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creativity vs technique

My friend Tricia wrote a post today on potential creativity that just has gotten me thinking.  In a nutshell, she wants to paint but it intimidates her.  Tricia is a brilliant artist but her comfort zone is in writing.  As writers’ we are told that to learn how to write you must do two things – read and write.  That is the only way you are going to learn.  There are thousands of books and articles out there to teach you how to improve but just doing it is the only real way to learn.

The same goes for riding a bike.  When you go out to learn, people give you advice.  You could sit down and read books on the mechanics of a bike or how wind velocity alters your technique but you aren’t going to learn until you sit on that bike and pedal.  You will fall down.  I remember my first time riding a bike.  I was a natural.  I was up and down the street and opted to go around the block.  First turn and down a slight hill, second turn and on a neighboring street, third turn – hit some gravel and down I went.  I can’t remember if I got back on the bike and rode up the slight hill back home or if I ended up having to walk.  I will tell you that I loved riding my bike even after falling down.  I miss it some days – the wind in my hair, the thunk of the rubber on the asphalt.  There was nothing but the world and me.

What was I talking about – oh art!  I will admit to having those days when I am intimidated by a new art or craft project.  Some never turn out right, some make me feel like a genius.  Some take several attempts but when I finally get it right, I want to run around and show it to everyone.  No one gets it as much as I think they should because inside I am so joyful.  All they see is a finished project (and sometimes not a very cool project in their eyes).  Sometimes we finally figure out how to do that complicated stitch or actually get our drawing to have perspective.  It may not even be finished when we’re ready to throw a congratulatory party.

As adults we’re not allowed to take as much joy in things as when we are children.  Kids can’t wait to show off every little accomplishment and adults ooh and ahh appropriately.  As adults, we only earn praise when it’s dynamic.  And even then, it doesn’t always happen.  We don’t awards for that perfectly cooked roast or a certificate of achievement for learning how to crochet a chain.  We have earned these but they are silent victories.  Only the best get accolades.

That’s a sad realization and one that actually hurts our creativity.  As adults, we are expected to only be proud when we have mastered a trade – not a simple technique.  It’s not enough to can your second batch of jam (we gave you a hurrah when you made your first even though it never set and the last jar molded) – no now you must can an entire pantry of food you grew yourself before anyone thinks that’s really special (unless all your friends are amateur canners and then they are right there with you).

It’s hard as an artist to take time to learn.  No one is going to be proud of your first awkward piece.  Everyone is a critic and, while some may smile slightly and pat you on the head,  most people are going to point out what you did wrong because they’ve seen it done better.  They probably have never even tried to make whatever it was you made but they are sure going to have enough knowledge to tear you apart.  That’s even harder to deal with.  It’s heart breaking.  It’s actually damaging to your creativity (see The Artist’s Way).

We don’t value creativity enough in our society.  I think that’s a terrible mistake.  Creativity is not just “playing”, it’s actually a way of thinking.  Creativity makes us better.  Creative people are more in touch with their emotions and make actually be healthier for it.  I know there is a stereotype of crazy artists – yeah that happens to but there are also crazy people who are not artists so that point is moot.  People who tap into their creative brain problem solve better because creativity requires a lot of problem solving.

With pinterest and the new way of crafting instead of buying, we are more exposed to crafting and creativity.  However, we’re really exposed to professional’s who have perfected techniques.  Very few of them show you what it looks like to make your first project.  (They have now developed a new mental illness based on anxiety caused by pinterest.)

For me, life has become the opposite.  I’m always playing with techniques.  I wish I could hold still long enough to feel like I have mastered any of them but because I play in the techniques and work until I feel like I understand them, creating has become less intimidating.  Some times projects flop terribly and I find that I actually hate them but I try again until I figure out what I did wrong.  I repurpose damaged supplies for another project.  I keep going.  I have to create.  I find if I don’t I’m cranky and just unhappy.  A project nearing completion gives my life purpose and I have lots of projects going.  That way when I am frustrated with one project, I have another that balances that out.  I don’t recommend juggling projects like that unless you have an ADD personality like I do.  When I’m crafting I hate waiting for glue or paint to dry when I’m “in the zone” so having projects to work on in the meantime helps.  In the end, I feel like it’s actually about the process more than the product so maybe that’s what makes me different or maybe I’m more evolved.  I don’t know but all I can say – don’t worry about what you know and create anyway.