With the Oscars coming up, I’m reminded of one of my favourite speeches by composer Michael Giacchino for (coincidentally) one of my favourite animation features, UP.
Of all the things he could have said, he spoke about the pervading myth/belief that doing something creative is a waste of time. Sure, we honour those at the top and authors are often on the receiving end of comments like, ‘Why don’t you write something like Harry Potter?’ Either your creativity wins you fame and fortune, or you’re wasting your time.
Since time immemorial, parents have been telling their kids to get a ‘real job’, so there’s nothing new there, but that doesn’t mean we have to discourage them from exploring their creative side. It’s all well and good plastering the fridge with abstract works of art in the early years, but what’s the real message from society when we try to carry this creative spirit forward in our lives? In an article I wrote for the Irish Times last year, I considered the impact of paying lip service to creativity.
When our children are very young, we teach them that they can be anything they want to be. Yet at some point, this wonderful sense of openness and opportunity changes. We ask them to pick courses that will lead to good job opportunities. We even have “feeder schools” for universities, which sound more like something out of a dystopian novel than an inclusive education system. The artistic talent you showed as a child is suddenly frowned upon as you edge ever closer to the first round of state exams. Facing into adulthood, we are told to put away childish things.
Yet, for so many of us, that hunger to create persists.
It doesn’t matter if we don’t go on to become Oscar-winning performers. Creativity leaks into everything, how you play with your kids, how you approach a project at work, your relationships. The ability to think creatively isn’t just a soundbyte for your CV, it’s a way of life that brings an element of playfulness and lateral thinking to everything you do. As children, we learn through play. Why does that have to stop when we get older?
One of the hardest parts about starting out as a writer is not giving up. We always hear the same rhetoric; there’s no money in it, it’s impossible to get published, you’re not good enough anyway. It’s really hard to persist with something when everyone and everything is telling you that it’s a waste of time and that it’ll never go anywhere. We are compared and compare ourselves with people who are at the pinnacle of their career and see our own efforts as falling miserably short of these standards. And yet, there are so many of us, persisting, creating. Why? For me, it was simple. It made me happy. No, not happy, fulfilled. It was a kind of compulsion. First, I wanted to see if I could do it. Then, I wanted to see if I could do it better.
My whole life I have been inspired by other peoples’ creative expression, in the movies I’ve watched, music I’ve listened to and books I’ve read. More recently I’ve been inspired by visual artists and sometimes I wonder what it is that they have given me, by pursuing their creative passions… And I suppose, at the end of the day, we’re sharing parts of ourselves and our experience of the world. When I see a beautiful painting that resonates with me, I can’t say exactly why it does, it just does. And it connects me to the artist, to humanity. It makes me feel like I belong.
That’s how important creativity is. I can only hope that my books make people feel something and I know every author is the same – when you get a review from a reader that says, ‘I loved that character’, or ‘The story really stayed with me’, it’s such a wonderful sense of connection. Then there is the sense of fulfillment, purpose and self-expression that I feel when I write – I know myself better through writing and painting. Making stuff gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the world. Of possibility. So I guess it depends on your definition of value and worth, but for me, creativity is most certainly not a waste of time. You need to give yourself permission to express who you are creatively, even if those around you do not.