creativity scares me a little

oil pastel flower, creativity

There’s a quote from artist Chuck Close that has stuck with me for months since I heard it in a documentary: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

It sounds harsh and condescending when taken out of context, as if Close is staring down at his nose directly at me, the one who is continually searching for inspiration.

Close continues with, “If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work.” Okay, I can agree with that. I’ve read similar sentiments from many successful writers and artists and creatives. The muse is mostly a myth. The key to making any art is to sit down and do the work.

When I feel the itch in my hands to make something, I tend to peruse the internet for project ideas or pretty things to get my juices flowing. This is the opposite of creative. I know these searches are my own way of procrastinating the hard stuff – sitting down and doing the work. I know I want to create, and sometimes I even know what I want to create. But diving in is daunting.

“You’re looking for the right way to do things,” a wise friend told me. “You’re starting here…and you’re envisioning the end product over here…but you’re cutting out the entire middle. You’re cutting out the process.”

She’s right. I’m afraid of process because I know there’s a chance it won’t go the way I see it in my head. She and Chuck would get along swimmingly.

process creativity

We recently attended Craft Night at my kids’ school. The project was to drop India ink on a sheet of paper and blow it with a straw to make interesting shapes. From there the idea was to draw flower petals around the ink blob and color it in with oil pastel, then put a patina over the whole thing with the ink.

Projects like this are my jam because a) art supplies! and b) clear cut instructions. A “right way” to do it. If left to my own devices, I get overwhelmed with possibilities. I freeze and do nothing. And then I get upset at myself for doing nothing. Although there was a proposed idea for the Craft Night project, students and parents were encouraged to do whatever they wanted. Still, I kept sneaking peeks at the samples the art teacher had done, then berating myself for sneaking peeks because I wanted to believe I had it in me to create my own unique piece.

I’ve been reading a lot of books on creativity (because again, looking for inspiration), and one thing has become clear: the process is the most important part, even more important than the final piece. Process is where we learn, how we grow, where we’re allowed to screw up, and how we learn to solve problems. But for those of us who are a teensy bit afraid of failure1 and are always looking for the “right way” to do things, process is scary as shit.

My kids are less stifled by the freedom of creativity. They couldn’t have cared less about drawing a flower. They blew ink blobs, deemed them flying squids and love blobs, drew a little scene around them, then left me at the table to work on my masterpiece alone when they got bored. They made something completely different, when I couldn’t free my brain from the project the way it was presented. I mean, I still made a badass flower, but I struggled to think outside the box. And outside the box was where the flying squids and love blobs lived.

ink blobs, creativity
On the right: “One day I think we are going to have a big blob of love all around us.”

I worry too much about copying versus creating something completely original. I like clear cut parameters, but I know they can stifle creativity. Austin Kleon, artist and author of Steal Like an Artist,2 says, “What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.” That thought gives me, a constant inspiration hunter and rule follower, a whole lot of peace.

I finished the flower at home. It shares similarities with the art teacher’s examples, but once free from those self-imposed restrictions, I was able to lose myself in the process, manipulating the shapes and colors into a piece that worked for me. And I am really, really happy with it. One of my girls said, “Mom. At Craft Night Ms. S said she liked your flower, and she’s a real artist.”

Validation is a tricky bitch.

 

 

1 understatement

2 He also puts out one of my favorite email newsletters. Subscribe here.

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