What Does it Mean to Be “Creative”?

If you asked me 5 years ago, I would have said I wasn’t creative. 

There were many reasons why I felt that way, but they all simmered down to 1 thing: I didn’t feel like I deserved to do so. It is an unspoken rule that the title of “Creative” is something that must be bestowed upon you by others. It is an honor that you must earn, and there’s generally 2 requirements. Firstly, you must “create” things regularly. This is an easy metric to meet, but the second criteria is harder; the things you create have to meet an undefined standard of skill or uniqueness. If you fall short of either in the title-betower’s eyes, you are not “creative. 

I didn’t meet my own criteria for the title. 

Sure, I had taken every art and writing class that my severely underfunded public high school offered- but the work I produced there was lack-luster. I didn’t think it was beautiful enough, poignant enough, or unique enough to deserve attention. So, after entering the “real world”, I just stopped. College and work kept me busy. I worked 40 hours a week, took 15 credit hours of classes, and studied in my “down time” between the two. Being “Creative” wasn’t worth my limited time, especially if I wasn’t even good at it. Now, in addition to lacking the skill (requirement 2), I also lacked the practice (requirement 1). How could I have the audacity to call myself “Creative”?

In our society we love the idea of “The Creative”.

Job listings seek out “creative thinkers”, and seek candidates that can add an artists flair to their work.. We romanticize the struggling writer and the starving painter. We dream of making a living off our craft: whether it is soap making, wood working, song writing, or acting. We look in awe and envy at those who do it. Those who are at the top of their chosen field are heralded as near-gods for their ability to form something out of nothing. They are praised for their dedication and their passion.

Society also derides “The Creative”

There is a fine line between being an artist and being delusional. While we demand beautiful things to fill our mind, hearts, and home with- the starving artist is starving for a reason. We don’t want to pay them for their craft. We love the art but often hate the artist. Perhaps it’s jealousy for their skill or envy of their courage to do what they love, but we love to mock the ones who don’t make it as much as we praise the ones who do. We tell our children to “be creative” and “follow your passion”, while simultaneously telling them to “be practical and get a real job”. Those who choose to follow their passion walk on a tightrope: if their creativity stops being appreciated and compensated- they will fall. Once they do, they will be blamed and mocked for their failure. They should have had a backup plan. They should have chosen something more stable. They should have seen this coming. 

In a sense, it comes down to commodification. 

We deem something as “artistic” if it can be bought or sold. Would someone buy this blanket I knitted? Are the photos I posted on Instagram good enough to attract sponsors? Can it be published? Auctioned? Downloaded? Many artists don’t identify themselves as a musician, a writer, painter etc. Unless they are paying their bills by that trade. We need that outside validation before we are willing to integrate that skill into our identity. And oftentimes that “validation” comes in the form of profit. But why? Why should we let anyone else decide how we view ourselves? 

I decided that I am creative. 

I write. I draw. I paint. I craft. I don’t do any of it with great skill, but I do it all with great passion. Isn’t that what the drive to create is all about?  I don’t care if I never become rich or famous, because it’s the process that makes me happy. While the occasional compliment or bit of praise feels good, what truly matters to me is how  I  feel about my work. Now that I know that mine is the only opinion that matters, I can practice my crafts in peace and joy. I can improve my skills without having to prove anything to anyone else. I am a writer because I write. I am an artist because I make art. I am creative because I love to create. Period.

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