Six years ago I was making art with a group of people. Toward the end of our time together one of them asked how I'd decided on the colors for my mandala. I said I didn't know and it was pretty much random. The inquirer was skeptical of my choices: "Do those colors really go together?" When she said this I felt self-doubt and then justified it by remembering I've never really identified as a visual artist, anyway. So there.
Then the person next to me said, "Wait a minute," and pulled out a catalog she'd brought with her. She turned to a page with a colorful shawl displayed on it. The shawl for sale contained the same "random" color scheme as my mandala. Everyone at the table was now impressed by my artistic brilliance.
What happened there? The same colors on shiny magazine paper and worn by a stunning model instantly gave validity to my amateur crayon scratchings. Nothing had changed about my mandala, but now people liked it.
'When you create something of beauty, people aren't doing you a favor by liking it. You are giving the world a GIFT.'
I was recently talking to my good friend Kypris Drake about art. Kypris participated in a few Artist's Way courses I facilitated when I was a creativity coach. She said she'd been thinking about the "Artist's Way" book and our work together and this insight came to her: "When you create something of beauty, people aren't doing you a favor by liking it. You are giving the world a GIFT."
Kypris' words struck me deeply. I had never thought about creativity quite like that. How often do I ask for someone's opinion about something I've done with the expectation they will say they like it and then I will feel good? (Answer: Often.) How often do I feel like I'm doing someone a favor by saying I like something they've created? Are we really doing each other such a favor, though? Do our opinions really matter, or is something else going on here?
If creative acts are indeed gifts, who do they belong to? My dad always taught me that after you give someone a gift, it no longer belongs to you. The receiver can think about and do whatever they want with it.
'Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.'
Creativity in its purest form has a natural flow. In the "Artist's Way," author Julia Cameron says: "Creativity is God's gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God." (If the G-word is problematic for you, it can be amended to "the universe" or "life.") Maybe I picked up on something that day when I was coloring and those hues desired to be expressed, not once but twice. This isn't as hoity-toity as it sounds. In my experience, it's simply the mysterious way creativity operates (Julia Cameron might call it "synchronicity").
For me, the flow often goes like this: I have something I want to express. I find a way to communicate it, maybe through photography or writing (or even crayons). I might not fully understand what I'm trying to convey, but I feel compelled to put something out in the world. I offer up my gift, and how the world then decides to respond to it is none of my business...
...which is easier said than done. Sometimes I feel dependent on positive responses. When this happens, it usually means I'm stuck somewhere. Maybe it's grief, anger, jealousy, or fear. I may decide to look at the places that feel sticky. Or I might choose to wallow in the goo for a while.
Creativity can feel scary because it shows us who, what, and where we are. We can decide to listen to what it's telling us or wait for it to visit again at a better time and place when we're more open to accept a gift of vivid colors flickering in front of us for a moment, and then gone.
Rachel Moore, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapy in San Diego, CA. Rachel helps writers, artists, musicians, and other creative types overcome anxiety and trauma. She is certified in EMDR therapy and also trained in Brainspotting.