It seems appropriate to start the first newsletter of the new Creativity in Context website or really any endeavor with the question: Why? Why this? Why me? Why do I care? Why does it matter? The answers to these questions are the foundation, the essential ground that ambitions are built on; they’re questions to organize around, a practice of centering from intention (1). And so I want to start there, with naming why I care, why your creativity matters to me, and with the hope that you too will find the questions that drive you.
But first, a reminder that when I say creativity, I don’t just mean artistic practice or skill. The arts matter and dedication to an artistic practice can give you great insight into your creative process. But my definition of creativity is much more expansive: it is the everyday process of putting imagination to action, the daily choices we make that determine our lives. Which is the first touch point to why I care: I care that you have choice. I care that you have the creative power to choose how you want to live your life. And thus I also care about what keeps you from having choice, what stifles our ability, possibility or potential.
I end every newsletter with the signature “Living is a creative act” as a kind of mantra for why creativity matters. And like any mantra, its power comes from repetition. I originally got the phrase from Krista Tippett’s interview with the poet and theologian John O’Donohue, an interview I listen to every new year as a reminder of my why:
Krista Tippett: What do you mean when you write that everyone is an artist?
John O’Donohue: I mean that everyone is involved, whether they like it or not, in the construction of their world. So it’s never as given as it actually looks. You are always shaping it and building it….
Krista Tippett: I think what you are also saying is that just the act of living — of creating our lives, of growing, moving forward in time — is a creative act, that it’s a work of art to elevate, to ennoble — to give ennobling words to something we do.
John O’Donohue: Absolutely, it is a creative act, because the amazing thing…is that we have no idea what will land on the shoreline of morning tomorrow, so that we are always actively involved in receiving and shaping.(2) On Being with Krista Tippett, “John O’Donohue: The Inner Landscape of Beauty”
There is so much in this exchange that captures what I care about. The concept that we are actively constructing our world means that we are creating this world together. That things are not as given as they seem points to the need to question the box in order to think outside it. That words matter: when we see our lives as a creative process, we honor the depth and wisdom of our journey. And if we can’t guarantee the future then our creative practice must be responsive, relational and adaptive. But there is an important perspective missing from this quote, which brings me to another reason I care.
I care how we talk about creativity. When we don’t name the political or social forces that impact our creative choices, that actively work to repress our choice, we can blame ourselves for struggling. Yes we all construct our world but we live in a world that has been built by and for those in power. We feel like our choices are limited or we don’t have the resources to pursue our dreams because it was designed to be that way. My website is titled Creativity in Context because my central thesis is we must understand and validate the impact of systemic oppression in order to imagine new futures; the more we know our context, the more we can see where or how we can choose differently.
This is also why Creativity in Context’s mission is to envision a world where everyone has creative agency, which I define as an embodied belief in one’s ability to creatively respond to challenges. Mia Birdsong encapsulates this concept:
And thus no creativity. When I hear people say “I’m not creative” I hear internalized oppression. When we don’t believe in our capacity to manifest change, we give up our power. This is why your creativity matters to me. Every time you reach for your imagination, don’t accept the given constraints, respond to challenges in a new way, choose to act based on possibility instead of scarcity, you model what is possible for others. Creativity is how we open up more space in this world for all of us to unfold. Your creativity matters to me because my creativity needs you. The world we long for is only possible together.
Living is a creative act,
Everyday Creativity Tip
I learned the practice of centering on the why from the somatic coaching organization Strozzi Institute. The coaches would guide us to find our body’s center and then ask: what or who do I care about? Sometimes it took me a while to find my answer, but I also knew that this practice was about letting my answers emerge. They encouraged us to practice every day because it takes 300 repetitions for a new habit “to be in the muscles and 3,000 to be in the bones.” (4)
And so I encourage you to do the same. Ask yourself everyday: What or who do I care about? And see what emerges. The more we practice listening to and centering around our why, the more we will find alignment with what we most care about.
1. “When we begin to look at our own practices and then practice on purpose, the first thing we want to ask ourselves is: “What matters to me?” “What do I care about? “What am I committed to?” The answers to these questions become the guide for taking on new practices.” – Ng’ethe Maina and Staci K. Haines, “The Transformative Power Of Practice”, 2008
2. On Being with Krista Tippett, “John O’Donohue: The Inner Landscape of Beauty”, https://onbeing.org/programs/john-odonohue-the-inner-landscape-of-beauty-aug2017/
3. Mia Birdsong, How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community, p.42
4. Strozzi Institute, “Somatics, Trauma and Resilience Online 2020 course”, https://strozziinstitute.com/somatics-trauma-and-resilience-online/
Originally published February 7, 2021 on the Creativity in Context Blog by Evelyn Thorne.
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