Thoughts, Opinions and Philosophical Discussions

Creative Obsession

creative obsession, artist, painter

Everyone’s creative.  In our own way, each one of us has a creative drive within us.  For some, it manifests as painting, music or theatre.  For others, the pursuit of science, city planning or auto mechanics.  Even serial killers perfect their art, sometimes over years and dozens of iterations, each time trying to get it perfect.  

Who you callin’ obsessed?

While the drive towards creativity is inherent in all of us, not everyone pursues it to the point of obsession.  Those of us who do, often jump back and forth from one creative discipline to another, jacks of all trades, master of none, never really finishing things, and procrastinating on the big projects or the ones that don’t interest us.

creative obsession, creativity, mountaintop, hiking

Those of us who do make it to the top of the heap — masters of our craft — have spent many thousands of hours, ignoring the rest of the world in our desire to become a little bit better every day.  We daydream in the middle of conversations, we wake up inspired in the middle of the night, and we interrupt everyday activities because we just have to scribble that idea down or try out that new stitch or pick up the guitar to try out a riff and get so obsessed that we forget what we were doing before we began tinkering.

The mystique of the artist

Other people think we’re just a little bit off…weird, but a nice weird.  “He’s an artist, you know.  He’s always been a little…different…he can’t really help it.”

Normal people, the ones who don’t understand that they too are creative in their own way, often treat artists as some kind of celebrity. 

creative obsession, magician's hat and wand

For years, I painted and sold my art at shows all over Canada and the U.S.  Inevitably, someone would say, “I can’t draw a straight line,” or, “How do you come up with your ideas?”  If they bought a piece of my art, they wanted to talk about it, find some hidden, secret meaning, so they could go back and tell their friends, “I met the artist,” as if there was some kind of magic attached to the creator of the work.

They didn’t ask about the forty-plus years of study and practice.  They didn’t want to know about the sheer bloody hard work it took to set up a display at five a.m. and take it down again at ten the same night.  They didn’t ask if I could draw a straight line without a ruler (I can’t) or if I had creative blocks that stop me in my tracks for months, even years at a time (I do).  All they could see was the glamour.

What is creativity anyway?

Those who think they aren’t creative are often envious of those who proudly tell the world, “I’m an artist,” or a writer or a musician or an actor, dancer or any of the so-called arts practitioners, but they shouldn’t be.  A young housewife who comes up with new ways to serve hamburger is just as creative as the famous actor who’s played the same character in every film he’s ever done – probably more so, since she’s coming up with new ideas each time, and he’s found a formula that works and sticks with it, like a favourite recipe.

Another comment that bothers me when I hear it is, “Oh, you’re so talented.”  I am of the firm belief that talent is nothing more than curiosity coupled with a commitment to learning the craft. 

creative obsession, ludwig von beethoven

Yes, it helps if you are physically well-coordinated.  Yes, it helps if your parents encouraged you to try new things, learn new skills and practise things just because they interested you.  But these things are not strictly necessary. There are countless tales of people who paint with their mouth or feet because they have no hands.  Two of the finest artists I know are colour-blind.  Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote some of the greatest music the world has ever known.

The purpose of creative obsession

Creative obsession has contributed to the greatest inventions and artistic expressions in mankind’s long history.  Without these creative individuals, we wouldn’t have the pyramids, Stonehenge, the Mona Lisa, ballet or the Three Tenors.  None of this would have happened if the individuals involved hadn’t been obsessed with improving their skills and finding creative answers to the questions which occurred to them.  

We all need to own our creativity.  If we write, we are writers…doesn’t matter if we’ve been published.  If we’re practising, learning the craft, improving, we’re writers and we should be proud to say we are, instead of apologizing and telling people “It’s only a first draft. It’s not very good.”  If we paint, we should take workshops and lessons to get better, and above all, keep painting. 

If we act, dance or sing, sculpt or design buildings, create gardens or recipes, find innovative new ways to interact with the world around us, we need to practise every chance we get.  Hang out with other creatives that are better than we are and learn what they know.  

And practise being creative, whatever our choice of obsession (well, perhaps not serial killing).  They say, after ten thousand hours of practice, a human being can master any discipline.  

So, onward and upward.  Go forth and obsess.

Trained as an artist in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I was one of the first creatives to be employed in the computer graphics industry in Toronto during the early 1980’s. For several years, I exhibited my animal portraiture in Canada and the U.S. but when my parents needed care, I began writing as a way to stay close to them. I’ve been writing ever since. I run a highly successful local writer’s circle, teaching the craft and techniques of good writing. Many of my students have gone on to publish works of their own. I create courses aimed at seniors who wish to write memoirs, with a focus on the psychology of creatives and the alleviation of procrastination and writer's block.

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