The Gift

Here’s an interesting topic for discussion: what is creativity? And, more importantly, where does creativity come from?

For the sake of this discussion, I’ll clarify that I mean “artistic creativity.” There are many forms of creativity in the world, and they manifest in different ways. Being able to think fast and in complex ways is a form of creativity. Being able to make plants grow is a form of creativity. Having a knack for certain pursuits that aren’t necessarily artistic but provide a service to the world is a kind of creativity. But, for right now I’m talking about the kind most people reading this post are familiar with–be it writing, painting, singing, dancing, acting, or photography (to name a few), I’m talking about the ‘entertainment’ creativities, if they can be called that.

First of all, from where does the artistic drive spring? All humans are driven to create things, if even in small ways. Just decorating your home or putting on makeup and doing your hair is an expression of creativity. We like to show off our inner selves for others, and we also like to make things for the world to enjoy or use. Probably because we’re reproductive creatures biologically, we also tend to reproduce with our minds.

But where does the ability–and mostly, the desire–to write, paint, draw, or sing come from? Is it learned? Are we born with it? Of course, studies will probably show you that growing up in a nurturing environment that supports and encourages creative pursuits will have better results. However, this detail is far from necessary. There are plenty of creative people who had no support growing up, who did their own thing because they felt driven and didn’t need, or want, anyone’s approval–or, they may have followed their dreams despite others disapproval. So it’s not entirely accurate to say that one’s environment is an indicator of creative success.

So, are we born with it?

A lot of creative people feel they have a gift, and by that, they don’t mean in some holier-than-thou, I’m-better-than-you sort of way. They often feel this gift is a great and fragile blessing, and they have a terrible anxiety not to screw it up or fritter it away. There’s tension that comes with getting this gift, and that’s the implication behind it that in receiving it, you’re expected to do something with it. If not, you get labeled with those two awful words that no creative person ever wants to hear: wasted talent.

To complicate things further, one can ask if it’s something you’re born with, or it’s something that’s planted in you through outside forces (or a combination of the two), BUT how exactly is the method of creativity chosen? Why does one person sing and another draw? Why do I write but I couldn’t play a musical instrument to save my life? Still other people get a multitude of creative abilities but tend to prefer one over the others. Think of how many actors are also good musicians and vice-versa. What is this lottery we play, and how exactly do we end up with the numbers we get?

Biologically, I’m sure there’s identifiable ways creative people’s brains are wired and some amount of physiology accounts for leaning toward these pursuits. You could look it up and read all about it. Other people tend to think it’s some gift of the spirit, or something that comes from beyond us, something we can’t control, and it either hits you or it doesn’t. There’s a difference between ‘talent’ and ‘passion,’ though. I believe talent is something that can be learned, but passion is either there or it isn’t. Passion is what drives us to make our tiny, poorly-wrapped gift into something shining and magnificent, adorned in gold paper with a big silver bow. Without passion we never turn that gift into what it has the potential to be.

This post is mostly just rambling narrative, as I don’t have any answers for you. I wonder at this thing I’ve had all my life, this thing that makes me write, the thing that makes me go back to it again and again no matter how may disappointments or rejections I received. It’s part of me. It’s who I am. I would not be myself without this gift in my life, and I know that with my whole heart. Taking it away would fundamentally change who I am.

What do you think? Where do you think creativity comes from, and why?

4 comments

  1. There’s also the question: is creativity a symptom of mental illness? I’ve discussed this with friend of mine who has Tourette’s. He’s a writer, musician, artist… As an I… And we both wonder if we would still be those things if we didn’t have our brain goblins…

    I also wonder what drives someone to climb mountains, or be a dentist….

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  2. For me, any creativity I have in writing comes from a nurturing environment. My mother took my sister and I to the library every two weeks without fail for a stack of books. And we read them. And I kept reading all the time as I grew up. It wasn’t until years later as an adult that I decided to write something myself.

    I also enjoy fine arts and crafty things. I think if I spent more time on them, my skills would improve. But that’s just one case, one person. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone was born with a specific strength. I’m remembering the case of a five or six-year-old painter with autism whose unbelievably gorgeous paintings sell for large amounts of money.

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    1. I went to the library so much when I was younger too! I wonder if that nurtured me to write? I think it’s a combination of the two: I think we’re born with some inclinations, and others get fostered in us. It’s a very interesting thing to think about.

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