For me, one of the gifts of 2015 was reclaiming not only my identity as an artist, but my fierce belief that everyone is creative. I feel like a mama bear because I want people to know this in their hearts and souls. Creativity is an essential part of being human; our birthright.
I grew up with encouragement to create, and it is a big part of who I am. I have a certain amount of confidence in exploring being creative. For this I am very grateful. I would like to use this to encourage rather than discourage those of you who don’t believe in your own creativity—yet.
This year, I witnessed my friend Vicki’s journey of struggling to paint and draw in spite of a long held belief otherwise, of discovering she’s a natural storyteller, and much more besides. Her courage to be vulnerable and to create in spite of her persistent self-criticism was truly inspiring, and so I dedicate this post to her and to all of you who have to work through or around a bullying, loud-voiced inner critic.
Since criticism—external and internalized—is a big hurdle to leap if we are creating through a torrent of self-negation, compassion for ourselves is the first order of business. The first stanza of Mary Oliver’s beloved poem, Wild Geese, really says it all:
“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”
You do not have to be good! Let your heart, your body love what it loves and explore creating from there.
What counts is expressing yourself creatively in any form you choose: paint, color, dance, write stories, write poems, sing, play music, garden, design and build things, cook, rearrange the furniture. Karla McLaren speaks to this in her book, The Art of Empathy.
The expressive arts help us to fully integrate our experiences with the horses (or our daily life, or . . .) into our bodies. We can look back on what we created and believe that it really happened.
Creating is good for you and you do not have to be good! And let’s redefine what ‘good’ means related to creativity, too. Our culture’s definition is much too narrow.
Nurturing your creativity
“The seeds of your creativity are already planted in your heart and soul. Your job is to nurture them. They’ll grow by themselves—but they’ll need you to give them air, light, and water.”
Laurie Pawlick-Kienlen wrote those compassionate words. She blogs as The Adventurous Writer. She wrote a compassionate and practical post about the process of owning her creativity called How to Be Creative Without Fear of Criticism. Because it’s a helpful list, I’ve paraphrased part of it here, and added my own comments. The quote above and the two following come from Laurie’s post. I thank her for honoring her own creative spirit.
Ask for support
Tell your spouse or friends that you want to explore painting (for example), but that you also feel vulnerable and a little scared. Ask them, “Will you support me in this?” Most people genuinely want to be helpful, and if you tell them how you would like to be supported, they’ll be grateful for the information, and not having to guess. They might even figure out by themselves that critiquing your efforts is verboten.
Get comfortable with not knowing
A zen roshi once quoted his teacher to me saying, “Not knowing is most intimate.” I understood that to mean that if we can be present with the not knowing, we may discover all kinds of gifts that it brings including that of just being present.
Be with people who support your creative pursuits
This is seriously important. Connecting with like-hearted people when we’re stretching to learn something new can make all the difference in our ability to persist. Avoid any nay-sayers and critics, and professionals, too, if you feel intimidated around them.
Consider that your development as a creative being was paused when the outside voices convinced you to stop trying. As an adult who is reclaiming this part of yourself, you get to be as protective of each creative tendril as you want. Gush with praise, celebrate each step forward. If you can’t, find those who can and will support your explorations without reservation. This is part of helping your creative youngster grow up into a creative adult; you’re filling in a gap.
Give yourself time—creativity is a process
“Learning how to be creative without criticism doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly like a flower blossoming. You must start slowly, and you must never give up.”
Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to make messes, and to not know what your end product will be. It is okay if there is no end product. Creating can be a powerful teacher of living in the present and trusting life to unfold without having to control it or be assured of a certain outcome.
Feed and support your desire and your budding efforts
Find ways to support your pursuit. Listen to music that inspires you, read poetry, buy art supplies, fabric, a guitar, or ? and begin playing with them. Read about being creative. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is deservedly a favorite. I also love a little book written in 1938 by Brenda Ueland called If You Want to Write, A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit.
Ueland clarifies the creative process—any creative process—as the creating part which happens in the right brain, and the editing part which comes from the logical, linear left brain. Since our critical voices live in our left brain, supporting our own creative process means keeping the two separate. I’ve tried, and can attest that it is not possible to create and edit at the same time. The editor shuts down the creative flow. I call the two parts Draft and Edit, but it’s true for any creative process. Artists often do studies and designers draw thumbnail sketches before beginning larger works. It’s a way to move ideas out of the mind into a physical form that we can engage and revise before committing to the full size work.
Don’t take classes to learn how to be creative
It is difficult for most of us to be a student without engaging our left brains. Learning something new puts me in my head instead of my body because I want to learn and master what is being taught. Creativity flows from our right brains, from our hearts and our bellies. Learning how to listen and receive those inner stirrings is often best done alone, or in a very safe and supportive space.
I appreciate Laurie saying “give yourself time—creativity is a process.” We need to allow ourselves to be beginners and appreciate the glorious messes we make as we go and as we let go of old ideas of what creativity is ‘supposed’ to be.
The only thing we can control or change is ourselves, starting with our attitude. If it’s too big a stretch to claim your creative self directly, consider smaller bites: I am becoming a painter; I am exploring writing poetry; I am discovering my voice as a writer.
“Have faith in your creative works—not because others approve but because your creativity expresses who you are.”
And from this place, give yourself permission to start dabbling, to play, to make messes! Many of us had our creativity shut down in elementary school. Reconnecting with the aspect of play and fun can be a powerful way to reclaim your creative spirit.
How talent is misunderstood
Being creative is a process that slowly unfolds. It’s a blend of skills that you practice and a belief in what you’re doing. It’s kind of like strengthening a muscle.
Creating is one of the ways that I feel connected to everything. When someone says, that person “is so talented,” I feel so sad and isolated. Talent is real, for sure, but most of what gets called talent is more the result of regular disciplined practice and believing in the value of the work.
Calling it ‘talent’ does two things that are false. It discounts the years of hard work that brought an artist to a point of mastery, accomplishment, and recognition. And it disconnects creative accomplishment from the speaker and her own creativity. It makes it out of reach.
I know that being creative is an essential part of being human, and I hate how so much of our creativity gets squelched especially as kids. And I regret the emphasis on superstar artists in our culture and media because it distracts us from the authentic enjoyment and satisfaction of creating our own art, music, whatever. I encourage creative expression in all forms!
I’m going to go make a mess now. I sincerely hope that you will too!
About the images in this post
Having visuals that truly express the heart of a blog post is important to me. I thought a lot about this one, and decided to use an example of creative expression that was done after a reflective session with a horse at our workshop, “Horses as Teachers – the Art of Being Present” in August 2015. I don’t know the woman very well, or what her relationship is with her creativity, but honor that she had a beautiful experience with a horse, and expressed herself in a powerful way through our activity at the end.
Photos by Barbara Breckenfeld