In a very real sense I find that creativity in humans is just as important as our need for air. What we express through our art (whatever it may be) can give us a sense of self-worth and purpose. Without pursuing these creative endeavors, we risk living a meaningless existence, one which is sure to deeply affect our happiness and well-being.
In this post, I set out to describe what I feel are the greatest benefits of exercising creativity. How do they appeal to our interests and how do they build character? In the second half of this post I will describe different ways we can be artistic, even when we have limited skills in the artistic domain. By the end of this post I want readers, both artists and non-artists, to walk away with an affirmed belief that creativity is something inherent in all of man; similarly, it is something that we must all integrate into our lifestyles.
– Abraham Maslow, American psychologist
I can’t answer Maslow’s question because I find it hard to fathom why an individual would intentionally avoid pursuing an art. However, some people may feel that they are just not creative, maybe they believe you have to be born with it so – because of this – they ignore opportunities to express themselves creatively.
But the benefits of being creative far outweigh a life without expression. In fact, being creative can also benefit our lives in ways we may not have initially thought, by helping us deal with conflicts and build self-worth.
Expressing your ideas
One of the most obvious advantages of being creative is that it gives us a chance to express our ideas. Through our production of art, we literally turn our feelings and ideas into reality. Upon completing a creative work we feel more understood, perhaps even as if a weight has been lifted off of our shoulders. There are some things that go beyond words and art gives us a modality to express those facets of reality.
Resolving deep conflicts
Sometimes we go through events in life that can cause conflict that never seems to go away. Maybe its a past relationship you can’t seem to get over or a traumatic event that still haunts you. Art gives us a way to let go of these experiences. It allows us to fulfill a hunger that can no longer be satisfied by external conditions, so we must transform ourselves from the inside. Creativity is the alchemy that guides us toward reconciliation with our past. I have looked into this in such articles as, “Art Therapy And Mental Illness,” where I report on how art therapy is used to treat those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other psychological impairments.
Facing fears of failure
Of all the things that hold us back from doing the things we want, fear of failure is one of the most detrimental obstacles to overcome. We learn from our mistakes, yet we are deathly afraid to make any. Maybe we are worried that we will find out something about ourselves that we don’t want to know? Whatever the reason, creative endeavors give us an opportunity to achieve something. And even if our first song or first painting isn’t as spectacular as we first dreamed it to be, the accomplishment itself often gives us a sense of pride and motivation. It tells us to push ourselves forward in other aspects of life. And at the same time it gives us a memory, a mental resource, to draw upon when we face other fears in the future.
When we face our fears, and we accomplish something that we set out to do, even if we don’t do it all that well because it is something new to us, we begin to feel better about ourselves. We produced something; we have added value to the world, and this fact reflects the value we perceive in our own self. This is the same principle I have touched upon in articles like, “From Self To World Improvement.”
Seeing the world differently
What is creativity? How do we know when something is creative? Often we may say something is creative when it gets us to perceive or think about something in a way we never have before. Sometimes these new ways of seeing can disturb us. Other times they inspire us. Being able to see things from a different perspective requires flexibility. It is a skill that can be developed through mediums of art, and even business, engineering, and science. If we can step out of our normal way of seeing things we can obtain a greater depth of understanding regarding a particular theme or subject. With practice, this flexibility can translate into better decision making and problem solving – abilities that can make rippling changes throughout any area of our life.
– Rosabeth Moss Kanter, tenured professor at Harvard Business School
Creativity that give us immediate gratification
When I use the term “immediate gratification,” I do not mean that one can just pick up a SLR camera and become a professional photographer overnight. Absolutely not. All creative endeavors take work and dedication in order to reach a certain level of proficiency. However, some mediums we can enjoy more quickly than others. Not everyone can pick up an acoustic guitar and write a riff they are happy with, but many people can spend an afternoon shooting pictures and walk away with a couple to “feel good” about.
As I mentioned in my opening statements to this section, photography is a fairly easy art to get acquainted with. Several years ago, when I got my first camera for my 17th birthday, I was able to walk around my college campus’ nature preserve and take pictures of all the wildlife. After that short hour I already felt a sense of accomplishment at some of these things I had caught on film. Now, perhaps I just have an “eye for photography,” but I have seen this in others too, and therefore I think photography is one of the easier arts to begin expressing creativity in. I would recommend anyone to give it a try and see the results. Also, it is always fun to edit these photos on the computer – which adds a whole new aspect to the creative process of photography and image editing – GIMP is one great piece of freeware that I recommend, it shares many of the same features as industry standards like Adobe Photoshop.
Dancing is another easy one to get into. You don’t even have to be very good at it, but if you really allow yourself to get immersed in the music you will feel satisfied with your efforts. I am weary about dancing around others, but I dance by myself all the time. It is kind of cool to do it all alone because you can choose whatever music best suits you and you can be as innovative and wacky as you want. On top of this, you are also getting a workout, which is sure to release endorphins to make you feel that much better. Even if you are one of those people who thinks you “hate dancing,” I firmly recommend that you give it a shot and let yourself go. I used to be one of you guys too, but now I see dancing as one of the most fun, free, and rewarding activities I could spend time doing.
- Writing poetry
I’ll never forget the first time I was swept away by love. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings, and poetry became my first medium of expression. Not everyone is good at writing, at the time I was young and had a limited vocabulary, but poetry is great because your writings can be short and simple yet still very effective. If you can think of just one good metaphor you can use it as basis for your whole work. Sometimes even being blunt with your language can deliver a strong message. Poetry is less about deliberate work and more about choosing the right words that resonate with you.
Other rewarding activites
As I have mentioned, the first three activities listed above were ones that I find easy to start (although hard to master). These next few require more practice before you can just dive right into creating something. This doesn’t mean you can’t get that “immediate gratification” after the first time you pick up a guitar, you probably can, but you probably won’t be writing a hit single without first building up those calluses on your fingers.
- Learn how to sing or play an instrument
I am willing to bet that everyone at some point in their life has had the desire to learn an instrument, maybe even become the latest rock star. Playing music is fun. As Nietzsche once famously said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Music has a way to open up the human heart through its rhythm, melody, and lyrics. By learning how to sing or play an instrument we can have a more participatory role in the music process. It is even more fun when we know friends to jam with. Find an instrument you have always wanted to play, maybe the piano, bass, or trumpet. Then, look for ways to teach yourself. There are plenty of resources online to get you acquainted with the basics of music, particularly MusicTheory.net. You could also take lessons from friends or family who may already have proficiency in a particular instrument. If you have the money, I highly recommend investing in some music lessons, especially if you are serious about getting good. Other than that, practice and have fun with it; some of the best musicians of our time have never taken a professional class in music.
- Practice painting
For those of us who may not be good with words or who aren’t the most auditory-inclined of individuals, exploring the visual modality through painting is a great method of expression to try. Like with music, painting takes a bit of a commitment both financially and with our time and effort. However, with practice this endeavor can be extraordinary rewarding. You can experiment with painting real-life scenarios or you can even dive into something more abstract. Imagine being able to display one of your works in your home and having people ask you questions about it.
- Make a short film
One of the first creative endeavors I have ever embarked on was when I was a young teen and I would borrow my Mom’s video camera. I used to write up little stories and then recruit other kids from around my neighborhood to help me film them. I still remember some of the first films I ever recorded, like my first comedy “No Sense Makes Sense” and my first thriller/action movie “Special Delivery.” A couple years ago I did something similar and recruited a bunch of my high school classmates to film a big zombie scene at a local park. Unfortunately, I never got to editing it and showing it to others (I may still have the footage somewhere). Today with our technology, along with websites like Youtube and Vimeo, it is fairly simple to record short films and share them with millions across the globe. Some people even strike a bit of fame on the internet and end up getting professional movie roles and TV shows. Whatever your motives, this is one opportunity that can be incredibly fun. I definitely recommend getting some friends to help you out as well.
You don’t have to limit yourself to any one of these. As you can tell, I have dabbled in all of these throughout my past (except painting), and I still want to re-visit a lot of these in the future. Even if the things you create don’t ever reach a professional level, the benefits that come from pursuing the arts are as limitless as your imagination. Creativity helps build healthy intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships. So whether you are a business man, an athlete, a doctor, or a retiree, make sure that this is one area of your life that you frequently evoke.
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