“How do you come up with these cool ideas?”
I get this question a lot.
Well, that and “Is this credit or debit?” I hear that one a lot too.
But back to the creativity question, a lot of people are curious where ideas come from.
And I used to respond, “I don’t know, things just kinda come to me.”
Which helps absolutely no one.
A better answer is needed. A lot of people want to be more creative, inventive, and interesting. It’s an earnest question, a noble goal, and it deserves an authentic answer.
So, I’ve had about 44 years to think about where creativity comes from. Here’s my conclusion:
There’s nothing really unique about me, you can be creative too.
Now we’ve all heard foofaraw like that before. Every single one of us grew up hearing that we could be an astronaut or the President of the United States. And even though we all believed it, very few of us are sporting a NASA jacket or have a cool Secret Service code name like “Big Tuna”.
But here’s what I’ve noticed about the self-described “uncreative” people in my life. They are pretty darned creative at things other than art.
That’s what sets humans apart from animals. Humans have this wild and boundless capacity to find clever solutions to problems. You were born to be creative the same way that a fish knows how to swim and that a spider knows how to freak the livin’ beejeebus out of me.
If you’re human and you’re breathing, you’re doing something creative. Right this very instant. The trick is to channel your natural creativity into something productive.
Creativity is in you, what are you using it for?
My husband is an engineer and a lab manager. He spends his day looking through an electron microscope. When he’s not doing that, he’s telling his employees to get back to looking through their electron microscopes.
It’s not a terribly creative job unless you look below the surface.
No, he doesn’t get to paint or make wonderful messes with paper and string. But he’s not totally uncreative. He designed a better lab setup. He teaches interns and new employees how to run very technical machines. And most of all, he manages to get 30 somewhat anti-social lab geeks working in the same room without anyone killing anyone else with readily available radioactive materials.
That takes creativity.
Each of us is creative in our daily lives. It may not be the Leonardo Da Vinci type creativity, but it is creative. Maybe you’re an accountant who is able to calm stressed-out clients. Maybe you’re a real estate agent with never fail presentation skills or you’re a kindergarten teacher who has gone 40 days without a Play-Doh up-the-nose emergency. Almost everything you do in your daily life involves some sort of creativity.
So stop beating yourself up about not being creative like the artists on your favorite blogs. You have it in you, the trick is to tap into it for more than just work.
Everyone needs to do something they love, even if it’s just a hobby. If you’re not reading a few books or taking a few classes to explore things you enjoy, you are doing yourself an injustice. Tap into the creative spark that is waiting within you. It was there when they told you that you could be an astronaut and it’s still there today. Use it.
Creativity isn’t stagnant. It’s like water, it goes where you channel it.
If you look at my lifetime portfolio, there’s a big gap of absolutely no activity from about the year 2004 to 2007. I wasn’t in my studio very much, except maybe to mourn the fact that I wasn’t in my studio very much.
I was pregnant and spent 3 months on mandatory bedrest. Meanwhile, my five year old daughter discovered the power of “NO!” and used it on everything from Cheerios to debates about why we should always wear underwear. Then my son’s 2nd grade class deteriorated into chaos when a student began using the other kids as punching bags. And when I finally had the baby, he had a mild condition which required numerous visits to a clinic about 2 hours from our home.
So yeah, so I was pretty busy doing other stuff.
I quit all but one teaching job. And I didn’t do much arting.
But here’s the weird thing. I did other stuff creatively. I taught myself to knit and made about 18 sweaters. I started writing quirky newsletters for a few area businesses. And I became known as the cookie mom. Because hey, if I’m going to bake cookies, I’m damned well going to make some freakishly artistic cookies.
I also convinced my daughter that the only way the Fairy King will ever make you a Butterfly Princess is if you’re wearing underwear when he visits. 10 years later and she’s still wearing underwear.
Creativity will find a way out.
But not if you’ve set up a mental or physical dam to prevent the flow.
If you fill your life with marathon television programing, if you do housework every night of the week or spend your weekends doing menial errands, if you fill your life up to the rim with constant chatter and activity and mindless busy-ness, artistic creativity has no place in your life to make an appearance.
The Art Muse needs a bit of quiet to germinate in your brain. You have to give her the time and space to peek out and say hello. And you have to give her some tools to play with.
And here’s something else to chew on:
Maybe now is not the time to be creative
Perhaps it’s not an appropriate time in your life to be channeling the Art Muse.
I’m a studio artist and I teach art classes, that’s me. It’s what I do best and it’s what I love to do. But when I had three very young and needy kids, plus a ton of absolute crap going on in my life, it would have been highly inappropriate for me to lock myself in my studio and devote my life to art.
Maybe today isn’t the day when you can tell your boss to shove it, move to the beach, and begin a new life assembling sea shells into frog sculptures. You might not be there now but what about a few years from now?
We all have creative and less creative points in our lives. Be smart and admit that this may not the right time to be totally immersed in a creative life.
Be patient but do not hesitate to seize the moment when it finally comes.
But just because you’re in a slow season doesn’t mean you should stagnate.
Do what you can, when you can.
This may require a bit of sacrifice. Maybe you forgo watching Project Runway this week. That’s an hour in which you could be card making or playing with clay or doing whatever it is that makes your Muse happy.
Maybe you say no to organizing the church picnic and use that time to attend open studio hours at the ceramics shop.
Or you buy a book on enameling techniques rather than a bodice ripper.
Or you actually use the new set of watercolor pencils that’s been collecting dust under your bed.
Your creative life will be reflected in the choices of how you spend your free time. Even just 5 minutes this week will improve your spirits. One step, no matter how small will get you a little bit closer to living a creative lifestyle.
Ultimately, please understand this:
Creativity doesn’t strike lucky people out of the blue like lightning bolts.
It’s pretty easy to sit back and say “Well, I could make stuff like that if I was creative.”
Nope. You are creative WHEN you make stuff like that.
Creativity is a practice.
I get my best ideas as I’m working on a previous idea. Thinking triggers more thoughts and making art gives birth to more art. It’s a groove that you get into.
Creativity is the product, not the source.
So if you’re sitting around waiting for the light bulb to appear over your head, you might just want to get comfy because you’re going to be stuck in the dark for a while.
In the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about creativity, talent, inspiration, and living more artistic lives.
In the meantime, let's talk. Are you in a slump right now or are you in a creative period? If you’re coming off a low point, what was it that pulled you out?