What does it mean to be creative?

My friend Ruby recently wrote a blog post about reclaiming the word creativity and it got me thinking. To be honest, it fired me up. I love discussions like this. I love thinking about and talking about creativity. I wrote a response to Ruby on her blog and then I decided to craft my thoughts into a blog post of my own to extend the conversation.

So go give it a read and then come back and let’s talk.

Grab a cup of something hot and sit down and let's chat

I believe that EVERYONE is creative, or has the potential for creativity. It isn’t something to be hoarded. It isn’t something that one person can claim to have while dismissing another’s right to it.

Creativity is a natural state for every child but it often gets left behind as we grow up (Picasso certainly got that right)*. Some of us are able to hold onto it but most of us do not and often the ones leaving it behind do so because of criticism by adults.

It’s hard to ignore negative comments about your creative endeavors, whether you’re a child or an adult. Sometimes it’s more subtle than direct criticism. A lack of praise while the girl seated next to you is fawned over. Not being chosen for a part in the play… Each of those things hurts. I grieve for all the children (myself included) who grew up believing we weren’t good at art (or writing or music or dance…) just because of another person’s opinion. To discard something as beautiful and joyful and as ESSENTIAL as creativity is a terrible waste.

Along those lines if you haven’t seen this video from Creativebug, go give it a watch.

In her post Ruby says “Creativity has become a bit of a buzzword lately.” The word does seem to be everywhere, and as someone who gets excited about encouraging creativity in others I think that’s a good thing.

What isn’t as good is the never ending cast of “experts” claiming to know THE WAY to be creative. I’ve chatted with other artists about this, too. My friend Dana (from the 2x2 Sketchbook collaboration) just launched a new website for her art and we’d been chatting while she built it. There is so much advice about what artists need to do in order to succeed; sometimes that advice is conflicting and often it’s confusing. And I’ve noticed that much of it doesn’t resonate with me and the type of artist I want to be.

Watercolor Play in My Sketchbook Always Brings Me Joy

I agree with Ruby’s assertion that some of those experts seem more interested in making money for themselves than sharing creative practices with others. But who am I to judge? I decide where I put my money. Perhaps one offering is bad for me but ends up helping someone else move their life from darkness into light. Each of us has our own ability to choose what’s right for us.

Building a life around creativity is hard. Like Ruby, I’ve often looked to others for advice. Maybe you have, too. I’ve even taken advice that didn’t end up being just right for me. I recently re-wrote the About page for this website to better share who I am instead of following a prescription that an expert claimed was supposed to make me successful.

Aren’t many of these ideas true for all of life? There are as many ways to live a life as there are people. In the end we each have to navigate our own path. It’s not always clear which is the right one. We make mistakes. We learn. We grow. Life is hard.

But back to creativity and what is “true” creativity and what is not… I don’t think any of us can judge another’s creativity. And what is truly creative? What has honestly never been done before? Not a lot.

I’m a botanical watercolor painter. Botanical watercolors have been painted for centuries. I don’t think I’ll ever find a subject that hasn’t been painted before.

Ruby is a dancer. Is there truly a movement a dancer can make with her body that another person hasn’t made in the history of humanity? Probably not. But does that matter? Ruby is a unique person. Each moment she dances has never happened before she makes it happen. Her body, the music, the space in which she’s dancing… each aligns to create something that hasn’t been done before, even if the movement isn’t something “new”. Just so with my paintings. I make a momentary connection with a plant and celebrate its beauty on paper with paint.

a watercolor tulip recently painted by Anne Butera

Not everyone will like my paintings. Not everyone will like Ruby’s dance. Or your quilt. Or another person’s book…. But that is not the point. The point is the moment of my creative act (or yours) and what it means to me (or you).

I think everyone can benefit from bringing more creativity to their lives. In whatever form it might take and from whichever direction it may come.

I see Ruby’s post a challenge to herself. A challenge to break out of complacency (and cuteness – although I would argue that cuteness has its place, too). And I see it as a challenge to US. A challenge to truly be ourselves and follow our own creative paths without getting off the track onto someone else’s road.

Being our own true self, forging our own unique way, is probably one of the hardest things to do in life, though it is certainly the most valuable.

I am so grateful to Ruby for posing difficult questions. I am grateful to her for challenging herself (and us!) to be the best that we can be. I am grateful to her for continuing to add beauty and creativity to a world that always needs more of both. I hope that you will be undaunted in your own efforts of creativity. Please do not give up. Please keep shining your light.

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*”Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain one once he grows up.”

—Pablo Picasso