A lot of the current research on creativity suggests that it’s linked to knowledge & inquiry, and involves sharing some kind of message through a particular form, or combination of forms. Creativity researchers aren’t shy to use obtuse phrases like “psychic metamorphosis” and “imaginary memory” when they write about it. Maybe that’s the type of thing that speaks to you, but don’t let it rope you into thinking you have to be complex or mysterious. For all that’s said about it, it’s worth noting that there’s no universal definition of the word creativity, which I happen to think is a good thing. What really matters isn’t what creativity is, but how to be creative right now.
You could be just as right on as the researchers if you said something like, “It’s crazy the way animals look at you,” which is what I might guess my brother-in-law was thinking when he took the photos I’m using in this post, for example. The bottom line is that being creative is a lot easier with a message that you understand and care about. If you’re worried people might disagree with you, or that nobody will understand, stop and take a step back. In terms of making a provocative piece of art that people might talk about or share, those are actually good things! Whatever you do, keep it loose at first and keep moving without second-guessing yourself, go with whatever comes to mind, and edit later. Iterate!
A super basic activity to be creative right now:
What do you know?
Take a minute and write or sketch if that’s your thing, or go for a little walk and be in your own head until you have an idea about a piece of information that you are sure you know. It can be literally anything, big or small, there’s no wrong answer here. It doesn’t have to be factual, but it can be, and don’t worry if it’s provable. It can be something personal, small, or even imaginary. You might know that you like the sound of gravel when you step on the path, or that you aren’t sure if you saw a ghost when you were a kid. You might even know that in your dream last night, you were a blue cube that moved through a pattern & grid world just by thinking, and poof, off you go. Hold your piece of information in your mind’s eye. Obsess about it a little bit. Indulge in knowing it.
What do you wish?
You might wish you knew the truth about a question that’s on your mind, or you might wish that somebody else knew what you’re thinking about. Taking a minute to think about what you want to know is the same as wondering what lies beyond the furthest point you’ve traveled from home. You recognize the limits of your knowledge, while at the same time you can’t help imagining what’s around that last curve in the trail, just past where you turned around. To be creative right now, jot this wish down, this thing you want to know, along with what you decided you knew in step one, to formalize them as a mission statement for the next step.
This is where it gets real. To be creative right now, you need to manipulate some pieces of the world around you into a position that means something, even if only to you, about the thing you know, and your wish. While we are conditioned to think big here, the scale and intensity of your arrangement isn’t the point. If you’re a painter, sure, paint. Or if you’re a sculptor, bang on that chisel man! But if you’re at a desk, maybe you just bend a paper clip into the shape of an animal or sketch a cartoon on a post-it note. Which way will the eyes gaze, and how will you show that? If you’re in nature, you might arrange the leaves and sticks into a shape that represents the path you traveled. You might double-expose a photograph (there’s apps for that since most of us don’t shoot film anymore), wondering what it would be like to have ducks swimming in your kitchen. Use what’s around you and don’t stop even if you think you don’t have the right supplies, training, skill, or even the right idea. Improvise. Change something in the world, no matter how small, with your knowledge and your wish in mind.
This is the easiest part, but you can’t skip it. You can post a phone pic of a poem you wrote to social media, or leave the napkin it’s scribbled upon pinned to a telephone pole. Maybe you take the wooden fish you just carved with your pocket knife, and shout its name as you throw it from the bridge into the river to biodegrade with only the real fish as witnesses, in the hopes they’ll become aware of their own impermanence. Whatever you do, this is where you deliver your message. Don’t expect a response or praise, that’s not the point, but do this step to let people around you know two things: 1.) You know something, and you’re willing to be creative right now to show it. 2.) You will notice if they share what they know, the same way they noticed you. The more we are open to sharing and receiving thoughtful information in our communities, however you want to define them, the more we can hope to understand each other.
Even if you don’t have the time to do this today, I hope it gives you a sense that you could be creative right now, or any day, and that nothing real is stopping you. If you did take the time to actually do this activity, leave a quick comment below about how it went. On the other hand, if you thought post was garbage, let me know about that instead! Finally, if you want to get on the mailing list, type your address in the sign up box at the top of the page, and I’ll keep you in the loop from time to time.