Be More Creative: What Is Your Self Concept?

By Douglas Eby

"Anyone who says 'I don’t have a creative bone in my body' is seriously underestimating their skeleton. More to the point, they are drastically undervaluing their brain."
From article 10 Reasons Why We Struggle With Creativity by David DiSalvo [on Forbes.com] - author of What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite.

One reason for discounting our creative abilities is comparing ourselves to other people, especially well-known and successful artists. Myths about artists being "crazy" or "starving" may also influence how much we may be motivated to live a creative life.
Two examples of well-known artists: Dean Koontz has written multiple novels on the New York Times BestSeller List, and reportedly is a millionaire.

Lady Gaga has sold over 23 million albums and 64 million singles worldwide, and been awarded at least five Grammy Awards.

By the way, she was identified as gifted as a teen. ~~

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Movies can be a major source of images and ideas of what creative people are like. One of the influences on my concept of “artist” was Charlton Heston as Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy, 1965. He portrayed the artist as hardly a contemplative type - high passion, high drama, plenty of sturm and drang. But unlike that "type" of artist, many creative people are inner-directed and highly sensitive, often working quietly alone. From my post Agitation or Not – Eric Maisel on Calm and Creativity. Many artists create work to present a fuller and more authentic representation of themselves and other people than what appears in entertainment media.

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Artist, actress, musician and progressive Indigenous activist Laura Molina, as she identifies herself on her site, writes in her Artist's Statement: "I feel the need to assert my identity in the most militant way possible because otherwise, as an American, I am invisible. "In a culture where nothing happens until it happens on TV, I don't exist. She contnues, "As an educated, native-born, English-speaking, fifth generation Mexican-American and a feminist, there is almost no reflection of me in the movies or television, which is almost as bad as being stereotyped. "My paintings make my own statement that I am true to my emotions even if they are unpleasant ones like rage and obsession which may upset the viewer and I boldly declare that my passions, needs and desires are not pathological…" The photo is Molina working on "Amor Alien" - a painting used on her Twitter page. She has stopped producing visual artwork to write her first novel, 'The Red Moon'. See her site lauramolina.com. ~~

Do you compare yourself with other creative people, especially the "big names"?
Maybe you say things like: "I don't have their talent" or "They've been lucky" or "I can't paint."
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Really? Even some animals create “artwork” or at least something that may get called art. I’ve seen paintings in galleries that didn’t look much more sophisticated than this piece by an elephant “artist” - who even has an "agent" that sells their work. [The photo is from The Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project.] From post: Don’t you have to be an artist to be creative?

Of course, "fortunate circumstances," "timing" and "connections" can all influence creative achievement.

Author Betty Edwards asks, “Why do we assume that a rare and special ‘artistic’ talent is required for drawing? We don’t make that assumption about other kinds of abilities. “If you can catch a baseball, thread a needle, or hold a pencil and write your name, you can learn to draw skillfully, artistically, and creatively.” From her book Drawing on the Artist Within.

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Personal growth psychologist Abraham Maslow once commented:

“We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.”
You can read more about him in my post Abraham Maslow and Humanism – how to be self actualized.

This image is bird pins made of scrap wood, paint and metal, from the book The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts from the Japanese American Internment Camps 1942-1946.

Most of the people in the camps were not professional artists – they were doctors, dentists, farmers, shop owners, teachers. Yet they created a variety of furniture, sculpture, paintings and writings, performed skits and played music.

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Gloria Steinem pointed out in her book Revolution From Within: “Most art in the world does not have a capital ‘A,’ but is a way of turning everyday objects into personal expressions.” She also said that telling ourselves “I can’t write,” “I can’t paint” (or whatever) is really saying, “I can’t meet some outside standard. I’m not acceptable as I am.” [From my article Creating to be authentic, not perfect.]

Artists are depicted in movies and media in ways that often promote myths about what it takes to be a “real” singer, writer, actor, painter or other creator. One example is the movie “Art School Confidential” – source of this image. Buying in to the negative aspects of those depictions and myths – often subconsciously – can distort our sense of identity and limit what we think we can do creatively.
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Writer, poet, playwright and filmmaker Julia Cameron says she sometimes asks people to list ten traits they think artists have. She reports they say things like:

“Artists are broke” “Artists are crazy” “Artists are drug-addicted” and “Artists are drunk.”
Cameron asks, “Doesn’t this make you want to rush right out and become an artist? We have a mythology in America around creativity that’s very, very negative. “As a result, when young people tell their parents, ‘I’d love to be a writer,’ their parents respond, ‘Oh, darling, don’t you think you might need something to fall back on?’" She adds, “We’re also trained to believe that some people are born knowing they’re artists and that they are the ‘real’ artists, the ones who give us the 'Big C' creativity. “In other words, we have a mythology about artistry that tends to be very daunting.” [From Let Your Creativity Soar, By Mariette DiChristina, Scientific American Mind, June/July, 2008.]

Julia Cameron is author of “The Artist’s Way.”

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An example of this kind of perception of artists: actor Natalie Portman once admitted: “Sometimes I get scared that I’m not a creative person, because it seems creative people are really flaky…”

Don't you have to be crazy to be creative?
In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Elaine Aron PhD writes about some of the stereotypes of creative people, including this:

“It is part of the myth or archetype of the artist that any psychological help will destroy creativity by making the artist too normal.”
She continues, “But a highly sensitive artist in particular had better think deeply about the mythology surrounding the artist.

From post: You want to be an artist? Are you crazy? Musician Sting was asked about mental health as an artist (in the documentary All We Are Saying) and replied:

“Do I have to be in pain to write? I thought so, as most of my contemporaries did; you had to be the struggling artist, the tortured, painful, poetic wreck."

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He noted he had "tried that for a while, and to a certain extent it was successful. I was ‘The King of Pain’ after all. "I only know that people who are getting into this archetype of the tortured poet end up really torturing themselves to death. “And I’m thinking, well, I would just like to be happy,” he continues. “I’d like to do my work, and be a happy man." He added, "I’ve got enough memories of pain, of dysfunctional living, a reservoir to last me the rest of my life, so I don’t really need to manufacture that kind of life to be creative. See more in post: Pain and suffering and developing creativity. Related post: Creative People and Mental Health: Interview with Psychologist Cheryl Arutt.

Another aspect of self concept can be fraud feelings. Many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.

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One example is actor Emma Watson, who commented about its impact for her: “It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. “I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.” Even Meryl Streep has said, “I have varying degrees of confidence and self-loathing. “You can have a perfectly horrible day where you doubt your talent… Or that you’re boring and they’re going to find out that you don’t know what you’re doing.” Jonathan Safran Foer commented about his novel Everything Is Illuminated, which made The New York Times best-seller list:

“I can be very hard on myself. I convince myself that I’m fooling people. Or, I convince myself that people like the book for the wrong reasons.”
More in post: Getting beyond impostor feelings.

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Jessica Chastain - Being a highly sensitive person and a "loner" A GQ magazine (U.K.) article noted Jessica Chastain (acclaimed for her performances in “The Help” and in “Zero Dark Thirty”) “spent much of her life feeling like a fraud. “While studying theater at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School [she had earned a scholarship], the actress was terrified that she’d be exposed as a talentless hack and sent home.” “It’s really why I never partied with the other students,” says Chastain. “There was a bar called Malarkeys that almost everyone would go to. I probably went twice in three years. In fact, I’ve never really been wasted. I’m not a fun person.” In other interviews, Chastain has talked about her high sensitivity – a personality trait shared with many other talented actors and performers. “I was the girl who cut school to go to the park, and the other kids would be smoking and drinking and I’d be reading Shakespeare.” …

“I’m very sensitive in real life. I cannot not cry if someone around me is crying…even if it’s not appropriate. I have that thing in me, a weakness or sensitivity.”
From post: Jessica Chastain on being sensitive and a loner. This label of “weakness” is something many who are not a highly sensitive person (HSP) may judge about the personality trait – and also a self-critical label we may put on ourselves. But the personality trait of high sensitivity is definitely not a “weakness.”

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“Creative expression derives directly from the unique Self of the creator… "I believe the whole process is accompanied by a feeling of aliveness, of power, of capability, of enormous relief and of transcendence of the limits of our own body and soul. "The ‘unique self’ flows into the world outside. It is like giving birth.” Annemarie Roeper
[Quoted in the book The Gifted Adult by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PsyD.] [Art studio image from the site of Artizen Coaching - which has "Products for Your Creative Business and Life."]

“Photography, painting or poetry – those are just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating.”
- Actor, writer, photographer, musician, poet, publisher Viggo Mortensen From post: Multitalented creative people.

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For more on this broad topic of creativity and identity : See posts: Artists are Crazy; Mothers Can’t Be Artists, and Other Myths You want to be an artist? Are you crazy? Creative People and Mental Health: Interview with Psychologist Cheryl Arutt Getting beyond impostor feelings

Also see my book The Creative Mind: Identity and Confidence Kindle || Website with excerpts and other versions

Main site: Talent Development Resources

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