I have been lucky over the last month to be asked to talk to some really interesting people - I've taken part in not one (the Woolful podcast I mentioned last week), but two podcasts. The second podcast was released on Saturday and can be found here. I was talking with Helen of Curious Handmade about Stash Less* as part of Helen's Simplify and Declutter month. But before we got to Stash Less, Helen and I talked a little about creativity. I've been thinking about it a lot since we spoke and I don't think I articulated my thinking about it as well as I could have. As creativity is something I've pondered a lot over the years I thought I would have a go at doing it here. A bit of thinking out loud to see where we end up…..
For years and years (like 20 of them) I walked around saying "I'm not creative". Over and over again. There was a mix of reasons. I saw my mum as the creative one in our family - she taught me sewing and quilting and she could draw - drawing seemed to be very creative. I did science and maths at school and for some reason I saw science and maths as being factually based and not at all creative. When I was in high school I saw myself as being a scientific type. I loved the fact that science and maths had facts to back everything up. It wasn't subjective. It seemed logical.**
But there was another reason why I said I wasn't creative. I think I said I wasn't creative because I felt like to say you were creative kind of meant that you were saying you had talent. I felt that the two of them were linked; creative people were talented. The idea of me being creative felt wrong for two reasons. One I didn't feel like I had talent creatively, and two, because creative=talented I felt like if you were saying you were creative it meant you were saying you were good at something (which culturally isn't that done in Australia).
I'm not 15 anymore and I've read many things since. I wrote here about how I don't believe that you need to be talented to make things but I want to take it a little further. All that reading has lead to a shift and because of that shift I'm about to state the obvious - I believe that everyone is creative. We make a zillion different little creative decisions in our everyday life. How to wear our hair. How to move. How to arrange our table. Putting a towel on a towel rack. Creative thinking is one of the things that makes us human.
Kids show us this. They are fearless at two and three about how they draw and paint and put things together. They are creative all the time. Their clever little brains are constantly solving problems and learning things along the way. As we get older it's the judgements that get made about our creativity (combined with our individual personalities) that can then lead to us freezing up and starting to view ourselves in a different light. A great example of this is a kid I know well. She loves art. She loves creating things but she totally gets stuck if there is any kind of pressure on her - and often that pressure comes from inside her - to make something that is perfect or realistic. Her judgement that it won't be "right" means that sometimes she won't even try. She won't draw even though she loves it and the pressure seems to be coming from inside her.
Knowing that this was how I thought, and then seeing the flaws in that thinking and the damage it can cause, is part of the reason I think I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about talent now. I want to distinguish between creativity and talent. Not because I don't think some people are talented. I do! But I don't think you need to be talented to make things and I think that to be talented you need to put in the hard yards.
The idea of talent - that some people have it - those creative people have it - can lead us to feel like it's not worth trying or even to the point where we think/say things like "I'm not creative", when maybe that is not what we mean.
Talented….well that is just a judgement about creativity. When a group of people judge someone's creativity as good then that's when the "talented" thing comes into play. For the most part it's subjective. I might think someone is talented and you might not see their appeal. Generally someone is only given the moniker of talented upon presenting their work to people. To create the work that gets called talented is generally the end product of a long process. What we see as talent is often the product of learning+practice+creativity+really hard work. I feel like talent isn't something that someone has but rather something that someone works for
I wrote about the idea of practicing in the gap here and that is what I do. I don't need talent to make what I make. While it makes me feel happy that other people sometimes compliment what I have made, I make for me and I’m the only one (other than my kids) that needs to like it. Again what I need is the creativity (that we all have within us) – and not talent (the external acknowledgement) - to make something that makes me happy, both while I am engrossed in the creating (flow) and after it is made.
Which leads to my next question around this topic - is talent the thing we should be holding high in our esteem, or should we be celebrating the work that goes into it. Or maybe it doesn't matter?
Here is a quote from one of the many many Brain Pickings articles on hard work and talent in writing.
I guess the point is that talent isn't this special thing that some people are blessed with. Even those with the talent have to work for it. (…..writing this I can hear what a contradiction it is…..) And we don't need to be talented to create.
I want to follow the first quote with a second article - also from Brain Pickings on the Daily Routines of Great Writers. Have a read of this article. In each case a writer who is often held up as being really talented, as a great writer, works incredibly hard at their craft. They have discipline. They show up. They ship. They practice and they write.
UPDATE: This was posted 30 minutes ago but I've woken up and want to have one more go at it.
When I was younger I confused and interchanged the ideas of creativity and talent. I believed that I made things, but that making things wasn’t the result of a creative process. Rather the making was the result of following or modifying a pattern - which is also true. However, that confusion lead to me denying that I had something that is part of all of us, my creativity. By denying my own creative input into the process – even just choosing fabric for a pattern – something of the joy of making was lost as I was denying my part in the process of making it.
As I said - I'm talking out loud today - would be great to hear your thoughts and experiences. Do you think of yourself as creative? Have you ever had the thought "I'm not creative" and where does "talented" come into it for you?
* Stash Less now has it's own page which lists each of the posts so far so you can find them more easily than scrolling back through.
**Obviously this is not what I think now - scientists clearly need to use their boundless creativity to solve complex problems - and that this how they come up with the aforementioned facts.