I’ve been thinking about creativity a lot lately.
I think I buy into a misconception that engineering is a left-brained activity –devoid of creativity, the opposite of the arts. The reality is that my job demands creative thinking 40 hours a week. I’ve never designed a system that was just like the one I designed before, and it always seems to take the combined efforts of a room full of people to come up with a suitable solution for every problem. It’s tough for me to go to work all day, then go home and still have the energy to paint. I use up my creative energy solving problems at work, and come home with little left to apply to my art.
People who aren’t familiar with art think it must be a relaxing activity – a release, if you will. But it isn’t. Not for me anyways.
For me, painting is anything but relaxing. Painting can be exhausting. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever tried to master. I’ve been oil painting for 5 years now and am just now starting to turn out work that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to hang in a gallery. And when I look at my best paintings now, I know with 100% certainty that I still have a long way to go.
I used to struggle with the reality that I didn’t have the skill to do what I wanted to do with my art. I think that society conditions us to believe that artistic talent is something bestowed on us by God, and that the greats were born with the ability to create masterpieces. When we fall short of perfection, it’s easy to believe that we just weren’t born with enough talent. It makes for an easy excuse – a reason to give up.
I’m starting to understand that this is a big lie. I’ve met a lot of successful artists over the past two years, and none of them got where they are without a lot of hard work. That might sound like common sense, but in the art world I don’t think it is common sense. People believe that creativity comes in great flashes of light, and only to an inspired few.
I believe that you might start with a bit of talent, but that it isn’t going to get you anywhere if you don’t know how to channel it.
When I was at the bookstore the other day, I picked up Twyla Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life.” The title is kind of gimmicky and self-help oriented, but it looked interesting and I thought I’d give it a read. I’m glad I did – I got a lot out of it.
It’s not so much a guide to being creative as it is a thesis on the creative process and a view into the work habits that have turned Tharp into a successful choreographer. It talks a lot about what one needs to do to foster the right environment to support the creative process, and it’s not full of touchy-feely suggestions like you might expect. It all boils down to discipline and hard work. Again – common sense, but a refreshing reminder that art is not about staring at a blank canvas waiting for inspiration. It’s about deciding what you want, and having the discipline and preparation to get you there. I’d recommend this book to anyone who is remotely into the arts – whether it be music, writing, dance, or visual arts, I think the concepts in it are applicable, and it’ll get you thinking about what being creative means.