Defining Creativity

After many years of describing myself as a performer, photographer, writer, musician, painter, and cartoonist (and, and, and…), I’m exhausted.

The exhaustion isn’t from doing all these creative pursuits, but from explaining them, both to myself and to others. When asked, I am compelled to list every mode of creativity I’ve ever done, both so I offer a more complete picture of myself, but also so I don’t miss any cool project opportunities.

The problem is, I have so many creative interests that I end up with a confusing mouthful, a mishmash of identities. In trying to include everything, to define myself completely, I end up saying nothing.

The jack-of-all-conundrums

I’m a typical Scanner (someone who hops between a range of interests), otherwise known as a multipotentialite (someone with many interests and creative pursuits). Basically, I’m a creative jack-of-all-trades.

I hop nimbly from project to project, medium to medium, quickly getting bored before moving on to the next thing (or often, back to an old thing).

I’m an enthusiastic hoarder of ideas. A prolific stockpiler of supplies. I watch my pile of reference books and art supplies grow, hoping that I will someday have the time and interest to “master” it before moving on.

But I know I never will.

The thing is, I’m not actually interested in “mastering” anything. In trying to grasp my artistic identity, at the same time I’m grappling with this meta-question: why even try to define it? Does the medium even make the artist? If not, what does?

The thing I do is not performing, painting, animating, or taking photographs. The thing I do is to be creative.

What creativity means to me

To me, creativity is about filtering what’s happening around you—inputs—through who you are (your point of view, your experience, your identity, and your skills). Then, forming that into an output that you share back with the world.

Inputs and outputs

Artists are defined by their outputs. That’s the work that made it to galleries, stages, recording, and portfolios.

However, these outputs are not created in a vacuum. Artists need to be engaged with the world around them, through reading the news, going to art museums, reading books, having conversations with peers, etc.

All of this input provides the raw material that inspires creative output. The inspiration feeds the play, the novel, song, or painting.

The magic happens when inputs are combined and filtered through the artist’s personal identity and perspective—a process aided by deeply knowing yourself and accessing that authentically.

Know thyself

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”

Dolly Parton

An artist’s inputs need to be filtered through their own personal identity—their sense of self—and their own style, before being expressed as outputs.

For creative folks, that means knowing yourself deeply, and honouring yourself authentically. It means showing up in the world, unapologetically and vulnerably, as your full self.

Sure, “authenticity” has become an overused buzzword. But it’s not always easy to achieve authenticity. Artists need to explore the self, through their tastes, experiences, and identity.

This introspection might include activities like writing in a journal, doing therapy or coaching, practicing yoga, or meditation. Artists are constantly experimenting and observing the way they move through the world.

As a result, their work becomes uniquely them. And since this sense of self shows through the work, the viewer relates to the artist as a human relating to another human. Success, therefore, becomes less about how objectively “good” the art is, and more about how much it’s authentically you.

The ultimate antidote to imposter syndrome, right? Since there is only one you. No comparison.

Creativity as oxygen

So, back to the exhaustion of explaining my creative modalities.

This exhaustion has led me to one conclusion: creativity is my oxygen. If I can honour that creativity on a regular basis, to be sure I’m “breathing” enough of it, I’m at peace.

When I’m doing something creative, I’m in the flow. I lose track of time. I meditate. I don’t get hungry or tired.

I also long for a lack of interruptions to this flow. As John Cleese said, interruption is the greatest killer of creativity. A fact that’s incompatible with parenting, but that’s a topic for another time!

I usually get sick of a project before it gets sick of me. I’m constantly looking for the next creative buzz. I have a compulsion to create, and the creativity in itself is fulfilling. I’m a practitioner, in the literal sense of the word—someone who practices.

Jumping between forms of creativity means my house is full of lightly-used equipment; art supplies, technology, journals, craft stuff, list of ideas and inspiration, instruments, vocal booth, tripods.

My happy place.

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