Can you be creative and not artistic?

I have struggled with creativity my whole life.

That is a completely true statement, but it needs some clarification. All my life I was taught that creativity means artistic talent. Artists are creative. Poets, novelists, they are creative. Fashion designers and painters are in the club too. If an artistic person can go to Fill-In-The-Blank School of Art and Design and get a degree in it, then it is a creative pursuit and the pursuer is therefore creative.

On a good day, my stick figures are recognizable, though most people think a toddler drew me a picture and ask what it is. I tried to dancing once and onlookers assumed I was having a seizure and called 911. As for my painting skills, I can whitewash a fence, but that is as far as my ability goes. I have the pleasure of knowing a couple novelists as friends, as well as several ad-agency copywriters, and saying I’m not in their league is an understatement. I surround myself with creative people to bask in their greatness and glory, even though most of the time they give me a massive inferiority complex. I’m fairly certain anything “creative” I have ever done is either somewhat derivative or generally crap.

While people have used many words to describe me, complete jackass is not generally one of them. However, I noticed many times at the end of a day, that was a pretty apt description. I felt a deep, restless anger. It wasn’t me specifically that was angry — if you asked me what was wrong I wouldn’t be able to say, but it was something in me. Have you ever seen a cornered animal that isn’t scared, just angry and wants out, NOW? It was more like that.

Rather than ignore it or get pills for it, I tried to understand it. Over time, what I discovered was if I could look back on the day and say “I did that” or point to something that existed now that didn’t exist this morning, it was a good day. If I couldn’t, it was a bad day. Now mind you, this wasn’t purely work or career related. I could spend all day talking to reporters about a great new widget and line up a half dozen client interviews (in public relations, this would be considered killing it), but the reason I was happy was I cooked a great dinner from seemingly nothing in the refrigerator.

Distilling this down, I got very grouchy if I wasn’t creating things. Ultimately I left one company twice and eventually gave up a career for which I worked very hard and sacrificed much for success in that field. I left to pursue a vocation where I could point to something at the end of a day and say “that exists because of me.”

Imagine the shock of spending my entire life being told that I wasn’t creative (since it is generally considered synonymous with artistic), yet only feeling like myself when I was creating. I’ve been sitting with this concept for a while now and it’s still foreign. It would be a little like waking up to find out that you were a golden retriever and what you thought was your life was really just you dreaming about what it must like to be human. That’s pretty strange for someone without an artistic bone in my body. Now, at this point there are several of you reading this who are familiar with my photo and video work, and I hear what you are saying, but visual communications can be entered through either an artistic door or a technical door, and I went in through the latter.

But here is the big secret I learned and I’m pretty sure the entire industry of creatives, artists and art teachers doesn’t want you to know. Are you ready for this? I found it hiding in the dictionary:

cre•a•tive (krē-āˈtĭv)

  • adj.
  • Having the ability or power to create.

If you either make something or do things differently, you are creative. If something exists because of you, you are creative. If you find a new way to do something, you are creative. You don’t have to take my word for it either. I have never had an original thought in my life, but I pay attention and I can put the pieces together in new and different ways, and I can now see that this too is a type of creativity.

Not being entirely sure if everyone knew this but me, I shared this concept with several friends from several professional fields, none of which could be considered artistic, and it resonated with all of them, particularly this restlessness that grew from within when a creative endeavor was ignored. If you too feel that thing stirring inside, heed this small bit of advice: get excited and make things.

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