The Benefit of Being Creative

Why do we create, anyway? Is it to be known? To be rich? Or is there another, better reason? I recently read two things about art and life that seem to be connected and together may offer a glimpse of the real benefit of being creative.

One came in a social network post from a friend who is a fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Cameron advocates a daily discipline called the Morning Pages. A practice for everyone, artist or not, Morning Pages is a variation on the writer’s dictum to write every day and the spiritual discipline of journaling. Morning Pages means three pages of stream of consciousness writing on anything in your life. Done once or twice, it may reveal an insight or helpful tidbit, but done every day it supposedly becomes life changing. (I have tried it, once or twice, and found a few helpful insights and tidbits.)

The other comes from a letter from an elderly Kurt Vonnegut, written to a group of high school students in 2006, on the value of doing something artistic every day. He writes:

…Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow. Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.

Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but rhymed. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?

Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals [sic]. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

These two pieces of advice are different, but they’re the same, and say something about what I believe about creativity:

  • Creativity is for everyone.
  • When you create, you make art. It may be bad, but it’s still art.
  • Everyone is creative at something and therefore an artist at something.
  • To make some great art, you’ve got to make a lot of really bad art.
  • Though others may enjoy it, our art isn’t for other people’s benefit, but for our own.
  • The secret is to just start creating, and to do it every day.
  • When we create every day, the result is that we find out what’s inside us.

“Becoming,” as Vonnegut calls it, is sadly lost in our culture of consumption. And it’s killing us. Creating is a key – maybe the key – to renewal, personally and culturally. But we avoid it because it’s hard and we humans, as a rule, just want comfort.

This is sad, because creating, in some form or another, is your life work, and mine. Each of us is made to make something. Finding and doing what we’re made to make is the means by which we live out our Creator God’s design for us.

This is the benefit of creativity.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).