Throughout my teaching experience, I often come across a very common misconception amongst my students. And that is, “If I was truly creative (or artistic) I wouldn’t be struggling or frustrated while I’m trying to create.” The belief that if he or she were talented or artistic enough, creativity would be a smooth and easy process, is a typical reason people don’t create. They either stop creating when things aren’t working or they don’t attempt their hand at something creative. The truth is, struggle, frustration and even doubt are a natural part of the creative process. It includes the bad, the ugly as well as the beautiful and magical.
It’s easy to look at a completed work of art, rather in a gallery or museum and assume it came easy to the artist when in reality we are only viewing the final product. We’re not witnessing the struggle behind the completed piece, like the preliminary drafts, the trial and error and the bad versions. A masterpiece doesn’t necessarily happen over night. In fact, many well known paintings have been closely examined only to discover, beneath the layers, an original draft the artist had painted over. Proof of the creative struggle, even by the masters.
In my own experience as an artist, I used to compare the creative process similar to going into battle. It involved this back and forth dialog in my head. One minute I was on a roll, the next minute, I hated what I was creating. Then at some point, I was loving what was unfolding, but only quickly turned into self-doubt. I had even taken pieces that I had spent hours on and completely started over by painting over the entire piece. However, what I learned over time was this repeated back and forth dance was just part of the creative journey. Time and time again, I would eventually end up at a place where I was happy with what I had created. I began to trust that something truly creative existed on the other side of the struggle. But it required staying with the process especially when I didn’t know what I was doing or felt frustrated.
It’s important to keep in mind that the creative process is a collection of decision making, experimenting and problem solving. What I often remind my students is that you don’t know what will work until you try it and if you don’t like the results, paint over it, or start over. When you give yourself permission to be okay with the frustration and struggle, doors open up to creative magic. I have witnessed this first hand with my students, even with those who had little art experience. In the end they are amazed at what they’ve created.
Creating is the practice of working through the hills and valleys of the creative journey. If you practice hanging in there and develop that trust in your ability to be artistic, you’ll be surprised at what masterpiece is waiting at the end of the journey.
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