Creativity and studying the creative process have captured my attention wholly for the past few years. Why is it that some people can create so seemingly effortlessly while others of us live long portions of our lives thinking that we don’t have it in us to make something unique?
In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert writes that creativity may be the one thing that separates us from our other animal brethren, which was a novel idea to this veterinarian. It’s true though – plenty of other animals have developed the capability to make and use tools for practical means, nonhuman animals most certainly experience emotions such as joy and grief, and there is no doubt that some species have the ability to plan ahead.
But to my knowledge no other animal species has been documented making frivolous things just for the sake of making them. If you have evidence of other species making art, please share it in the Comments below and I will once again commence the journey to discover my existential purpose on this planet. And yes, I have most definitely seen the videos of elephants painting and my jaw dropped! But after digging deeper I found that those elephants are trained to make those strokes and are rewarded afterwards with bananas, so I consider this more of an elaborate circus trick than spontaneous creation. It’s still impressive though…
For further evidence that creativity is embedded within us as a species, just spend an afternoon watching any child under the age of ten who has been cruelly denied access to a television. In the span of an hour that child will take you through every creative genre known to man – drawing, painting, sculpture, theater, engineering, singing and – if you are observing a boy – probably some version of body fluid art.
So, if creativity is indeed a unique human characteristic, is it too far a leap to suggest that creating things from prose to the internal combustion engine might just be our purpose here? Sure, one of those creations may be more significant in the scope of human achievement than the other (and which of those two you would argue is the more significant might just say a lot about you…that could be a topic for another post…), but both arose from the same source of creativity – whatever that is.
An artist friend of mine recently told me that creating is necessary for the soul, and until a few months ago that statement might have made me roll my eyes. After all, I had made it half a lifetime without really creating much at all and I was doing just fine thankyouverymuch. But now that I have started carving out a bit of time in my own life every day to create, I can see that she’s absolutely right. It’s not vital to your life – at least, not to most people’s lives – that you create, and you will certainly go on breathing and eating and sleeping without tapping in to the creative flow, but you will be missing out on something spectacular. There is something about taking time every day to show up and see what might be waiting for you in the creative realm that will make you really feel alive and connected to that mysterious “something beyond ourselves” – call it God or the Universe or whatever. Some days that connection is difficult to make, some days it doesn’t really happen at all, but when it does it is magical.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Yeah, yeah, but what’s the point?” And it’s true that most of us who devote precious time in our lives to creativity will never see a dime for our efforts, which translates into wasted time in the minds of many – money being the thing that makes the world go ‘round and all. As artist Ian Roberts says in his book Creative Authenticity:
“The world will probably get by without the product of your efforts. But that is not the point. The point is what the inner process of following your creative impulses will do to you. It is clearly about process. Love the work, love the process.”
The process will change you, subtly at first. You might find that you’re just a little bit happier than you used to be. Then you might find yourself feeling just a little more connected. After that, you might find yourself paying a little more attention to your surroundings. And then you just might notice that inspiration is everywhere.