When I searched for the #livelent hashtag today to see what creative things everyone had been doing, the first tweet I read was from someone who was finding the call to be creative a real challenge, and I wondered for a moment whether there might actually be a whole bunch of people for whom “being more creative” would feel far more challenging than many of the other challenges posed by the Love Life Live Lent actions.
And, I wondered, if that were the case, why? Why do so many people find the idea of being creative intimidating, or difficult?
Now, I consider myself to be a pretty creative person: I draw, I paint, I make things, I sing, I write music… none of them remarkably well, but but well enough for my own enjoyment and that of others (or so they tell me!) and well enough to be ‘useful’ as part of what I bring to priestly ministry here.
It pains me to hear so many people telling me that they are “not creative” or that they “can’t sing” or “can’t draw”. Especially if they shy away from having a go because they feel that others are “better”. Or if they’ve been told (as so many of us were at school) that they are no good at music, or drawing, or whatever it is, so they no longer have the confidence to try. If my own competence has ever prevented anyone from trying, then I repent of it here and now!
Because creativity isn’t about perfection, it’s about process. Someone quoted to me the other day (and I’ve no idea who originally said it) that “there is no such thing as a finished poem, only an abandoned poem.” In other words, works of art are not ever finished to perfection, but are merely taken as far as we can take them. How they are completed is very much up to the person who hears them or sees them. We may not take a brush to an Old Master, or tinker with the words of a Shakespeare play, but through our own hearing and looking, we help to continue the creative process that the painter or sculptor or writer began. There comes a moment when the artist or writer sets their work free, relinquishes control over it and lets it come of age, making its own way in the world, to be read, or studied, or glanced at, or peered at, or touched and examined and enjoyed or hated by anyone who chooses to engage with it.
That moment is a hard one. But it is one that all who create things share with our creator God, who, after all, made a universe not to keep under his own control, but to set free. What a risk. But, while the earth is still not “finished”, it has not, unlike in the quotation about the poem, been “abandoned”. God did not publish this world and then sit back, lamenting the way in which we have failed to understand his masterwork, and ruined his perfect artistry. Rather, the author has stepped back into the work of art time and time again, in smaller ways or in larger ways, shaping the creative process from within, and inviting us to do the same. God’s creativity is dynamic and participatory and collaborative, risky, and generous.
We may marvel at God’s creative power expressed in the beauty of a sunset, or a humming bird in flight, or sunlight on water. We may shake our head in amazement at the extraordinary risk of the Big Bang at the beginning of time, and the movement of tectonic plates shifting continents and oceans. But we may equally take issue with God’s chosen process for creating and recreating the world: can it be right that the same process that brought the shape of land and ocean into being and made it possible for life to flourish on this earth are also responsible for the devastating power of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and droughts?
How can our own creativity possibly mirror this, and would we want it to?
For me, and I speak of someone who others call “creative”, there is great comfort and consolation in the notion that what I make and write and draw do not have to be finished products. My least favourite moment in the booklets that I’ve written for publication is that moment (and I know there has to be one) when I say to the publisher, “here it is, it’s finished”. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the fact that a blog is inherently temporary, dynamic and provisional.
When I create, I create not for all time, but for this particular time. My hymns aren’t for posterity, they’re for now. My paintings aren’t for all time, they’re capturing a moment, and will last as long as people think they’re worth looking at. The soft toys I make for my children are not designed to last a lifetime, but to satisfy an urge to cuddle right now (the latest was a soft toy maggot made out of a sock, which, although well loved at the moment, will probably have a shortish shelf life, and that’s OK).
We may not all be creating things that are designed to last, but we genuinely can create things which are of the moment, which are about the process rather than the end product, which value the time and the emotional energy involved and stop short of judging what we have done against some external aesthetic criteria.
And if you’re still not convinced that what you make isn’t beautiful enough to be worthy of our creator God, have a good look at this. It’s a blobfish.