image credit: MAKOTO FUJIMURA GOLDEN SEA
What does it mean to be a creative? We often hear the phrase, 'creative type', or such and such person is a 'creative'... but what does that mean?
If creativity is a function of identity, than it can't be reduced to simply producing a particular piece or body of work. This is an essential idea to hold. Often one may think that ‘once that painting is done’ or ‘once I perform in public’ or ‘once I get paid to do that work’ then I’ll be fulfilling my creativity. But these and many other examples demonstrate an understanding of creativity only allows for the exercise of particular skills and the finished work itself. If creativity is a matter of identity, it is therefore deeper - a priori – than particular skills and finished work.
While it is true that creatives of every type employ particular skills in the process of work they create, the uniqueness of the person creating is most essential to the process and the work. When creativity is understood deeper than skilled action and the subsequent work produced, and more so about uncovering unique personal identity, the creative process become a means toward finding wholeness, and spiritual formation: knowing God and oneself.
A helpful story is found in the book of Genesis. In the perfection of the Garden of Eden, humanity is instructed to reflect God’s creative nature to care for creation. This most certainly entails the exercise of human creativity and work. And it is crucial that we understand the timing of this instruction is given before the fracturing event known as the fall. In Genesis 3 the perfection of the Garden was fractured. Since that time the condition of the earth and its inhabitants has been cursed. But, often we think that the pronouncement of the curse is the introduction of human work:
Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; […]By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
The curse does not introduce human work into creation; it introduces an unfortunate reality that work will persistently lead to futility and death - rather than fulfillment and life. Work done out of the curse leads us to wish for profit and benefit before or even instead of being fulfilled by the creative process itself. The process of being a creative aligns humanity with its core identity as image bearers of God's own creativity. We create for money; we create for fame; we create that maybe we might be content with ourselves in the things that we make. But those things are never enough. We retire at the end of each day gripped in the throngs of futility. And this is the essence of the curse: by your work, you will try to measure up; but your work not be able to answer for your uniqueness.
What is the alternative? Creative process for the sake of being on the creative process. When we create for the foundational reason of being image bearers of a creative God, we operate over and against the curse. The products of such a creative process – be it dancing, writing, painting, acting, repairing cars or maintaining I.T. systems – no longer answer for our worth. What we make does not have to ‘measure us up.’ We are measured complete by being ones who engage a creative process.
While this may seem as though I'm speaking a permission for laziness, Stephen Nachmanovitch reflects that, “the easiest way to do art is to dispense with success and failure and just get on with it!” Admittedly, this is a catch-22 in the creative process. By shifting away from the mindset of creating-to-produce, and instead toward creating-to-be-fulfilled-humans, we end up actually producing.