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September 2004 (Updated by the 15th)




Photo Copyright © John B.
by Elena Armstrong

     Creativity sometimes gets a bum rap. In fact, speaking of “bum”, there are those who associate the creative life with that of a slacker’s. One without direction, without aim; one that is just sitting around for the whim to hit to get into any action. Cut out these wild dreams, the observers of these good-for-nothings will say. Who needs another painting? Who needs another novel? Go get a job. Besides, those creative people are nuts. Isn’t van Gogh the guy who cut his ear off? Didn’t Ernest Hemingway shoot himself? Better to be practical, these people conclude. It seems to get one in less of a mess. Not worth the trouble.

     Many times, too, the naysayers of the creative life assume that artistic ambitions are pure ego. They assume that the only reasons to write a book, produce a movie, or take up ballet when you’re forty is to be famous, make a lot of money, or both. If a person has never had much inclination to engage in what is traditionally known as creativity, mainly, the arts, he or she may be baffled by someone else’s yen to pursue a creative project, seemingly out of the blue. This objector may only have been exposed to commercial art, be it the opera or the Opry, and not believe a friend who says he or she wants to pursue art for art’s sake. A hobby now and then, perhaps, but one that can be easily interrupted for practical reasons like shopping or cleaning. A full-blown creative passion may just seem egotistical, or disingenuous. They might ask, what do you mean, “you don’t care about the money”? Who’s going to benefit from your sitting behind an easel for eight hours every weekend? Have I gotten stuck in some sixties time warp?

     The person contemplating the creative endeavor may think that his or her critics might be right. If life seemed okay before he got this idea, maybe it isn’t a great idea to change things around, especially if his or her friends and family will be upset by it. In the face of this kind of challenge, it will seem like incredible gall or incredible indifference to take any creative risk. After all, is making an oil painting worth the anxiety it will cause my spouse or kids?, someone might think. Maybe I’m not even any good at it. Is it worth risking live relationships for an easel?

Photo Copyright © John B.

     These fears are not irrational. Jumping out and starting a new enterprise is risky. Those who challenge the creative one by asking “Who do you think you are?”, really aren’t as strange or out of kilter than their audacity suggests. It is selfish for a person to undertake any creative work, in the sense that he or she is marking a set time away from the normal people and responsibilities that are part of this person’s usual routine. People who have counted on this person at all times will now have to share, and not even with a person. To some, this may tantamount to their spouses coming home and saying they are having an affair. And if the infidelity itself wasn’t enough, the innocent spouse will now have the paramour flaunted in his or her face at any given time, and is expected to just deal with it.

     This may sound extreme, but it isn’t for those who can’t believe that their partners have made a declaration of their own time. They may fear that the new passion will override time spent together, and that the creative person may turn into someone unrecognizable. And, at the worst: what if my wife meets a painter at some studio, and they run off to Paris together? Or, what if my husband gets into writing books so much that he thinks I’m boring, and decides to sublet an apartment in Soho by himself?

     An alternative situation may occur when someone says they want to try something “just for fun”, whether it is dabbling in watercolors or someone taking up piano on the weekends. The objection might be, you’re going to steal time away from me to do this, and you’re not even going to make money or be famous with it? Why are you wasting your time, when the kids have soccer, you haven’t taken the garbage out, and we’re so in debt you really should be getting a second job? The threat may come from the “hobbyist” cutting out a slice of his or her time just for him or herself. An hour the hobbyist plays with watercolors or strikes the ivory keys is one less hour he or she is available for the boss, the yard or the laundry.

     Creativity also poses other hazards. What if a person is looking to put his or her work in the world, whether it is cutting a CD with a band, or place his or her poems on the Internet? The “who do you think you are” challenge rears its head, regardless of support or lack of it. In this case, a person is searching for an audience, saying that he or she is worthy of your time, and in many cases, your money, simply so you can consume something specifically created by this individual. This does take audacity; what makes him think he is so special? Why does she think she is so good? This is a risk. You risk rejection, scorn, and perhaps a sense that perhaps you made a fool of yourself. Presenting something creative to others is a bit like jumping off a cliff that should be safe, but is covered with fog. You really don’t know for sure what will happen once you do it.

     There is always the argument that regardless of the outcome, a person has taken a risk to become a better person, and that his or her action is better than not acting at all. Perhaps it is being creative that is the point, rather than the work itself. Depending on one’s views of these things, creativity of any type can be construed as a spiritual activity, one in which a person is mirroring the Creator in His/Her/Their/Its artistic masterpiece called Life, Creation, or the Universe.

     Perhaps this is the real threat creativity poses: it is the audacity of the creative one to say he or she is equal on some level to the Creator. Perhaps it is the belief of divinity existing in human creativity that the naysayers would prefer distant, or even better, buried away.

Photo Copyright © John B.


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