You don’t have to create something good, in order to create.
When you were younger did you ever just spend the afternoon with a big box of crayons and a pile of white paper? Or open your own “Mud Cafe” in the treehouse in your garden, serving a selection of delectable offerings made from different coloured dirt, leaves and twigs (just me? oh.). Or go over to a friend’s house to make up stories about what happens when their collection of toys meets your collection of toys and the future of the world is at stake?
We all took art classes, and design classes, and wrote stories and poems in English, regardless of how good we were at any of them. We made science projects, and musical instruments, and decorated our project books with images cut out from magazines. Most of us probably still have a box or ten (in my case) of stuff we made in the first fifteen years of life tucked away in our parent’s attics. And I think for the vast majority of us its safe to say that we create more in those first fifteen years of our lives than we do in the entirety of what comes after.
So why do almost all of us stop?
I think the answer is that we start becoming self-conscious about what we are creating, and wanting it to be good. And we are told, and believe, that the being good is what makes the doing worthwhile. It became not about the process, about the act of creating, but rather about the end product, or the thing that is created.
I’m not sure how it works in other parts of the world but in the UK we start narrowing down what we study at the age of 13, when we pick our GCSEs, and with grades on the line we are encouraged to pick the subjects we think we will do well in and will help us in the future, rather than the ones we simply enjoy. And I think it is also somewhere around this time, although it might be earlier, that creative writing is just dropped from the curriculum, never to be seen again, unless you choose to study it at university.
I’ve been thinking about this period of my life quite a bit lately, as a few weeks ago I took a three day Vedic Art class here in Ubud. I’ll write more about Vedic art later, but for the purposes of this blog post it is enough to say that I absolutely adored it. I was so in flow the entire time that I don’t think I once thought about my next meal, and I ALWAYS think about my next meal. It made me reflect upon my decision not to take art GCSE (which would have been the last time I picked up a paint brush), and made me want to kick 13 year old me. From what I can remember I think I was too scared to take art GCSE because I didn’t believe I was talented enough, and to me that seemed like a requirement.
Talent, in my humble opinion, is one of the worst words in the English language. Talent says that you are either good at something, or not, and that there is little you can do about it either way. I didn’t write for so long because I was scared shitless that I wasn’t talented at it, which is completely stupid as it’s the doing something that makes you good at it, ultimately. The idea of talent makes choosing to pursue one of the arts more of a risk, as it implies that it doesn’t matter how hard you work if you aren’t talented, then you will never be good at it. I think it is this that often puts parents and teachers off encouraging their children in the arts. They don’t want them to be disappointed.
You could perhaps say this is also true of sport, but the main difference between it and art (in the wider sense of the word) is that sport also serves the purpose of getting you fit. It is good for your body, and that is generally accepted as enough of a reason to practice it. It is why PE classes featured on my timetable long after art and creative writing had been dropped. That creating things is good for you (and I firmly believe that it is, but again more on this later) isn’t as widely acknowledged. Most of my friends do some sort of physical exercise, but very few, outside of those who write or make art for a living, practise something creative.
And I think it all comes back to this belief that if you are going to spend time creating something, then you have to create something good. There has to be something beautiful, or useful, or well made at the end of it.
Personally, I think this is bollocks.
If you enjoy creating things then to my mind that is a good enough reason to create things. If you end the day with nothing more than a load of wonky pots or a story that doesn’t really make sense, if you have a smile on your face (and I have never finished a day creating without one) that is all that really matters.
And yes, sometimes it can be frustrating. It is hard to spend all day at something and not feel like you are producing anything. Your critical mind keeps butting into your flow, telling you off for “wasting your time”, or saying “what the fuck is that? It’s ugly! You will never be good at this!” but you just have to keep telling it to go back to its corner, and hope that eventually it gets the message and stays quiet permanently.
Nor is this to say that there isn’t a whole other different kind of enjoyment that comes with creating something good. But that’s just it – it’s completely different. It’s an ego sort of pleasure, completely different from the deep-seated joy I get from expressing myself with paint, or moulding words and clay. And there is nothing wrong with hoping for both of them, but being satisfied with just one. When I go to my pottery studio for the day and sit down at the wheel, I do hope that I will make something I like. But if I’ve been at it for a few hours and nothing good is coming off, I don’t stop, I just say “fuck it” and keep on making crap.
So if you have been wanting to do something creative, but haven’t because you don’t think you’ll be any good at it, then just give it a go. Either way you’ll have fun. And that is enough to make it worthwhile.