Back in the days, I never heard anyone say the word. We sat on the terrace at school – the heat unable to melt the air of excitement, paintbrush in hand – canvas on the 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 some windows and chimney. The girls drew this incredible piece of renaissance art – each one different from the rest. Still, no one spoke the C word.
Sir Ken Robinson’s multi-million-view Ted talk asks a simple question, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”
My school’s cute version of killing creativity was telling the renaissance girls to leave their paintings back at school while requesting the mountain boys to take theirs home to show everyone. And I don’t think the boys really cared. In fact, the girls seemed disappointed that they couldn’t take theirs home.
None of that mattered.
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 laughing and imagining the same mountains we imagined last time.
If someone had told us this was a test of something called Creativity, we would’ve faked a heat stroke, and gone home.
At that time, if someone had asked me if I were creative, I would’ve naively asked: “What is that?” But, a year ago, I would’ve confidently said: “I am not the creative types.”
In the years between the two answers, my understanding of creativity hadn’t changed. Along the way, I made up the rules from what I saw: To be creative, I must paint, I must write poetry, I must grow a beard and scratch at it repeatedly.
Since I didn’t follow any of those rules, I must not be creative. These are early misconceptions we all start with. Soon enough, these rules turn insidious. We begin to associate creativity with shame.
I can’t even paint mountains, my poetry is a crummy rhymy schemy, and my writing is, at best, sub-par. Will I ever be 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, writing is suffering, you must have periods of time when you cannot think of anything to write and this must make you sad. Also, you must cry at regular intervals.
And, here I was thinking I finally 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 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.
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 comic, a musician, a street-magician – an amateur at anything art .
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. A piece of history, and not a determiner.
It’s there for you to learn from the greats, not wake up the time they woke up and drink the same brand of 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 maybe someday, you will draw something different. Until then, take that giant brush, dunk it in a bowl full of water and brush away.
Photo Credit: Swapnil Dwivedi