This is the first in a series of blog posts about The Creative Mystery. In the following posts in this series I will share strategies and ideas to unleash the flow of creativity in your art and life. Subscribe to Moon & Bird Monthly for the rest of the series in your inbox.
The Creative Mystery
Creativity is a mystery, and a paradox.
I used to think for many years that creativity was something that some people had in bucket-loads, and that others didn’t have that much of. I didn’t understand how creativity worked and I considered any creative success that I had to be just dumb luck. It perplexed me for the longest time.
Then one day, some years ago, I picked up a book called Women Who Run with the Wolves (by Clarissa Pinkola Estes) and I read these words:
This gave me pause for thought. My creative pursuits in my adult life had been like stabs in the dark, rather than any kind of flow. They were one-offs. I’d try something creative, and expect perfection. Sometimes it worked out. Beginner’s luck, I said, and never tried it again, just incase it didn’t work out well next time. I didn’t really want to prove to myself that I didn’t have a creative bone in my body by trying to repeat one success and failing.
Stone stupid, huh? I’m cleverer than that, I thought. Surely there’s some secret to this. I can learn it and then be creative. I’m quick at picking up skills. I’ll take a drawing class / a watercolour class / an illustration class, learn the skills I need and then I’ll be creative.
But no matter how hard I tried to be creative in the classes that I took, this creativity thing still eluded me.
I spent more time looking at what other people were doing, copying their techniques and thinking, this is it, once I’ve learned to do this the way they do it, I’ll be creative, and then I can be an artist.
But that wasn’t it!
What is creativity?
It’s one thing to be skilled at an art, to practice the techniques that you are taught and learn to execute them perfectly. But it’s another thing entirely to step out of the way of your own need for perfection, need for approval and fear of failure, and allow your creativity to take the lead. I’m not saying that it doesn’t help to have a foundation to build on (so go ahead and practice your drawing skills, and painting techniques), but know that these are not the be-all and end-all of your art or of creativity. Technique and skills can enhance your creative experience, but they aren’t the creative experience itself.
Children innately know how to be creative. Give them a few empty boxes and some sticky tape or glue and they will surprise us with a rocket or pirate ship, or a castle. Their ingenuity seems to have no bounds. But put too many limits on them (not saying limits are bad here, by the way, and I’ll go into that a bit more in a future post in this series), tell them how to do what they are doing, and they become stifled and begin to judge themselves and their creative play.
As adults, many of us have forget how to get into this stream of creativity that we used to experience as children. We try too hard and judge ourselves more harshly than necessary. We may think (or I did anyway) that having the right tools and the right techniques and skills are more important for making art than just releasing ourselves into the flow of creative expression.