On Creativity: Discovering My Ability as an Artist and the Books That Got Me There
Creativity is a habit, "a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up."
But I didn't always believe this. Since I won an art award in 3rd grade and my sister didn't, I first assumed that creativity was a blessing. My beliefs about creativity changed when I began to make painting a priority, and I'm f*cking glad they changed.
Discovering My Ability as an Artist, and the Books That Got Me There.
I have a ravenous appetite to read as many texts a subject offers, a somewhat obsessive habit that helps me to become an overnight expert on anything from makeup artistry to teaching middle school students how to write essays. Although I’ve been painting my whole life (read about that here), my interest in abstract painting sparked about five years ago when I began art therapy, and last year I took an avid interest in the theory of the creative process with the release of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.
Gilbert was tempting, her book’s beautiful cover art depicting some chalky, brightly colored, exploding clouds with the concise title in a bold, large font. She narrated her own audiobook, one of my favorite things for an author to do, and I was able to picture Julia Roberts, the star of Gilbert’s novel-turned-movie Eat, Pray, Love and my mother’s favorite actress. I liked Gilbert’s explanation of creativity as “big magic,” an entity that had its own agenda. We were merely vessels through which that entity could channel itself, and if we didn’t honor its presence someone else, like Ann Patchett, might steal our book idea about love and discovery in the Amazon (spoiler alert?).
Gilbert takes very little credit for the success of her books, and Big Magic was very comforting for someone who shrugged their shoulders when asked where their magnificent ideas came from - someone like me.
I continued looking for more views on creativity, either out of an insatiable need for validation or an unconscious counterargument forming deep down.
To my surprise, I found that many scholars believed that art was not the product of capturing an entity, but that actually it was hard work.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield distinguishes the difference between an amateur and a professional artist. The amateur artist waits for art to happen in a flash of inspiration, whereas the professional artist relentlessly pursues that inspiration with routine and hard work.
Now that was a new concept.
Twyla Tharp, a choreographer who wrote The Creative Habit, further insists that “routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more." Even Mozart had to work hard. His talent was not “some naive prodigy who at down at the keyboard and, with God whispering in his ears, let the music flow from his fingertips."
I was shocked. Surely we could all agree that Mozart one of the chosen few. What about DaVinci, or Frida Kahlo?
Creativity is a habit, not an entity with agency. Imagine, art being made by ordinary people.
Surely innate talent occurs in some people, just as it does with many other fields. At first most fields are talent; hard work takes time to pay off. Athletes may show promise early in their lives, but those who compete in the Olympics make a habit out of training and developing their skills. Martial artists, calligraphers, carpenters, and news anchors get better with time and hard work. We generally accept that all of these trades and skills need practice, but oftentimes place art in a separate category for only the gifted.
I had to learn how to make an effort and establish routines if I was going to be an artist. David Bayles and Ted Orland assert in their book Art and Fear that “artmaking involves skills that can be learned." I could see evidence of this truth, for through my own arduous effort in studying creativity my painting soared. Hard work was paying off before my very eyes!
Despite being daunted by hard work, with this discovery came a new freedom;
I no longer needed anyone else to grant me the title of “artist.” Creativity itself may not be in charge, but now I was.
How do you feel about creativity? Tell me about your relationship with this complicated concept in the comments below!