I got my first check for illustrating when I was 7. I was producing awkward sketches of horses like an awkward horse sketch-producing factory, and I insisted on being paid for my hard work. My prices were pretty competitive: 5 cents. My grandmother and uncle both purchased one of my pieces and sent me a check for $0.05.
Spending the last few days at the excellent AIGA Head, Heart, Hand Conference in Minneapolis, MN among graphic designers, illustrators, web designers, architects, teachers, and all kinds of people in creative fields, we talked and heard a lot about creativity: how to nurture it in your own work and life, how to inspire it in other people.
I was fortunate to join a roundtable today all about creativity with Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence (also at: Business Week, Fast Co. & HBR), and while there are so many things to hash out about creativity, like where to find it, how to feed creativity when you’re grinding hard, striking a balance between work and life, teaching young people how to solve problems creatively, I still end up at the end of run-on, preposition-ending sentences thinking how loaded the word “creative” is.
On more than one occasion, I’ve felt like “creative” is a bad word.
"She’s one of those, you know… creatives." Oh, I see it now. That explains it.
Or it excuses people from trying to understand.
"Well, I’m not creative…"
Sometimes it’s a way to avoid giving real criticism you think might hurt someone’s feelings.
"What do I know? I’m not a creative."
But, here’s the thing: creative is not a thing you are. It’s a thing you do. It’s a practice. A habit. You can cultivate it, or not, but it’s a way of doing things, not the category of things you do.
Anyone in any job can be creative. You can come up with a creative solution to a problem using the tools you know. The same creative habits work for everyone; at the very least, they can’t hurt: taking a walk, carving out time to work vs. time to connect with other people, experiencing something new, traveling.
That’s my anthem.
It was easy as a 7-year-old to not see the ways I could fail, but only the ways that I could succeed; it’s so much harder for us to do this as adults. Labeling what you’re doing as “creative” is scary, I think, because it involves a really personal offering (“I really put a part of myself into this solution, and this is what I believe we should do” vs. “I just did the thing I was asked to do, so, whatever”). It involves having someone potentially not like that very personal offering. It’s a big mantle.
It’s something that everyone is doing, not just a few outlying weirdos.
People begin to think it’s weird if you’re not working hard to find a different perspective, to innovate, to feed your creative beast.
One of the many thing that stuck with me from AIGA HHH 2013 was the constant call to be more bewildered, to wonder more, to approach the world with amazement; in short, to be childlike. To be impressed that you are here, at the million coincidences that put an iPhone in your hand or a thought in your mind. To believe that your awkward horse drawing are valuable.
Here. This might help.