Don’t you have to be an artist to be creative?

Years ago, I interviewed a producer who was certain she was not creative, even though she was helping solve many problems associated with making movies.

Maybe one reason people think they are not creative is that we are given so many examples in school and the media of eminent, big name artists and creators who have made notable impacts on the world.

And, not being one of those (at least not yet), we think that means, “I’m not creative.”

But we make use of creative thought and problem-solving all the time, even if we are not making “artwork.”

And even some animals create “artwork” or at least something that may get called art. I’ve seen paintings in galleries that didn’t look much more sophisticated than this piece by an elephant “artist.”

Aren’t you at least as creative?

[The photo is from The Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project.]

“Why do we assume that a rare and special ‘artistic’ talent is required for drawing? We don’t make that assumption about other kinds of abilities.”

Author Betty Edwards, known for her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, goes on to say, “If you can catch a baseball, thread a needle, or hold a pencil and write your name, you can learn to draw skillfully, artistically, and creatively.” [From her book Drawing on the Artist Within.]

Personal growth psychologist Abraham Maslow once commented, “We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.”

(Quoted in post Finding Your Own Creativity, by Tian Dayton.)

Psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (author of Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention) differentiates between big-C Creativity and little-c creativity, the sort used in everyday life. Paying attention to only big-c kinds of creative work can lead us to discount what we are doing creatively, and what we are capable of doing.

Creating – whether it is amazing, or simple and mundane – can satisfy us deeply, helping us learn so much more about our inner lives. Not to mention help deal with problems and challenging life situations.

This image is a collection of bird pins made of scrap wood, paint and metal, from the book The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946.

Most of the people in the camps were not professional artists – they were doctors, dentists, farmers, shop owners, teachers.

Yet they created a variety of furniture, sculpture, paintings and writings, performed skits and played music.

Everyday creativity

Gloria SteinemGloria Steinem points out: “Most art in the world does not have a capital ‘A,’ but is a way of turning everyday objects into personal expressions.”

She also said that telling ourselves “I can’t write,” “I can’t paint” (or whatever) is really saying, “I can’t meet some outside standard. I’m not acceptable as I am.”

[From her book Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem – and my article Creating to be authentic, not perfect.]

In her book Understanding Creativity, Jane Piirto, PhD declares, “Having scored high on an intelligence test is not necessary. We are all creative. Those who are more creative than others have learned to take risks, to value complexity, to see the world, or their own surroundings with naiveté.

“They have learned to be creative, or their creativity has not been pushed down, stifled, and diminished by sarcasm and abuse.”

Another part of our concept of creativity may be that it is a “gift” or unique inspiration from a muse, rather than something we can develop.

That attitude is a self-limiting belief that can stop us from even trying to be creative.

It takes time

Researcher Howard Gruber reported, “Perhaps the single most reliable finding in our studies is that creative work takes a long time. With all due apologies to thunderbolts, creative work is not a matter of milliseconds, minutes, or even hours – but of months, years, and decades.

“The creative person cannot simply be driven [but] be drawn to [their] work by visions, hopes, joy of discovery, love of truth, and sensuous pleasure in the creative activity itself.” [From his book Creative People at Work.]

Dr. Piirto notes, “many disciplines—for instance, the performing arts—are never truly mastered. The pianist, who has practiced and prepared for years to interpret a masterwork, achieves a novel interpretation. This person is creative (little c); however, time, music critics, and CD and ticket sales will tell if he or she achieves the eminence required to be creative (big C).

[From the Duke Gifted Letter, Expert’s Forum on Defining and Encouraging Creativity.]

Male standards and female creators

Sally Reis, PhD. explains that “female writers, artists, scientists and creators in all domains deal with male conceptions of creativity and a creative process that has been accepted as the standard within that domain, but may only be the standard for male creators.

From her article Toward a Theory of Creativity in Diverse Creative Women. Reis is author of the book Work Left Undone: Choices and Compromises of Talented Women.

More meaning for our lives

Author Riane Eisler thinks “The creativity we invest in our day-to-day lives is often the most extraordinary.

“It can give far more meaning, and even sanctity, to our lives.” (From her book: Sacred Pleasure.)


Social Emotional Health Program for Creative, Gifted, Highly Sensitive People

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