Creativity – It’s Not About Quality, It’s About Permission

“All children are born artists, the trick is to remain one as you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

My most memorable creative moment happened when I was a small child of about five or six. It was a significant point in my life as an artist, but unfortunately, it’s all been pretty much downhill from there.

I was the kind of precocious youngster that liked to make sure everyone knew I was around. I liked to sing and dance and make up plays where I would parade around in my mother’s nightdresses, pretending to be Indian royalty. You get the picture. I didn’t realise that a significant thing was happening in the actual moment; it’s only now when I think back I really wish I’d held on to that flash of genius. If I had by now I’d probably have created a vast body of artistic work, but as it stands, I have wasted about twenty of the last forty two years not making the art I love so much. And why? Well, mostly because I was afraid it would not be any good.

I was singing, you see, just before it happened. I was singing my head right off, and by God, I was good, just about as good as a five or six year old can be. I was thinking how amazing it was to be able to produce such a wondrous noise just by opening one’s mouth and sending the voice out as big and wide as possible. Now, this was not just self expression or exuberance – this was technical. My big ‘ole voice could go up and down, and up and down again, and oh, what a wonderful feeling! I was quite lost in this place of pure joy, just being a small child singing its heart out, when someone who should have known better interrupted me. “Oh!” they exclaimed, actually putting their hands up over their ears, “What a terrible noise!”

That, by the way, was not the significant moment. It came immediately afterwards.

I looked up at the person who should have known better, and I thought, you know what? You’re wrong. You are just wrong, because that was not a terrible noise. That, right there,was some mighty fine singing. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

And there it was. I’ve struggled to get back there ever since.

Oh, if only I’d been able to bring that six year old back into the room every time I put down my guitar because the inner person who should have known better said “Oh, what a terrible noise!” I wish I’d asked that little girl what she thought all those times I laid down the paintbrush, or pushed my chair away from the keyboard, or dropped out of the dance class. I wish I’d remembered my significant moment when I burned the romantic poems of my adolescence because I thought they were stupid, and when I refused to play my songs in public. I wish I’d listened to her every time my inner perfectionist refused to let me waste time making bad art, and made me get a job I was good at instead. Imagine what a musician, what a dancer, what a poet, what a painter, what a writer I’d be by now, if only, if only I’d never stopped every time I heard a voice say “Ah! That’s awful! For the love of God, stop it!” I wish that I’d remembered to say “Are you out of your mind? Of course it’s bad! Who are you – the friggin’ art police?”….and then just got on with it anyway.

I know now that it takes a long time to get as good as you’d like to be when you first begin. You learn to do something by doing it, says John Holt, there is no other way. A very wise friend of mine says you need about ten thousand hours to become proficient at something, be it throwing a pot, writing a sonnet, or probably even raising a child. Nobody can make something incredible right away. When it comes to creating art, it’s not about quality, it’s about permission. And permission to make your art, good, bad and ugly, is a gift only you can give yourself.

Creativity is subversive. It needs room to move. It needs to be allowed to rebel, to think, to explore, to explode, to sleep, to feed and to question. It will eat everything you feed it and eliminate its waste as its requirements dictate. Your creativity will boldly announce itself as having arrived, and then may sit by and do nothing. It may take over, it may undermine. It may sleep all day, and work all night. But in the end, creativity will be the essence of wonderful, because it is greater than all conventions. If you want to excel in convention, do just what has been done before and merely seek to improve upon it. But if you wish to be an artist, break faith with convention; starve it in the dark, smash it and crush it and put it outside while you fly around the room with paintbrushes and flugelhorns. Chase your convention screaming from the room and throw its pretentious crown out after it into the street. Take your creativity and kiss it with passion right on the mouth, then let it kiss you back. Give yourself permission to love that part of you that scares others to death; your muse, your thinker, your child, your dreamer, your explorer, your artist, your heart, your ideas, your creations. They are yours, they are you, and that alone makes them great and worthy.

Write the book you cannot find, the one that tells your story. Sing the song that haunts you in your dreams. Bring your wild vision forth and fill the hungry canvas.  Get that art out of you, as if you could push your own heart right out of your mouth. Don’t worry about it being wrong; don’t worry about it being good enough. There is no art police but your own inner judge, your critic, your resistance to wrongness and imperfection and mistakes. It’s not an awful noise I promise you; it’s wonderful. Your creativity is not just what you do….it’s who you are. And I…I am the Queen of India. :0)

*****

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