The Creative Self

Do you long to express yourself? Tips on how to start and maintain a creative life.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 10, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

A flash of insight. A solution to a longstanding problem. We all
long to express ourselves creatively, admire the capacity to be original.
It seems to be part of human nature.

Immersion in creative enterprises is hugely rewarding by itself.
And often during that immersion we experience that special state called
"flow," a feeling outside of time, of effortlessness that is
so extraordinarily satisfying it bestows on us the sense that life is
worth living.

How do we develop and nurture creativity within? Many people see
creativity as a capacity far beyond them. But it is not.

In a lovely little book entitled Creative Authenticity, artist Ian
Roberts argues that at some point you just have to jump in, fears and
all. There is something courageous about it.

It's finding what you want to say that's the really
tricky part. Usually, it lies just beneath the grip of the conscious
mind. It springs from hard-won personal inner synthesis, experience and
insight acquired firsthand. In our mind it is not logically structured,
but it may take logic to get it expressed.

"Ultimately, it doesn't matter to the world whether you
paint or dance or write," says Roberts. "The world will
probably get by without the product of your efforts. But that is not the
point. The point is what the inner process of following your creative
impulses will do to you. It is clearly about process. Love the work, love
the process. Our fascination will pull our attention forward. That, also,
will fascinate the viewer."

Roberts enunciates a number of principles essential for creative
authenticity.

  • Searching for beauty. Beauty is something that seizes your
    attention, stops you in your tracks, silences you. It can be the way
    light filters through the trees in your backyard or the magnificence of
    a fifteenth century Italian painting. The subject is irrelevant; it is
    only a vehicle for your attention, to engage the intensity of your
    feelings. That intensity is what viewers ultimately respond to.
  • Communication. Creativity fundamentally involves expressive
    power; it is the catching of the "gleams of light" that flash
    across our mind and forming that vision into something.
  • Your home turf. It could be a garden. Or a studio. But you
    need a creative home base that always stays open for your arrival and
    bestows on you a readiness to begin your work.
  • The Van Gogh syndrome. Don't buy into the myth that
    creativity is the province of tortured geniuses.
  • Your craft, your voice. Practice, practice, practice your
    craft. It gives you fluency in the creative process and in technique.
    It's technique that gives life to your creative ideas. Learning
    your craft opens the channel for your voice to flow.
  • Showing up. "Nothing determines your creative life
    more than doing it," says Roberts.
  • The dance of avoidance. Starting is always a
    psychologically messy process, because there are no rules surrounding
    what you want to do. Setting up a dedicated space for the practice of
    your craft helps you shift gears directly into your creative
    process.
  • Full-time or part-time. You can't expect to fly
    consistently at a high level of inspiration.
  • Follow something along. If you are going to say something
    authentic, you need to stick with an idea for a while, an idea that has
    personal resonance.
  • Wagon train and scout. Creativity involves the interplay
    between where you are and where you see yourself going to keep your
    expression growing. Always be on the lookout for new paths, and observe
    how others solve the problems you face.
  • Working method. Creativity is in the process, not in the
    finished results.
  • Limits yield intensity. Unrestrained freedom is a myth, and
    it's not productive.
  • Being ready to show. Don't spend your time marketing
    your creations. If you spend it creating, you are investing your work
    with the authenticity that will draw others to your efforts.
  • You are more than creative enough. The question is not
    whether you are creative enough but whether you will free yourself to
    express it.
  • Finding poetry in the everyday. Develop the power to see
    the ordinary as poetic.
  • Holding the big picture. Always keep a sense of the whole.
    That commits you to making the moves that will ultimately represent what
    you see.