“We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while — to momentarily forget our age, our gender, our socioeconomic background, our duties, our failures, and all that we have lost and screwed up… Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
If you were to ask me what my favorite thing to do in life is, I would say it is to create. It doesn’t matter if it’s the blank canvas I set up on my easel last night waiting for daubs of oil paint or the novel I’ve been working on for what seems like forever, it is the act of creating that I love the most.
I often ask myself why. Why? What is it about creating something new and fresh and different that I love so very much?
The Art of Creative Living
There is a pulse inside me that pushes ideas out. Not that the ideas come out as fully created things. No, creative living is much more roundabout than that. Almost always, creating something worthwhile takes time. An idea builds up and finally, when I do have (or steal) some time to work on it, it usually flows, because it’s been waiting. But it’s not always been this way.
Once upon a time–20 years ago or so–I didn’t know what I wanted to create. I didn’t have an SLR camera or oil paints, and had never written more than essays or kept a journal. But I was interested in all of those things, if I thought about it. It’s finding our creative interests that is the important thing. Gilbert, in Big Magic, describes finding our creative angle through curiosity.
“Curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?” Anything? Even a tiny bit? … Following that scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead you to amazing, unexpected places. … Or it may lead you nowhere. You may spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end–except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness.
And that should be more than enough for anyone to say they lived a rich and splendid life.” – p 238
I agree. What are the little things that whisper in your ear? Listen to them. Try them.
The Myth of Creative Living
I think the biggest barrier to creative living is the notion that we must be successful with our creativity. No. Not so.
Gilbert talks about the pressure of succeeding and how paralyzing it is. She recommends keeping your day job. I agree. There is no quicker creativity killer than to believe your art has to pay the bills, steadily.
What about creating for the sense of creating? Just for the fulfillment of it.
For me, I know I’m a better person when I make time to write and paint. I need the time to be. There is a tremendous amount of magic in the timelessness found in the act that is creating. Gilbert writes this in Big Magic:
“Because when it all comes together, it’s amazing. When it all comes together, the only thing you can do is bow down in gratitude, as if you have been granted an audience with the divine. Because you have.”
It’s like the trees along the side of the road in Ohio, where the tree trimmers come in spring and lop back to a thick nub so they don’t grow into the power lines above. We’re cut back and whittled down to fit so many roles and places where we may not really fit. Life leaves us as little more than nubs, if we let it pare us back. But just as the trees under the power lines grow despite being cut back, probably even more than before, up, toward the light.
We can be pruned back hard by life. But creativity is our chance to refill the well and grow back up toward the light. The success we have is in the accomplishment of creation.
The Trick of Creating
If we’re not creating for the million-dollar payout, we’re creating for the fulfillment and meaning it brings us. That is enough of a reason. But if we love what we’re doing, greatness may happen from the work and diligence at doing what we love. Then, the trick is to be hard at work if it were to happen by. Gilbert says, “If greatness should ever accidentally stumble upon you, let it catch you hard at work.”
Take a chance. Create. Not for success in terms of becoming the next big artistic wonder, but for fulfillment and the chance to live an interesting life. I’ll never regret painting as much as I do — I have a home filled with color and meaning, and a heart filled and running over. My paintings haven’t–and probably won’t–ever become a sensation commercially. Yes, I have some photographs in museums and one on a book cover, and other prominent places, but it isn’t the reason why I take photographs. It’s to capture a moment forever. The act of creating that moment brings me deep joy.
When we dare to create, we gain joy. We’ve all been given the gift of being able to create, whether it’s baking a cake, drawing with pencil, writing a journal, creating a garden, or redoing an old car. Creativity is essential for a full life.
So this year, what is it you will be curious about? What will you begin to create? As Gilbert says so well,
“The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.”