The Creative Mystery

The Creative Mystery

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:

“To create one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.”
Women Who Run With The Wolves
Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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!  

Girl & Bird ©2017 Tracy Algar
Girl & Bird ©2017 Tracy Algar Acrylic paint, oil pastel, oil based pencil and gel pen on watercolour paper. 58 x 38,5 cms

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.

Just think about this for a moment.  You may not have an arsenal of painting techniques or drawing skills, but even a beginner artist has a few.  If you can write, you can wield a pencil.  If you can paint a wall or a piece of furniture, you can wield a paintbrush.  That’s good enough to start.  You can learn as you go.

To start with, you can use the adult skills that you already have, along with a childlike willingness to explore and impulse to play, and you can create.  But, if you put too much emphasis on techniques and hold yourself up to other artist’s skills, techniques and creativity, and compare your efforts mercilessly to other works of art you admire, you will lose that pure joy of creating something simple, yet meaningful.  

Even with a large assortment of skills and techniques at your disposal, you can still feel creatively blocked.  Our artwork (and our lives) can become set and predictable, and lose its magic, when we put too much value and dependence on those techniques, and don’t pay attention to nurturing our creativity.

Four States of Being by Tracy Algar
Four States of Being ©2017 Tracy Algar Scrylic paint, oil pastel, oil based pencil and gel pen on watercolour paper. 58 x 38,5 cms

I think that creativity that is the single most important raw material needed to make art, and to create art and a life that is meaningful.  

In a series of blog posts about the creative mystery, starting here today and for the next few weeks, I am going to share some of the strategies that I’ve learned to allow my creativity (and my art, and life) to blossom and thrive.

The Creative Mystery

12 thoughts on “The Creative Mystery”

  1. “Technique and skills can enhance your creative experience, but they aren’t the creative experience itself. ”

    I really needed to hear this today! I think a lot of the time my creativity (in terms of coming up with things for my business) is stifled by my desire to please other people. I end up getting stuck because I feel like I’m not doing something right or that my designs and ideas aren’t good enough. Thank you for reminding me that it isn’t about techniques or know-how as much as it’s about being myself and letting what happens happen and allowing myself the freedom to be imperfect.

    1. Such a pleasure Olivia. Yes, that the desire to please others is a stifling thing to our creativity. When we allow ourselves the space to be creative and explore, we learn so much about ourselves and it is so liberating.

  2. I’m reading Women Who Run With Wolves at the moment – and I’m right on the creativity chapter. It could not come at a better time. I’ve wrestled with this one for a while, having a bit of a chip on my shoulder about not being creative enough. I’m reading the chapter in small chunks and have started the Creativity Headspace pack to help me along. Writing is my go to but I’d also like to try something arty. I have to travel light BUT I do carry around 50 colouring pencils! I think there’s something in giving yourself permissions, there’s a child like quality in being creative and we’re so used to not letting our inner child out.

    1. I completely understand that feeling of not being creative enough Sophia and struggled with it for about thirty years. I wish that I had given myself permission to be creative sooner, but was so “controlled” that I couldn’t just cut loose and go with it. Good to hear that you are reading WWRWTW, it’s such a great book and really helped me break the restrictions that I put on my creativity.

  3. ’emphasis on techniques’ in technician, is often over suggested. methods like imitation, perfection and conformity are the examples most people feel comfortable pursuing because it fortifies a bond with authority, the magical power to attract and the demanding expectations of a group..but here are no real requirements to be an artist except one, to keep doing it no matter what place or condition your in. personally I think art is a psychic practice to discover the phenomena of self. very Inspirational Tracy look forward to tuning in!

    1. Thanks Mitchell. Very interesting point there about pursuing “imitation, perfection and conformity” to “fortify a bond with authority”. Art and creativity have certainly helped me to break from the need to conform and to take back my own power. Also, the self-discovery aspect absolutely, nothing else I have experienced or tried has taught me more about myself than creating art.

  4. THIS: “Our artwork (and our lives) can become set and predictable, and lose its magic, when we put too much value and dependence on those techniques, and don’t pay attention to nurturing our creativity.”

    So, so, so true. I needed this, Tracy! I have definitely been guilty of going, “oh, I need to go after this certification or practice this thing before I can do x”. The reality is, while you do need some knowledge to jump off of, you’re not going to know that you can do it until you try. This was excellent. (And your art is gorgeous!)

  5. One of the ways I had to “get out of my own way” was to treat creativity with a childlike curiosity, limiting my adult judgements and give myself permission to explore and fail without judgement. I really enjoyed this piece and will have to read the Women Who Run With Wolves book!!

  6. Thank you Tracy, this is exactly what I go through all the time. I copy and copy and am always dissapointed in myself, so I try something new in the hope that I will be good at that. I tend to feel embarrassed at my efforts most times. In fact two days ago I packed all my paint supplies away because I am no good and got out my colouring books instead, you can’t really make a mess of them can you. I will follow you on this journey and see where it takes me. ( the voice in my had is saying – don’t use your good art journal)

    1. Hi Meredith,

      Thanks for your message. I hope that using some of the strategies in the next few posts in the series will allow you to experiencing your creativity differently and help you feel more confident. And go ahead and use that good art journal.

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