Insights into creativity

I had a rather strange experience recently. I’ve been working on an original idea for a quilt. Someone was interested and I took a selection of the fabrics I’d cut out to show her, outlining my thoughts. She played with them for a while and then made a simple suggestion that transformed the whole concept, giving it far more life and originality. It wasn’t offered as criticism or as an assertion of superiority – just entering into trying out ideas. Instead of being delighted, I felt all my enthusiasm and excitement draining away. Old thoughts – “you’re no good at anything”, “you’re not creative – why bother trying?”, “you’re hopeless”, came crashing in, I felt distressed and discouraged, and for several days I gave serious thought to disposing of all my craft materials and just walking away from any effort to find creative expression, back to how I used to be.

I’ve been trying to make sense of my over-reaction and also have been haunted by something else this person said – “I don’t think you really want to do it” – referring to my procrastination: talking a lot about being creative, collecting materials, but not making time to actually work on projects. There was truth in that rather harsh remark and I’ve had to allow myself to be challenged by it.

Two bereavements within 8 months are amost certainly skewing my reactions and emotions at the moment, which may partly account for the immediate and extreme response, but that can’t be all of it.

This morning I did an exercise from Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s book “What we ache for: creativity and the unfolding of your soul”. I had to complete a series of phrases about my favoured creative medium, spending a set period of time writing all the responses that came to mind. I wasn’t sure whether to look at writing or sewing/other visual media, so I did two lists. The phrases included “When I write/sew I feel…” “When I write/sew I see… ” Another section of the exercise asked why I write/sew etc etc.

I did this exercise once before, but didn’t make much of it, but this time the answers were unexectedly revealing. What they seem to show is that I write to express what’s within, to explore, make connections, bring clarity and light to dark and confusing places, to understand myself better. Writing often brings fresh insight and revelation from my interior world. On the other hand, my visual work, much more limited and often bedevilled by feelings of incompetence and inadequacy, seems to express my responses to and insights into the outer world, to colour, pattern, texture, beauty, to emotions and thoughts sparked by what I experience through my senses. In Myers Briggs terms, writing expresses the iNtuition and visual work the Sensing parts of me. Which makes some sense of my struggles with the latter, as I’m stronger on N than S.

Words such as connection, wholeness, involvement, stimulation, fulfillment, were on both lists.

This is so helpful, as it lifts a burden from the visual/craft work. I’ve felt sad and discouraged because I don’t seem able, so far, to develop original ideas that speak deeply of what’s within. Maybe that’s just not why I’m drawn to these forms of creativity. Perhaps the attraction and desire to persevere, even though I’m not naturally talented in art or craft work, comes out of the desire to express my responses to what I’m given by my senses.

It also underlines the importance of continuing to write. I tend to dismiss that, as on the whole it’s not for sharing, and I wonder what the point of it is. But what I’ve said about it above answers that objection very clearly!

I tend to think of “successful” creative pursuits as necessarily being for other people as well as me to see (and, I must admit, as a means of validating myself, shoring up my confidence if I get positive responses). But that can also lead to panic, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, if what I produce isn’t “good enough” to show to others.

What about the procrastination? See “panic, anxiety..inadequacy”! It’s not as simple as not wanting to do it. It’s being almost afraid to try, to give creative work a serious place in my life, in case that just confirms inadequacy, inability to express myself as I’d wish, and leads only to disappointment. Yet the desire is still there….

I’m not going to set out a grand plan to remedy all this – the butterfly will flit away again before long. But the insights are helpful and I hope I can use them as I continue to reflect on the balance of different aspects of my life.

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2 thoughts on “Insights into creativity

  1. Anonymous (AM)

    This is very interesting Anne. I can relate to a lot of your thought processes, although I do not consider myself a creative in the sense of design or art. I like making things, using tools, including cooking. Over the last nearly a decade I have hardly made anything and got into a big cooking rut.. And I too have been wondering if I really want to do it. But if not what do I want to do?

    The last year in particular has been so busy I genuinely haven’t had much time. But suddenly things have quietened down. I got the sewing machine out and was hugely relieved to find I really enjoyed using it. It was a rushed impulse purchase many years ago and I have often wondered if I made the right choice.

    I love doing the embroidery but wonder why I am doing it. What do I do with the finished objects? Is it all just a way of filling time with no real purpose?

    It’s a bit like solitude, I think I want a solitary life but my life has been far from that recently. Is this too an illusion? But now I can see solitude emerging from the recent chaos.

    I often think of Mary Oliver’s poem ‘what will you do with your one wild and precious life?’ I think my problem is just enjoying myself with no higher purpose. A version of the work ethic guilt. But that is where I have landed so maybe I should take it that this is what I am supposed to be doing, just enjoying myself, and not overthink it.

    Reply
    1. landedbutterfly Post author

      So much I recognise in this comment! Yes, what do you do as the finished quilts, embroidery etc pile up? I don’t think that the doing is without purpose if we enjoy the process, maybe find it quite contemplative, get in touch with a love of colour, texture, pattern etc – that’s nourishing the soul, whether or not the actual object produced has any use (though maybe it’s more satisfying if it does!).
      Periods of being able to “just enjoy myself with no higher purpose” are rare in life – I think we just need to accept them as gift and not question our good fortune too closely: there always comes a time when more is required again…

      Reply

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