Staying An Artist When We Grow Up

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NyanzaSunriseCreativity can be unpredictable and uncontrollable. At times creativity can seem like a stream that overflows, but there are seasons when the river is transformed into a path of dry sand.

Often when I sit down to write, I feel like I’m walking through a barren wilderness, trudging through hot sand. I feel parched. I draw from the well of my mind a colourless, empty void.

It is a painful process and I always have to fight against myself. I have to drag myself to the place where creative waters do flow. I often wonder if that place even exists inside me. But even through my bouts of self doubt, I know it does. I know it’s imprinted in my DNA because I was created in the image of God who is the ultimate creative genius.

It is the season in Uganda when flowers are blooming everywhere. On our way to work we drive through rows of African cherry blossoms, their pink petals scattered over the sidewalks. I learn a lot about seeds here, because my hubby James and I enjoy spending time in the garden planting vegetables and watching the plants flourish. Right now, we are learning how to grow Honduran beans in Ugandan soil. First we have to prepare the earth, and test the different environments to find the best place to nurture our seed. In my opinion, creativity is a lot like that. It flourishes in the right environment and with encouragement. It needs to be nurtured.

Sometimes the pace of life quickens and there’s barely time to look at the world with eyes of wonder and curiosity. We begin to see the scenery on our way to work as an unchanging landscape. Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”

I remember once when I was 12, I locked myself in my room and spent at least six hours painting a vase with sunflowers on a big white piece of poster board. Sunflowers have always been my favourite flower. I had already seen how different artists had transferred their beauty to a canvas and I wished to do the same. I almost tore through the poster board with my clumsy heavy brushstrokes, but my parents thought it was amazing and I had fun doing something different. My masterpiece wasn’t original, but it’s rare for us not to depend on other people’s ideas or foundations.

Most of what we create is a reflection of something that already exists. It still has some newness when it is filtered through our unique lens and our abilities. Creation is about the expression of our identity and experiences. Everything we create derives from an experience. Steve Jobs once said that creativity is just connecting experiences we’ve already had to synthesize something new.

When we create we show life through our perspective, we express how we feel the world. Sometimes in the process we find a common thread that unites us, because creation is also about connection. Through this intricate and complex world which He created, God often connects with us.

I feel God’s presence and love as I sit in the silence of the morning, sipping on a cup of freshly brewed mountain coffee, watching the pink and purple colours of the sky blending into each other. As I listen to the orchestra of birds and watch them performing summersaults with the backdrop of a magnificent sunrise, I can’t help but feel loved and inspired.

Often we fail to recognize creativity in ourselves or others because we’ve limited it to the arts. But I believe it’s present in the life of doctors who research and develop new techniques and procedures to save lives. It’s in the teacher who finds a different way of explaining a mathematical concept to a child who speaks a more kinetic language. It’s in the way a person turns a house into a home. It’s in the way Andre Villas Boas, the coach of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, will finally make this the year when Spurs finish above Arsenal. We all have the ability to reflect that image of our Creator through our own means and abilities. That seed is planted in all of us, and it’s waiting to be nurtured.

It’s easy give way to comparison, which is the enemy of creativity. It’s like weeds to a growing seedling. It strangles our creative process and stops us from seeing the world like children do–with curiosity, courage, and wonder. So when I’m wandering in the barren wilderness of my mind, and battling self-doubt, I need to remind myself to continue seeing the world through the eyes and heart of my inner child. Because when I do, there are no limits to my creativity. I do not worry about standards. I allow myself to colour outside the lines and create without fear.

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Stephanie Motz Skinner
believe in the power of storytelling. I’m a photographer and writer for Fakeleft. Together with my husband, we love sharing stories of courage, of strength in the face of adversity, of triumph and hope. I truly believe that by partnering with others who want to bring change and justice to our world, we can actually make a difference. I’m learning to walk in my nascent faith, but it’s not always easy. It’s an interesting journey. I am currently living in Montreal, Canada, but my heart is everywhere. I’m a proud Latina from Choluteca, Honduras. I wish I had a Latino accent. My favourite meal is dessert and my favourite sport is tanning. I blog at fakeleft.com and tweet at @stephmotz.
Stephanie Motz Skinner
Stephanie Motz Skinner

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Stephanie Motz Skinner
  • Bev Murrill

    Cool thoughts, Steph. I love that you pointed out that comparison is the enemy of creativity, strangling the creative process. So many people are crippled because they look sideways at the work others are doing and feel incapacitated, without realising that it’s our differences that make our work unique, not our sameness. This is a post that we should flag up for reading regularly… just so we don’t fall back into the trap. Thanks.

    • Stephanie

      Thanks Bev! I need that reminder myself sometimes (often). Thank you for your encouragement.

  • O, Stephy!

    THIS:

    “Often when I sit down to write, I feel like I’m walking through a barren wilderness, trudging through hot sand. I feel parched. I draw from the well of my mind a colourless, empty void.

    It is a painful process and I always have to fight against myself. I have to drag myself to the place where creative waters do flow.”

    I always ask myself if I’m supposed to feel like a wounded soldier trying to find cover in the middle of a firestorm when I write. Shouldn’t it come naturally to someone who writes month after month?

    Alas, it never does.

    Thank you for sharing your process and making me feel less crazy.

    SECOND THING:

    “It’s easy give way to comparison, which is the enemy of creativity… It strangles our creative process and stops us from seeing the world like children do–with curiosity, courage, and wonder.”

    So guilty of doing this. Sometimes it’s so subtle. I finish reading other peoples words and instead of feeling enlightened and fed, I feel anxious, irrelevant and disposable. What is that about?

    Good words my friend. Like Bev said, I need to bookmark this post and read it whenever the gremlins attack.

    Love you!!!
    Teen

    • Stephanie

      What is that about? I do the same thing. But as Bev said – we keep learning that different is good. I love your unique voice and perspective and I’m thankful for it! Thanks for reading, Teen. xox.

      • Bev Murrill

        What is it about? It’s about the last vestiges of hell trying to get us to devalue ourselves and our giftings, to destroy the pure genius of God’s calling on our little lives. Sometimes it works and hell cheers.

        But every time we write something like what you girls write regularly month after month, articles that cheer our hearts and turn our faces toward the Son, the hellish strategy to silence your voice decreases another tiny increment… and another… until eventually it turns its tail and shrinks back to … hell… where it belongs.

        I think (from the point of my advanced years… chuckle) that it’s such a bloomin’ waste of energy to continually second guess ourselves… in the end, you stop doing it because you’re too busy living life that you don’t have time to compare… but … it’s not an overnight process, more’s the pity!

  • abby

    Stephanie, This is exactly what I needed today (and frequently these days) – Thank you!!

  • Erin Wilson

    “Often we fail to recognize creativity in ourselves or others because we’ve limited it to the arts.” So many women I’ve talked to fail to see their own creativity. Breaks my heart. Old farm wives who raised a house-full of kids on no money at all, and yet think they aren’t creative. Young women who figured out how to manage full-time school + working + helping with younger siblings and still pulling down good grades?! Creativity! Thanks for ever widening the tent pegs, Stephanie.

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