The Artist’s Way

You don’t need to paint to call yourself creative

Woman&Home SA, September 2021

I was once Mother Goddess. Or, at the very least, I was channelling her. It was a one-person, one-night-only performance and I was an electric vessel in a state of afflatus, a powerful force of devastating wonder.

Pity then that I was on a stage in Bellville in an ultra-conservative, mostly Afrikaans high school.

It was the mid-90s and the closest we came to ‘Earth stuff’ was the ozone hole and Zap it in a Zibi Can. Anyway. It was the school’s annual Matric year-end variety show, featuring earnest guitar players and Laurika Rauch wannabes, and I was giving my Celtic heritage all the horns I had.

Adorned in only a sheer blue gown (I’d decided to wear nothing underneath it because who would know, right?) that glittered under the (searing, sweat-inducing) spotlight, I delivered to the packed auditorium of wide-eyed faces (in hindsight, ‘wonder’ and ‘incredulity’ can look alarmingly similar) an invocation that reached its magnificent crescendo with the damnation of humankind for denying their allegiance to her (hurrah!).

As my final cry soared to the heavens and my shuddering body fell to the ground, spent from the exhaustion of channelling such theatrical fury, the crowd … did nothing.

Utter silence.

I got up and stood for a moment, blinking out over the hall of those wide and incredulous eyes, waiting for something, anything, to happen. A lone clap from my parents perhaps, or a little woot of enthusiasm from my friends.

All I got was crick crick.

I walked off stage and that was that. No one ever spoke of it again.

Reader, do not pity me. My prefrontal cortex wouldn’t be fully developed for another seven years so it mostly just bounced off my feels like a rubber ball off tarmac. Besides, I’d done what I’d set out to do and, applause or no, in my mind I’d done something great and that was enough.

It’s a good thing I got that message early, because there were to be many more of these sorts of moments ahead of me. But it also inspired some reflection on why I create – and for whom (clearly not ovations) – and what being ‘a creative person’ means.

Somewhere along the line, most likely school, we were duped into believing that there are ‘creative types’ and ‘logical types’, ‘right brains’ versus ‘left brains’. That to be creative means to dress weird, be unhinged in some way, and present a body of work on a specific platform to be applauded, awarded and validated as ‘art’.

How limiting. How untrue.

To be human is to be creative. Your mere existence in the world was an act of creation and how you move through it an act of co-creation between you and whoever and whatever you encounter throughout your day.

Maybe you create messy relationships, maybe you create beautiful ones. Maybe you create a business, a meal, a solution to a mathematical problem, a child, a fantasy future that lives on your vision board, a scientific theory, a jersey, a home…

It reminds me of my grandmother, Edith. She was a Garlicks bookkeeper and that’s what she was known for at her place of work. But she also baked and cooked and crocheted and knitted; she sewed new clothes and patched old ones. Her garden was always full of flowers and her kitchen windowsill full of plant cuttings. No one would’ve called her an artist, she never received any applause, and yet my life is still full of her creative energy more than a decade after she died. (In fact, as I write this, I’m wearing a jersey she knitted me almost 20 years ago.)

Whether it’s fancy or not, whether it gets acclaim or not, we all create meaning for ourselves in whichever way suits our time here. Some people just spend their time specialising in specific forms of creative output and get really good at it and call themselves ‘painters’ or ‘writers’ or ‘actors’ or ‘musicians’.

But the creative impulse isn’t limited to the arts. Whether you can perform or produce a film are facts beside your ability to build the world around and within you. And everyone has effortless talent in that, applause or no.

So, brava! Consider this a woot from me to you on your excellent work so far.

This column was first published in Woman&Home SA.

(PS This piece was a giant pain in the butt to write. So it has its whole own addendum in the form of a blog post titled ‘Hand on the Wall’, in case you’re interested.)