Some Thoughts on Creativity

Perhaps I was better off not knowing the exact definition of the word. You see, I have a 4 x 6 index card sitting on a bookshelf in my den with the following statement in my rather messy handwriting: “I am creative”. However, sometimes I wonder if that’s a lie, or at least a half-truth.

It all started on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, when I rather optimistically sat down with a brand new package of Stampin’ Up!’s Simply Pressed Clay to create something I’d seen in Stampin’ Success!: their bimonthly magazine for Stampin’ Up! demonstrators. The finished product was very pretty and from the instructions they provided, sounded fairly straightforward to accomplish. I’d gotten my supplies (cookie cutters and the clay) about a month earlier and finally had worked up my courage to give it a try. It quickly became evident, however, that I was doing something, or perhaps many things, wrong and in the end I ended up not with a cute little clay dish formed in the shape of my chosen cookie cutter, but with a sticky and messy pink blob. In a last ditch effort to salvage my pride, I thought, well, I have a lump of clay, what could I at least shape it into? Yeah….nothing. Not even a cute little pink heart for my boyfriend. To me it was just a clump of clay, not some grand canvas waiting to be shaped and molded. Apparently I’m not meant to be a sculptor.

So after I cleaned up, and feeling pretty discouraged already, I decide maybe I should look up exactly what it means to be “creative”, pretty sure I wasn’t going to find my name listed. According to the Oxford Dictionary it is: “Relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something”. Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster gives one of the definitions of “create” as “to produce (something new, such as a work of art) by using your talents and imagination”.

I flinched when I read those definitions, because, strictly speaking, then I’m not really creative. I can’t make something out of nothing. I’m not, and never will be, a great artist. I think you are either born with that talent or you’re not. It’s not really something you can develop. For example, either you can sit down and the lines of a drawing flow out of you or it doesn’t and it will always look forced and amateurish.

I know of what I speak. When I was growing up, both my brother and I took piano lessons. I never got beyond a rote style of simply hitting the keys printed in the music book. The whole concept of the musical notation, the rests, the timing, the dynamics of how to play the music (mezzo forte, crescendo, etc.) was far beyond me. I couldn’t make music. My brother, on the other hand, has an ear for music. And he continues to this day to find great pleasure in playing music written by others and music he was written himself – both on guitar and keyboard – for others. I admire his talent and ability.

And, unfortunately, I think, for a period during my early adult years, I let my lack of musical talent negatively affect my opinion of myself as a creative person. I had never performed well in art class in school; I lacked natural drawing ability – I even remember being teased in elementary school because I couldn’t color inside the lines; my pottery endeavors always came out lopsided, and I’m too much of a “rules” person to see ordinary objects and want to use them for abstract art pieces.

But in my mid-30s I taught myself how to crochet. I was – and still am – very proud of that accomplishment. It’s tough though, with cats, to enjoy your own crochet work – too many tiny claws around to pull out the yarn and ruin things. So I enjoyed making baby blankets, afghans and other items for friends and family. Then, after brief spates of other crafty endeavors, came card making. And again, I found something I could be my kind of creative at. Found it BIG time. You see, luckily, in the world of paper-crafting, everyone is encouraged to “case” – copy and share everything. You can see what others have done, use the design for inspiration, and then add your own special style, flourish and flair.

Sometime within the last year or so, I read about a study of children’s impressions of their art work (unfortunately, I could not find a citation for it online; despite a lot of searching). As they got older, they were more critical of the quality of their work and found less enjoyment in it. As I began writing this posting I was agreeing with the authors of that study – that the results were discouraging and show how creativity is squashed by self-awareness. And maybe to some extent it is. But on the other hand, maybe it just reflects that as you grow up, you mature and realize, yes, you are better at some things than at others. And that other people are better at some things than you are. The kid next to you in school had incredible drawing ability; you don’t. It’s not pleasant to have that realization that you are “less than” in any category, but that’s part of maturing, and part of life. You need to learn how to acknowledge that you are not the best in some areas, but then move on and focus on those areas you are good at. You can’t dwell in what you lack or you’ll never find where you can succeed.

That’s why I’m glad I found card making and paper crafting. I’m not claiming I’m the best. Far from it, in fact. I fully accept that there are many, many, many, many, card makers / paper crafters out there who are far more creative than I am. I subscribe to their blogs and am awed by their talents every day.

But I can look at what they’ve created and use it to inspire my own work. I have found that I can learn. Or I can simply find enjoyment in my own acts of creation, whether or not they turn out as spectacularly as others or not. I do this for me. Everyone should have such an outlet.

And so, after the clay debacle, I went online to find out what I had done wrong and for suggestions on what to do right the next time. Sure enough, there were plenty of ideas. I can’t wait to give that clay dish another shot.

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