What Does it Mean to be Creative — and to Live Creatively?
Ask very many people, and they will tell you they want to live creatively. But what does it mean to be creative — in actual fact?
If you ask most people what the phrase “creative person” evokes, you will probably get some pretty vivid examples of “creatives”. Someone might mention Lady Gaga, or Salvador Dali, or even J.K. Rowling.
These powerfully iconic figures are certainly striking, but they can be deceptive. Do I have to be such a figure to live in a creative way?
I’m very struck by a statement by the psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden on the nature of creativity, which runs counter to what we might first think or expect:
To be alive (in more than an operational sense) is to be forever in the process of making things of one’s own [italics mine], whether they be thoughts, feelings, bodily movements, perceptions, conversations, poems or analytic papers.Thomas Ogden, Conversations on the Frontier of Dreaming
This is startling in one sense — while in another, it isn’t. Ogden doesn’t see creativity as the sole possession of the great writers, painters or musicians of history. That may run counter to all the preconceived notions of “creative” people that run through our heads whenever we think about this subject. Yet, I think that many of us will resonate with his description of creative living as “making things of one’s own”.
Making Things of My Own
I think that many of us have at least some intuitive sense of what it is to “make something of my own”. We know what it is to make something that comes out of who we genuinely are. And that doesn’t have to be painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, (no slight intended to Michelangelo’s wondrous creation!)
Often I can tell when I’m “making something of my own”. It has a certain feel; I can genuinely feel that this thing is “me” or “mine”. It might be my special creation on the bar-be-que, the particular way that I sew on sleeves or the way that I take photos of my dog — the list is endless.
I remember a particular time in my own life. Things were at a really difficult point for me, and I hadn’t been in Jungian analysis for very long. I was having a really difficult time expressing or even knowing what I felt in some important areas of my life. That was the moment when I was introduced to working with self-hardening model clay. It actually made a big difference in my life.
It wasn’t that I turned into a great sculptor. No, far from being the next August Rodin, other people could barely discern whether what I had made was a bison, a bear or a kitchen table. Yet what was significant about these little bits of clay was that what I was working on had really taken hold of me, and I was expressing my feelings and myself in a manner in which I was really “all in”. It also helped — for me — that this form of expression didn’t use any language, and wasn’t the least bit “thinky”: this enabled me to let parts of myself that didn’t usually even see the light of day show their colours.
Hiding From My Creative Self
It can be uncomfortable to reach down inside ourselves and experience elements that usually get obscured or silenced in the regular business of the day. It can seem so scary and so disruptive that some people never do it. People can end up running from the aspect of themselves that really wants to make things, and express itself. They may be conscious of doing this, but it can also happen without conscious awareness.
There’s a danger involved in this running away from the part of ourselves that wants to make things. It’s implied in the Ogden quote above. This is that, without that sense of making things, without putting our creative energy out into the world, life can start to seem pretty sterile and even dead. What does it mean to be creative? Well, one key thing it means is to be alive, and to know it — to feel it! Something deep within us yearns to get to the place where that’s a lived reality.
Making Your Life Your Own
A lot hinges on our ability to be in our lives, and to feel that we can do things or make things that are genuinely expressive of ourselves. There’s a fundamental part of human nature that wants and needs to make something that allows some part of our inner life to be something that we and others experience “out there” in the world.. This may feel like “living into” our lives — making them our own in new and important ways.
For many people in search of a more creative approach to their lives, /a-midlife-transition can play an important part in the process. A trusting, dependable relationship with a /a-midlife-transition or Jungian analyst can be a safe place to explore the creative parts of ourselves that are yearning to emerge. That was my experience when the therapeutic relationship gave me a safe place to explore working in clay. Such experiences can start to give us a wholly new and different answer to the question, “What does it mean to be creative?”