Reconnecting with creativity


I had a nice day today – mostly spent lying in bed, reading (a novel), and dozing off in between chapters. Only slightly thinking about work… ;) It’s the whole “we must have this done by Christmas” workload . Not that I am complaining!

In the afternoon, I got up and started a new painting. It has been a while. The canvases were piling up accusatively.

After laying down a cerulean blue wash, heavily watered down, I was caught by the jar of clean-up water (not shown in the photo). The water was just tinted with the palest of bright clear electric blue. A shaft of light was coming in from the doorway illuminating the said jar just so. And I was happy.

I am having this extended email conversation with a friend about reconnecting with creativity (hi S). After spending most of her life doing many different “real” jobs, she woke up to the fact that what made her happiest was working in a creative field. That was what made her feel whole and complete.

It is curious how as a society, we tend to denigrate and look down upon the creative* professions. If you work in, or are contemplating pursuing, a creative profession, you will know exactly what I mean:

“Graphic design is not a real job – you just sit around making pretty pictures.”

“You have a great brain; you should be studying law or medicine.”

“Industrial design is making pretty packaging isn’t it? Isn’t that like – um – art?”

“Interior design is a hobby for bored housewives who have a husband to support them.”

“You can’t be a writer or painter or performing artist! You’ll never make any money.”

We tend to look up to “real” professionals like lawyers, accountants, doctors, stock traders… We smile indulgently at people who tell us they are a singer, a painter, a fashion designer. Parents tell their children (with the best intentions of course) that getting a business degree is “more responsible” than one in the arts or design. “Do a real degree first, and when you have made a success at a real job, you can do a creative one [as a treat, a reward, a retirement]…”

Why is an MBA perceived to be of greater value, and more real, than qualifications in design or architecture? This is especially ironic given that businesses are crying out for new ideas, new thinking, and *gasp* innovation.

Yet we continue to value the “entrepreneur” with the waterfront property and the yacht. We continue to deny our creativity in lieu of salving away in a cubicle in a real job (filled with real stress and real disillusionment).

The true value of design to business is only just becoming clear to businesses. And I am talking about value beyond the design of products, packaging, brands, events and experiences. I am talking about the value of creative problem solving, of truly thinking outside of the cubicle.

So why aren’t more business people learning to get in touch with their creativity? I have come across those who insist to all and sundry that they are creative, and yet have minds locked tight by their insecurities and ego. Could the ongoing perception that the creative professions are somehow less “manly”, less “real” be part of the reason for this reticence?

Why aren’t more designers stepping up, or being invited to, sit in on strategy meetings beyond marketing, product development and advertising. Is it because the world still wants to box design withing a clear role? Is it because designers are not capable of thinking beyond the visual? Is it because at the end of the day, we still see creative activities as more past-time than profession?

And with the risk of repeating myself: Where are the innovative universities offering fusion course in design, creative thinking and business? Why are we still educating our children to colour inside the lines, and draw like photographs?

* I use creativity here in the colloquial sense, to refer to the design and the visual arts professions. Creativity is of course a fundamental part of being human and exists in both tangible and non-tangible ways across all human activity. We are all born creative; except many of us are educated out of that nasty tendency.


  1. Jim Girard said:

    designers and other creatives need to start their own business and convince others that the skills and insights they have will add to their bottom line and competitive position. I started Origin design 6 years ago and have grown the company because “business is creative”…after the “I’m a creative i don’t get no respect” pity party, your still in the same place. All life is a design problem. You are all you will be go on and be it!

  2. Howard said:

    Agree Jim. Creatives cry a lot. You don’t see people in other fields crying as much as creatives – that’s why I love your attitude.

  3. Sandra said:

    People in other professions may not cry a lot but they certainly enjoy a good whinge…….so does that equate to a good cry….I think it may do. I think there is a small percentage of people who truly enjoy what they do and are doing a job that fulfills them.

    To me being creative does not mean that you are bound to the realm of drawing pretty pictures or designing a funky chair etc. Creativity is something that doesn’t have boundaries.It is something that sets one apart from others. A scientist who find a particular enzyme or molecule from some bizarre plant or species is creative…..There is a vision and a belief that comes with being creative and we all have that.

    I guess it’s what you do with it that matters. There is intelligence in being creative…..a surgeon’s flair and precision is just as valid as a choreographer’s exquisite way of presenting an idea or story.

    For me it has been a long road to the realisation that I can allow myself to be creative and have a career at the same time. All too often family expectation etc can become the hurdle in one’s desire to be true to oneself. I have spent the last 12 years in a career where quick decisions meant the death or prolonged life of a person. Eventhough the rewards were great at times I did not have the opportunity to tap into the creative part of who I am……..I am glad to say that things area a changing and it feels good……….

  4. Progress update on a painting said:

    [...] for the hell of it, here’s what the painting I started then looks like [...]

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