On Creativity

I have always loved art, both looking at it and making it. Since becoming ill (actually since the US election, which might very well be what made me sick), my need for visual art has intensified. If I had more time, I think I would devote much more of it to fine arts. I have always struggled over this choice of how to spend my time, as there have been so many things I have loved and wanted to pursue in this short life: music, literature, dance, social justice, research, education, gardening, spiritual practice. Devoting myself to one always meant sacrificing the others—and I lost much time in decision! And then with creative endeavours, I was plagued by self-doubt and fear of failure. Creativity requires risk-taking, which means a willingness to fail. How much more I could have done if I hadn’t been so afraid of not succeeding!

So I got sad again the other day when I was in my studio, looking at all the art supplies and craft materials I have gathered over my lifetime (just about literally: I still have some art supplies given to me when I was about seven, including an easel, water-colour paper, and set of oil pastels), and thinking about all the things I had planned to make with them, and hadn’t. Clearly, I had far more hope and ideas than discipline and confidence!

But on another day (hard not to be a little moody with sudden-onset menopause after a hysterectomy!) as I thought about all the wonderful creativity in the world, all the modest and grand efforts at making something beautiful or curious or original out of not much at all, no matter the scale or the audience, I felt joyous again. Suddenly it didn’t matter whether it was me making that bit of art or someone else doing it; it’s all part of the glorious mystery of human creativity that transforms the ugly, the ordinary, or the inert into something thought-provoking, expressive, awe-inspiring, or even just pleasingly decorative. This creativity is one shared thing among us, even if –or because– it takes so many forms in so many hands (leaving out anything exploitive or that does harm.) That day, I felt so connected to the art and creativity of the world that it felt okay that it wouldn’t be me making that art, or even seeing it. I was just so happy it exists.

So again, I am asking you to do this for me (because so many of you have asked what you can do), for all of us: make art, even if it is tiny. It can be so small that it is just placing one thing next to another, to see what effect it has. Make music, even if you are just humming a meandering tune. Or do something spectacularly ambitious, like write a concerto or paint a portrait of someone you love, even if you’re not sure it’ll turn out as you imagine it. Do all those good things that make the world a more beautiful, worthwhile place to live. This is our great gift as humans, one we can all participate in or at least facilitate or enjoy. And please, most especially, don’t let yourself be paralyzed by self-doubt and fear of failure.

To facilitate your creative experiments, I’ll soon be posting a list of unused art supplies to be given away upon my death, so stay tuned!

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