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First post in a new series on creativity: Feeling creativity-impaired

Lynne Baab • Friday June 12 2020

First post in a new series on creativity: Feeling creativity-impaired

I have felt creativity-impaired during the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, my husband Dave has been creating beautiful watercolor paintings hour after hour. My mother has been knitting for the first time in decades. My daughter-in-law and my granddaughter, cooped up in an 800-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn, New York, have been drawing, painting, and making a seemingly endless series of interesting things, such as woven bracelets, unbaked clay bowls, and paper from food scraps. Every time we zoom with them they have something creative to show us.

I just finished writing a long series of blog posts about coping strategies during the pandemic. Those posts were as much for me as for my readers. Until about 10 days ago, the pandemic for me was achingly grief-filled. Grief and creativity are pretty incompatible, at least for me.

In addition to the effect of the pandemic in occupying the parts of my mind that are sometimes creative, I tend to limit my thinking about what exactly creativity is. One definition I found online shows my problem. Creativity, this definition says, is the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. In the light of my husband’s light-filled paintings and the endless parade of art and crafts that my daughter-in-law and granddaughter engage in, I easily limit my perception of creativity to forms of visual arts.

I found lots of material online about creativity in other areas – much of it generated by the business world – such as creative thinking and creativity in communication skills, problem solving, breaking old thought patterns, making new connections, getting fresh perspectives, and finding multiple ways to solve problems. I like those ideas, but I have to say that for me, the grief of the pandemic shut down those forms of creativity as well.

A wonderful New York Times article lays out five theses about creativity. I found several of the theses quite thought provoking, and I want to explore them in the next few posts on this blog. I’ll start with one of them here.

Creativity, Eric Kaplan writes, can break your heart because so many creative endeavors can fail.

“If you knew ahead of time that the thing you were making would work, you wouldn’t be engaged in creativity. And when it doesn’t work, it breaks your heart. You look like a fool; what’s worse, you feel like a fool. It’s very embarrassing. But you can’t get the joy of creativity without risking pain and failure.” [1]

Risking pain and failure was not encouraged in my family of origin. I was expected to do well at everything. In my early adult life, I met a business owner who talked about all the small business endeavors he set up as a child. Every time one of them failed, his mother baked him a cake. “Just think of what you learned this time,” she exulted as she served him cake. His story took my breath away. The idea had never crossed my mind that someone might celebrate failure as a learning experience.

I think the Christian community doesn’t do a lot to encourage the kind of experimentation that might result in failure – and learning. Have you ever heard a sermon or attended a Bible study on experimentation and failure as blessings that teach us significant lessons? This week I encourage you to experiment with something, anything, that you have previously avoided because of fear of failure. I’m going to do the same.

Creator God, in your mercy, lighten our hearts. Help us approach our daily lives with a spirit of experimentation and creativity.

(Next week: more about creativity and failure. Illustration: one of Dave Baab’s many paintings from this pandemic time, Lake Washington from a park near our home. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to get an email when I post on this blog.)

Here’s the entire series I called “Spiritual diary of self-isolation,” then later “Spiritual diary of sheltering in place,” focused on lifelines:

[1] Eric Kaplan, “Five Theses on Creativity,” The New York Times, May 29, 2020.

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