It took me 15 years  to discover that I had no talent for writing but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.
-Robert C. Benchley

Who says you have to be any good in order to be creative?

The very first (and last) painting class I ever took (which was about 22 years ago) was a process painting class. I had no interest in taking a traditional art class that taught technique because I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do. And I certainly didn’t want anybody telling me I was doing it wrong. I didn’t care about all that. I just wanted to paint.

And who the heck is it that can tell you your creativity is “wrong” anyway? That has always seemed like the most insane thing imaginable. It’s like grading someone on how they breathe.

Unfortunately, that is not the prevailing attitude in this culture. What we do hear over and over again is that there are definite standards we have to live up to in order to be creative.

Keep your eyes peeled for the art supplies police

One of my students has a young son and she was asked by her boys teacher if she could fill in to cover for a session of the childrens art class. The teacher had created a pre-made art project for the kids to do. I think it was around Thanksgiving and they were all supposed trace an identical turkey on construction paper, cut it out and then decorate it. My student was just supposed to give the kids the instructions and then supervise the assignment.

But my student had been hanging out in my studio for too long and decided, “Hey what the heck. Give the kids a little free rein.” So she just set the art supplies out and told the class to have at it and make whatever they wanted to make.

And of course they came out with all kinds of wonderfully wild and charmingly goofy things. I think one or two of them might have even cut out the turkey. But the point was, they had fun. And they were actually given the opportunity to be creative.

When the teacher returned and saw what had happened she was HORRIFIED. She was actually pretty close to apoplectic and started sputtering to my student about how allowing the children to create freely without sticking to the plan and doing what was expected of them was AN ABUSE OF ART SUPPLIES!

She actually used those words.

I had no idea that it was even POSSIBLE to abuse art supplies, but then what do I know?

It’s no wonder that we have so many unhelpful ideas about what it means to be a creative person. If we are worried that we might be in danger of traumatizing our oil pastels if we don’t stay inside the lines we are going to be more than a little hesitant to create with any kind of freedom or abandon.

We also learn that there’s only one correct way to be creative and if we don’t follow the rules someone is going to blow a fuse.

We are all perfectly crazy.

It reminds me of the time I was doing some work with a woman client around her relationship issues and she was going on and on about how perfect and amazing and wonderfully healed she had to be before she could ever find herself paired up.

And I said to her “Ah, excuse me, but have you ever looked around and actually noticed the kinds of people who are already IN relationships? Most people who are intimately hooked up are not anywhere near being totally realized ascended masters. Or even particularly well adjusted.”

People who are married or part of a committed partnership are by and large not exactly perfect. In fact, they are usually pretty gosh darned far from being perfect. They are tall and fat or short and bony and cranky and bossy and self centered. They have bad habits and worse breath. Being human, they are always some form of wacky. But love finds them anyway.

Your creativity is a lot less demanding than you are.

It’s the same with your muse. She doesn’t care how good you are at something. She just wants you to express yourself. However you can. The act of BEING creative is all she really cares about.

We don’t have to be perfect in order to make art. We don’t have to cut that turkey out in just the right way. Skill and creativity are two radically different things. Technique and creativity are not even on the same street much less in the same house. You can be a creative person without having developed any expertise at all. You don’t need to follow any rules or even know what you are doing in order to make art or to create. You really don’t.

Please don’t make me say it again.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record in that I keep harping on this same topic over and over again. But the reason I keep yammering on about it is because it’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks that I see in my students around letting themselves live fully creative lives.

This whole issue of not being good enough to make art or to be creative is huge. The tyranny of technique is crippling for most people. Many of us have experienced some version of having been terrorized by well meaning but misguided art teachers more concerned with the preciousness of art supplies than they are with the precious contents of our creative souls.

So how about abusing some art supplies today? Get out your paints or your pastels, your glue sticks and your collage materials, and produce some art that would make your grade school teachers eyes bug out. Put on some music and risk being completely foolish by getting out of your chair and merrily moving that awkward old body of yours. Sit down at your computer or with a pen and paper and just start writing the worst, most trite and boring stuff imaginable.

The only pre-requisite is to let yourself have as much fun as possible. It’s important to be a gleeful abuser. Make those crayons squeal. Flail. Write very, very badly.

See how good that feels? The more you do this the harder it’s going to be to let yourself be shackled by the “doesn’t play well with others” perfection demon. And I GUARANTEE that no one will call the art police on you!


If you are looking for a great place to get total permission to abuse your art supplies to your hearts content I have a Painting From The Wild Heart weekend workshop coming up on November 13-15 in my wildly creative Oakland studio. For more info on that retreat click here.

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