Back in the days, I never heard anyone talk about it. We sat on the terrace at school – the heat unable to penetrate the air of excitement. Paintbrush in hand – canvas on floor – a butterfly palette craving for color, and 12 little glass containers of paint oblivious to the awkward mess that awaited them.
We painted. The part I loved was the first step: Brushing the canvas wet with water.
The results barely changed. The boys drew mountains and sun and crows and a house with a chimney. The girls drew this incredible piece of renaissance art – each one different from the other. Still, no one spoke the C word.
Sir Ken Robinson has a 22-million-views Ted talk called “ Do Schools kill Creativity?” My school’s innocent version of killing creativity was telling the renaissance girls to leave their paintings at school while requesting the mountain boys to take theirs home to show everyone. And we didn’t really care. Actually, the girls seemed disappointed that they couldn’t take theirs home.
We painted because it was 1942 times better than history class. We painted because it was a three-hour break. We painted because we got to sit on the terrace sprawling and imagining the same mountains we imagined last time. If someone had told us this was a test in something called creativity, we would’ve pretended we had a heat stroke, and gone home.
At that time, if someone had asked me if I am creative, I would’ve scratched my head and naively asked: “what is creative?” A year ago, I would’ve said: “Naaaaahhh, I am not the creative types.” It’s surprising because, in that time, I still hadn’t understood creativity. Along the way, I made up the rules from what I saw: To be creative, I must paint, I must write poetry, I must have a beard which I should scratch repeatedly and so on. I didn’t follow any of those rules, hence I must not be creative. These are innocent misconceptions we all start with. Soon enough, these rules turn insidious. We begin to associate shame with creativity. I can’t even paint mountains, my poetry is gallimaufry, my writing is dismissively laughable. Hence, I am not creative.
Just when you begin to address the shame, you will see the worst reserved for the last. These are the rules set by other creatives. When I started writing, I read those rules: you must write every day, you should stop reading young adult fiction, writing is suffering, you must have periods of time when you cannot think of anything to write all day, you must cry occasionally. And, here I was finally, beginning to think I found something fun and creative.
The shame of incompetence was replaced by the shame of rejection. Each time writing came easy, I felt I wasn’t suffering enough to be a creative. Each time I suffered to get a word on the page, I felt I am not creative enough to write. Every day that I did not write, I felt like I was committing heresy and imagined a group of bearded men shaking their heads at my unworthiness. What would they say then, if I told them I preferred The Hunger games over The Great Gatsby? Perhaps, the boy that can’t even paint mountains properly is not creative.
Have you had that conversation with yourself? You don’t have to be writing. You could be a photographer, an artist covered in paint, a stand-up, a musician, or a magician. You will read the commandments from the stone tablet of creativity. You will fret and feel like a fraud. You will go get an MBA.
Here’s the truth about that stone tablet. It was there only to show you how it was done earlier, not what you should do now. It’s there for you to learn from the greats, not wake up the time they woke up and drink the same alcohol they drank. In the ‘war of art’, there are no rules. The only rules are ones you create for yourself. And the times you have the most fun are when you break those rules.
What you have now is a canvas. The mountains and the sun will get better over time. And may be someday, you will draw something different. Until then, take that giant brush, dunk it in a bowl full of water and brush.