What does it really mean to be creative? The general consensus for a long while seems to have been
good at art = creative .... bad at art = not creative.
This is a terrible way to measure things. So many of us shut this part of ourselves off because we weren't a success at High School Art classes.
Creativity is so much more than painting, or drawing or making a clay pinch pot. And it's something I've thought a lot more about over the past couple of years, since I began doing Stand Up Comedy. As you know, I now live a Minimalist lifestyle and, thanks to this approach to life, I've been able to access my creative self so much more easily.
We live in a society that claims that it's the divergent thinkers that are appreciated, but in reality it's our ability to conform that makes us widely accepted. Our school system trains us from a very young age to do this.
Creativity isn't just for artists. It's for everyone. It's in the way we think and act. Have you ever met someone who can find 86 uses for a box? Or someone with a hair brained idea you're convinced will never work, but they're able to pull it off?
Creativity is about stripping away what you've been told to do, what you should do, the reasons, the logic and being guided by what your heart tells you that you must do.
Creativity requires letting go... and being brave. Because it takes courage and risk to put ideas that your deepest inner self comes up. Then to share them before a crowd where they will be judged.
But unless you're able take this risk, you'll struggle to find your creative self.
You may well look ridiculous.
You very well might fail and be humiliated.
(There is, actually a lot more chance of this than there is of being successful.)
Yet still, creatives all over the world continue to connect and express their creativity.
Because they know that all those risks are nothing compared with (for them) the ultimate risk.. Not being able to find the courage to put forth what they were born to try in this lifetime.
I could listen to one amazing lady speak on this subject all day. Her name is Elizabeth Gilbert. You may know her as the the author of the Best Selling Book Eat, Pray, Love. I know her as an inspiration to anyone who is creative.
Elizabeth Gilbert found it interesting about what a lot of other people thought after her big literary success. When she prepared to write her next book.
They told her she was doomed.
How would she ever go about being able to top the success of that book? This made her wonder what it was specifically about creative ventures that made people so worried about each others mental health in a way that other careers don't do.
And why (generally speaking) creative people have a reputation for being depressives, alcoholics and mentally unstable people. Or, at the very least, as a creative person, come a little "undone" by their gifts.
I've wondered about her wonderings as they relate to Stand Up Comedy.
I can't count the number of people who've approached me after a gig and said they too have always wanted to try Stand Up Comedy. When I ask them why... they'll give me all manner of reasons. They don't have the time, they haven't written a set, they haven't spoken in front of a crowd of people before.
In short, they've just never made this thing they've wanted to do a priority. And why is this? Well they'll tell you they always mean to, but they get caught up... with work, with family with other things... and so this thing they've always wanted to try sits on the back burner of their life.
Many of them will never get around to trying it.
Because they're not willing to take the risk. To look ridiculous. To fail. To be humiliated. In order to one day, become better.
Isn't it interesting that we've accepted and internalised the belief that being creative and suffering are inherintally linked, and that aritstry in general will often lead to anguish.
Elizabeth Gilbert has said that she for one refuses to become the person who'll wake up early in the morning and reach for the vodka.
Comedy is changing. People want more from this art. They're sick of the cheap jokes and the low hanging fruit. They want something more. They're after something deeper. This can only happen when someone is able to share something deep, meaningful and personal about themselves. And that's a little risky too
In her TED talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius” Elizabeth Gilbert asks the question... "How do we keep ourselves going?" When we fail, when we are humiliated? When we share our deeper self and it is rejected? A lot of what follows here in this blog post are ideas she raises in her TED talk. If you get the chance, be sure to listen to it as she (and it) are both simply quite extraordinary.
She begins by explaining how she recognised the need to put a safe distance between herself/her writing and the anxiety she felt about what the reaction to her writing was going to be. A psychological construct she called it.
She looked to see how societies have done this over time. To see how, in times gone by, civilisations managed and helped creative people manage the risks of creativity. That search led her to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Here, people didn't believe that creativity came from human beings.
They believed that creativity came as divine ideas to Human Brings from some distant and unknowable source.
(Stay with me here!)
They called them Daemons, and they were described as a type of guiding spirit. Socrates famously believed that he had a Daemon that sent him ideas and spoke wisdom to him from afar.
The Ancient Romans had the same idea but they called this disembodied creative spirit a Genius. And Romans believed that a genius wasn't a particularly clever individual, but rather a divine entity who would assist the artist with their work.
In Ancient times, everyone knew that this was how artistry and creativity worked. The ideas weren't yours... they were presented to you from whatever it is that created us all.
And so if the work was brilliant, the artist wouldn't take all the credit for it (after all, the disembodied genius was doing a lot of the work) but then again, if the work bombed it wasn't the artists fault. (Perhaps the genius was having a bad day!)
But this is how people thought about the creative process....how wonderful for the artist to have that space, that distance between what they put forth, and the reaction to how it was perceived.
The beauty of this is that it takes away the Pits of Despair that can come prior to an artist about to unveil their work. The painter about to step into an exhibit, the Comedian about to step on stage, the Actor about to hear their reviews.... and the familiar thought patterns that many of them will go through...
That was back then. Things are a whole lot different now.
Society now believes that creativity comes entirely from the self. We start to hear this or that person as being a genius, rather than having a genius.
Should we be thinking this way?
Elizabeth Gilbert thinks not. She suggests it puts too much pressure on the psyche. It warps and distorts ego's and creates all manner of unreasonable and unmanageable expectations about performance and the pressure of that is possibly what's been killing off our artists over the last 500 years.
It makes for an interesting discussion doesn't it?
I know for certain that if I'd never tried Stand Up Comedy, I'd have not had the access or parameters for any of these ideas. But I'm beginning to see where she's coming from. I'm keen to hear thoughts of all you creative people on this subject.
Here's what the creative people I did ask said...
While they all agreed that their creative process relied less on 'disembodied spirits' and more on hard work, sweat and labour.... most of them had brushed up against this thing at certain times of their lives. Saying that some of their best work and ideas came to them at some of the strangest times and situations... just before sleep, while driving, taking a shower, having breakfast.... They don't know where it came from or why that particular idea chose them.
Something calling their curiosity.
Gilbert suggests that no matter your view or opinion on this, that at some stage in your life you've watched or seen a performer enter a realm that was quite extraordinary.
A performance you might describe like the performer had transcended.
As though time stops and the performer steps through a portal. And, although he/she wasn't doing anything different this time than they had from all the times they'd done it before... all of a sudden, everything aligns and he/she no longer appears to be merely human. It's as though they're lit from within and below.
Back in Ancient times, people knew this for what it was.
A glimpse of the divine. A glimpse of what lies beyond and beneath our universe. For some, it may be called a glimpse of God. For that's also where the idea came from.
Someone connected so strongly and powerfully with who they are and what they weren't mean to bring to us all. Their intuition.
And it appears to be the most magical thing in the world.
Why is it so magical? Because somehow it's connected with what’s beyond, something higher... and we connect IT and THEM with the meaning we are all deep down trying to find in our lives.
The tricky bit though, comes for the dancer or the performer the next morning. When he or she wakes up and discovers that he's no longer a glimpse of God. But an ageing mortal with bad knees and maybe he's never going to ascend to that height ever again.
And so what is he to do with the rest of his life?
And it's THIS situation that can be one of the most painful things about living a creative life. That if you do have a great performance or if you do create something simply sublime, that you’ll never reach those heights again.
And so, it can be of benefit for the artist, the creative, to come to believe that the most extraordinary aspects of your being didn't come from you but that they were on loan to you. From some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life and time and were then meant to be passed on to be enjoyed by somebody else.
This way of thinking can change everything.
Lets begin encouraging our creative types not to be afraid. Not to be daunted.
To just show up and do their job. And please, everybody, continue to show up for your piece of the creation, whatever that might be.
If you job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cock eyed genius, assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed even for one moment, through your efforts then Olay!
And if not, then do your dance anyhow. And Olay to you nonetheless. Just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.