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Creativity is Your Birthright : Page 3

Creativity is Your Birthright

By Dave Storer

continued from page 2

How Friends and Family May Convince Us Not to Create

There are other forces at work in our immediate social circle of family, friends, and co-workers that often stop us from creating. These include various "attitudes" that such people aim at us, including:

The "Puritan Work Ethic" Attitude

This attitude suggests that we must work very hard every waking hour of our lives (except on Sundays), but more to the point, there's the added suggestion that work can't be fun. There would seem to be something immoral about loving your job, not to mention spending a significant part of your life deep in the "play" of creating. My wife once heard someone say, "My brother hasn't worked in thirty years. He's a sculptor." Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than the average, truly hard working artist.

The "Work Must Pay" Attitude

This is the attitude that the only possible benefit from acting on our creative urges should be monetary, or "If you can't sell it for a lot of money, then what's the point of doing it at all?"

As I'm sure many of you already know, if you tell a stranger that you're an artist or writer, most likely the first thing they'll ask you is how much money you've made doing it, or where have you been published or displayed that they might have seen? This perception is deeply embedded in our culture and ignores the many huge personal rewards of creating that have nothing to do with money, as well as the fact that every art form requires a very long apprenticeship before the artist can come anywhere close to being paid good money or appearing in a widely circulating form. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, it takes many years to be an overnight success. But our culture seems to forget that, which puts undue pressure on beginners and even intermediate level artists to feel they need to succeed, long before they should even be thinking about it.

The "What Kind of a Thing is that to Do?" Attitude

It can be very hard to maintain your identity as an artist if you embark on a pursuit that seems completely alien to your friends or family. This is partially why many successful people in many fields simply come from families who've been doing the same thing for a long time. For example, star quarterbacks are often the sons of football coaches, stockbrokers spawn stockbrokers, artists spawn artists and writers spawn writers — Martin Amis, the Cheever family, the Fondas and Douglas's, and others.

This is more than chance, and more than genetics. It's cultural. If your family values art and self-expression highly; if there are successful people creating all around you as you grow up, modeling every day the skills and attitudes needed to succeed in art, you will be much more inclined to think you have the "right" to do it, and you'll probably get a lot of good help and encouragement along the way.

For example, consider how Jane Yolen described her support, in her wonderful book for writers, Take Joy:

When I was growing up, I thought all adults were writers. My father was a journalist, my mother a short story writer. Their friends were all authors, and my father was president of the Overseas Press Club. More writers. We lived first in New York City, then in Westport, Connecticut. Even more writers. If I thought about adults at all, I thought of them as writers. Of course I knew there were teachers and doctors and librarians and butchers (this was a long time ago!) Those were their everyday jobs. But at home, late at night, I knew all those grownups were scribbling away.

It came as quite a shock to me to discover, rather late in my elementary school life, that most adults were actively afraid of writing.

Don't we all wish we were raised in such a family and social circle? How much more comfortable might we feel in our creative skins?

How We Convince Ourselves Not to Create

All the above issues regarding how others try to stop us from creating only affect us if we let them. Your identity — who you are and what you do — resides inside you; it doesn't come from anyone or anywhere else. It is like the creative process itself. So you might say, if you can't look to someone else to do your creating for you, then why should you look to others for permission to create?

The most important permission you can give yourself when it comes to creativity is the permission not only to try, but also the permission to fail. One failure, as we've seen, does not and should not convince you that your creative dreams and goals must be given up. Failure is a very big part of every successful person's life. Remember that Edison tried thousands of different alloys as filaments for a workable light bulb before he came up with one that actually did work. Think of it — he didn't let thousands of failures stop him.

Yes, it can be quite challenging to continue to see yourself as a creative person if no one else is willing to see you in that way, but this simply comes down to a chicken and egg situation — most people in our culture will not let you easily claim a creator's identity. They will push against you and demand "proof" of your creative talent. When that happens, many of us give up simply because we get tired of having to push back against this sort of pressure. We end up feeling like impostors: "I say I'm an artist, but no one seems to be buying it. It must all be a sham. I'm not sure I can keep this up."

In these situations, the best philosophy to live by is "fake it 'til you make it." That's true whenever you enter into any kind of new identity. It happens when you graduate and start your first "real" job, it happens when you change overnight from a worker to a boss; it happens when you get married or when you have your first child. These are times when you just have to grow into your role before the identity involved seems completely real to you, let alone those around you.

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