Finding Your Lost Creativity

Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Are we all born with the sense of creativity? Or is it truly a gift that is bestowed upon only a lucky few at birth? This question has recently commanded my attention. Teaching various levels of digital photography at a community college to a broad spectrum of ages, races, and economic statuses, I often hear people say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” Or, “I’m not creative.” “I can’t think of ideas. I’m not artsy. I can’t see things in a creative light.” Recently, I was talking with a student about a project. The person asked how I might solve a particular visual problem. I responded. “You see,” the student commented. “Look how easy that was for you. I could never do that. I’m just not creative like that.” This person’s comment really irked me. I was so sick of hearing this ridiculous statement, especially from students. What came next—this person received the brunt of a long-winded rant that went some thing like this:

You, me, your friend, lover, wife, husband’s uncle’s kid, we are all born with creativity. Yes! We are. All of us. Seriously. Creativity is what makes us uniquely human. But I bet you’re wondering, “So why the hell are some people really good at being creative, it appears that even their pinky toe has talent, while others swear to have never been introduced to the meaning of the word?”

Read Picasso’s quote again, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” We are all born with the gift of creativity. But, somewhere along the way, as we get older, someone and/or something tells us: “That’s not what that is suppose to look like.” “That’s not the right way to do that.” “You’ll never make a living doing that.” “Horses aren’t blue?” “Unicorns? Shitting rainbows? Baahhh”. Our artistic innocence is forever stolen from us. I bet if you think about it you can recall the exact moment, and the exact person who took it from you.

For one small moment we all stand as equals at a crossroad faced with a decision. Do I continue down the path to exploring and developing an artistically creative mind, or do I follow the other path? A note here about the crossroad analogy: We don’t always have a choice. People and life events sometime play a vital role in choosing which path we travel. But that’s life. Those that continue to listen to their creative voice, or who are nurtured by a creative guardian surround themselves, or are surrounded with art, likeminded people, learn to be curious; always asking questions, taking risks, getting in trouble, fucking everything up, making mistakes all the while looking for answers. Others, well they listen to that fucked up voice of ‘reason’ and find themselves chasing someone else’s dreams.

There’s a story I like to share with my photography students. Art and creativity has always been a major part of my life. But there was a time when I questioned it. Not by my own choice. Someone in my life was always telling me I could never make a living as an artist. “Become an engineer so you can make a real living,” he would tell me. The idea set in my mind I went off to University of Missouri, Rolla to study Geologic engineering. Why? I like rocks, and fossils and plate tectonics. Anyways, while I was at school I found myself doing more painting, drawing, and daydreaming than my chemistry and calculus. The final clue came when I was sitting in a calculus II class. I was taking a major test, failing. An extra credit question asked me to illustrate the previous question. I drew an elaborate picture. The next day the instructor called me to his office where he voiced his concern, “the only question you got right on my test is the extra credit question in which I asked you to draw picture. I think you’re at the wrong school.” I told him he was absolutely right. I quit. Came home and started studying graphic design. I never looked back. I started back down a new path to creativity to what would become a well-paid creative career. I would never let someone tell me otherwise ever again.

The point I’m getting to is when I hear someone say, “I’m not creative, or I can’t draw, or paint, or design well, or make amazing photographs.” It’s not really them saying it. It’s someone else. It’s a force, a barrier that you allowed someone else to put in place, keeping you from your true artistic vision.

For some it’s a long journey back to that fork in the road. Retracing your steps isn’t always easy, or pretty. Please. Whatever you do, don’t do it only for the sake of doing it. Do it because you want it, need it, because you want to make a difference in your life. Those first steps to defining your personal creative revolution are critical. The magic of learning to think creatively again truly happens when the eight tips listed below are religiously practiced.

  1. Stop saying you are not creative. You are. Remind yourself everyday.
  2. Carry a sketchbook or a journal everywhere.
  3. Doodle, cut-and-paste, draw, or write your ideas down as soon as they come to mind. This is very important. Don’t think you can wait until later. You’ll forget. Believe me. Again, I said it wouldn’t be a pretty process at first. Don’t expect perfection. The important part is to get it all down on paper no matter how ugly the drawings are or how horrible your writing is.
  4. Keeping a visual journal is practice. The more you practice the better you become.
  5. Seek inspiration from the world around you. There is inspiration all around us.
  6. Stop and smell the flowers. Literally. Slow down and embrace life.
  7. Be curious. Ask questions. Seek answers.
  8. Surround yourself with creative, like minded folk.
  9. Consume. No. Ravenously devour visual creative content of all forms.
  10. Build a library of books about your favorite artists. This is a source of inspiration. If you don’t like collecting books use pinterest.
  11. Embrace your creative fuck-ups. Failure is the main gauge for success.
  12. Have many mentors. Ask for feedback constantly.

You will find your way back to the fork in the road eventually. You’ll notice by the time you reach that point you’ve already begun watering the seeds of the imagination, and cultivating the fruits that blossom.

I’ll leave you with this final thought: Stop saying you’re fucking not creative. Just hearing those words gives me hives. You are creative. It’s just that at some point in your life something got in the way and you forgot how to be. Now it’s your job to remind yourself. Picasso once said that it took him 80 years to paint like a child again. So stop, turn round and march your ass back to that creative crossroad. It’s never too late. So get to it.

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2 thoughts on “Finding Your Lost Creativity

  1. I agree with you here. I also think that culture and the environment are a big part of it too. i know I’m creative, but i was taught as i was growing up that to say “I’m creative” or good at something was bad, because i would come out as arrogant and too full of myself. so, it was the ‘unwritten rule’ that even when people praise your work, you’ll deny how good it was. Also, as Asian, to go to college and get a Photography degree was out of the question. It’s either Accounting (which I tried) or Sciece (I tried many…). Generations today are lucky…they can express themselves more.
    Good article.

    • I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve actually updated the blog to include an experience I had where I was always told I would never make a living as an artist, to go become an engineer.

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