Friday, March 14, 2008

Creativity is Innate

As children, we dreamed, designed, colored, built, and devised art from whatever was at hand. In tribal societies, our lifestyle for thousands of years, everyone practiced a "craft"—and stamped traditional designs with their individuality. Our urge toward self-expression reaches out to us from ancient cave walls, stone pillars, adornments in burial graves, crockery … We yearn for our own creations, not just those of others; to repress this integral part is like cutting off a limb or tantamount to starving our souls. Our inner selves scream for expression (corroborated by international studies reported in mental health journals).

But in today’s culture, too many of us have allowed those "anointed" by the establishment hold the title of "artist," reinforced by the cultural gatekeepers. We meet these first co-opters, thieves, typically in school, who teach, no, brainwash us into adhering to accepted rules, be it coloring within the lines, or that turtles are green not purple, or that bowls and cups must have a certain shape. Thus starts the inoculation into what is art and who is allowed to be one (cartoon-like painting isn’t art but paint splatters are).

For many of us who see the world differently, we are the octagonal pegs society wants to pound to fit into square holes—and too often they succeed, permanently breaking a part of us. When I taught dance/improv to adults, they constantly felt guilty for spending time on something they’d never be "good" at (read professional) even though they loved it. They’d found an outlet for their repressed self-expression. No other justification necessary. But they’d learned if you don’t make money, you shouldn’t be doing it; if you don’t sell, it’s not art, just a hobby—leave it to the professionals.

While teaching fiction writing I also hear, "but I’m not creative," as if we are not all, in some integral sense, storytellers. Now, this is not a rant against buying art others make; I buy a lot (what I like, not what I’m told to like). I also trade or barter when I can (which I’d love to see more of). What I refuse to do is to make art for any purpose other than my need to express myself or label myself an artist based on $. Thanks to certain methods—drawing, writing, photography, graphic programs, forms of reproduction, art trading cards, used clothes, recyclable anything, etc. (and a growing community of like-minded people embracing DIY)—I can feed my body and my soul. And so can we all.

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