creativity is not a stop-gap

mixed media painting by mkbartstudio - click image for more info

Artists get a bad rap. They’re impractical, out-of-touch, self-absorbed, or radical. They rely on beauty instead of cash.

Of course, that’s a stereotype. A bad one but one that has persisted over time in the modern age. When we think of practical people and artists, they’re often on opposite sides of a deep chasm.

Artists are “starving” because there’s a gap between relying on radical notions of beauty & purpose to put food on the table and finding the practical solutions to every day problems. Or is there?

art & faith are not so different

When I studied religion in college, I became obsessed with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pacifist Protestant theologian who worked on a plot to assassinate Hitler for which he was later hung – yes, he’s fascinating. Bonhoeffer had an idea that people used God as a stop-gap:

…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.

God is an idea that we cling to in order to fill in the blanks of our own understanding.

We don’t need God until we are presented with a reason to need God. When someone we love dies unexpectedly, when we want to get a good grade on a test, when we want to explain the genesis of the universe…

Instead, Bonhoeffer posited that we need to look at the very practical – and often frightening – demands that God places on believers in everyday life.

From this belief, he was able to justify his part in the assassination attempt. Seeing no feasible means of passive resistance, he chose to plot murder instead of remaining silent. Innocent lives deserved swift & decisive action.

Have I lost you yet?

Many [unsuccessful] creative people look upon their greatest strength in much the same way.

We fall back on our creativity as a stop gap.

We make demands on it only when we need it. We make demands on it instead of allowing it to demand action of us. Your creativity deserves more than to be relegated to the hobby room or crafting corner. It is something with practical applications to your daily life.

As artists, it’s easy to draw a strict line between what we have to do and what we are called to do. It’s easy to view responsibilities as negatives, as detractors from a greater vision.

It’s much harder to see the practical as a means to the artistic.

Creativity is not a stop-gap between the your practical & impractical sides. It can’t fill in a whole. No, creativity is the stuff that ties these two things together. It laces through your big ideas and binds those to practical solutions.

Creativity is what allows us to bring the two sides closer together – not bridge the gap.

Just as Bonhoeffer sought to engage God in the everyday, creativity can be engaged in everything we do.

Creativity is a way of being in the world, looking at problems, and nurturing relationships.

Your creativity deserves the adulation of your actions and honor of your thoughts.

Your creativity is not something to be called upon in your deepest struggles or relied upon for answers to woo-woo questions about your “authentic self.”

There is freedom in recognizing the power of creative thinking. Finding the art in the everyday is a very practical way of being in the world.

26 thoughts on “creativity is not a stop-gap

  1. What an interesting post to get me thinking this morning. I am at a point in my work where there are a lot of the more mundane task to do. How can I bring my creative mind and passion to these? I love the parallel between God and creativity as stop gaps. That is creative! I do like the way you think Tara.

  2. Wow.

    “It laces through your big ideas and binds those to practical solutions.”

    I like to think of creativity as chi (or qi). As in the chinese culture, chi used in many applications (religion, philosophical, physical). They say chi is all around us, and I like to think creativity is always around me. It’s there and what I need to do is harness it and put it to use.

    Love this post Tara!

    1. oh oh oh!! Love how you compared it to qi. I’m not nearly as well versed in Eastern traditions but I totally agree with your comparison and you’ve given me some great food for thought as I wrap up the week!

      Thanks, Diane!

  3. wow, oh wow! I am speechless! It does get me thinking on how I do what I do. considering we are in the midst of a blizzard, it was my creative thinking, God-given creative thinking that provided the knowledge of filling up empty pots, pail & tote with water last night in the event we lost power.

    It’s the creative thinking that I use, much more often than I give myself credit for, when I’m determining what to create for dinner, how to set up my craft room, how to make things work in our home that can sometimes seem too small and without a pleasure of financial overflow!

    Very interesting parallel! I LOVE IT!

  4. For some reason this reminds me a little of an interview I was reading with Vivienne Westwood in Lula Magazine yesterday. She was talking about how growing up, everyone around her, parents and teachers, seemed to be sort of in awe of her creativity but she didn’t seem to think it was anything extraordinary, it was just sort of expressing her way of seeing the world. I think a lot of the most artistic people are that way – they don’t really see themselves as very creative, even though to everyone else they are stunningly so. They often undervalue their own work, because they know there is so much left to be done, so much left to do and create, and get out of their heads and into reality. And I think the opposite is true too. People who go about proclaiming to the world how great and brilliant they are, whether in a creative or scientific field, tend to be not nearly as brilliant as those who know how much left there is to be done.

    1. “They often undervalue their own work, because they know there is so much left to be done, so much left to do and create, and get out of their heads and into reality.”

      This is so true – and I think it’s what Tara and a lot of others are encouraging artists NOT to do. Yes, our creativity is our bread and butter, and it exists not only in the artwork but seeps into all areas of our lives. But at the same time we must recognize that every one of us possesses an extraordinary vision, and there’s enormous value in our unique creations (and so we should charge appropriate prices for our work!).

  5. ‘Your creativity is not something to be called upon in your deepest struggles or relied upon for answers to woo-woo questions about your “authentic self.”’

    Yes! I abhor that the word creativity has to mean dreamcatchers and art journals. There’s nothing wrong with either, but creativity is not fluffy. It’s a formidable tool. People misunderstand and devalue it.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  6. I have been working on my graduate thesis (which has been about the effects of yoga and art-making have on the creative process) these last few days and have settled on this idea (which I think is another way of talking about what you are talking about in this post!):

    the process of creativity is a co-creation.
    there is me and then there is the creative aspect (like the chi that Diane mentions) which I like to define in yogic terms: the shakti, the creative principle, the electric, current of creative energy. It’s a partnership between me and shakti (which we all have streaming through us) and to have a healthy, positive relationship with her, I have to engage with her the same way that I would to create any other healthy, positive relationship. With respect, reverence, honor, loyalty, honesty and daily interaction.

  7. As always: you hit the bull’s eye!
    While reading this post I was struck by similarities: For me creativity is not a matter of choice, it is not something I pull out of a worn old bag of tricks; it is the energy that flows through me, sometimes more sometimes less. It is always there.

    We are all born creative, we all have the ability to see possibilities, we are all born with power to see, feel and communicate. Some however, (for any number of reasons)choose not to see, instead they live as captives of fear; fearing they are not good enough; fearing they might not do it “right”, fearing that others will deride them. In many cases it is these creatively fearful souls who are threatened by those who chose not to be fearful.

  8. Thanks for this post, Tara!

    First: because you “had me” with Dietrich Bonhoeffer — a complicated man, brilliant, passionate, scholar, pastor, teacher, preacher, writer, poet — and conspirator. I have been fascinated by his life since I was a teenager, and discovering his poems and hymn much, much later (along with his love letters to his fiance) has added even more depth to my interest.

    Second: because I’m a poet — at least, sometimes! But I’m also a woman who sews and knits and finds satisfaction, joy and peace of mind and heart in working with fibers, textures and colors…almost as much as I delight in creating with words, sounds and silences. Creativity is NOT a stop-gap, as you say: it is, I think, as necessary as breath. In the spiritual tradition that I have inherited and practice, human beings were created iun the image of the Creator, and became “living souls” when the Creator gave them the Breath of Life, the Breath of Spirit, the Creator’s own Breath…so, keep breathing…and keep on creating!

    Thanks — I really like your blog, and I especially resonated with this post! (and alot of the comments from other readers, too!)

  9. I think I first heard him talk about that concept on Speaking of Faith and it resonated with me. I love how you compared it to creativity. I think I’ve definitely seen that in my life and I’ve been trying to change that. I think comparing these two similar ideas will help me to do that (especially since I work in a religious environment!).

    Thank you.

  10. yum. eating this up.

    ironically, or not, i picked up the artist’s way to read (yet again) a tiny section last night. this post extends her thought process.

    i like the qi comparison as well. it takes the pressure off…eases up the “when am i going to find time to be creative?” questioning.

  11. Finding the art in the everyday is a very practical way of being in the world.

    Oh. That’s what I’m supposed to be doing. I get it now. Seriously…I missed that lesson somewhere along the line. And I can start doing that right now. It’s a way for me to take action right away.

    Thank you for posting this today. I needed it.

  12. This idea is something I have been trying to get across to people for awhile. You have said it much better/clearer than I ever have, I think.

    Creativity is someways has become something separate, when it needs to be fully integrated into our lives. The same creativity you use to make your art/craft is the same creativity you use to solve problems and figure out the stuff of your life.

  13. I really appreciate this article and especially your comparison between God and creativity being used as stop gaps. Since beginning college I feel like this is something I am constantly being told is not at all practical. It’s only in the past year through a “Fine, then I’ll prove it to you” attitude and positive results that those I know have started to get it.

    Thank you so much!

  14. Jesus Christ. (Ironic, that’s the first thought that came to mind when I finished reading this post :P)

    SO good. Taking a stand for creativity as a means to life, everyday life! I couldn’t POSSIBLY agree more. People (artists included) need to take note: Art is NOT just a thing that is made + experienced, it’s a MEDIUM for your creativity! And that creativity, in turn, is a MEDIUM for living! This is not always a popular view, especially among those who love art for art’s sake, but I stand staunchly by my views that our creativity ultimately feeds our humanity, and what could matter more?

    Am also super impressed with how you brought this into the practical-impractical realm, Tara. Not to mention your STELLAR writing. You’re an inspiration.

  15. There is a creative aspect to virtually everything we do, we are creative beings & a flow of creativity surrounds us. It’s sad that we don’t always recognize this & compartmentalize creativity, making it specific instead of all encompassing (artists are creative, engineers are not, etc.). I, like you used to work in a big box bookstore & every year we had an evaluation that in part, measured our creativity, but they never really measured creativity, creative problem solving, for instance, was not a part of their definition. Mainly, you were thought of as scoring high creatively if you did a lot of displays & endcaps, a very narrow & in our society, ordinary way to define creativity (also, since not everybody did this, only the people who did many displays could possibly score high, by this definition). This is just one example of how we are taught to define creativity very narrowly & ignore the creativity that is all around us. Such an excellent (& creative) article, thank you!

  16. This is such a thought provoking post. I can relate on both ends. I use God and creativity as stop-gaps. I think that is because they are both so connected for me. I can not seem to have one without the other. The thing is I know that having a practicing faith and a practicing creativity are good for me but sometimes I don’t make the effort.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *