The Craft Sessions

View Original

Making is not inherently creative.

Creativity is one of those words that gets bandied about in our culture as a way of making us all feel good..... Creative - yes! "I'd love to be more creative". Or "my organisation needs more creativity". Creative thinkers! That's what we all need. And that's great. All power to everyone - creativity deserves it's recognition. It's fun, it's sparkly, it's clever.

But it also divides us when we create this two tiered system of "creative people" and "not creative people". So many of us feel that we aren't creative, or if we are creative then we aren't quite as creative as the next tiger we see on instagram. And because we don't have any creativity, or don't have enough of it, or can't find it on the day we need it, then we end up feeling a bit shit.

Our crafty creativity is often commented on when someone admires our work. Which would be fine, except that I worry about people opting out of craft because they feel they are not creative. I hear it all the time as I wander around making in public - from people that make already who wish they could make something better or something different, but also from people that don't make at all. The line is often "I wish I could but I'm not a creative person".

What I want to say is "you are creative, we all are" but as that's something many people can't swallow without a lengthy discussion, what I often say is "....but you don't need to be creative to make". They um and ah a bit, but then I try (often unsuccessfully) to walk them through my point......

I do not think it means what you think it means.

Creativity has become a bit of a catchall buzz word. We use it a little too often, a little too flippantly and often totally incorrectly.

In the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means".

How often do you hear something like "you're so creative' when someone realises you have made the dress you are wearing? How do they know that I've used any creativity in the making of said dress? They don't, but they believe that making something crafty, sewing , knitting, quilting etc is inherently creative.

But here's the thing... often my making is simply a process I've followed which involves little, if any, creativity.

Because making is not inherently creative.

The lovely Marnie.

Some skills are creative, some skills are not?

Hear me out.

In life there is a basic set of skills we assume that all people will have. All people will be able to write their name, drive a car, wash a dish, put a sheet on their bed, use a shovel, change a light globe, tie their shoe laces, put on mascara. These are the surface skills we have which are visible. Underneath those skills are a whole heap of truly amazing things we have learnt to do, like balance and walk and talk and coordinate our fingers.

However, in our culture, in this decade, we don't assume that all people can knit a sweater or sew a dress - when the simple fact is that of course they can. It might take time and practice - as it did learning to drive a car - but all people are capable of knitting a sweater in the same way that all people are capable of writing their name.

So why have we segregated the skills involved in making/craft and slapped them with the label creativity? What makes the skills involved in knitting, sewing and quilting different, and deserving of such a label?

Consider this different example -  we don't often refer to garment workers in a factory as creative. We see them as skilled, yes. They can make beautiful things that are beautifully finished! But creative? No. They are following a process - just like most of our making is following a process too. And yet our making is often deemed to be creative. Why?

And what about creating a loaf of bread using someone else's recipe - is that a creative act? I don't think so - I think it is a process. Maybe you do too?

A Brief Clarification - Of Course Making can be creative.

I wholeheartedly acknowledge that within our crafty fields of endeavor there are many opportunities to involve our creativity. Some projects might even be almost solely a creative act. But I know that within most of my making, and most of the making I see around me, that creativity only plays a small part in the project.

While some making is incredibly creative, making itself is not an inherently creative act.

The majority of my making is simply using my skill as a sewer or a knitter. In fact, I would ballpark guess that for most projects I tackle over 90% of the decisions I make are skill based rather than creative.

Most of the making I do does not involve my imagination, nor does it involve original ideas. I am often not being inventive. I am (generally) following a pattern to achieve a result.

My making skills - using a sewing machine and wrapping yarn around sticks - are like many other skills I have. I can also use a computer and tie my shoe laces too. Each of these skills use my hands and my head in a particular way. Each of these skills involved practice and have seen me become more proficient over time.

Volo pullover as comfort craft - non-creative making?

A Current Example

I'm currently making this beautiful sweater by Orlane @tete_beche called the Volo Pullover. And I want to hypothesise that there is only 1% of this sweater making that involves any form of creativity.... and that is choosing the colours. I would then also want to contradict myself by stating that I'm not even sure that this is a creative decision, bounded as it was by what scraps I had available, and supported by my many years of practice of choosing colours. Again choosing colours could be said to be a learned skill?

The making of this sweater, the creation of this sweater, is not an inherently creative act. It is a skills-based act that is as skills-based as doing the dishes.

I could have made this jumper without making any sort of creative decision by using the same colours as Orlane used in the pattern. And it would have been beautiful.

Yes we can make a sweater that is a creative process - one where we are stretched and inventive, and coming up with original ideas. As exhibit A I offer my old colourwork sweater below. A sweater that I made without a pattern, a plan or a model for what it should be. It evolved and was shaped by my imagination. It is an example of making as a creative act.

But we can also make a sweater like exhibit B (above) that is simply using our skills - like my Volo sweater in the photo above - where we follow a pattern and simply follow the process using our skills.

This is where we (culturally) get confused....

Due to our cultural confusion around words like creativity, talent, making, art, and craft there are many people who would have see my Volo sweater and believed it to be a inherently creative act. They would believe that you need to be a "creative person" in order to make either of these sweaters. My contention is that for Exhibit A you would but not for Exhibit B.

Creative making where I wrote the numbers, chose the colours, chose the colourwork pattern and designed the sweater as I went. A vastly different process to knitting a sweater using someone else's pattern.

My question is why?

Why do we segregate our making/craft skills from other life skills we have and label them as inherently creative? Why do we talk about craft as if it is an inherently creative act, rather than one within which we can use our creativity if we so choose? What is the difference between sewing a skiivy and riding a bike?

Is it simply that we think of "creating" something like a sweater as inherently creative because we are confused by the word "creating"? Yes we are "creating" something. Yes, we are taking materials and creating an object ....but the creation of that object doesn't necessarily involve our creativity.

Do we label craft as creative to increase the status we get by engaging in craft? So people think of crafters as "talented" or as people who possess that extra special creative spark? And there is a kudos that comes from being a creative person. Is that what we seek? Is that what someone is trying to bestow on us when they are being kind and admiring our work?

Have we just not thought about it?

My Concern!

I want more people to consider making something, anything, as a way of finding joy and satisfaction. And I think the false label of creativity can be discouraging. My issue is how many people we exclude from our sport when we label craft as creative.

"Some people can craft - because they are creative - and some people can't."

It's just not true! Because we can make beautiful meaningful things without a creative bone in our bodies.*

By labeling all making as creative, we make the things we do seem less learnable, more complicated and more woo-woo-secret-sauce than they actually are.

Knitting and sewing and quilting are processes that use my skills. A process where I can, if I want, engage with my creativity, but I don't have to.

As always, love to hear your thoughts, even and especially if you think I'm totally off base.

Felicia x

* I wrote a blog post a few years ago called I'm not creative and I stand by that post. It's a post that states that we are all creative, but for people that don't buy the "we are all creative" line, I wanted to write this post stating my other belief and that is "you don't need to be creative to make". Kinda like a one, two punch combination. Take that tigers.