Once, I was creative. I don’t mean just one time, I mean once, a long time ago.
The other day I was looking through a little digital camera that is mainly used by my kids. It has several features, like fish eye lens, mirror effect, some filters. These are features I never knew existed in this camera until my kids started using them, and I was like, “that camera does that??” And they used them all, often.
Many of the pictures they take are ridiculous. A close up of a barrette. The corner where two walls meet. The dog’s foot. But here’s the thing: for every ten ridiculous pictures, there’s one masterpiece. Like the kind of picture you try to take with your iPhone and a thousand filters and cropping and adjustments of every color and cast known to man and it still looks like a regular old snapshot, now just very overworked. My kids nail it with one try.
It occurred to me that the reason this happens is two fold. One - they aren’t trying. They see something that interests them or inspires them, they snap it. Sometimes they take several snaps of it from various angles, just to cover their bases. And they don’t think again about it until later when they are going through the pictures. They don’t have a final image in mind, it’s not about the finished product, they just like whatever the object is and they find value in it and they take a picture of it. End of story.
Two - they take a lot of pictures. They aren’t trying to nail it in one or two shots. Most of the pics they take are throwaways. They know this and they don’t care. They take many, many stabs at something and many, many of them are failures and they don’t care. Failures do not phase them. They aren’t afraid of trying and having it not work out, they just enjoy the process of taking the pictures, and that comes through in some of the resulting shots.
I used to be like this, a very long time ago. I remember senior art class in high school, a particular texture study we did. You had to sketch a 1x1 inch picture of 100 different textures, then choose a few and make a larger scale painting out of them in a geometric layout. When I was done, I liked what I had done but I wasn’t married to it. I wondered if I should try again. My teacher, an awesome man named Mr. Giles, told me that while my technical skill needed development, he had never seen a student’s chosen textures in this assignment tell such a strong story, which (evidently) mine did. He said it was something you can’t teach. I don’t know that I agreed with him, but I was flattered at the compliment and it made me think of creativity differently... more as a giant experiment than an end result. I hadn’t been trying to tell any kind of story, I just picked the ones I thought complimented each other in some way, but it had turned out to mean something to someone else, which was very cool.
some bird magnets I made on a whim once
I used to write songs, and most of them were junk. But I had one here or there that at least had potential. One was even recorded by a friend of mine. But then I got busy and perfectionistic and self-critical and I stopped writing altogether. I used to make a lot of crafts, do needlework, crochet, wood crafts, etc. but then I got busy and perfectionistic and self-critical and I stopped crafting things. I made beaded jewelry. I made scented soy candles before they were a craze. I made home goods and sold them in artsy consignment stores. I took pictures and manipulated the development process in our high school photo lab with no particular outcome in mind. I wrote one-act plays. I took classes on deconstructing Shakespeare scenes at the Folger Theatre. I joined the photography club in college and tried a process where you reverse transferred the image onto handmade paper. All this, ‘cause, why not?
a silhouette I made of my daughter when she was two
Just because, just to try it. I wasn’t worried about outcomes, I didn’t feel the need for everything to come out perfect because it was going to be a wedding gift for someone or because I spent a lot of money on supplies. Now, I realize I had totally forgotten that there is intrinsic value in the creative process. Apart from the artistic benefit, there are other benefits, too, that transfer into real life: strengthened problem solving, appropriate risk-taking, increased self-esteem, and -- a big one -- happiness.
I want to try to take a lesson from my kids and do creative things for the fun and experience of it. I am going to try to let go of expectations of the results and just give things a try for the heck of it, learning more techniques as I go. First, I have to make time for these endeavors, which is a challenge in itself. But I want to make it a priority, because when I lost that creativity, I lost a part of myself. My kids are now at the age where they can also try new projects, so we can experiment alongside one another. But creativity, in all its forms, is what makes life so beautiful, and we need more of that.
I would love it if I could see some of your creative projects, so please share in the comments!