What leads, urges, even compels so many of us to be creatively expressive?
Given that everyone is creative to some degree, why do many people choose careers in the arts, or work that actively engages their creativity?
Most of us will never be actors or other filmmakers – especially ones that are seen and acknowledged publicly – but many of those creators talk about what calls them to engage in creative work, despite the challenges.
One example: Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress on March 2, 2014 for her role in “12 Years a Slave.”
In her moving acceptance speech, she noted one source of inspiration for her portrayal of a slave: “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance.”
She also thanked director Steve McQueen: “You charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life.”
Wilson thinks that with our “feel good” culture and the “widespread use of happy drugs, everybody’s trying to be cheerful and there are no decent dollops of melancholy and sadness. When this happens, art becomes bland, unchallenging and redundant.”
Genn notes, “Dr. Thomas Svolos of the department of Psychiatry at Creighton University School of Medicine thinks Wilson is right. ‘When you’re melancholy, you tend to step back and examine your life,’ he says. ‘That kind of questioning is essential for creativity.’
Maybe you kept a diary – or still do. Or use a notebook as a helpful tool for personal growth, to track thinking and inspiration.
Artists, as well as entrepreneurs and other creative people, often use storyboards, journals, mindmapping and other idea tools for developing creative projects.
As a child or teenager, we were perhaps more freely creative, but as supposed “grown-ups” we face fears and uncertainties about our talents, or the marketplace value of a particular form of expression, or what our investing in a project means – both for us, and others.
Some forms of creative work may have structures and guidelines to follow, at least during some stages, but at some point the venture is, well, creative. You need to make things up.
There can be many inner threats and challenges to all these aspects of creating.
Author Milli Thornton describes one example: a CPA who kept shutting off his dream to write.
In Part 1 of this article Eric Maisel talks about moving from an everyday mindset of “getting things right” to a creative mindset “where huge mistakes and messes are permitted and even welcomed.”
But many of us tend to be perfectionistic – which can help drive excellence, but may also support anxiety and creative constriction.
Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond notes “Were it not for perfectionism, we would be in short supply of all those myriad human activities we deem extraordinary, excellent, outstanding or great in quality.”
But in his Psych Central article “Perfectionism: Adaptation or Pathology?”, Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. notes, “Somewhere on a continuum between normality and pathology there is a point at which the behavior results in functional impairment.” Read more in my post Too Much Perfectionism.
Coach and author Barbara Sher has a helpful perspective on this.
“Art work is ordinary work, but it takes courage to embrace that work.”
That is a quote from the book “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” by two artists: David Bayles and Ted Orland. They also point out, “Artists become veteran artists only by making peace not just with themselves, but with a huge range of issues.”
Actor and teacher Jeffrey Tambor describes how fear can impact presence and creativity in performances and auditions, and how to shift the experience of fear.
He notes, “We are all fear-based creatures. And fear can be the great killer. It kills your original impulses, your creativity, and it kills desire. Rather than deny fear, we have to find new ways of dealing with it. We actually have to dance with it, so to speak.”
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
That quote (attributed to both Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso) is most likely about the process of creating a piece of work – but what about abandoning even the attempt to create something: a painting, novel, smart phone app, new business, or anything substantial?
What if your talents and intelligence have gained success for you in an area that is not particularly creative, but still, deep down, you have a passion to create?
Did you enjoy creating early in life? What stops us from continuing that pleasure? There are, of course, a number of reasons.
In her book The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PsyD, for example, writes about an experience in fifth grade when her teacher “shredded” a poem she had written:
“She insisted I had copied it from a book, humiliating me in front of the class by bellowing, ‘No one your age could have written such a thing. Shame on you.’ I learned that expressing myself was a dangerous thing to do. Becoming a person of few words was difficult for an enthusiastic extrovert such as myself.”
There are many ideas about being creative: You have to wait for a flash of inspiration; You need to be a “genius”; Artists are crazy (or at least flaky); You should be in pain to create, and many other myths which often get in the way of personal creative work, and business innovation.
In his book “The Myths of Creativity” David Burkus, writes about one of the most enduring myths: that creative inspiration comes from an outside source or entity:
“The ancient Greeks told and retold stories of gods, supernatural creatures, and regular mortals as a way to explain how they thought the world worked…They created the muses, who received and answered the prayers of ancient writers, musicians, and even engineers.
“The muses were the bearers of creativity’s divine spark. They were the source of inspiration. Even thinkers as great as Plato believed that poets drew all of their creativity from the muses, so that any works by the poets were really considered works of the muses.”
If you are a creative person, you are compelled to some extent to engage your mind and talents in doing creative work, despite setbacks and frustrations with the process.
Author Mary-Elaine Jacobsen notes,
“Beyond producing objects of value, the gifted create for the sole purpose of creative expression. They need to create and are rejuvenated by it.
“They often do so whether someone asks them to or not, regardless of payment or recognition, chiefly because they enjoy solving their own puzzles independent of external influence.”
From her book The Gifted Adult.
[You may be gifted, even if you don't recognize you are, or maybe don't have the "sufficient" level of IQ - see the page: Self-tests: giftedness / high ability.]
In the video below, psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel comments about some of the challenges of being engaged in creative work:
Preparation is often a crucial part of creative work, and many, if not most, creative people are highly sensitive – which can enhance this preparation.
With something like twenty percent of us being highly sensitive, that means there are many performers with the trait – musicians, actors, public speakers.
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD writes that public speaking or performing is “a natural for HSPs… First, we often feel we have something important to say that others have missed. When others are grateful for our contribution, we feel rewarded, and the next time is easier.
“Second, we prepare. In some situations… we can seem ‘compulsive’ to people not as determined as ourselves to prevent all unnecessary surprises. But anyone would be a fool not to ‘overprepare’ for the extra arousal due to an audience. Having prepared best, we succeed most.”