“That’s okay, honey. You’re just not all that creative.”
I was ten years old. It was Saturday afternoon and I was one of five students in a crochet class at Stitchville USA. As I jammed my incomprehensible pile of knots into my jacket pocket along with all my frustrations, I also unknowingly closed the door on an understanding of myself. I believed the teacher’s words, I was not creative. The evidence was in a tangled mess in my pocket. Surely she knew creative from not. Apparently I was not.
Honestly, I am not sure what she actually said that day. Simply a poorly-executed-but-well-intended attempt to provide comfort and ease my frustration I suspect. The hard, knotty evidence in my pocket, however, paired with her few words shaped what I decided about myself and what I continued to believe for another twenty years.
This formative experience is commonly called an Art Scar. They are often acquired at a young age and the depth of the damage beneath the Art Scar is sizeable. For many of us with Art Scars, deeply-buried Art Shame is attached to the formative experience and remains as actively at work beneath our experiences today as the day it first lodged in our consciousness. While you may not readily recall the specifics of the experience, you may have an automatic knee-jerk response to even the suggestion of anything ‘creative’. “Creative? Ooooh, nooo-ooo-ooo. Not me. I am not creative. Make something? Nope. I can’t. Not gonna happen.”
They are prevalent, these art scars, yet I am still surprised when I find them in others. Years ago one of my coaching clients was a successful business woman and brilliant strategist. Her ability to visualize and communicate a unique solution to a complex problem was widely acknowledged. When she attended one of my retreats, however, she dug in her heels when it came to participating in a simple craft project related to the weekend’s theme. She announced, loudly and often, that she was simply not creative and would have to find another way to occupy the next 90-minutes. There was no convincing her otherwise. She was averse to even touching the craft supplies and fled the room.
A friend and I were discussing this topic recently and she mentioned her shared similar long-held belief. She was also apparently ‘not creative.’ It wasn’t until her mother commended her fearless creativity with food and entertaining, repeatedly trying new things with curiosity and flair, that she opened to the possibility that maybe she was creative after all.
For over three decades, a dear friend has delighted in telling me about the meals he has created, the colors, the smells, the flavors and each ingredient. I have enjoyed dissertations on home-made stew (with the tiny little corn) and too many pot-roasts to count. Food is his palette and he is quite the artist, though he would positively implode if I called him creative.
Too often ‘creativity’ is assigned only the those who paint, weave, craft or sculpt, an artist in the traditional sense. And only to those who do these things well, the professional. This is unfortunate and, frankly, false. Creativity is our nature from our first breath to our last. It is within each of us in one form or another but far too often is quashed or suppressed, to our detriment.
‘E’ is for Expression
I remember that day my limiting, non-creative view of myself changed. The filter I had firmly secured over my vision for two decades fell away that day and the door to my creativity blasted wide open. (Just about flew off the hinges.)
I was attending a Women’s Retreat and we had arrived at the obligatory Craft Project. My ten-year-old self in a thirty-year-old body had dawdled a bit, dreading the moment that my lack of creativity would be exposed. I was one of the last to enter the room where everyone was working, chattering, happy and making. Clearly these people were creative!
I tentatively approached a table covered in 1-foot square upholstery samples, mounded 2-3 feet high in every conceivable color and pattern. As I looked around at these happy women engaged in ‘making’ – joyfully playing – my hands unconsciously dug deep into the piles of fabric. The colors and texture triggered a sensory marvel. Before I knew it, my arms were buried up to the elbows in fabric and something within me stirred.
One hour later, I had created a journal covered in a beautiful floral textured weave and I loved it dearly. The corners were uneven and there was an unplanned glob of hot glue on the back cover but it was mine, of me, through me, and I came alive.
In the months that followed I purchased a glue gun of my very own and made ten similar journals for my family and friends. As I reflect back, I was the quintessential elementary child with something for everyone’s refrigerator. Two decades of Art Shame fell away. Creative expression poured through me. The dam was broken and I could not ‘make’ enough.
In the last twenty years, I have dabbled in decoupage, water colors, sewing, gardening, writing, singing and cooking with fearless abandon. (Some might add ‘reckless’, like that year I learned to play the fiddle – Oy!) Some of it has been perfectly awful (again, fiddle) and some of it has pretty darn good but that matters not a whit. It is the act of ‘making’ – the expression of something within me coming to life – that somehow nourishes me and calms my mind.
What about you? What have you decided about your creativity? How long have you held that belief? Are you ready to acknowledge those Art Scars of the past and set them aside just for a little while, long enough to try something new? What is it that has been calling to you? Your garden? Your kitchen? A bird house? An instrument? A foreign language? A paint brush? What is that spark of creativity within you – seeking expression through you – yearning to come out and play?
What say you, my fellow band of wounded makers? Shall we claim our art scars now as the tuition for our creative learning? To suppress that creative spark is not benign, friends. If for no other reason than your well-being, let it flow!
This week, let’s make something – anything – for the pleasure of no one but ourselves, just because we can.