Post-Childhood Creativity

There’s this loop playing on the plasma screens that abut all the elevators in my building.  In it, there’s a segment about a woman who’s written a book about bringing creativity back — the premise seems to be that we lose it once we leave childhood, and that the only way to get it back is to think like a child.

I taught a textile class last week where we talked about creativity, finding colors and building your own patterns to make something new.  And, in the course of that class,  the idea that we have to think like children in order to be creative came up.  By the end of the discussion, we all agreed it was bullshit.

This is an idea that’s been rolling around in my head for a while, and I’ve been thinking we do ourselves a disservice by thinking this way, because it’s limiting.  I agree that being creative sometimes involves suspending disbelief and believing the impossible is possible.  But, are children always better at that than adults?  I’m thinking here of the creativity evinced in the excuses I’ve heard for why people can’t come to work, for instance.  They are elaborate and filled with detail, and they are that way because we are constrained by the fact that, unlike children, we are empathetic and we know that other people are, too.  So, instead of saying a dinosaur broke into the house last night, wrecked the place, and stomped on the alarm clock, we say, “A transformer blew in my neighborhood and we are all without power and water.  I’ll be in asap.”

Those are both lies, to be sure, but in them, there is some creativity.  The point is that creativity for the sake of creativity is, I think, chaos.  Creative play is great when you’re a child and developing your understanding of the world and your place in it.  But is that imagination, or is that creativity?  I think it’s imagination, and we should for sure be about exercising our imaginations on the regular.  Creativity, though, requires more than thinking and acting like children.

I know quite a few children (I even really like some of them) and I have to say, though I think kids are great, they are the most self-centered, greedy beings I’ve ever met.  And it works for them for now.  That’s how they should be … for now.  Being childlike doesn’t mean you’re more creative than the next person in my opinion.  Because being childlike means you don’t appreciate the experience of wonder as a thing.  You just wonder.  Being childlike means you don’t seek to inspire others with your imagination, you just imagine.  That’s not being creative.

Maybe I’m putting too fine a point on it, but I’ve been inundated of late with emails about online and in person courses, and books designed to unleash my inner child so that I can be creative.  My inner child is a greedy asshole who wants to have a party thrown for me every day.  I’d rather find a sustainable and grown up way to be creative, because as an adult, I’m not concerned only with my own party, but the people I invite to come.

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