This morning, in my travels through social media, I stumbled into a discussion about creativity and what it means to be an artist. Much of it rang true: that it’s increasingly difficult to make a living purely from your art; that success or failure in your chosen art form is tied in to a deeply personal sense of self and self-worth; that creating can feel as though it is essential to your life. Yup.
However, there was also a note to some of the comments that made me feel very uncomfortable – the idea that being an artist is something mysterious and ineffable and special, that “the average office-worker” just can’t comprehend. Underlying this sort of attitude is a number of assumptions, all of which are (in my view) utterly busted:
- That nobody who works in an office could have a deep, personal, important connection with their work. (I’ve had an office job which involved doing outreach for the transgender community, something I’d already been doing for free as an activist; another friend of mine currently has an amazing office job recovering and recording the lives of people who lived through WW1 and she is working on making public erased histories of women and people of colour; yet another works on improving services for survivors of abuse and violence… working in an office environment does not equate to doing a job which is meaningless or dull – and even if it did, you are more than your job – see next point!)
- That “office worker” and “artist” are mutually-exclusive categories. (Does my bill-paying day job stop me from being an artist? Does it unpublish my poetry, undo my performances, cancel out the hours I dedicate to my writing?)
- That there are Creative People, and Non-Creative People, existing in two separate and essentialised categories.
This last one is a real sticking-point for me. I do not think this is a useful division to put up. I think that there are some people who have found a medium (or several) that works for them, and it’s a medium that is generally recognised as Art by the society in which they live, and they have either been encouraged in it or fell in love with it enough to work on it without encouragement, and they’re public about their relationship with it. And then there are people who don’t meet all these criteria – but that doesn’t mean they’re not creative.
I firmly believe that all people have the potential to be creative. And I say this not just as a point of ideology, but from the perspective of someone who once spent a significant amount of their spare time running art classes for little kids. There were kids who didn’t want to talk much, or who zoomed around the classroom and wouldn’t sit down, or who tried to pick arguments with their peers and teachers: but all of them, at the end of the day, made something and had fun doing so. From my experience, I think it’s the case that little kids are much less self-conscious about making art than older people: it’s only once they get older, and some of them have been encouraged and some have been shut down, that you start to see people who are put into the category of “not creative”, whether that’s because they’ve been told they’re not talented enough to succeed and so they stop trying, or because their creativity is expressed in a medium that isn’t seen as “proper art”.
But creativity is (and should be) for EVERYONE. And some people come to it early, and some late, and some not at all – but I just do not believe that there are people who have absolutely no creative spark in them, somewhere.
Edited to add: while it’s about maths rather than the arts, this article about children being praised for “gifts” vs “skills” feels very relevant, in terms of the discourse of innate ability and there being people who “have it” or don’t.
Also, when I finished writing this entry, I didn’t really have a pithy final sentence with which to make a final flourish, but I think this Twitter conversation with Goldfish has provided it:
@goldfish: “On Creativity & Creative People” @hel_gurney is spot-on about there being nothing magical about artists
@hel_gurney: .@goldfish Or perhaps, that art is a kind of magic that anyone can do :) Thank you lots for your tweet and comment!
@goldfish: Yes – that’s a much better way of putting it!
So there we go: art is a kind of magic that anyone can do. Go forth, and find new spells to learn and love.