What does it mean to be creative?

So fellow travelers, some thoughts on creativity.

Author Jon Katz, recently posted a piece in his blog about the importance of creativity. He framed the topic with the issue of taking time to be creative and focuses on the struggle of women’s creative expression.  His post got me thinking. He makes valid points regarding women putting off creative expression being related to society’s marginal attitude towards creativity. I would add this is as true for men who would benefit equally from creative expression yet push it aside in the pressure to achieve worldly success. His message, “You don’t have time not to be creative” is universal.

From the responses to his post on the CGBF* page he hit a few chords. One of Jon’s best traits is his willingness to accept differing opinions provided they are not shrouded in hostility or personal attack.  Those parameters are what make the CGBF a reliable haven for creative exploration and allows for some lively and thought provoking dialogue.

I added my own comments, something along the lines of my own growth allowing me to see creativity in many forms.  I listed examples of teachers, dog trainers, computer programmers being creative in their own way. For many people “living (their) life in a meaningful way” may not take the form of a poem, painting or photograph. When a bio engineer creates a better prosthesis I see this as creativity from a different perspective. Still, some sliver of discomfort begged attention.

It was his opening reference to “hobbies” and “painting a watercolor on vacation once a year or so,” which stuck with me like a stinging nettle. For many years, working full time while raising two daughters afforded me very few hours for creative exploration. This is not an excuse; it is reality. There are no more than twenty four hours in every day. During those years when the girls were young, scrapbooking, which definitely comes under the category of a “hobby,” became my main creative outlet.

Were those scrapbooks less of a creative expression because they are seen more as a craft project than art? The question itself points to the way in which “arts and crafts” activities are marginalized. Here’s where the line between “creative work” and “art” begins to draw itself in the sand. Certainly I did not consider my scrapbooks  “art,”  even though the time I spent creating beautiful pages built around memories was every bit “an essential expression of (my) spirit” as if I were writing poems about or painting portraits of those moments.

Working as a special education teaching assistant for our local school district allows me the luxury of an extended summer vacation, something most working mothers do not have. It is a gift of time I consider worth the smaller paycheck. One of the things I did for myself was to set aside enough money to take summer classes, so over the years I explored everything from birdwatching, backpacking and orienteering to knitting, drawing and painting. I always had good intentions of continuing my art time beyond summer, but once we were back in the throes of daily life, consistent time for artwork took a back seat. So yes, I was “painting on vacation once a year.”  To feel like that kind of creativity somehow doesn’t count points to the “falsehoods” we have been taught to tell ourselves about the value of what we chose as creative expression.  Those falsehoods start terribly young too.  I always feel a tremendous sadness when a student tells me they can’t fit art/photography/woodshop/creative writing/culinary arts into their schedule. I have been known to undermine the best efforts of counselors by showing kids a way to shift course loads so one of those classes can fit.  I am such a rebel.

One gift of becoming a member of the CGBF was the opportunity to have a place where I could share the results of my renewed creative interests.  I started taking photos of more than family events and “we were here” vistas, then I took photo classes to challenge myself to improve. When my commentary on the posted work grew longer or generated clever haiku, with some gentle nudging from fellow members I realized I had enough to say to consider starting a blog.  Now, two years later not writing is no longer an option. I hope I am becoming a better writer in the process too.

So there’s the crux of the matter.  It comes down to what we tell ourselves about being creative. If we believe we should only be creative if our stuff  is good enough to be called art, we will not fell compelled to find the time to be creative. If we just give ourselves a chance to take the first steps of creative expression and turn a deaf ear to the voices of judgement. both internal and external, soon we will find “don’t have time not to be creative.”


*the Creative Group at Bedlam Farm can be found on Facebook.  Our contributions can be viewed by the public. Come visit and be inspired to be creative.


Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Deborah H Rahalski

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