Why We Should Stop Measuring Creativity May 01, 2014 01:23
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m the most creative, especially artistically. I love crafty activities and am an expert at following directions, but give me an empty canvas and I’m lost. When I Googled the term, it told me that “creativity” meant “the use of the imagination or original ideas." I would definitely consider myself someone who uses their imagination, but my artistic abilities, in my eyes, often don’t measure up.
In one week, I happened to have two artistically challenging experiences, both of which lead me to question my creative abilities.
The first began with a bottle of wine at a friend’s birthday party. I was part of a group of gaggling girls who finally experienced the fad of ‘drinking while painting’ in a public group setting. The $45 dollar fee included materials and instruction, but each individual provided their competitive spirit free of charge. The tendency to judge and compare ones work to others’ is probably a better description of the situation. Our comparisons weren’t self-deprecating, but more of a tipsy, “Why doesn’t mine look more like yours?” or “Ugh, why does the instructor’s look so perfect?”
To answer the second question: the instructor is a professional, which is why we paid him to teach us. But to answer the first question, throughout the entire three hour adventure the instructors continually reminded us that it was okay to interpret the painting we were trying to duplicate as we pleased, and repeatedly reassured us that each painting would look different. While this advice didn’t stop us from admiring the paintings to our right and left, it was encouraging nonetheless.
This experience left me with one question: Why do we think it's okay to compare our own ideas, skills and creative products to someone else’s?
Experience number two: decorating Easter eggs based off an article I found on Pinterest. I was optimistic about how this experiment would go, but had a bit of a stressful time constraint. I'm also a bit of a perfectionist, the trait that probably most leads to the rather harsh inner-judgments on my creative abilities. As the Google definition points out, this endeavor was not an ‘original idea’, but my friend and I tried to make do with what we had and make the project our own. The eggs looked fine! Painted, rhinestoned and glittered, they were cute yet looked nothing like what we modeled them after. My friend asked why the website’s eggs looked so much better than ours, and I had to explain they probably had a production set, professional DIY-ers or artists working on the project, an unlimited budget and more time (all aspects that our project lacked).
Which leads to the answer to my question: with the advent of the almighty Internet.
For the last week, I grappled with the idea that one could be creative, or even attempt to be creative, without the final product being absolutely perfect. I’ve always compared my own work to others’, probably starting around Kindergarten when I could color inside the lines and my neighbor couldn’t. But now in addition to in-person comparisons, the Internet exists in all its glory. Apparently there will not only be someone with a whiter smile on your Facebook feed, but someone (or lots of people) who can outdo you on Pinterest. By seeking out creative activities (that even included directions for a type A perfectionist to follow), I let myself down on two occasions because the final product didn’t measure up to my expectations of what ‘my creativity’ could produce. Blaming this completely on the Internet is wrong, but leaving out the abundance of perfectly carried out projects one can find on the Inernet is equally as wrong.
By the end of my painting experience, we had all gained more mental clarity and started to take more ownership of our creations. We collectively decided that once we got home and hung the individual paintings on our walls, we would forget all about the other paintings we had seen and ours would look great, even impressive! This proved to be true, and I think my painting looks just fine on my wall. As for the eggs, I hardboiled them, and it puts a genuine smile on my face to crush, peel and eat an egg covered in rhinestones and glitter. My attempts at being creative resulted in happiness after all, even if they lacked immediate satisfaction.
My takeaway: creativity doesn’t need to be measured. Attempting an art project for the fun of it or for the sake of challenging your creative spirit is perfectly acceptable, even commendable. And in the future I’m going to make an effort not to care (or to care less) about how my work measures up to others’, and to focus more on enjoying the amazing company of those who embark on these creative activities with me.
Alyssa Clough is a senior in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University near Chicago. Although she grew up in Nebraska, Alyssa loves the excitement of living in a big city and can’t wait to move to NYC this summer. Alyssa adores her toy poodle, jogging, and will eat anything with the exception of Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.