultaneously finding your creative expression.

There are many old myths wrapped up in this one, many terrifying beliefs that remain unspoken, but deeply felt. The starving artist looms large: the sense that if creativity is indulged then the practical and necessary aspects of life will dissolve into chaos and disarray.

What goes on the surface is entirely rational. Every day there are many things to do, many demands to juggle. The one that nobody is likely to shout at you for missing out is likely to be the creative one (unless you’re a professional writer on a deadline, that is).

So of course, the laundry comes first. You need some fresh clothes for tomorrow, and it’s not going to wash itself. Of course the endless emails need to be answered, calls returned and food prepared.

Fast. Forward. Ten. Years.

How does that feel?

The result of endlessly postponing creativity

It feels like something important has been forgotten. It feels like something’s gone numb inside and it’s complicated to learn how to feel it again.

The idea that creative acts are less important or are somehow self-indulgent needs to be tackled. It may not show up as a thought or a conscious belief. But actions speak louder than words. If you are not flexing your creativity on a regular basis, then this myth is active.

Dig it out. Challenge it.

This is a daily practice for me. I literally have to schedule my creative time at the start of the week, and remind myself daily why it matters. There are always at least five other tasks on my list that seem more urgent or important (and that’s only the ones that made it onto the list).

I cannot rationally justify why “spend an hour noodling around with watercolours” should come first.

My rational mind hates the noodling. There is no guaranteed outcome and whatever I create might not even be good (see second myth).

Listen to the creative voice that knows what truly matters

But there’s something deeper than logic that tells me I must create and that it is always urgent. I’ve felt what it’s like for my creativity to whither, for my creative confidence to waver. I don’t want to put myself through that again, I don’t want it to become chronic.

Your creativity is your engagement with life, your commitment to yourself that goes beyond productivity.

These myths are the death of your childlike exuberance and spontaneity.

So paint a crappy picture. Write a silly song. Belt it out and declare yourself an artist, simply for showing up to the party instead of doing the laundry.

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