Questions in Design: Am I ‘A Creative’ ?


Am I 'A Creative'?


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’ ?

Am I creative? What does it mean to be 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.)

How do you know is you're a creative?

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!

Design questions - am i 'a creative'?

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.

Being a creative & the fear

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.

How to stop being afraid and start being creative

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!



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  1. Donna

    This is something I am SO passionate about. I was really academic at school and told I was rubbish at art because I couldn’t copy the sunflowers or do a realistic pencil drawing. Then as an adult I’ve rediscovered how much I love craft, making things and designing and my WHOLE career is based in the idea that I can help people access their own creative. We were BORN to be creative and it expresses itself in many ways for different people but when we do, it brings the greatest satisfaction and mental wellbeing (I could go on but I won’t!). Thanks for posting x

    1. rosannaalicia

      So glad to hear your two cents Donna! It’s really frustrating how long it can take to get out of your ‘box’ – I only started re-embracing my creativity in my 20s. Even then, it’s taken me until very recently to actually have any faith in what I come up with! x

  2. Ha! Sat with 8y old’s teachers last week and told he was struggling with art because he found “still nature” drawing too hard (he just joined new fancy school, old school did not ever do still nature drawing…” So 8y old os not deemed very creative. Funny that, because when same kid sits with a bucket of lego, he comes up with some brilliant and very imaginative structures…

    Bottom line, everyone is creative in their way but you need to “practice” your creativity.

    I used to draw amazing… 20 years ago! I could become creative that way again if I had time to spend on drawing. But now I am creative in the way I create mood boards or even design my website… even though by day I am a lawyer… where I have to be “creative” in the way I teach people to use common sense in my financial crime training….

    Lovely post, would love to read more like this!

    1. rosannaalicia

      I love that you’ve witnessed the school point just last week !! Well, I don’t love it, I think it’s really sad – but the point clearly stands… I really can’t understand why the definition of creativity in education is so constrained and old-fashioned. Really good point about practising your creativity too. I’ve just started painting, and I’m definitely not a natural but I’m determined to stick at it for a least a year & see how I get on. Thanks for you two cents Jenny – I’m going to do a monthly post with questions in creativity & design as I love thinking about these things & hearing different opinions! x

    1. rosannaalicia

      Yeah absolutely. It’s just a shame that so many people emerge into the working world feeling like they aren’t capable or entitled to work in a creative field and explore those avenues.

  3. Wonderful thought provoking read. I was labelled creative at school because i could draw a decent picture of a hand, foot, leaf, apple whatever the still life may have been. I then went into teaching where I myself had to pigeon hole children into academic, creative, even not performing because they didn’t fit in a box. I left the industry because I had to label. I hated it. Anyway… as i ramble on my point to this comment is total in agreement with you. Create your way and build your creative skill – it could be thinking in creative way, problem solving, imagination all sorts or being hands on creative; whatever it is make it yours.

    1. rosannaalicia

      What an interesting insight Jade. I have friends who became disillusioned with teaching for similar reasons – it’s such a shame. It’s incredible how old-fashioned our education system is considering how far other aspects of live have progressed over the last few decades… But don’t get me started, that’s a whole different topic! x

  4. This is such a lovely post. And something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Whenever people say that I’m creative my answer is No, believe me, I’m not! It’s like when someone tells you you’re pretty and you think Why are they saying that? I think we like to undervalue ourselves, but we really shouldn’t. And maybe you’re right. Maybe it all starts with that one teacher telling us to concentrate on things we do best instead of pushing us to try new, even if we fail… 😉

    1. rosannaalicia

      I completely agree Anne Marie! I think a lot of women are self-conscious about bigging up their creativity. I guess when you’re creating, you’re really opening yourself up and putting yourself in a vulnerable position. When people criticise your creative work, they’re not just criticising your skills but your ideas too, and that is a bit scary! x

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