On Being a Creative Uncreative

A few years ago, I picked up my brushes again – after a very long sabbatical – and tried to get back into painting. (Little known fact: I started college as an art major but left the program after our instructor brought all the freshman art students to the horse arena; had us walk around in the muck for 20 minutes, got us back on the stands and congratulated us on making the world’s largest abstract painting. I thought there was a deep and profound message in there about horseshit and made my way to the admin building where I became a communications major. And the rest, dear reader, is all history…)

Anyway, what I found when I went back to that former love was that:

  • I still have a good eye (I think)
  • But my ability to translate what I’m seeing and thinking into my hands creating seems to have gone away.

I saw in my mind’s eye the colors, the perspective, the design, but I couldn’t get it onto canvas. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t creative. It was frustrating. I kept at it for almost a year before deciding there are better ways to entertain myself.


At this point, I would have been delighted to produce something as gorgeous as this

At this point, I would have been delighted to produce something as gorgeous as this

Part way through that year of trying, I thought that perhaps if I tried more graphic, abstract painting, I might have a breakthrough. But years of painting realistically totally blocked me from doing something so different. My abstract attempts were even worse than my realism – they were a profound embarrassment.

So. Fast forward seven years. In the past month, I’ve read an outstanding novel, We Were Liars (E. Lockhart), a fun fantasy ride, Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman), and an important, insightful book on life in the Mumbai slums, Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Katherine Boo). And I thought about my friends Greg Bardsley and Al Riske, both published writers of wild and crazy (Greg) and beautifully nuanced (Al) fiction, and  Molly Brandenburg, actress, writer and artist, who has combined her doodles and wit into thoroughly fun books.

So hey. Why can’t I do that? After all, writing is my one talent I don’t question, and I can be darn witty when the moment calls for it. (I once explained how a mundane health care spending account worked by starting off this way: “Bambi was a hooker with a heart of gold and a bad case of the clap. Fortunately, her pimp had arranged for his stable to take advantage of health care spending accounts…” Alas, this draft was not shared with my client, although I was sorely tempted.) And if you ever saw my doodle of Señor Sneeze, happily spraying snot all over the once-tempting breakfast buffet in Buenas Aires, you’d be flirting with a little snorting yourself…

But there’s more to being a creative than the occasional clever riff. It takes dedication, hard work, vision, persistence and passion to bring an idea to life. I take my hat off to Greg, Al, Molly, and all the rest of you who create works that entertain and uplift the rest of us.




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