Creativity for the Rest of Us


Brenda Bos (photo by Emily Garcia)

by Rev. Brenda Bos

It starts in high school. We get separated into groups: the cool kids, the nerds, the jocks, the band kids. Smart kids, dumb kids. Thugs. Cheerleaders. Some of these labels are accurate; some are not. Some of these labels we shrug off in adulthood; some bleed into our later years in unhelpful ways.

You can bet most people who struggle with self-esteem as adults were told they were stupid as kids. Unhealthy adults may have been too sick to exercise as children; they may also have been told they weren’t athletic and became couch potatoes after that. Kids who were told they were “bad” often act that out into adolescence and young adulthood.

The same is true with creativity. Young children believe they are capable of making great art, and preschool teachers encourage this. Draw this, color that, use finger paints to cover the refrigerator (am I the only one?). There are many opportunities to be creative as a child. But at some point, someone tells you your drawings aren’t good. Or we hear the more common response: “You might be talented, but you could never make a living at that.” The creative urges go away. If you can’t make money at something, you should not waste your time doing it. The label “I’m not creative” gets stuck in our head.

But hold up. Let’s look at God, our Creator. I mean, that’s one of the main names we give God, right? So if God is the creator, and if we are made in God’s image…oops. You see how quickly I can make the argument that we must all be creative: If we are God’s children and we inherited some of God’s characteristics, we simply are creative.

Humans are amazingly adaptive. We can live in freezing winters or in the desert. We swim and run, and for better or worse, we can eat just about anything. We also make use of tools around us. Remember that lesson in school?  We are one of the few mammals who use tools, which gives us the ability to be incredibly creative. Yes, every time you pick up a knife and fork, you are crushing creativity. We also have opposable thumbs, a real game-changer in the animal kingdom.

You think I’m joking. Whenever we use tools, heck, whenever we use our thumbs, we are separating ourselves into a higher class of creature. We can work with that. The problem is we think being creative means painting pictures or singing songs. If we are not Beyonce, we are nothing. Well, that’s actually true, Beyonce gets her own planet, but that’s not helpful for my argument.

Figuring out which way to get to work, negotiating your calendar, choosing which show to binge—these are all creative choices. What to eat, what to wear, all creative. Nah, you say, they are just choices. It’s just adulting. Yes! This is my point: Making basic choices every day is being creative. To be human is to be creative.

But wait, there’s more. Some creative types don’t waste their creativity on trivial decisions like what to eat or what to wear. Steve Jobs wore the same clothes every day, and he was a genius. Anderson Cooper eats the same thing for every meal. Do you think he wants to spend time on a menu when he’s got to be Fabulous 24/7? No, all his brain cells go to more important things. Next time someone criticizes you for wearing the same sweater for 10 days, point out that perhaps you are a genius. And then go wash your sweater; you’re a genius, not a burden on society.

There is a wonderful TED talk by Joseph Gordon Levitt (“Looper”, “Inception,” “500 Days of Summer”). He talks about being a successful actor, and how that means getting attention. He acknowledges the accolades can be great. He also acknowledges that paying attention is a deeper, more satisfying part of being an actor. One must observe in order to portray. An actor understands a character because she has paid attention to real people before creating her new character. She also pays attention to herself, to her own reactions to the world. That’s just a whole lot of attention being paid.

So here’s an assignment for you: Pay attention. This is the first step in any creative process. Notice beauty. Appreciate music or laughter or color. Drink it all in. All creators notice the world and people around them. You can too.

Next step: Notice your reaction. All creative types are simply expressing something inside themselves. Something you create does not have to be a masterpiece; it simply has to be honest. And the way to be honest is to truly know what is going on inside you. Did that make you happy? Are you angry and you don’t know why? Why does this move you so much? Pay attention to yourself as you pay attention to your surroundings.

Now tell the truth. Say what you know—in writing, in humming, in banging a drum. Say what you know in a drawing or a doodle or a tweet. Paint a lousy picture that only you’ll look at. Shoot video and then delete it off your phone. Add an extra ingredient to your favorite dish just to see what it will taste like. Write a note to yourself on the inside of your hand and don’t show it to anyone but you. Sometimes our art is secret art. That’s the coolest kind of art possible: the art you make just for you.

Turns out God sees your art too. This is not a bad thing. This is an awesome thing. I imagine it’s like a parent watching their kid play in the backyard. The kid does not know they are being watched; they are just having a blast. Imagine the joy the parent feels, watching their kid become themselves while also enjoying their surroundings. God wants to watch you enjoy your surroundings. Or rise up against all that’s wrong with your surroundings. God wants you to have an honest experience in this vast world God gives us. And God knows you’ll do this through creativity.

Really pay attention to your world. Really pay attention to your reaction to the world. And tell the truth about that reaction. As Dr. Seuss promised, “Oh, the places you will go!” And oh, what fun you can have being creative in those places.

Pastor Brenda Bos serves as assistant to the bishop in Southwest California Synod. She serves pastors and congregations in their quest to proclaim the gospel and find the wonder of God in all places. Prior to being a pastor, Brenda worked in television sitcoms for 18 years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s