I find I want to write something about creativity this week. I’ve had several conversations recently about the subject, around the subject and alluding to the subject, and each time my conversational partner has surprised me by suggesting that not everyone is creative.
Since I experience creativity as absolutely essential to my well-being, I cannot agree with this supposition, and wonder what has led to people thinking that the human species is divided into two: those who are creative and those who are not.
I think that part of the problem lies in the way our current culture defines creativity, and another part of it lies in the way our culture values it.
For many people, to speak of someone as ‘creative’, means they consider that person as ‘artistic’, innovatively productive, specifically successful in a particular field … at the very least, ‘they can knit’ or ‘they enjoy playing an instrument’. The concept that creativity is inherent in everything we do, is not one which many people seem to consider.
Our society has neatly confined creativity to specific areas of human experience, or sometimes to specific procedures. Painting definitely counts as a creative activity but mathematics rarely so, yet the thought processes involved must be just as ‘creative’, in that they must reach beyond previously visited boundaries and stretch into the unknown.
Creativity in common parlance is often perceived as the ability to imagine a completed project, and then to materialise it. The goal is the focus. But in reality, it is the process that is creative, regardless of the outcome. The ability to sit inside a task, not knowing where the application of attention will take you, perhaps not even knowing where to start, is at the heart of true creativity – and don’t all of us do that every day?
When we plant a garden, bake a cake, conceive a child, move house … we cannot possibly know what the end result will be. There may not even be one. What we are experiencing may be part of an on-going process. But one thing is sure, we could not do any of these things, nor a million other, if we did not have the essence of creativity within us.
Creativity is the way in which we express ourselves in the world. It is the relationship we have with the things and beings around us. It is how we respond to the sights, sounds and other sensual experiences which impact on us. It is inherent in the way we live. It is how we convert mere survival into actual living.
To be creative means to interact with something outside ourselves, as well as something within ourselves. It is to be open to discovery, to experience and to the unexpected. It is the ability to surrender control and to wait and see what comes of it ‘if I go that way’ or ‘if I go this way’.
And because our culture has reduced the concept of creativity to one which applies only in restricted circumstances, and one which is judged by the achieved – or nor achieved – end result, and has therefore allocated conceptions of perfection and accomplishment to what should be a process-oriented journey, it finds it has also created other unhelpful assumptions.
Not only does society believe that only certain people are creative, it also only perceives certain procedures are creative, thus resigning the rest of the populace to the aspiration of finding ‘a proper job’. Further, it attempts to contain the meanderings of a creative mind, with its dangerous tendencies towards challenging the status quo, within a designated creative community, whose productions we may go and visit – theatre, art gallery, cinema, etc. – but may not bring back home as a different perception of living and being in the world.
Imagination, that precious and indefinable energy at the heart of creativity, is just about allowable in the very young, barely tolerated in the young and completely dismissed as nonsensical in the old. Instead of encouraging a new generation to explore what can be explored in their mind’s eye, and teaching them how to question, how to perceive and conceive new ideas, how to collaborate with the unknown, the common curriculum is still – perhaps more than ever – focused on what is merely material, provable and functional.
And the idea that creativity might be encouraged as the activity which enables us to unfold into who we truly are, each as a creative individual, is most definitely discouraged, in favour of moulding people to fit predetermined stereotypes who can function-by-numbers.
The world is a beautiful, astonishing, surprising place and we should, I believe, allow ourselves to match that, and be willing to offer our best both to our communities, our culture and, ultimately, to ourselves. Otherwise, what’s the point?
To complete the quote in my title:
Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth. Jalaluddin Rumi
In my opinion, the best advice a writer could get.