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Creation, Comparison and Freedom

Though in childhood we are all encouraged to create freely and without judgement, as we grow up and learn to worry about what other people think, fear creeps in and we become afraid of being the beginner and producing something that is of no value. Yet this fear is holding us back from the joy of creation and all of the mental health benefits that come with it.

I recently recommended a drawing class to a friend going through a difficult break up. The class is day-long, led by an artist, and is hosted in the V&A museum - such a gorgeous space. For me it was so immersive and peaceful – focusing intensely on a famous work of art like Michelangelo’s David and allowing yourself to be completely in flow – all of your attention on recreating the statue on your page. I found it a lovely way to be completely in the moment in beautiful settings and thought my friend would feel better for having done something creative. She reported back that she left halfway through the day in tears, feeling unsupported by the teacher and painfully embarrassed by the experience of showing her work to the other members of the group. The comparison between herself and others had stolen all of the joy from the experience for her.

I do empathise – you are putting yourself out there in these situations and she was already in a fragile emotional state. I just hadn’t seen this outcome coming. It says a lot about our attitude in society that if we haven’t done something great then we are humiliated even as a beginner. We can’t help comparing ourselves to others and we beat ourselves up for imperfection in a way that we would never extend outside of ourselves, even if their creative work was worse than ours. Yet when it comes to art, who is really to say what good is anyway?

I stopped being freely creative around the time of going to secondary school, and I’m only just really committing to carving out space to do this now – committing to occasional drawing or pottery classes – and I LOVE it. Through the pandemic it’s been tricky to really get into things and I’m the sort of personality that benefits from the set time and direction of a course which have generally been on hold. But I’m doing bits and pieces, and planning for a major course resurgence when we’re free.

Creativity is so good for the mind because it’s intrinsic in human nature. It doesn’t matter if we don’t achieve anything through it – we should enjoy the process and focus less on the result. It’s accessible to everyone in some form (even if just a pencil and paper) and it doesn’t generally harm the environment. Getting into a state of flow when you find a creative pursuit that suits you has been found to reduce anxiety, improve mood levels and reduces stress, which is good for our hearts. The success you feel (if you allow yourself to feel success rather than shame at what you create) helps release dopamine, the feel-good chemical which helps to keep you motivated. Partly depending on the activity you choose, there are a host of health benefits, with a particular impact on our mental well-being, which you can read more about in this Forbes article. Let’s not over-think creativity but instead just go for it: carve out half an hour from your TV time, pick anything that catches your eye, and create something in a judgement-free, journey-loving state of acceptance.


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