The belief “I’m not creative” is not a helpful belief if you want to start making art. In fact, it may block you from taking any action at all. The good news is you can change the belief by deciding to think something different instead. If you see the belief “I’m not creative” to be a story – a tale made up by your mind – then why not choose a story that encourages you? The black and white thinking of “I’m NOT creative” is unhelpful because it blocks potential creativity. Choosing to instead believe a kinder, more encouraging story allows you more freedom to create.
“I’m allowing more creativity into my life.”
“I love how making art makes me feel more creative.”
“I’m learning to be more creative.”
“I enjoy the feeling of making something.”
Another kind of story is a conspiracy theory, something Brené Brown in Rising Strong talks about: “Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.” If negative talk is the mind keeping us safe from the perceived danger of trying something new, then we can thank it for its concern and get back to making our art. Decide there’s no real danger and tell your mind to believe a new positive story, one that’s likely to be more accurate than the old negative belief.
Perfectionist tendencys won’t get you far when you start making art. We can forget to simply enjoy making and to have fun because we want to make art that visually communicates the time and effort was worth it. Suddenly the little piece of art you make has a lot of expectations weaved into it: Be good. Show creative skill. Communicate creativity. But that’s setting your quality bar far too high, especially when you’re a beginner.
Making art is not about a perfected final piece, something that is so perfect that no one can criticise it. Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection explains “Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” This kind of perfectionist thinking freezes creativity in its tracks and will ultimately make you a more nervous artist because if you can’t make a mistake, you may stop making altogether. Brown goes as far to say “Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Making ‘perfect’ art won’t make you a better artist or make you more creative. If you’re not allowed to make mistakes then you instantly limit your experimentation and creative potential. Experimentation requires freedom from quality and a willingness to get it wrong. The world needs ‘no perfection’ art because making something is better than never making anything.
Allow yourself to make ‘bad art’ because making no art at all is a far worse outcome.
“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that saids, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.” — Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic
The biggest obstacle to start making art? Yourself. We want to be good at everything instantly, even if we’ve had minimal practice. The fear that you might fail will keep you paralysed before you’ve even started. By comparing yourself to a prolific artist who has years of experience, work and failures under their belt, it’s no wonder you feel disappointed at the fledgling art marks you make. You want to make something worthy of the time spent on it (to be a constant human productivity machine) as well as seeking out approval from others. But Brené Brown in Daring Greatly suggests that if you attach your self-worth to your art then you’re handing over your self-worth to what other people think: “You’re officially a prisoner of ‘pleasing, performing, and perfecting’.”
Wanting everything to be perfect so you can avoid making ‘bad’ art will keep you stuck because the bar of expectation is immediately too high. Getting confident and making original art can take a lifetime and in the meantime decide to have fun. Get messy, make bad art on purpose, get into the flow of making something simply for the joy of making something. You are in control of how high your bar of expectation is, so you can lower it to “I will simply enjoy making art.” To experience satisfaction or even joy in creating something from nothing is a worthy goal.
In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown says “Overcoming self doubt is all about believing we’re enough and letting go of what the world says we’re supposed to be and supposed to call ourselves.” Let go of needing to be good art because it doesn’t matter if what you make is good, bad, ugly, masterful or simple. It’s not not about creating a perfected final physical thing, it’s about the process of self-discovery, joy and creativity by tapping into a part of you that normally lies hidden.
“Beneath our flaws, there are always two ingredients: fear and a desire for love.” – Alain de Botton, Status Anxiety
Creativity is fuelled by a sense of play but as adults, do we have to give up play in order to “grow up?” Productivity and play can be viewed as polar opposites on an imaginary ‘success’ scale. At one end there’s productivity which provides an outward marker of how ‘successful’ you are by ticking off goals and getting stuff done. At the other is play, with many people seeing as being a kids-only activity and a silly and frivolous use of time. But with so much research pointing to play being a vital component in a fulfilling personal life, as well as in business, it would be silly to ignore the benefits.
Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection says “If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.” In Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist explains how, “Productivity became my idol, the thing I loved and valued above all else. We all have these complicated tangles of belief, identity and narrative. And one of the earliest stories I told about myself is that my ability to get it done is what kept me around… The world that made sense to me was a world of earning and proofing and I was getting it out just like everyone around me, frantically trying to prove my worth.”
Being seen as productive is so highly valued because of the myth that ticking boxes – i.e. on a daily basis via a to-do list – somehow relates to worthiness and self-value. The more you achieve, the more valuable you are perceived as being to others and therefore the more loveable and attractive you become. Productivity becomes a quantifiable measure of your ‘success’ in life’s uncertain chaos.
Kirsten Miliken in Playdhd suggests “As an adult there is a stigma about play. We’re trained to take things seriously, work hard and not ‘goof off.’… it is likely that you were ever encouraged to play to meet your potential, much less to have fun in an effort to be more creative, happy, energetic, and productive.” The idea that play can actually help you to achieve more, as well as being a vital tool for living a good life is an exciting one. “Play is a biological drive as crucial to our health as sleep or nutrition. Some of the key descriptions about play according to Miliken is that its purposeless (it’s done for the fun of it), voluntary, you loose track of time whilst engaging in play and your self-conscious is diminished (you don’t censor or judge yourself while playing).
Spending time playing “just because” may be the best thing you could do to improve the quality of your daily life. With creativity being fuelled by play and playing around with new ideas, play is one of the best tools you have available right now.
“It’s about playing. It’s like being innocent enough to just play without an outcome in mind.” – Sofia Munson, painter
It’s very easy to be judgement about your own art, especially when you’re a beginner. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way explains how judgement about your art is abuse: “Judging your early artistic efforts is artist abuse. This happens in any number of ways: beginning work is measured against the masterworks of other artists; beginning work is exposed to premature criticism, shown to overly critical friends. In short, the fledgling artist behaves with well practiced masochism.”
Allowing negative self-judgement to stop you making more art, you allow the ego to strengthen the identity of you being a person who is not good at art. The brain wants to be efficient and will rethink the same thought patterns in order to conserve energy. As it takes more energy to think new ideas and beliefs, the brain doesn’t distinguish between positive/helpful thoughts and negative/self-sabotaging thoughts. So if you’ve had repeated thoughts on a subject then it’s logically productive for the brain to continue to repeat the same thoughts in order to be efficient, even if they stop you from doing something valuable.
Brené Brown in Rising Strong explains “In the absence of data, we will always make up stories. It’s how we’re wired. In fact, the need to make up a story, especially when we are hurt, is part of our most primitive wiring. Meaning making is in our biology, and our default is often to come up with a story that makes sense, feels familiar, and offers us insight into how best to self-protect.” Brown talks of Robert Burton, a neurologist and novelist, who explains that “our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognise and complete patterns. Stories are patterns. The brain recognises the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain… we can earn a dopamine ‘reward’ every time it helps us understand something in our world – even if that explanation is incomplete or wrong.”
The way to overcome this judgement is to make art regardless, with the goal of quantity (as opposed to quality) as your focus. The more you make, the easier practice becomes and the quieter your judgemental voice will become. Decide to create a new art-maker identity for yourself – an “artist in progress” – and allow this new identity to grow stronger. With the more quantity made, that practice will cause your skills and confidence to naturally improve over time.
“… we must care for and nurture the stories we tell ourselves about our creativity and ability. Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world.” – Brené Brown, Rising Strong
If you’re looking for permission make art – even if you think you’re no good at it, it’s not a priority or other people’s needs should be put first – you are hereby granted it. Here is your permission slip <*> Go now and make art! But more importantly the permission you seek is something you can gift yourself.
Brené Brown in Braving the Wilderness explains how she used a post-it note to create a permission slip for herself: “It simply said, ‘Permission to be excited and goofy and to have fun.’ It would be the first of hundreds of permission slips I would go onto write for myself.” Write yourself a permission slip for whatever you secretly think about making and allow yourself the space to follow your curiosities.