Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity and what it means to be creative. A while back, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and it was such an inspiring book. Gilbert believes that everyone is creative and that everyone is capable of creating. She also believes that fear holds a lot of people back from creating, and her book focuses on fear, permission, mistakes, etc. when creating.
Since I was a child, I’ve always loved working with my hands. Drawing, painting with watercolor, making tiny animals out of clay – I was always trying new things. I’m a very hands-on learner and physical activity helps me remember things. There is even research that suggests that fidgeting boosts recall memory. In high school, if I found a class lecture tedious, I’d usually find a way to creatively take notes, or I’d fidget or doodle.
However, my interest in art as expression dropped off after elementary school. My elementary school art teacher was the best; she taught us how to draw, paint, sculpt, and identify patterns and techniques. I was a little artist. I loved it, though I doubted my abilities. In elementary school, I even remember a classmate telling me, “You’re coloring wrong!” I couldn’t believe it. How was there a wrong way to color?
My middle- and high-school art teacher scared the daylights out of me. She was usually silent with demanding eyes. She’d constantly come over to tell me that I was doing something wrong, and our assignments were very structured. I wasn’t as free to create anymore. I had to do the assignment “correctly”. I looked for any excuse I could to get out of art class.
My school required at least one fine arts credit per year, so in 7th grade, I switched to band partway through my miserable art class. Then, when my band director gave up on teaching me (since I never practiced at home), I had to go back to the scary art class. In 8th grade, I decided to take speech class instead, despite everyone warning me that the theatre teacher was really mean and never gave grades above a B.
Speech class was fantastic. We memorized and performed poems, we created our own commercials, and we learned a lot about famous speeches throughout history. On my first assignment, I got a 98 out of 100, and I had a feeling the teacher actually did like me. The next year, my first year of high school, I continued to enroll in theatre class as my fine art. My school became a K-12 school, so I went to the same school from 7th through 12th grade.
Theatre and choir became my passion. I joined the National Forensics League (which is now known as the National Speech and Debate Association). I was the lead in a few of the plays, and the theatre became my home. I occasionally went home and learned to draw Disney characters, but I didn’t believe I had a knack for art at all.
I also learned how to knit in high school, and I took a pottery class in university. I learned how to cross-stitch recently, and now I’m learning embroidery. I’ve also started to sew by machine and I can crochet Christmas ornaments. Despite all of that, I didn’t consider myself ‘creative’.
Creative, to me, used to mean, “able to bring to life something new without aid” – meaning knitting without a pattern, cooking without a recipe, drawing without looking at anything, etc. I consider myself a writer most of all, because I’ve been writing since I could read. I used to come up with story ideas in math class, and I participated in National Novel Writing Month about 5 times. I even won an award in middle school for a short story I wrote.
But I still look at recipes to cook. I need a pattern when knitting anything more than a scarf. I look at pictures or artwork of the Disney characters I draw while I draw. I didn’t consider myself creative.
I thought, “Is knitting something that’s already been done by someone else really creating?” and now my answer is, “Of course it is.” Creating is creating, no matter where the inspiration or direction comes from. When cross-stitching or sewing, I have to come up with creative ways to start, problem-solve, and work on my piece. I’m doing it alone without anyone’s help.
For example, I recently made a fox scarf, and I loved every minute of it. However, I had to piece together different patterns and different techniques to make it work for me. The sizing, the shape, the construction – all were things that I learned how to do. I used the patterns as a guideline, but I also did the math to make sure it would work as I wanted. In the end, I was supremely proud of what I created.
Being creative, to me, is now defined as simply creating. Inspiration comes from everywhere, and even the greatest authors or chefs will tell you that they’ve ‘stolen’ or used things from those they admire. Creativity is better measured in one’s feelings about their work; how they were inspired to create, how they felt when creating, and their joy when admiring the finished product. Which is to say, it can’t be measured at all. And that’s what makes it beautiful.
I’m usually fearful of what others will say about what I’ve created once I’m done. Will they think it looks well-made? Will they think I took too long making it? Will they think I made a mistake or should have made a different choice? But I’m learning to quiet that inner-critic and just be joyful and proud of myself. Creating is something I do for pleasure. Mistakes count as lessons I learn from, and I inspire myself when I problem-solve. I believe that I am creative and that my passion is creativity.