How They Teach Us Out of The Creative Process

They teach us how to be productive and valuable, but they teach us out of creativity. Here’s how to find it again.

Child playing with lego for article by Larry G. Maguire

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

They teach us how to be productive and valuable, but they teach us out of creativity. Here’s how to find it again.

I’ve been in the creative process forever. My earliest memories are of making things; Lego aeroplanes and spaceships, a cranóg made from mud and sticks (I wanted to be an architect at that point), freehand sketching wild birds from the encyclopedia, sanding and staining old branches of trees, breaking things apart to see how they were made.

It was curiosity and a desire to self-express — that’s how I’d put it.

Nothing unusual in that. Most of us do this kind of thing when we are kids, that is until we’re assimilated fully into the machine; the firmly bounded realm of current knowledge and the ways of the world — the ones which are hell-bent on turning us into pawns for the game.

In that, we can become lost. Before that happens, we are free to create from our imagination.

I remember I was about seven or eight; I built this massive spaceship from Lego — all my own design. It must have been because Lego packs back in the 80s were generic — no cross-brand marketing going on like we have today. I think the Lego packs today are wonderful, Star Wars ships and all that. It’s just back then there was more of a requirement for kids to invent new things.

It was the creative process happening on its own through the mind and body of a child, uncorrupted by the need to be a productive member of society.

I presented my masterpiece to my aunt. “Wow”, she said, “that’s amazing”, taking it into her hands as we stood together on the landing outside my bedroom. I was proud as punch of myself, and that spaceship…until I saw it move in slow motion towards the floor and smash into a thousand pieces.

I never did manage to resurrect that original design. I suppose that’s the benefit of instructions.

The creative process followed me into work, and later in business. My primary intent was always to create the best job I could — not for praise or admiration, but, instead, because I could. As I think about it sitting here writing this, I honestly cannot put my finger on why that was. Perhaps there is no why. Perhaps it was merely something doing itself just like it did when I was a kid.

When I was running my business, I was always conscious of making things to the best of my ability. On reflection, art was in everything I did. Lighting and power systems, security, audiovisual, home cinema & automation — I loved the buzz of designing and building the systems for people.

Their positive reaction felt good, but it wasn’t the primary reason. It was more about the work. Standing back from the end result, I could say to myself; I made that.

Getting paid was important too of course, but it didn’t always go according to plan. When fuckers didn’t pay, it was a sucker punch. I’d give my best to create something great, and I just couldn’t understand that others didn’t value it.

It’s the part of the business world I really couldn’t tolerate.

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”
― Erich Fromm, Psychotherapist

Creative expression is everywhere. I don’t think we can avoid it — to be honest, no one can. It’s in everything thing we do in one form or another, and everyone gives it expression whether we think we are creative or not.

It’s just that most of us follow someone else’s plan. That’s what school teaches, or rather conditions, kids to do — follow the creative pattern of some else’s design. “Here’s how things work kids, and if you want to be successful, wealthy and a valuable member of society, follow these rules”.

That said, school also benefits creativity. I loved art classes, for example. We used to have double art on Fridays, and out of all my classes, this was the one I enjoyed most. I don’t know if the other kids were as enthusiastic about art as I was, all I remember was that it was a chance not to be doing maths and other boring subjects.

Or was it that the teachers were boring?

But the system doesn’t work out well, arguably, for most. Most of us are functional in the system as far as most measures of wellbeing report. But beneath, there seems to be a disturbance that lasts a lifetime. It’s an impeded urge to create, and what stops it is fear — fear of falling out of favour, of being cast out of the safety of the fold and of being a failure.

It takes courage to step outside the safe boundary.

The momentum of the world is strong, and if we’re not vigilant, we can be sucked into the madness without even being aware of it. The result is a feeling of emptiness, dissatisfaction and unfulfillment. Money and status might be there, but it’s not enough. Money might not be there, but the problem is the same one.

We’ve lost our ability or willingness to create for the sake of it.

I realise that we all must make a living; after all, this is how we’ve built the system. But we’ve got to keep something the reason for doing which is that it makes us smile.

That’s how it was when we were kids. Concepts of being productive were alien to us then. Our personal value was not hinged to the number of hours spent making Lego spaceships — we made them for the sake of it. As such, hours passed and we didn’t even notice it.

Somehow we’ve got to hold onto this idea as we get older, take it into our work or even our hobbies. Daily activity doesn’t need to be productive to benefit us, and unless we accept this, we’ll continue to struggle.

The creative process is there waiting for us to immerse ourselves in something for its own sake. Writing, art, gardening, electronics, drawing, woodwork, building walls or doing tax returns (although I can’t imagine having fun doing tax returns), they can all be the route.

We just need to make time to allow it in our lives.

Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I also write on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters

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