Do you believe every person has the potential to be creative through practice, or that you’re born naturally talented? The answer reveals whether you have a growth (there’s potential) or a fixed (born that way) mindset. Having a fixed mindset will limit your potential for growth and development because as Carol Dweck in Mindset suggests, “No matter what your ability is, effort is what ignites that ability and turns it into accomplishment.” Effort is key because talent only gets you so far in the beginning. Effort will take further in the long run, but only if you’re willing to persistently and consistently show up.
Shaun McNiff in Trust the Process notes when viewing children’s art we can see every child has the ability and permission to create. But through a schooling experience, “freedom is restricted for the majority of people as the identification of “talent” tends to overshadow universal participation.” We get disheartened if our art isn’t ‘good’ enough and believe we should stop if doesn’t showing visible signs of ‘talent.’ McNiff argues that a person’s license to create cannot ever be taken away, it’s “as natural as breathing and walking.” This can be a challenging notion to accept if you believe you’re not creative either by self-judgment or through the judgment of others. Is it is possible to move from not-being-creative to being-creative? Always. McNiff encourages “Training in creativity requires the ability to relax in periods of uncertainty and to trust that the creative intelligence will find its way” as well as “an inclination to step into the unknown as well as the ability to persist when there is no end in sight.”
If you can spend a few moments sitting with the uncertainty, (the uncomfortable feeling of not-knowing) not rushing the feeling away or stopping the art-making process, you will discover that the uncertainty will rise and fall if you allow it to just be. Whisper some encouraging words to yourself, take a breath and continue to make your art.
When making art, it can be hard to not judge work as failures. Thoughts around it not being good enough or not looking the way you think it aught to–or the hundreds of other judgments that pop up–can stop you from making anything else for fear of repeating the failure. The feeling of failure stings and this is something the mind wants us to avoid experiencing and therefore explains why you may feel like giving up so soon. Pema Chödrön in Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better speaks of the ‘Fine art of failing’ and how succeeding has a lot of emphasis and hype placed on it. But if you consider the definition of success as it working out that way you hoped, “failing by that definition is that it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to.”
Chödrön talks about hearing a quote from James Jocye’s Ulysses that described how failure leads to discovered, but instead of using ‘failure’ Joyce used the word ‘mistake.’ “Mistakes are the portal to creativity, to learning something new, to having a fresh look on things.” Reframing a ‘failure’ to a ‘mistake’ may mean you give yourself more space (and self-compassion) to not get things ‘right’ all of the time.
Failing better means seeing failure as part of the journey,”to see it as your connection with other human beings and as part of your humanness.” The idea that we should get everything right all of the time is an unrealistically high bar for ourselves and leaves no space of the unexpected, delightfully imperfect and spontaneous results that being creative allow us access to. “Failing better means when these things happen in your life, they become a source of growth, a source of forward.” Growth and forward is a bi-product of failure and making lots of mistakes, and is to be embraced instead of feared, when making our art.
With an endless supply of creative (and not so creative) content at our fingertips, it can be easy to only spend time consuming and not spend any making art. Perhaps it feels pointless to make art when so much exists already, or that your art won’t be as good as the next persons. But you may be underestimating the creative potential that’s buried within making something—the richness of experience that comes from making something out of nothing.
Drawing and sketching is one way to get create that require minimal art supplies to get started. Ben Crothers in Presto Sketching says “creating your own visuals with sketching means that you’re not just a consumer of others’ content and ideas, but a producer of content and ideas too… All you need is a pen and paper, and the will to make your mark.”
Why then, is the idea of making marks filled with nervousness and trepidation? Crothers offers this explanation: “By the time you hit the workforce or university, the world around you told you that the very act of picking up a pencil to draw was risky. If you weren’t on your way to being a successful artist, designer, or architect, anything to do with drawing was for your personal pleasure only. A hobby. Not the real world. You drew at your own risk and on your own dime.
Children see drawing as a fun and joyful activity. They don’t hesitate to make scribbles and scrappy marks. There’s no concern about the value of the art, or if they’re making the ‘right’ kind of marks. Children make art instinctually, for the pure enjoyment of the process. This laid-back, playful attitude is something we can reclaim as adults, if we choose to see the process as a fun activity. Decide to see getting creative as an opportunity to make scribbles, messy art and experiment. The riskiest thing you can do is not to try at all.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiratoin or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authentic is invaluable; originality is non-existent.” — Jim Jarmush
If you don’t feel you’re a creative person, you’re not alone. Many adults don’t believe they’re even the slightest bit creative. But just because you haven’t taken an art class or made art for years, it doesn’t mean you haven’t been creative in other ways. Seeing creativity in a black and white definition (i.e. paint on a canvas) limits the potential of what creativity can be. Ken Robinson in Out of Our Minds encourages, “Creativity is not a separate faculty that some people have and others don’t.” Even if you believe you’re not creative, it doesn’t mean it’s true. As Robinson argues, “Everyone has creative capabilities, but they often do not know what they are.”
Creativity can be found in many different areas, from the obvious (within the arts), to the sciences or in our daily lives (i.e. problem solving, organisation, connecting with others, cooking to name a few). With creativity being defined as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something,” there’s no mention of it being limited to gallery art or being skilful at painting.
While this blog has a focus on making art, you have the capacity to be creative in a wide range of different ways. Whether you use pen and paper or not, dropping the story of not being creative and instead looking for all the ways you are creative may give you a different (and more truthful) perspective.
“Every day share stories.”
Hanging around, waiting for inspiration to strike can be a fruitless exercise, especially when it’s not inspirations job to find you. It’s your job to notice something around you, get curious, follow the thread of curiosity and physically make something. Don’t worry about what the next ‘right’ thing to make is (that could stop you from making anything at all). Instead, make something—anything—in order to find out if you’re inspired by it. You’ll collect much richer and accurate data about preferences and the real-time experience once you’ve physically made something, compared to only thinking about it.
Lynda Barry in Syllabus explains “We know that athletes, musicians, and actors all have to practices rehearse, repeat things until it gets into the body, the ‘muscle memory’, but for some reason, writers and visual artists think they have to be inspired before they make something. Not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about.”
Inspiration grows through repeated practice and experiments. It’s more likely to find you while you’re playing around with making something. This is your call to immediate action.