6/09/2014

Crazy or Just Creative?

Watching Over Eternity, an illumination
from my soon to be released book,
Giving Voice
Gouache on Arches watercolor paper, ©2014
I grew up with "crazy" creative people, so for most of my life I've sought the answer to that 20th century question: Is it that being creative and having brains that work differently mean being inherently a little crazy, or is it that most of us live in a rigidly puritanical society that seeks to make us all fit the mold in vain? Up until recently, I would have said the answer is C: both. The more I create in this world, the more I'm aware that the answer is more often the expectation of having to fit the mold that makes us feel so out of sorts.

I should clarify what I mean by creative. Being creative is really just being human. It's what we do.  Someone or several someones along the way thought, "Hey, perhaps I can bring home that gazelle if I make a pointy thing to throw at it instead of hoping to wrestle it to the ground. Someone thought that mud over there holds its shape rather well when you squish it. Someone thought that intertwining some grasses together might be useful. Someone - and you might guess this is my favorite - thought, "shiny hard stuff in the ground…plus... fire... Hmmm, might work."

While problem solving that starts in our brains and comes out our bodies and hands is not unique to humans - there are elephants and birds that paint - we seem to produce a lot of cool stuff as a result. Why then would that be threatening to anyone? Why would anyone want to stop us and tell us to get nice "secure" jobs (I really have no idea what job fits that description nowadays) and lead "normal" lives (normal in our house is merely a setting on the washing machine) or to be more practical about life, as if doing all those things only to freak out around age 40 in the typical Western existential mid-life crisis is really a good idea.

The answer to why that would be threatening is expression. Expression is what drives us to try new and innovative ideas to push beyond the craft kits from the craft store and put our ideas into form. Despite this drive existing in all of us, not everone grows up having these areas of their brains developed or is encouraged by their families and friends.  

If no one else around you understands what you want to do with that mud that holds its shape, bizarrely, they may think that's a good enough reason to tell you to stop "playing" with it. Change is threatening. It might not work. After all that gazell might not like having the pointy thing thrown at it.  It might throw it back at you, right? Of course not. That's why fear of ingenuity is so stupid.

The sad reality is many of us have taught ourselves not to value creativity in everyone, that it's not merely a human trait but is somehow reserved for the Leonardos, Mozarts, and Edisons of the worlds. I say those names in the plural as if they could be, but you get that negative message, yes? There's only one of each, ever in all of human history, and none of us is he.

We've ceased to see just how creative good doctors and lawyers are at solving problems, closing or finding loopholes to achieve justice or discovering new treatments. We don't value the obvious need for vast creativity in solving environmental problems in easy to implement ways or how outside the box someone has to think to invent a new type of video game. We've substituted the self expression that drives this type of creativity with notions of security in the form of larger paychecks and a silly pride that comes with acceptability from ones more vocal piers.

As my friend, Bruce Baker describes it, those of us who are still still in touch with those primal hand and earth materials instincts are viewed by the rest of society as having run away to join the circus. There are no veneers of money and security to make people say the acceped social niceties about us. I can promise you that none of my grandparents ever bragged to their friends at church, "Victoria is studying to become an artist." Instead they had a great deal of trouble figuring out why anyone would take up time in college taking art courses.

So why does it make us feel crazy? Because even if we've figured all that it, we still have those voices in our heads, and these are the kinds of voices that tin foil just can't keep out. We have to recognize that disconnect between being praised as children who brought clay ashtrays home from 3rd grade art class and being criticized for not abandoning the desire of making for more acceptable paths by people who've lost touch with what it means to be human.

Perhaps the solution lies not only in championing the arts for their own sake but also in correlating being creative with all kinds of career paths. There is plenty of data and no end of books that proclaim this concept. We hear all the time that creativity is not something that is so easily outsourced. That would mean that developing creativity is a kind of (gasp) job security.


We could start by championing our kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and, friends' kids by not giving into the meaningless banter about their "doing well in school" then perhaps we can work up to answering these types of questions for ourselves. Maybe instead of answering the inevitable useless questions about how business is for us artists, we can talk about what's really interesting: our shared drive to express ideas and create new things.

1 comment:

John said...

Always enjoying your train of thought, V, so I have to comment.
Imagination is the wellspring of creativity that brought us out of the trees and built houses and civilization. But, I don't believe that everyone is creative - unless you define creativity very loosely - and these days we seem to champion the pedant much more than the artist and since the Earth is covered with followers not leaders, the followers are having their day. You should read the original novel Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boule. It is very different than the movies and is a parable about our society giving up on its creative self.