What is creativity? What is art? What does it mean to be creative? What is inspiration?
These questions were asked by my friends and me in side conversations in the senior year of high school while we were supposed to be doing homework. In college, we pondered them in late-night discussions with tea and hot chocolate in the dorm rooms and our apartments. We spent hours discussing and debating the answers to these and other big questions of life. Now in adulthood, we spend less time asking the questions and more time living out the answers, even when we are not aware of it. When I think about deeper meanings, I look to these women who shaped me.
These women are a smart bunch and I took pleasure in their company in high school and college. Now, I struggle to maintain friendships over hundreds of miles and through the clutter of busy lives. These same women are creative: they knit, paint, sew, draw, garden, write, quilt, teach, take photos, identify birds from far away, key out plants, ski with agility, raise dogs for service, raise bees for honey, make toys for cats, solve problems, skate in a roller derby, mother their own children, mother other children. Some have started their own organizations or small businesses harnessing their creativity and harvesting their talents. They are mothers, wives, single, and working hard professionally and in the home. Thinking of them inspires me. However, in the midst of their company I never really considered myself creative, but I was a secret wannabe.
It was in time and distance and getting out of a funk that I found my own creativity. I unashamedly look to them for inspiration and passion. I find it now as we carve out community, on-line and together.
Usually when one thinks of creativity and art, one thinks of the great artists, composers, and writers. Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Neruda, and Beethoven come to my mind as some of the greats. Ask anyone on the street and they will think of different, yet equally famous names. The problem with this idea is that it leaves creativity and art to the few of a generation who have immense talents and are recognized for it. What about the rest of us with creative impulses? Does it have to hang on the wall of a renowned museum to be art? Do the notes have to be performed by a leading orchestra? Do the poems have to be translated into multiple languages before people recognize the beauty?
What about the tune you whistle as you go about your daily run, shower, and drive to work? What about your child’s masterpiece on the refrigerator? What about the four-line rhyme you wrote to a loved one on a homemade valentine card? Those are works of art as well.
Humans tend to create things. We build buildings, we sing songs, we knit scarves, we tell stories, we make chalk art on the sidewalk, we remember a beautiful day and share the memory. Everyday we create in lots of small, little ways. Those little actions become the bigger acts of creativity: we build families, we build communities, and we hold each other together.
For those of us spiritually and religiously inclined, we think of creativity as a divine act. We may pray to God, our Creator. I love being able to pull the divine into our everyday lives. Creativity isn’t just for supreme beings and it isn’t limited to a handful of people in a generation for their artistic and literary talents. Creativity can be found in every single one of us. The challenge is finding it, using it, and remaining inspired.
Creativity doesn’t have to be limited to paintings or poems, sculptures or symphonies. Creativity is different for each of us and it can manifest itself in many surprising ways. Here are some acts of creativity that I have come across that I admire and hope to emulate in my own daily efforts. A first grade student who could imagine a world without pollution and who then described his vision to me. A harried thirty-something mom who took old carrots, old celery, and some leftovers out of the back of the ‘fridge and turned them into a nourishing stew for her family. A grandmother who lovingly took old ripped blue jeans and patched them with love and scraps from her rag bag. An out-of-work dad who came up with fun, no cost adventures for his two kids while he was home. A co-worker who figured out a way out of a tight spot,and then saved the day and an organization’s reputation all at once.
Those acts of love and creativity will last much longer than the stew or blue jeans. The memories of a loving family will last generations. The silent, unspoken heroes last longer in our hearts than a statue mounted in a community square.
If we know what creativity is and we recognize it, how do we find it when we’re tired, out of sorts, or suffering an annoying headache? Sometimes creativity comes not because we are waiting for inspiration to strike, but because we work and struggle through our blocks. A friend of mine, a talented writer, says there is no such thing as writer’s block. She said sometimes you just have to put the words on the page, no matter how bad they seem in the moment. Maybe on another day, in the editing process, those words become exactly what one needs. I love that idea. So, even on days when I don’t find inspiration, just by plodding through and trying, I may find the seeds of creativity planted.
Sometimes it helps to have inspiration. It also helps to know what inspires you. Do you have a favorite song, a favorite album, a favorite band? Playing music that inspires you may help you write a novel, but it might also help you through the drudgery of washing dishes and making beds. I keep inspirational images near my desk at work: pictures of loved ones and friends, ripped out pictures from magazines, framed art, and cool postcards all help to give me vision. Sometimes they’re just there to look at as I battle procrastination to meet a deadline. Occasionally, though, we can become blind to the most beautiful art, and even blind to disaster and misfortune. The never-ending headlines of war, destruction, and pain tend to become white noise. Even the most ghastly neon green paisley wallpaper will fail to startle the eye if stared at long enough! It takes creativity to recognize that and inspiration to help shake us out of the despair.
Sometimes it’s movement, a run or a walk. Sometimes it means looking up and truly seeing. Sometimes it means looking deeply within and really seeing what we don’t want to see. Sometimes it means making lemons out of lemonade. Sometimes it means crying when there aren’t even any lemons to be found. Sometimes it means ignoring our own pain and being there for someone else. Sometimes it means listening and not saying a word. Sometimes those silent, simple acts are all it takes. Sometimes it takes bravery to know they are not enough. Sometimes it means knowing it is broken and can’t be fixed. Sometimes it means holding tight. Sometimes it means letting go. Sometimes it’s enough to acknowledge that we are alone, sad, and feeling uncreative. In those acts, we can find truth, we can find meaning, and we can find our own divine acts of inspiration and creation. We also find that we can pick up the fragments and create together. Sometimes it’s enough to know we are not alone in the world.