Myths of Creativity

In his book, releasing the creative spirit, Dan Wakefield writes about some common myths our culture seems to hold about creativity. An awareness of these is worthwhile, for our cultural beliefs just help us create (more) excuses for not starting a creative project.
Wakefield’s list (with some added thoughts of my own) is as follows:

Myth # 1: Creativity is only for the Artistic Elite
This belief, he explains, is supported by the reasoning that only some of us are naturally gifted with creative skills. It is furthered by the belief that only those with an excess of time and money can afford to become creative. Both of these beliefs are myths!
Creativity is closely aligned with our spirit, he claims, quoting Judy Collins:

Yes, I think writing and music are spiritual disciplines. Absolutely. It’s a very important entering point. I realized this many years ago. I’m a devotee of Yogananda. For thirteen years I’ve meditated consistently — for the past eight or nine years once a day, and for the past three or four years twice a day. It’s part of that continuity, all part of the same thing. It’s essential to keep in the flow of that. (33)

Being creative is closely linked with aligning oneself with the Sacred. Be still, and understand the guidance that comes out of the silence. In turn, create, and you will realize you are in that same flow. Creativity and spiritual discipline both put you in a place that is timeless and boundless.

Myth # 2: You have to suffer to be Creative
Of course, Wakefield says, we love the story of the suffering artist. Most have heard the term starving artist, I am sure, and my belief is that many who are trying to make a living off of the creative path call in that archetype and perhaps manifest it through expectation.
Perhaps there is a tendency for artists to be sensitive to the point where they do experience the highs and lows of life in a greater intensity than others. Yet, as Soren Kierkegaard said, “As soon as you label me, you negate me.” The art may just be the healing force for these artists. Erica Jong, for example, claims:

As a young person I suffered over tiny things and then found ways to use the hypersensitivity in my work. I could take the pain and put it somewhere. We heal ourselves by writing and, at the highest level, we heal other people, too. (37)

Citing his friendship with Anne Sexton and the ways that poetry saved her, Wakefield claims, “For many artists, creation is salvation” (39). He also quotes “novelist and poet Rosellen Brown, author of the highly praised bestseller Before and After.”

I’ve been married to the same man for thirty-one years, and he’s more delightful every day, and we have two terrific daughters. I’ve had the most ordinary life — boring, no great traumas. When people ask me where I get these painful stories for my books I say that’s not my experience, those are my nightmares — I put them on the page to work them out. I do think most of us artists and writers have at some time or other felt like outsiders – but I don’t think you have to suffer personally to write or paint, you just have to keep your eyes open, look around you. (42-43)

Myth # 3: Only the Arts Are Creative
Science, business, raising children, growing a garden, cooking – everything in life can be creative!

Myth # 4: Creativity is not Manly
What an unfair belief when creativity helps ground us and helps us connect with our higher natures! Wakefield gives a powerful, extreme example of this from Reverend Norman Eddy, who worked the streets of East Harlem. Eddy explains:

“On the street, to be creative is not macho, so there’s no outlet for creativity, except in athletics, with the body. My eyes opened when I saw heroin addicts who were unable to express their creativity, and when I visited Riverside Hospital to see them in recovery I discovered that many of those young addicts had poems tucked under their pillow. I asked if they had shown them to their therapist and they said of course not — they wouldn’t dare show them to anyone. I was an exception because I was a minister, so I was supposed to understand such things
Even today, the body is the only accepted way – or macho way – of being creative, on the street. That’s a perfectly fine way, of course, but it’s a shame to think of it as the only one. The body, mind, soul, feelings are all areas in which we can be creative. When Jesus says to worship him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, that’s what he means. All of us are part of creation – one of our deepest desires is to create the beautiful. (50)

Yes, this example is at the edge of the spectrum, but how many men tell their buddies that rather than watch Monday night football they are going to paint a new picture or work on a short story or poem? It’s just not as cool or easy as it is for women. Hopefully we will start breaking these mindsets, for we all know, it’s hard enough to get started on a creative project even with support!

Myth # 5: Women’s Work is not as Creative as Men’s
Historically, women have been paid less for their creative work, and they had to work much harder to gain respect as an artist. This is slowly changing, Wakefield says, but the path is still somewhat unequal.

Myth # 6: You have to live in an Ivory Tower of by a Pond to Create
The power of group energy is necessary for all artists, Wakefield claims, and many thrive on living a vibrant and engaged life. Their art often comes from their life experience.

Myth # 7: Creativity is a Full-time Job
This is almost never possible!

Myth # 8: Creative People Don’t Have Good Relationships
A creative person can choose to let his or her art take priority and thus harm the relationship. However, a creative person can also channel creativity into romantic acts and enhance the relationship!

Myth # 9: Creative People Are Children and Aren’t Responsible
This is just silly. Creative people are people who take responsibility for their lives. In fact, one could argue that creative people are trying to make sense out of a life that has extreme challenges and unfair aspects. Creative people are working to present art that comforts others.

Myth # 10: The Older You get, the Less Creative You Become
Truly you become better at whatever it is you do over time. Elaine Pagels explains the discipline it takes to create, day after day:

I take my fear in my hands, sit down and deal with the resistance to it, which is sometimes enormous — and I’m resolved I’m going to sit there two to four hours and struggle, whether anything comes or not. The resistance is quite intense–but the resistance gets less as I continue the work. I’m working on it in dreams. Sometimes it emerges there. – Elaine Pagels, Professor of Religion at Princeton University; author of The Gnostic Gospels and other best-sellers (Wakefield 65)

Additionally, artists don’t retire!

Myth # 11: The Biggest Myth of All — Booze and the Muse
“In reality, alcohol and drugs are destructive not only to creativity, but to health, well-being, and successful functioning” 67).

Wakefield, Dan. releasing the creative spirit. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Publishing, 2001.

I’d like to additionally call a new book to your attention. As explained on NPR:

Essayist and short story writer Elisabeth Tova Bailey was struck with a neurological disorder that left her too weak even to sit up. The illness forced her to stay in bed, where she felt life was slipping by, unused.

Things changed for Bailey when a friend brought her a gift: a pot of flowers that also contained a wild snail the friend had plucked from the ground. That nearly motionless mollusk became Bailey’s companion — almost her surrogate.

Bailey, who uses a pseudonym due to her illness, has written a memoir called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A True Story

I haven’t read it, but it resonate with me – this being forced to slow down to the point that a snail’s actions are faster than yours. Gifts come when we need them.

All movements in life take faith.

2 thoughts on “Myths of Creativity

  1. I loved the snail!

    I am always surprised by the way our culture teaches that creativity is innate, rather than learned. As an artist, I am very aware that creativity is definitely not confined to tthe arts.

    1. I love that snail, too! And I love that this woman wrote a book about a snail helping her heal. Yes, I agree that our culture teaches many of the wrong lessons about creativity! We have to work to break free of these limitations and just create.
      Thanks for the comment.

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