A creativity craze is sweeping the country. Creativity in 21st century America has become a possession everyone wants.
Creativity is not a possession. It’s a birthright in service to something larger than ourselves. But you have to the work; you have to earn your creative life.
When I describe my life with its multiple projects in writing, performing, and the visual arts, folks sigh, and say, wistfully, “Ah, but you’re sooooo creative. I wish that I could be as creative as you are.”
What is creativity anyway? Here are a few things it's not:
- It’s not always big fun.
- It’s not just a game we play with ourselves about something we’re going to do, someday, or something we talk about at a party to play the role of the suffering artist or to pump up our self worth. It's not posing or playing a role.
- It’s not just being whimsical…or erratically playful like taking a different route to work to vary your routine.
- It’s not just a weekend workshop. Don’t be fooled by superficial formulas of how to become more creative. That’s selling it way too cheap. It’s what happens in-between these worshops that matter.
- It’s not flightly and not just entertainment. A life filled with creative practice is sustained over time.
- It doesn't draw attention to itself.
- It doesn't take itself too seriously.
All of the above are types of pretend creativity, like a dog dressed up in a frilly dress. Practical creativity wears overalls, garden gloves, carries a tool belt, and knows how to use the tools.
Practical creativity is something we do everyday. First, let’s separate creativity into two types. To start off there’s the ordinary creativity we do in everyday as we cook, put together our outfits, and solve the problems that come our way.
Second, there’s the practical creativity of the Sciences and the Arts—creativity directed towards larger problem solving for our culture and the world.
My simple definition of creativity is this: “Uniting heart, hands, and head to make or do something of value to yourself and quite, possibly the wider world.”
My complete definition of creativity is: “Nurturing and directing the raw life force within us in a channel to do or make something that matters to you and the wider world. Showing up consistently to do the work.”
We all contain the first part of my complete definition—that raw life force that runs inside us. Or, as Dylan Thomas so eloquently put it in a well-known 1933 poem: “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower /Drives my green age” and, less famously, “The force that drives the water through the rocks /Drives my red blood.”
Are we creative just for containing this life force? No. This green fuse force is placed inside us to enrich our lives. We all have it. We can choose to tap into it or not.
Part of the work of creativity—before we can tap into this life force—is learning how to nurture and channel this force. You have to do the work on yourself and learn you own creative process. This is being in service to the force, to pledge your life in service to the products produced through your creative gift and process.
Being in tune with our process and knowing how to create—to set up the pre-conditions to make our art (in whatever media) is an art unto itself. But doing this by itself still does not qualify as being fully creative. Nor, does working only as a result of inspiration. Accept the gift of inspiration gratefully when it comes and don’t waste it, knowing that this is only one of the means you have available to you to shape your creative force into products that will gift the world.
What really separates the dabblers from those seriously pursuing any creative path in the Arts, Sciences or everyday living is quite simply this: work—disciplined pursuit followed by physical products of that pursuit.
Work with your creative force. You have to do the work. That’s the thing. This is, incidentally, why sustained creation of physical products is known as “a body of work.” It’s a physical act going out into a physical world.
This work of channeling your life force to create tangible products of that work qualifies you for a creative merit badge. I’m looking forward to pinning it right on you with crowds cheering and marching bands playing.
So, join the Creative Catalyst parade with me. Bring your tuba.
I’ll be fielding questions about practical creativity—the one that emerges over time through practice. You can pose your questions via comments on this post, or directly to me, via email. You'll find my contact email at www.riehlife.com.