Being able to express ourselves artistically is a big part of what makes us human. We pour complex thoughts and emotions into a medium for others to then experience with their senses. The result is a conjuring of similar thoughts or emotions that remind us that we are not alone… in our joy, pain, happiness, sorrow, or any of the other myriad emotions that again, make us human.
As a former English teacher, I used to always remind my little writers to take into consideration their audiences during formal writing assignments; that they should aim to choose just the right language to elicit just the right response. People with real skill and talent as writers have the ability to shake others to their cores and move mountains through masterful artistic expression. So much emphasis on the end product, however, whether written, painted, or sculpted, fails to take into consideration one critical element of being creative…
The powerful gift of creation to the creator.
Being creative satisfies an innate need; our desire to be productive for productivity’s sake. By pouring ourselves into some form of artistic expression, we release feelings, ponderings, memories, and ideas that we hold inside. How cathartic! It’s like a powerful session with a therapist or allowing a free-flow of ideas to pass over a cup of coffee with a best friend. The difference, is the creator is not limited to the sometimes clumsy limits of the spoken word.
Unfortunately, our tendency to focus on the end product is what often keeps us from picking up that paint brush, pen, or ball of clay. “I don’t do art. I’m not artistic,” becomes the excuse. I’ve watched my angry son toss sketches into the trash because they, “didn’t look right.” (Of course through my mommy goggles, they WERE in fact, masterpieces!) The need for public approval in today’s world where “likes” have become a powerful form of self-validation make art for art’s sake seem pointless to some, as does pressure to publish or be displayed in public.
I think about the therapeutic effects of journaling, or free-verse poetry, or doodling, or even just coloring. These forms of expression are not intended for a major audience, but serve an emotional and even spiritual purpose because we are leaving something of ourselves in the physical world. I think of Emily Dickinson, squirreled away in her room pouring her soul out into the most heartfelt poetry, and who only gained her fame posthumously. She never intended it to be read! Or I think of the original mandalas that Tibetan Buddhists created as a form of meditation; incredibly intricate designs and colors, created with sand, intentionally impermanent, with the sole purpose being created for creation’s sake.
Creative expression, putting something out into the world for its own sake, is not limited to visual and linguistic expression. The math-minded can use code as their language to create a digital masterpiece. Blocks, clay, trash, anything can be molded built into a sculpture. Beads or simple string create jewelry or macrame.
The clever lure of, and easy access to (bombardment) of all types of media, coupled with pressure to produce only masterpieces, have inhibited our drive to be creative. Hopefully schools’ heightened awareness of the need to address student wellness will allow for more opportunities for kids to be creative. The lack of creative writing and free-writing opportunities in ELA classes, without the pressure of a grade, truly saddens me. Reflective journaling after reading class novels was one of my most rewarding “assignments” for kids when I used to teach.
In the meantime, reader, pick up those colored pencils and get scribbling. Write a poem about your cat. Build a tower with your kid’s Legos. No one needs to see it. Just create and see how it makes you feel. I personally think it would be great if readers out there find this piece inspiring or can identify with it in some way, but I can tell you truthfully, the writing of it filled me with a sense of accomplishment… mission complete!