Staying An Artist When We Grow Up


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.