“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”—Alan Alda
"Creativity… is not a mystical gift but a learnable skill"
This quote is from Edward de Bono I believe, but there are many, many versions and paraphrasings of the same idea.
I’m conflicted about this quote. On the one hand, I do believe absolutely that creativity is a learnable skill and that “deliberate creativity” is often far preferable to just waiting and hoping that some flash of inspiration somehow makes its way to the surface. Which is part of why I call this The Pragmatic Artist.
On the other hand, I’m not a big fan of binary thinking and pitting things against each other in false dichotomy. Isn’t it possible for us to embrace both the “mysticism” and the “learnedness” of creativity? Why do we have to choose one over the other? (It reminds me of the quote I had written on my bathroom tiles in lipstick for years: “Pray that the bus will wait and then run as fast as you can,” or as Pablo Picasso put it: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”.)
Then again, it might be that a discussion that parallels the “science vs religion” debate might be a little heavy for a 150 word blog post…
I’m off to the U.S. for the Next Idea Creativity Conference in New York state, where I will spend the next few days thinking about the “art, science and spirit of creativity” and immersing myself in workshops on “personal, professional and organizational creativity.”
I haven’t been to this conference before, and I must say I’m quite looking forward to it.
I have met numerous parents who say that they long to nurture their own creativity but feel guilty for even thinking about it when there are “more important things to do.” They often describe feeling “selfish” for wanting to do something just for themselves. And I hear it over and over again – this niggling sense that nurturing your own creativity is synonymous with being a bad parent.
I think this comes from stereotypical ideas of what a creative person is like. When we think about Artists, the image that comes to mind is often someone who is outlandish, perhaps anti-social and angry, removed from the “real world” and, yes, selfish. You know, the kind of person who lives their life in artistic torment while forgetting to cook dinner.
We don’t usually think of an artist as being a calm, content mother who curls up on the couch to write a pilot for a new sitcom before hugging her kid and settling down to play lego. Or a father who sits on a bench at the playground keeping one eye on his child and another on his sketch pad.
I’m not sure there’s necessarily anything wrong with a little selfishness now and again. But the funny thing is, the vast majority of parents I have talked to who have found ways to turn up to their own creativity report that they are actually better parents as a result.
Some of the things parents have told me:
“I snap less. When I’m not doing something creative –whatever it is – I’m like a pressure cooker. The kids know that Mom could blow at any time. Creativity is like the release valve for me – it makes me human again.”
“I feel calm when I’ve been painting. It doesn’t have to be for very long – even just a few times a week makes everything else seem easier.”
“I feel resentful of all the things I have to do when my own writing gets lost. I find myself thinking, ‘There must be more to life than this!’ But when I’ve captured some words on the page, I’m happy to help the kids with their homework, and I don’t even mind doing laundry.”
“My wife and I met in an orchestra. We both need to play regularly – it’s not a want, it’s a need. And when we do, we joke with each other more and our kids, and our parenting gets a lot more creative. It’s definitely important.”
I’ve also heard parents use words like grounded, peaceful, excited, happier, energized and more attentive to describe how they feel when they turn up to their own creative projects on a regular basis. The recipients of these good feelings? The whole family.
And in terms of role modeling? One of my favourite quotes is from a mother of three who took one of my creativity workshops a few years ago, and said “I want my kids to see that the imagination is a wonderful place to spend time and that we all have a responsibility to do things that make us happy. And what better way to demonstrate the satisfaction of finishing something?”
So if you struggle with nurturing your creativity because it makes YOU happy, think about it this way: you’re doing it for the kids.
"Eat. Sleep. Poo. Repeat" - One thing that creativity and parenting have in common
When my daughter was a baby, she had a sleeper that said “Eat. Sleep. Poo. Repeat.”
Parenting usually requires a lot of all of these. A lot of feeding. A lot of soothing to sleep. A lot of poo. And, boy, all of it – it’s never-ending. ”Repeat” is a significant word in a parent’s daily life.
You rock them to sleep hundreds, possibly thousands of times. You shove a diaper under their soft bums even more than that. It is quite likely that the word “quack” is high on your list of your life’s most-used words (along with “moo” and “peekaboo”). “Back to sleep darling” is like a mantra, and you have spent a lifetime putting their hands in your mouth and making chomping noises.
It’s not enough to do it once or twice. Your kid’s childhood will be defined by whether you can somehow find the grace, patience and stamina to continue these themes, and variations on them, for eighteen years, or longer. Every single day.
Of course, your children will remember individual events, especially significant ones, but largely your relationship with them will be formed like a photo montage – hundreds and hundreds of small moments bleeding together to form a single picture. Hopefully, instead of, “Do you remember the night you sung to me because I couldn’t sleep” they’ll say, “My Mum has sung me to sleep for as long as I can remember.”
Each day is a new one. You repeat the good things, fix some of the bad. Each day, you have to repeat your past behaviour, and constantly add new things to your repertoire.
It doesn’t matter if you’re tired. Being tired means two songs instead of ten, but you’re still going to do the rocking. It makes no difference if you “don’t feel like it” or you’re tired. Some days you’ll think you’re doing a great job. Other days you’ll question every thing.
You still do it. Again and again. Each day, you turn up. This is a long-term commitment and it’s the repeat that makes the difference.
And that, I think, is what creative work is like. Sometimes it’s made up of big gestures. But mostly it’s fitting it into everyday life. Lots of small actions, every day, that add up to a finished project. Or many.
It’s the repeat that will make the difference. Turn up. Create. Repeat. When you have a burst of energy and when you don’t. When it’s easy and when it feels impossible. When you’re proud of what you’ve done and when you just want another chance.
Sometimes, you need a break. Just as sometimes you have to leave a baby in a cot and walk away for a few moments for both your sakes, sometimes you leave your creative project. But you always come back. You pick your baby up again and blow another raspberry on her belly.
You turn up, day in, day out. Day-in, day-out, you repeat the process. Turn up. Create. Repeat. Turn up. Create. Repeat. And it adds up to a life of creativity.
Because that’s what you do when you love something. And love does not necessarily make life simpler…just sweeter.
“As parents we become really busy and sometimes pride ourselves on being so busy. In our fast-paced world, we really have to slow down. Creativity helps us do that. It balances us and grounds us in the moment, brings us back to the present and gives us meaning and purpose. It’s an antidote to stress. Increased levels of creativity are linked to decreased levels of stress.”—Toronto Art Therapist Temmi Ungerman Sears in “Ten ways to make time for your own creativity, and why you should,” an article by Anna Lidstone appearing in this month’s Parents Canada magazine. OUT TODAY!
A lot of articles on creativity and parenting are about how to nurture your kids’ creativity. I find this curious, since in my opinion you actually have to work very hard to STOP your kid being creative (a cynic might say that that is why we send kids to school for 12 years - it takes that long :)) Creativity just kind of comes naturally to kids.
Parents, on the other hand, sometimes need a little support in nurturing their creativity. Finding time for creative projects (or rather, making time - carving it out bit by bit like tear drops from a piece of stone) is often quite the challenge.
Which is why I have written an article on creativity and parenting that focuses on the PARENTS, not the kids. It’s called “10 ways to make time for your own creativity, and why you should” and it will be published in this month’s edition of the parenting magazine Parents Canada, coming out in the next day or so. If you’re in Canada, keep an eye out for it, and pass it on to anyone you know who might be interested in it.
In honour of this occasion, I am devoting my posts over the next few days to creativity and parenting.
(If you don’t have kids yourself, some of my friends assure me that the principles can also be applied to dog ownership, caring for elderly relatives or negotiating with annoying flatmates, so hopefully I won’t lose your interest.)
drum roll please…I am finally joining the 21st century and now have a Facebook fan page: Anna Lidstone - The Pragmatic Artist. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to start streaming these blog posts through Facebook, so if you go and “like” my page, you can follow me and find out what I’m talking about on any given day without having to come here.
My favourite is “Be boring (it’s the only way to get work done)”. (Anybody else know any artists who like to wear black and spend a lot of time publically brooding because they think that makes them more creative? How does anyone have any time to be creative if you’re constantly trying to prove that you are? Or, as Kleon says, “The thing is: art takes a lot of energy to make. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.”)
“If I valued creativity alone, I would only be a dreamer. If logic and process were all I saw, I’d live in fear of becoming automated. Creativity and reason cannot really be separated. Concepts, emotions, moods, and messages are problems that are solved by expression. Reason connects intangible creativity to something tangible and complete…I dislike unfinished business and unfulfilled potential.”—
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about the economic value of creativity. Terms such as “creative economies,” the “creative class” and “creative industries” abound, business reviews regularly talk about the economic imperative of driving creativity and innovation, and arguments for funding the arts often rely at least in part on the financial contributions that the “arts industry” makes to society. At the heart of these discussions is basic economics: What does it cost? What is the return?
Recently, I’ve also been pondering the flipside of this. What does it cost us when we DON’T “invest” in creativity. I have met people who have chosen to quit their jobs because of lack of creative headspace; have got sick because of creative burn out; have left a relationship because of lack of support for a creative endeavour; have dropped out of a university program (or an entire career) because of lack of creative opportunity. Richard Florida (author of The Rise of the Creative Class) argues that people choose where to live based on the perceived creative opportunities of a city, and I have talked to many people who have moved precisley for that reason. There are not only economic aspects to the argument but also social, cultural and even spiritual ones as well. In fact, I would even go to far as to say that most people I talk to who identify creativity as an important part of their life have a story of a time in their life when they paid a very high “cost” for neglecting their creative identity.
So my question of the day: What’s the cost - both to individuals and to society as a whole - of failing to nurture our creativity?