Creativity is Much More than Dabbing Paint

Skittles Demon
A mask made by one of last night’s Healing Arts participants. A skittles demon? Or is this what your child turns into after eating all their Halloween candy?

You might know I’ve been donating my time as  a Red Cross volunteer to run “Healing Arts” sessions. Initially, these sessions were targeted primarily at Wounded Warriors and warriors in transition units who are heading home from war.

Lately, we have also offered our sessions to various military units around the Ramstein area as part of “Resiliency Training.” Resiliency describes a number of initiatives by the U.S. military addressing the rise in mental health problems across the services due to twelve years of war. See data on rising suicide rates here. To me, the issue seems all the more important in the wake of the Navy Yard shooting this week by a disturbed veteran.

Last night, we offered one of our art sessions to staff members at an Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation center.

I heard a familiar refrain: “I’m just not artistic at all…. I am not a creative person.”

Whenever I hear this, I say, “Well, I’ve heard that same statement from a number of people who then went on to make an amazing project. Just get started and see where it takes you.”

I haven’t found the key to success in every instance. I believe some people are truly paralyzed when they sit down to make something with their hands. Perhaps a teacher told them they had no talent early on and they gave up. However, I cannot believe they were never creative people because, almost without exception, children are able to express themselves artistically with fluency. That is, until something stops them.

I recently came across this quote from the children’s author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak who wrote Where the Wild Things Are:

“It isn’t until an adult criticizes the picture and makes derogatory comments … that children lose their confidence and stop drawing. If young people spent as much time drawing as they do learning [the] alphabet … they would all make good pictures and maybe never even need to draw a straight line.”

I think he’s absolutely right, including his little joke about making straight lines. Adults love to help children draw straighter lines or make their coloring pages look more realistic and neater.

Let’s assume for a moment that most people aren’t artistic or they “can’t draw a stick figure.” Isn’t creativity much bigger than that? And don’t you have to be a little creative to appreciate creativity? If you did not have a creative bone in your body, how could you enjoy music, or a movie, or a comedy routine?

Here are a few truisms about creativity (not just the painting and drawing kind) and why it’s important.

1. Creativity is therapeutic.

2. Creativity is good for brain health.

3. Creativity is beneficial in ANY career field.

4. Creativity makes life richer and more meaningful.

Cultivating creativity introduces “good stress” to the brain. When you sit down and make a drawing or start taking guitar lessons for the first time in your life, you are reviving neural pathways, inverting your perspective on things, and opening up new areas in your awareness.

The next thing you know, you head back to your real job and the answer to a nagging question or intractable problem suddenly seems clear. This is creativity, too.

Anything that can increase your mental agility and flexibility is a defense against depression, mental illness, and the onset of age-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. This has been supported by a wealth of research.

What is surely NOT good for your mental state and health is following along in the same grooves and ruts, never trying anything new.

Do you want to be more creative? Here a few suggestions.

  1. Do puzzles.
  2. Draw pictures.
  3. Sing songs.
  4. Redecorate a room.
  5. Turn off your smartphone for a day.
  6. Play with your kids and let THEM teach YOU about the world.
  7. Tell stories – real stories. With a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  8. Find a chair you never sit on in a corner of your house you never go and sit in it.
  9. Make a sandwich backwards. In other words, if you usually start with mustard and then layer meat and cheese, reverse the order.
  10. Take a walk.
  11. Do yoga.
  12. Meditate.
  13. And this last one I owe to Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Can you think of any other suggestions? Add them to the comments section.

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8 thoughts on “Creativity is Much More than Dabbing Paint

  1. I clearly remember my art teacher in high school telling me my painting was rubbish in front of the entire class. It hurt, particularly because I just knew he said this on purpose! My classmates thought it was amazing, though. And I was pretty proud of it too. Thank goodness I’ve always known I was creative no matter what anybody else says!
    Creativity is good for the soul too 🙂
    I like interacting with nature to get the creative “juices” flowing. I think your Healing Arts Programme is wonderful!!

    1. Oh, Duni, that’s terrible your teacher did that. I’m glad you were able to shake off his comments and continue in your creative endeavors! I was lucky to have pretty nurturing art teachers throughout school until the college level. College level art teachers were much less kind. Honestly, I think often it’s insecurity!

  2. I am bookmarking this post for sure! I would add to your list keeping a notebook with you at all times to write down any little thoughts/ideas you have throughout the day! Just knowing its there to record my thoughts makes me more inspired throughout a boring day!

    Thank you so much for this well written and inspiring post!

  3. I remember being terrified in art class at school. I was convinced I couldn’t produce anything of artistic merit. I think you are fabulous to donate your time to the Red Cross. It sounds like you help people in need to find something wonderful in themselves they didn’t know they had.

    1. Thanks, Jane! What I think is a little funny is that a lot of the people in these classes seem to think it always comes easy for someone who is supposedly naturally artistic or creative. In fact, we’re sometimes terrified of making art, too.

  4. My husband is one of those people who claims he can’t do art projects. I find painting to be very relaxing, and I’ve suggested that we go to a class a couple of times to help him de-stress, and he always says the same baloney about how he’s bad at stuff like that. Nonsense! There’s no such thing as a bad painting if it makes you feel good to create it.

    1. Maybe ceramics or woodworking would be less intimidating for him? I’m with you, though, Paige. Painting is a very relaxing and centering activity for me.. It can be a challenge. No one ever said it wasn’t, but I think that people are often amazed at what they can do if they just give it a try. 🙂

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