Creative expression, whether that means writing, dancing, bird-watching, or cooking, can give a person almost everything that he or she has been searching for: enlivenment, peace, meaning, and the incalculable wealth of time spent quietly in beauty.
~ Anne Lamott
The empty page. A blank canvas. Knitting needles and a ball of yarn. Fabric and thread. New creations emerge from our imagination.
When I re-discovered my creativity six years ago, I wanted to bathe in color, pour paint all over my body, and roll around in it. The doors to my creative expression opened through art journaling, writing, and photography.
Nature is inherently creative. The earth, dark and fecund, is fertile ground. A small seed contains a blueprint within its totality. That seed grows into a plant with help from rain and sun, the elements support its growth. The plant blooms and bears fruit for the harvest. So it is with a creative idea. It begins in the imagination, finds fertile ground, grows with love and attention, then blooms into something lovely, delightful or engaging.
Unfortunately there are many blocks to creative expression. Energy, time and money are in short supply when it comes to creative pursuits. Women are too busy meeting everyone else’s needs to prioritize their own needs or desires for creative projects.
In school, traditional education can force us into conformity. If a student creates something for a grade based on the teacher’s opinion, then their authentic voice gets lost in the creative process. At its worst, school can destroy creative self-confidence. One unkind or cruel statement can stop someone in their tracks, never to try again. The fear of critical judgment can lead to a lifetime of fear from trying anything called art.
My privileged life growing up was steeped in art and music. As a child, my parents took me to symphonies and museums. I studied classical piano. I majored in Art History in college. I was trained to look at art with a critical eye and learned about light and composition. These skills help me with my photography even though I have no formal education in photography.
The art classes I took were a different story. I didn’t conform to the professors’ expectations and argued regularly about theory. My experiences with them led me to believe that I didn’t have talent. It wasn’t true but I believed it for a long time.
We are individuals with different perspectives, ideas, needs, experiences. We are unique in our perceptions. Two people can witness the same event and yet describe it in completely different ways. So, in order to freely express ourselves, we need encouragement to overcome the negative inner critic, engage in imaginative play and let go of fear.
In Unraveled: an exercise in untangling, Staci Jordan Shelton points out that creativity is a valuable form of self-care. As much as I love creative processes, I never looked at it quite this way before. It’s a way of listening to our intuition and expressing ourselves in our own unique way. Another perk of creativity is that we build a more meaningful and healthy life. Creative projects help us lift our hearts and expand our spirits, especially if we practice with love, acceptance and compassion towards our efforts.
You can begin at any age, just begin. Don’t let past critical comments or judgements stop you. Start by carving out a little time during the week for creative activity. Take a community ed class. Make pottery, keep a nature journal, dance, write poetry, participate in community theater, volunteer in an art museum, attend cultural events. It’s not ever too late to live more art-fully. It feeds your spirit and improves your mental health.
Get started today. There’s no time like the present. Try something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even beautiful. It only needs to be an honest expression of something meaningful to you. You’ll feel better when you do.
And if you do get inspired to create, I’d love to hear all about it in the comments.