Creativity, my old friend.

When I first decided to create a blog it was going to be a collaborative project with my boyfriend, Jeff. He’s a talented graphic designer, illustrator, and photographer (and apparently a national award-winning writer…). I’m also a graphic designer, with a growing interest in screen printing, letterpress, and photography. I wanted to build a site to showcase our combined talents, and motivate us to do more projects together.

However, as I put thought and planning into a combined blog, something unexpected happened. The process forced me to examine my relationship with my own creativity in a level of detail I hadn’t before. I realized I was neglecting that relationship, and wasn’t living up to my full potential, which made me sad.

Creativity and I have a long history, like a friendship with someone you’ve known since you were in diapers. I spent my childhood drawing late into the night, I took every art class my small town offered, and upon high school graduation, I ran off to the big city to major in Graphic Design. Sadly those college years burnt me out. By the time I graduated, designing had become a chore and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to be an artist anymore. Eventually I went back to school for a ‘real degree’, majoring in Global Studies, and left creativity behind. (Though I did study abroad in Italy, where I paid to stare at the statue of David’s ass… twice. That part was totally worth it).

As I continued to think about my damaged relationship with creativity, I was hit right in the face. This was becoming deeply personal, so the blog shouldn’t be a collaborative project with Jeff (don’t worry, he has his own blog). This blog has to be a representation of me. This is something I need to do for myself, so that I can be the artistic person I once was and reconnect with my personal creativity. 

A few months ago I read the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. The title of this book caught my eye at the exact moment in life when I realized fear was preventing me from making art. It’s kind of spooky how this book, which had just been published a few days before I found it, came to me at the right time. I read it all in one sitting and began to ask myself questions.

Why did I give up on my creativity in the first place? Big Magic helped me answer that question. The answer is fear and perfectionism. I sabotaged my relationship with creativity because I was too much of a perfectionist and too afraid of failure. It wasn’t always this way, but somewhere along the line I developed these traits. I was afraid I wasn’t talented, afraid someone else had already made the art I wanted to make (and made it better), afraid that someday I’d look back on all the time I spent making art and feel like it had been a waste of time. I had neglected creativity for so long, I was afraid we’d never connect again. 

Gilbert really hit home when she addressed two common anxieties of artists; being afraid that your art isn’t 100% original, and being afraid that your art isn’t perfect. When I look for inspiration and brainstorm ideas for a new project, I always worry that the end result will look like something that has already been done. You don’t want to be told your ideas aren’t original, and seem like a copycat. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to get past this because it’s seemingly impossible to come up with completely original ideas. Gilbert (to the rescue) reminds us that yes, your ideas probably won’t be 100% original because most things have been done. But – they  haven’t been done by you. Everything reminds us of something, but when you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours.

My level of perfectionism is unhealthy and leads to fear. I give up really easily when things don’t turn out perfectly. This has been the case with almost every hobby I’ve ever had. If I’m not amazing from the moment I start out, I give up in frustration and move on to the next hobby. It sounds really stupid, because we all know that no one starts out being amazing at everything. Practice makes perfect, and over time, you improve. But it’s been stuck in my head for years that if I’m not good at something, it probably means I’m not a ‘natural’, and so I should move on. I’m realizing how toxic this is, and that it keeps me from making and doing wonderful things.

Gilbert (to the rescue once more) says that no matter how hard you try to make your art flawless, there will always be someone who will find fault with it. At some point, you need to stop caring about making it perfect, and stop caring what other people think. You have to finish your project and release it into the world, so that you can move on to the next project. We all try to avoid making mistakes, and that is normal. But imperfection is part of being human. And even though perfectionists are often praised for their abilities, being constantly anxious about details can hold you back and keep you from reaching your full potential. At the end of the day, create what you want to create, because you like doing it. It doesn’t matter if you create something for fun or for profit. It’s ok if your work helps heal you, or fascinates you, or if it’s just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy. It doesn’t matter if your finished products suck, because what you create doesn’t have to be perfect.

Now that I understand some of the anxieties that keep me from creating, it’s time to do something about it. I need to tell these anxieties to go away, I need to push forward. I need to apologize to someone…

…Creativity, I’m sorry I gave up because my art wasn’t perfect in my eyes. I let fear keep me distant. But I’m starting this blog for you, and I’m done letting fear and perfectionism get in the way. I’m going to re-build my relationship with you by writing again, designing for fun again, creating again - just for me. If what I create turns out to be less than perfect, screw it. I’m not going to let that stop me from moving forward.

I hope this blog will help me dig deep within myself to produce raw and personal art. I want to create intuitively and find connections to things that make me happy. I want to welcome imperfections instead of fearing them. Rebuilding my relationship with Creativity is going to be a process, and it will take time. I have to be patient and I can’t give up when things get tough, if I want to live a creative lifestyle once again.

Photography tag-teamed by Jeff Carpenter and myself.