I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently. I was prompted by an episode of Clever podcast where Amy & Jamie speak with Paola Antonelli (MoMA’s Senior Curator of Architecture and Design) about her life. She brushed briefly on the subject of what it means to be creative, and since then it’s been boring into my brain like a worm.
Am I ‘a creative’ ?
It makes me a bit sad that from a really young age, some people are told they are creative, and some aren’t. It begins in primary school where it starts to become apparent that some kids are just naturally good at drawing, and others are good with numbers. These adjectives stick with us as we grow up, especially through those formative teenage years when we’re striving to find and build an identity for ourselves. I was always told I was a ‘hard-worker’ (or a nerd by some kids(!)), and even though I haven’t sat an exam or read anything remotely challenging in years, it still feels like part of who I am even though it’s not an identity I chose for myself.
In adult life, ‘creatives’ are defined by their job. They are the makers: graphic designers, directors, photographers, artists, stylists, designers. If you work in finance, human resources, or admin, the world will tell you that you aren’t a creative. (Likewise, if you are lucky enough to be considered ‘a creative’, society will assume that you’re a dreamer with unrealistic liberal ideals who lives your life in a whirlwind of disorganisation and dyscalculia.)
And that’s the thing about the term ‘creative’: it’s incredibly intimidating. Creativity is billed as something that some people have, and others just don’t. A special something that a few are just born with. This makes it a word that lots of people are scared to identify with – I certainly was for a long time. So let’s just say it: just because you can’t sketch, or paint, or work a potter’s wheel, or use Photoshop, or shoot manual on a DSLR, that doesn’t mean you aren’t creative. All the way through my life, my strongest sense of self was defined through academic successes – although I always loved crafts and designing, I’d never really considered myself a creative because I was always much better at English and History in school than Art and DT. I wasn’t encouraged to keep drawing and painting, so I didn’t. Even after years of working in auction houses & galleries, and now in film and styling, I still feel like a bit of a fake when I describe myself as creative. Even though I spend most of my time styling interiors and products for brands, advising set decorators about antique furniture, and writing about interiors. Labels die hard!
A little Googling on the topic brought up a flurry of articles boasting to know ’20 Signs You’re a Creative Person’ or ’10 Things Creative People have in Common’ with indicators ranging from the predictable (“you follow your dreams and passions”), to the vague (“you take time to think”), to the ridiculous (“you carry a notebook everywhere”). I mean really, you carry a notebook..? That really could mean anything or nothing. I feel like it’s just not a good thing in general to put people into boxes, but especially when we’re talking about creativity. Most people are already self-conscious enough about putting forward their ideas.
The truth is that all humans are creative; it’s in our DNA to be curious, experimental, and ingenuitive. You can be just as creative in the civil service as you can in the arts. Every time you use your initiative, work around a problem, or have an idea about something, you’re being creative. When you discovered that singing along to Moana distracted your toddler from teething, that was creative. When you achieved level 10 of luggage Tetris & fitted that last pair of shoes into your suitcase the night before a holiday, that was creative. When you decided to give painting a go, you were being just as creative as someone who can sell their work for thousands. It can sound like an intimidating thing, but it’s the process of thinking creatively, not the results, where the magic is. It doesn’t matter how well things turn out. Unconstrained, unafraid, free thought is where creativity thrives. I recently heard the expression ‘failing forward’ which is one I’m going to hold onto and I feel is relevant here – let’s make a pact with ourselves not be scared to try things we want to try, and to fail forward.
Creativity isn’t an exclusive quality reserved for people with special foresight into art and design, it’s something that we all exercise in our own way every day. Let’s be proud to call ourselves creatives. I’m working hard on allowing myself to be more creative in every day life, whether it’s just listening to some design-focused podcasts on the way to work, starting an online course to learn something new, or making an effort to think outside the box a little more. A little project that I’ve really been enjoying and would recommend to anyone is taking a photo a day – I’m just doing it on my phone, and not with any particular theme (it’s usually just something that catches my eye) – but I’m really excited to see how it turns out if I do manage to keep it up for a whole year. It’ll be a good souvenir from year 23!
So – if you came to this post looking for an answer to the question “Am I a creative?” I’d like to tell you that if you’re even thinking about it, the answer is yes.
Let’s own it!
Has anyone else been a bit scared of labelling themselves ‘a creative’? I’d love to hear some more thoughts on this subject!