To create or not to create?

To create or not to create? That is the question.

What does creativity mean to you?

I’m sure all of you can remember doing some kind of art at school. Those messy early days, complete with finger paint and cardboard boxes, or those more studious sessions preparing for secondary school exams.

Perhaps you still draw, paint, use materials or play with clay. Maybe your version of art is through cooking, cake decorating, gardening, knitting or using materials. Or, photography – which is a growing trend now that we carry our cameras in our pocket in our mobile phones. For the musically minded, you could compose or just get sheer joy listening to your favourite artist. Likewise, our IT wizards can create programmes which transport us into another dimension. Bear in mind, Google itself has a creative area in it’s headquarters where employees can sit, play or create. They recognise that creativity makes people feel better and encourages new ideas.

Others amongst you may do puzzles, crosswords or sudoku, colour in a pictures, arrange some flowers, journal or write short stories. All of these activities have the same benefits. They allow you to employ your mind in a different way, switch off from the pressures and stresses of life. They inadvertently maintain your mental health and consequently your wellbeing.

What made you stop being creative?

Sadly, there are many people who feel that they are not creative or artistic in any way. Some of this stems from those early experiences where people criticised your attempts or made suggestions to ‘improve’ your work. Internally, we feel we have ‘failed’ if our representation does not match the perfect expectation of others. Let me stress, they see the task through their eyes not yours. How would famous painters like Dali or Van Gogh have continued if they had listened to every comment, I wonder? And, let’s face it, would our prehistoric ancestors have stopped their Cave painting just because their tribe made a random comment about the mammoth they had just painted?

Consider this…maybe, in the past, you took a knock to your self esteem whilst being creative.

It could be that you regard art or creative activities as an occupation for the more economically stable or, in the case of art critics, for more intellectually minded – you know, the type of people who look at a painting and then psychoanalyse it. Can you really describe that picture of a waterlily as the inner searching of the artist’s soul? Please remember, what they see (or think they do) is their reality. What we see depends on our perceptions, experiences and preferences. My philosophy is simple, if you like a picture or sculpture, does it really have to have a hidden meaning? Can you not enjoy it because you like the colours, admire the craftmanship or it makes you smile?

So, let me introduce you to an idea…

‘Any form of creativity is good for you!’

The science behind the principle.

Research has now proven that creativity, in whatever form, is essential for your overall wellbeing and has a true therapeutic value. In 2015, Dr. Cathy Malchiodi (Psychologist and Art Therapist) stated that creativity, in any mode, can increase positivity. It reduces stress, anxiety and boosts the immune system.

Psychologically, regardless of the activity you undertake, the act of creating requires you to focus and concentrate on the job in hand. The minute you allow your mind to multi task or overthink, your project will suddenly become unworkable. Psychotherapists refer to this as the ‘Zone of Creativity’. ‘The flow’ or ‘early trance’ requires you to give your total attention to what you are doing. You become absorbed and time, literally, stands still for your mind. Who hasn’t looked at the clock and realised they have spent two hours on a task when they thought it was just five minutes?

Artists, poets and problem solvers, often describe this as ‘the creative process’ – effectively you enter a period of self-hypnosis whilst your attention is deeply focused on the task. Although random thoughts may appear they are quickly pushed away. Worries, fears and phobias, retreat into the back of your mind to allow you to create.

During periods of trauma, many people find illustrating their feelings through art or writing, helps them deal with what they have experienced. Many survivors of major disasters find they can manage their emotions and feelings in a more sympathetic way, simply by drawing what they remember.

How does it work?

When we become totally absorbed or entering the ‘flow’ state of mind, our brainwaves slow down and the subconscious takes over. The prefrontal cortex of the brain temporarily deactivates and the brain, magnificent organ that it is, begins to release chemicals into our system. We are literally flooded with endorphins, serotonin and dopamine which give us feelings of pleasure and well-being. Similar experiences are felt during hypnosis, meditation, yoga and mindfulness.

We achieve peace, a sense of calm and feelings of contentment.

What is Art Therapy?

The concept of ‘Art Therapy’ was defined in 1915 when the first Art Therapy school was established in New York. However, it wasn’t until 1942 that the use of creative mediums was employed within a therapy framework. British Artist (Adrian Hill) observed the positive impact art had on veterans who were experiencing PTSD through combat. The use of creativity is now employed in various areas of the therapy world.

How can you find your creativity again?

First, let’s remove the barriers that stop you from attempting any form of creativity.

It really doesn’t matter what other’s think of your attempts and whilst it makes us feel good when people praise our efforts, equally any adverse comment can prevent you from achieving a more balanced mindset. If you are worried that people may be critical (even if they mean well) then keep your efforts to yourself until you are ready to share.

Secondly, choose what you feel is creative for you. This doesn’t necessarily mean picking up a paint brush. It can be cooking (problem solving at it’s best), knitting a square or simply doodling with your pen.

Try lots of different approaches before you decide which one you prefer. Experiment with what engages you, makes you feel successful and be prepared to realise that there are some activities which you won’t feel comfortable with. This is natural. Not one size fits all.

Don’t be afraid of that ‘blank’ canvass or paper. Every journey begins with the first step. Just start, because none of us know how our work will turn out and many mistakes turn into masterpieces. Rumour has it that Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse after seeing an ink blot that looked like mouse ears!

Different forms of creativeness

I personally like using acrylic pouring techniques in my workshops. I love the fact that clients claim ‘I am not creative’ or ‘I was never good at art at school’ and yet, after about two hours, they walk away with a piece of work that they are proud of, sharing it with the rest of the class in an unspoken collaboration, and realising that although the materials are the same, they each produced a unique piece of art. Many describe the experience as ‘joyful’ whilst others refer to the process as satisfying. All of them talk about how quickly the session has gone…and how they didn’t really think about their worries once. They leave sessions smiling.

However, you don’t just have to stick to using paint. There are many different forms of creativity:

  1. Gardening or flower arranging. Nature is renown for it’s healing properties. Whether it is clearing weeds, sowing seeds or simply choosing flowers for your home, this is all creative.
  2. Cooking. Any form of cooking requires you to use a wide variety of skills including problem solving. Reading the recipe, adapting it to suit your needs, setting timers, etc., you become the Harry Potter of the kitchen.
  3. Writing a journal, keeping a diary or jotting down notes for a story. These all allow you to disappear into another reality or document your thoughts and feelings.
  4. Paint mediums. There are so many techniques to try. And, for instance, if you feel your representation of people isn’t right – check out Lowry on the internet – many said his stick people were immature. I wonder if they know his paintings smash auction records at a staggering £2.65 million.
  5. Wood carving, metal bending, willow weaving, jewellery making, clay work. All hands on, physically challenging and sometimes requiring outside help. Hey…it’s good to learn!
  1. Programming or using IT as a tool for creativity. Who says virtual reality isn’t creative? I would love to disappear for an hour in a world full of adventure.
  2. Photography. Your picture – your way. Experiment with filters, angles or whatever you want. The beauty of digital photography being you can change things quickly but without commitment.
  3. Music – soothes the soul or gets you up dancing. Try listening to the classics and visualise scenes or Binural beats (look on YouTube) to reorganise your brainwaves. If you play an instrument, you will know about the zone already – if not, learn, even if it’s the drums.
  4. Materials – whether this is recycling, sewing, knitting, crocheting or just feeling the textural difference between two physical pieces. Even a piece of string can look good glued to a canvas or putting up your curtains, which you made, can be satisfying. Consider printing your own designs…even potato prints are a joy at Christmas.
  5. Anything that makes you forget time. That enables you to totally focus on creating something, grabs your attention or makes you feel happy.

Finally…remember this.

During this pandemic, with its isolation and new ‘normal’, many people have suffered ‘Lockdown Syndrome’ where the brain, devoid of new outside stimulus failed to make new neuro-pathways. Combined with the stress we have endured, this hasn’t helped our well-being.

By allowing yourself periods of creativity, you can rebalance your life, stimulate your frontal cortex and strengthen your cognitive abilities. Take those first steps in your own healing process. Forget your insecurities and express your feelings, emotions or worries in a process that will allow you to time travel with the best of intentions. Give yourself some art therapy and build a new you.

Most of all:

‘Reclaim your inner child.’