Talent & Creativity

The older I get the more saddened I am by how few people seem to have their own artistic or creative hobbies. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard people admitting with downcast eyes that they “can’t sing.” Even I struggle with the idea of dancing in front of anyone else, and until recently even when I’m alone. I don’t remember where I heard this, but I’ll never forget it because it made such an impression on me. A reporter went to a tribal community for a documentary. The tribe was having a festival of sorts and wanted the reporter to join them as they sang. When he told the leader that he couldn’t sing, they stared at him perplexed. This was such a strange concept to them that at first they assumed me meant he was physically incapable of singing. It hadn’t occurred to them that what he really meant was, I’m not a good enough singer.

As children we didn’t stop ourselves from doing things because we weren’t as good as celebrities or others in our lives. Kids sing and dance and draw and create endlessly. It’s one of the most special parts of human nature. Somewhere along the line, we became ashamed though. We’ve gotten it into our heads that we don’t deserve to spend time and energy on these things unless we are “talented.” (Whatever that means.) So often when I show other people my drawings they respond with, “wow, I wish I could draw.” Sometimes they’ll even recount to me how much they loved to draw as a child. This is so heartbreaking to me, partially because I understand the feeling.

My sister is a wonderful artist. At the height of her painting career, I had already moved away from drawing, but certainly wouldn’t have felt it worthwhile anymore comparing myself to her artwork. Eventually she stopped painting all together though for another reason entirely. Her reason wasn’t that she wasn’t good enough, it was because she couldn’t make a living painting. This is the other side of the same problem. We either think we aren’t good enough, or that it isn’t worth it if we aren’t able to monetize our work. I have to suspect that our capitalistic culture is to blame for these absurd notions we all seem to share.

Even though I’ve been making a point to write and draw every single day for over a year now, I am still constantly battling my own self-doubt. There are definitely far more days where I create something I deem mediocre than days where I impress myself, but it’s important to remember that each of those days holds the same value. Art and creativity aren’t about being superior to others or making money. These endeavors are not limited to an exalted few. They are an essential aspect of human nature. We were made to create. There is no such thing as “talented” or “untalented.” It’s all a matter of perspective. The more you practice, the better you will inevitably become, but even that isn’t my point. My point is that it doesn’t matter.

Whether you believe what you create is “good” or not, keep creating! Art isn’t about comparison and metrics and measurements. We all contain a deep well of creative energy that we allow to stagnate from disuse. And if you find yourself still shaking your head thinking “I’m just not creative” imagine a crayon drawing given to you by a child. I feel most of us have had this experience or at least can imagine it. When I got a bit older, I thought adults must have just pretended to like my pathetic scribbles and misshapen forms. However, now as an adult myself, who is often the proud recipient of such art, I understand that my parents and teachers really did love what I created all those years ago. Art has the power to make people happy, to make you happy, if you let it. And it has nothing to do with how professional or perfect it is. Art is about who made it, not the final product.

I always think back to a little character my friend drew a few years ago while we were playing a game. She never does anything creative anymore, although she used to draw just as much as I did when we were kids. She was embarrassed to reveal this little doodle to me, but even all these years later, I think back on it and smile. It was so incredibly adorable (yet so far away from what she was “supposed” to draw for the game.) It brought me so much joy. It wasn’t just the drawing itself either. It was the fact that this wonderfully unique little creature had come out of the mind of my dear friend. Anything creative is a glimpse into the private mind of the creator, and that is where its value truly lies.

The saddest part of this whole cultural predicament is that our deeply ingrained beliefs about productivity, creativity, and talent leave a lot of us disillusioned with art all together. I want to say, if you like doing something, do it, whether you’re “good” at it or not. But that isn’t enough. The joy of creating has been tainted by these critical thoughts, so much so that I lot of us don’t enjoy creative pursuits. After all why would you enjoy something that makes you feel inferior and “untalented”? For this reason, I would encourage everyone to make an effort to integrate more creative hobbies into their daily routine, whether you think you’ll enjoy it or not. Just do it as an experiment. You may surprise yourself. At the very least, you’ll be giving your right brain some much needed exercise.

3 Common Fallacies About Creativity

Scheduling Creativity

Don’t wait to be compelled to do great work.

Richie Norton

I’ve always been a creative person. As children, my sister and I spent hours drawing every day. I honestly probably have my parents’ relative poverty to thank for that. When you come from a family that doesn’t have the money to take you places and buy you new toys all the time, you learn how to entertain yourself with creativity. Not only did we draw constantly, we even made little clay figures, modeling them after Pok√©mon, or what have you, that we couldn’t afford. It’s funny how the things you once felt cheated by in life become the things you are most grateful for and vice versa.

Anyway, for the majority of my life, my creativity was dependent on “inspiration.” Initially, this wasn’t hard to come by. It is easy to feel inspired and excited by simple things when you are a child. However, once I got into high school, that inspiration started to dwindle. This could also have been a result of my increasing anxiety causing me to start overthinking my process. Whatever the cause, I began creating less and less. It didn’t seem worthwhile to make the effort if the outcome wasn’t going to be something amazing. My ideas weren’t good enough, in my opinion. I wasn’t good enough.

Eventually I stumbled upon the fact that many great artists and writers had struggled with the same issue of motivation. It wasn’t that history’s greatest works always spurred from incredible ideas or the energy of inspiration, rather they came from dedication, hard work, and persistence. Many writers swear by having a writing routine where they write a certain amount every day, regardless of if they feel like it or have anything interesting to say. Despite this, I continued to resist this idea for years. Only recently have I begun to see the value in this method.

The hardest part for me, is accepting that you will certainly create more, but each work may not be as incredible as ones that have been passionately inspired. However, with this regular practice, when inspiration does strike, you will be able to use the skills you have been honing to produce the best version of the work you’ve been inspired to create. In addition to that, inspiration will find you more often if you work at it instead of just waiting passively for it to find you.

Since I began writing and drawing every single day a few years ago, it is stunning how much I’ve improved. (I actually don’t know if my writing has really improved, but my drawing definitely has.) Perhaps more important than the higher quality work I am able to produce, is what I have learned along the way. I’ve learned that the outcome, the product, of creativity isn’t what I’m really after. There is a special joy in producing something from within our own minds and seeing it materialize in the world. Writing and drawing and other artistic endeavors are not a means to an end. They are an end in themselves. They are like dancing.

Dancing is certainly a form of art, but unlike other artistic modalities, these is less focus on a “product” and more focus on the experience in the moment, whether or not their is an audience. Capitalism has obscured and cut down the spirit of creativity within each of us. It has taught us that only certain people are “talented.” Only these talented few have any right to spend their time in artistic pursuits. And even then, only if they are intending to market their work in some way and make a profit. Never simply for personal fulfillment or fun.

Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself “creative” or “talented” I believe that artistic expression is an essential, inherent part of being human. I also believe that it is one of the only ways that we are truly free. Don’t allow anyone to take away that freedom. Don’t allow the world to sever the connection to your imagination. I guarantee you that you friends and family would love to see what you are able to create, irrespective of how “good” it may be. Few things make me happier than seeing the drawings that the children I work with make. Some of my favorite art has been made by my best friend who I’m sure wouldn’t consider herself very talented.

Talent is irrelevant. Art is a glimpse into the mind, the soul, of another. There is an inexplicable intimacy to art. That is what makes it beautiful. So please, express yourself freely in whatever way that brings you joy. Share yourself with the world. Make creativity a regular practice. Even if only for yourself. It’s worth it.

17 Ways to Develop Your Creativity