What Does it Mean to be Creative?

Everyone is creative in their own way. And nobody is creative all the time. So for those who dare to make creativity their career, it takes a special kind of thinking. A mix of self-loathing and self-adulation. Of total ego and refined humility. But overall, it must be understood that defining creativity is like hammering Jell-O to the wall. Creativity is an unquantifiable matrix of human experience extended into outside forms. Defining creativity is like defining quality or taste; there are no bad answers to a problem and no negative acts of creation. As a creative act of my own, here are some of my thoughts on creativity, because, well… why not?

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

The creative process is always one of discovery. Every creative project is a Hero’s Journey. Creativity is staring down a blank sheet of paper and not blinking first. It is seeing in that nothingness, the potential for all action of possibility. Every act of creativity is a process of creating something from nothing.

More importantly, being creative means seeing beyond the “empty canvas” we are presented with at the start of any project. It is seeing the beauty in the absence of form. Or seeing that a white sheet of paper is not truly white but maybe tinted yellow or gray. Looking closer we see the fibers that compose its structure – collections of refined, conditioned plant material. This paper was once alive.

Truly creative minds can go deeper, down to the atomic structure. We see molecules held together with chemical reactions; base, universal forces repelling and attracting in just the right amount. The electrical charges of electrons swirling in purposeful clouds. This paper is made of the same stuff we are. The same building blocks of our entire world and the universe beyond. From nothing we get to everything. Nothing is everything. Everything is nothing.

Creativity is a Buddhist method. It is being open to possibility and seeing beyond the perception of limitation (or the limitation of perception for that matter). Creativity is whatever you want it to be. Creativity is doing something instead of doing nothing.

The act of creating – the journey itself – can be more than the act of completing a task, or producing a quantitative production of physical or intellectual form. Sometimes the creative act is just done because. Because of impulse. Because of a driving force of inspiration. Often that has no purpose. No need. No function. It can be just an experiment in process. And exercise of form. True creativity need not have quantifiable variables or aesthetic measurements. True creativity, at its purest, is an expression of inner compulsion and nothing more.

Creativity – The use of the imagination or original ideas, esp. in the production of an artistic work.” – Dictionary.com

This applies to all works, all lives, all people and thought. There are creative accountants, creative business owners, creative teachers and mothers and auto mechanics. But, to me, production of artistic work or a product of any kind is secondary. The process is its own reward. It is truly the journey not the destination.

Additional Readings:

Jan Phillips – What is Creativity Anyway?

Creativity at Work

Written by Michael Nelsen, Interactive Director