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Don't Think You Are Talented or Creative?

Updated on May 18, 2013

The Nature of Creativity

I have been pondering creativity and thinking about the many, many people who don’t believe they are talented or creative. I have been aware for years that most of my college students do not describe themselves at creative or talented (even though I think they most certainly are!).

When I ask them to mention someone who is talented, they respond by naming famous gymnasts, painters, singers, composers, athletes, authors, and sometimes successful businessmen or entrepreneurs.

We talk about creativity and talent a little bit and then I ask them to write a paragraph for me. I assure them that it will not be graded and that it is confidential. “Tell me what talents or creative abilities you have and then tell me which ones you would like to have.” Year after year, in class after class, the results are both depressing and very telling.


A Myriad of Talents and Abilities

A few students described themselves as talented, a couple of music majors, a young woman involved in gymnastics and drill team, a couple of guys who played varsity sports, one art major … and that was it. The great majority of the students described themselves as having no discernible talent and no creative outlet.

I always spend about twenty minutes of the next class period talking about creativity and the various kinds of talents and gifts – social, cultural, intra- and inter-personal and much more.

I tell them that there are no talent-less, gift-less, or un-creative people. So together we discuss those who write - poetry, screen plays, short stories, research papers, journalistic articles, sermons, fairy tales, Clear Directions (oh thank heavens!) for how to do something, protest letters, comforting and encouraging letters for the lonely and bereaved.

There are people who work in wood – carpenters who build chairs, tables, bookcases, desks, room dividers, decks, porches, houses, trellises, pergolas, bridges, walkways; those who work in stone - sculptors, stone masons, bricklayers, patio designers, those who build fireplaces and mantels.


Manual and Interpersonal Creativity

There are people who work with cloth, those who – quilt, embroider, knit, braid rugs, cross stitch, design and sew clothing, needle-work, a good tailor or a seamstress is an artist and can work miracles with clothing that is neither comfortable nor looks well.

People do amazing things with leather, rope, driftwood, tile, old jewelry, cast off clothing, dried leaves – flowers-vines, beads, baskets, flowers, calligraphy, fine soap and perfume-making, watercolors - oil paints-dyes, acrylic paints–chalks, curtains–tablecloths-wallpaper. Some people draw maps, build clocks, design dishware, and illustrate or bind books. Many create an oasis of beauty and fragrance as they nurture and husband gardens.

And there are the relationally oriented talents – perhaps the most important of all and often the most overlooked creative gift. It takes a special sensitivity, patience, and understanding to work well with animals, whether they are rabbits, pigeons, horses, dogs, cats, wolves, or dolphins. People who work with small children have amazing gifts of patience, sensitivity, and understanding.

People who devote themselves to geriatric care have my utmost respect and admiration. And there are counselors, big brothers, teachers, therapists, ministers, big sisters, healthcare workers who are selfless and devoted to the welfare of others – they operate out of a deep well of creativity and goodness.


I Simply Cannot Draw

We need to encourage people, young and old; we need to assist them in recognizing and valuing their own gifts. We need to praise their fledgling efforts to be artistic, to be creative. We must prepare them for the work, commitment, and practice that may support a gift or talent. We can help them comprehend the immense benefits and blessings which result from operating in one’s gift. We need to carefully and kindly guide them to their own personal epiphany…here is the siory of my personal epiphany.

“I simply cannot draw. I have no artistic talents. I have never been very creative.”

I cannot tell you how many times I repeated these phrases throughout my teens and twenties, but I said these sorts of things too often. Now I want to tell you a story, so be patient.

As the oldest daughter in a large, busy, noisy family, I was an early, inveterate, and constant reader. Of course both my parents encouraged me in this. My mother had a liberal arts degree and taught middle school English and was a passionate reader herself.

My father, an immigrant who spoke heavily accented and broken English was also an avid reader with wide-ranging interests. Language came easily to me and was my passion, so without ever discussing it, we all more or less agreed that my strengths tended toward scholastic activities and endeavors.


Everyone Else Can Draw!

On the other hand, I was surrounded by “typically artistic and creative” individuals. My father, two brothers, an aunt, two uncles, grandmother - painter, grandfather - sculptor - and all their various talents were manifested tangibly - you could see and admire the results of their creative expressions.

So I decided at a fairly young age that there were "talented and artistic” people and there were “intellectually sharp – scholastically oriented” people like myself. I didn't feel bad about it. I thought I was really good at lots of things, but no, I couldn't draw and I wasn’t artistic. I didn’t think about it much after the age of 12 or so, it was simply how things were.

I loved all kinds of art. I appreciated it. I grew up surrounded by it and so it makes perfect sense that I was attracted to and eventually married an artist. :) He was never able to give up his day job, but he was a good painter, ceramicist, and photographer.

My husband and I even took a ceramics course together in college; it was terribly sad -- his creations were so good and “seemingly” effortless, and although I enjoyed the course immensely, my little pots were amazingly juvenile and rather pathetic .... :)

The only thing in ceramics which I excelled at was mixing and matching the glazes you brush on the pots before they are fired a second time. I thoroughly enjoyed mixing colors, tones, and sheens on the ceramic pieces. ~~~ Shhhh. This could almost be a spoiler, but don't think about it too long or hard, just keep reading, please.


Passing Through the "Craftsy" Stage

As I said, I didn't feel bad about it or even think much about it at all; I was way too busy being a "scholar." I wasn't depressed or upset, I didn't feel bad about myself -- those sorts of abilities just weren't part of who I was, those talents and gifts belonged to to other people, just not me. Besides which, by then I had discovered I was a pretty good poet and a great essayist!

My sense of self was quite healthy and resilient, because of two very supportive and encouraging parents. So my self description went something like this, "I am a moral and intelligent person, a great student, a logical thinker, a compelling and persuasive writer. I have plenty of gifts and abilities, I just don't happen to be creative (drawing, painting)."

Over time, my understanding and definition of the word "creative" began to evolve. In my early thirties I became rather “craftsy” I designed pillows, made tablecloths and curtains, designed and pieced quilts, painted lamp shades, cross- stitched, made beaded necklaces, tried decoupage, made all sorts of unique Christmas tree ornaments -- a lot of things that had to do with texture and color and shading.

I even experimented with baking bread from scratch -- not so successful, except that to this day I can make a beautiful AND delicious loaf of braided Challah. However, I became quite the expert canner and for years my shelves were filled with jars of tomatoes, pickles, peaches, apple butter, green beans, applesauce, blueberry, apricot, and cherry preserves.

Surprisingly, I even sold preserves and crafts at local fairs and craft shows, and my jars of fruit preserves and butters disappeared into the cupboards of friends and family almost as quickly as I could make them. Still, in my mind those were simply practical, functional activities, unrelated to any artistic sensibilities or gifts. I was pleased and proud of my accomplishments, but I did not think of them as examples of creativity. I simply thought I was a hard worker.


As Simple as Framing a Picture

Then, while keeping house and raising three children, I went back to school for eight years to get a Master’s and Doctorate in History. That was the end of being “craftsy,” as I had little time for sleep, much less anything else. However, during that time I had an experience, the "epiphany" that I referred to earlier, that forever changed my understanding of creativity and the diverse ways in which it expresses itself through “all” of us.

Occasionally, I would accompany my husband to the little shop around the corner where he got his photographs framed (he occasionally sold paintings and photographs at local art shows). He picked out a frame and then started working with the shop employee to select a mat.

Somehow all the mats my husband selected looked so very wrong, they made his beautiful nature print seem all washed out, but after all he was “the artist.” I knew he planned to hang the framed print on a cream colored wall in our den. It just looked so very wrong, although I couldn’t have said exactly why the photograph, mat, and frame were not working together, I just knew something was not right.


Mixing and matching Colors

Finally, I suggested several alternative mat colors and textures, as diplomatically as I could. Then I even pulled a couple of different frames that would set off the print and look great against a cream background.

We mixed and matched and everything I selected, quite frankly, looked stunning; as the three of us kept experimenting with the color choices, my husband got more and more agitated. The employee and I wisely kept our peace and my husband decided to have it matted and framed using his original choices and that was the end of that. Or so I thought.....

You know the end of the story, don’t you? ~~~ You have figured it out already, right?

He hung the painting up and it looked terrible, washed out, insignificant, boring. I didn't say a word. Maintaining a peaceful home was more important that being right about framing a picture -- have you noticed that I still wasn't getting the incredibly obvious lesson from this experience?

The following day I walked into the den and he growled, literally growled, “I hate that frame and mat, they do nothing for my photograph! I should have gone with your suggestions, but you aren’t an artist! You don’t take pictures! You can't even paint!”

I was both amused and bemused. Of course, he took it back and had it re-matted and framed; it looked, quite simply, fabulous. That photograph with that mat, in that frame would stop people dead in their tracks when they walked into the room, and at first every one assumed it was done by some very artsy professional.

A family friend fell in love with the photograph, kept talking about the mat and frame, and asked if he could buy it. My husband quoted him a pretty steep price and the guy didn't hesitate for a second and whipped out his check book. This happened when dinosaurs still roamed the earth and before there were ATM's, debit cards, or cell phones; I am not exactly sure how we survived.


A Personal and Creative Epiphany

At long last, my Epiphany ~~~ After that experience, I finally grasped that there really are all kinds of creativity and talent. And that having one particular talent doesn’t mean you have all the others; my husband was a good landscape painter, a very good nature photographer, but the poor man had no color sense whatsoever.

Not having any “obvious talent” at drawing or painting, did not mean I wasn't creative. Although I have terrible fine motor control in my hands (I am a clumsy and poor typist even after thirty years of practice) I have, nevertheless, learned to utilize my sense of color and spatial design in many different ways.

Since my “creative epiphany” I have come to feel much closer to my Polish grandparents. Although, I always respected and admired their talent, I didn’t feel like I was related to them. I didn’t feel like I fit very well into such an intensely creative family. Now the family connections are clear and obvious to me. I imagine they were always obvious to them; I was the near-sighted one.

In fact, I have created several hubs to showcase their work – Wanda and Edmund Ast, if you care to take a look on my home page. I employed linguistic and lexical creativity, as well as color and spatial layout abilities to design hubs that hopefully, would honor my grandparents.

Of course I continue to talk to my children and grandchildren and students about creativity. What are your gifts? Perhaps one of them is helping other people discover and utilize their own talents and abilities. That in itself is a marvelous and creative gift. :)


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