I like to make things. I like to customise clothes so I don’t show up wearing the same thing as anyone else. I like to create wall art so when someone says, “That’s a nice picture,” I can reply smugly with “Thanks, I made it myself.” I bake partly for the love of cake, but largely so I can show off at any birthday party or just in the office to make people like me more. Rightly or wrongly, there’s always a purpose or end goal to our creative pursuits – but when was the last time you ever made or did anything just for fun?
It always starts out so well: a special occasion arises, inspiration strikes, and I stride confidently into my kitchen ready to whip up a Prosecco cake in the shape of an actual bottle of Prosecco, a Mary Berry death-by-chocolate cake or, my personal favourite, a 3D-dragon lemon sponge. But somewhere along the way, something goes wrong; the neck of the bottle of Prosecco cake ends up looking like a very private part of Homer Simpson; there’s too much liquid in the chocolate cake and the mixture drips out of the bottom of the tin before I can get it in the oven; the icing on the dragon goes too pink and starts melting and your sibling – for whom you’ve spent six hours baking – asks, “Why did you make me a lobster cake?” You wanted to impress, but somehow you find yourself having a minor breakdown on your kitchen floor, covered in flour and listening to Adele as you wonder, “Why do I do this to myself?”
But I know exactly why I do this to myself; I care way more about the end product than the joy of the process. I got into baking just because I like cake and baking is fun, but now I only really do it if there’s an event to which I must bring cake. I used to love writing just because I liked making up worlds and characters, but then I based my degree and my career around it and writing has become just another job on the to-do list. I wear my creativity as a badge of my identity; a sign to the world that I’m cool and different and really good at stuff. I rarely make or do anything just for me; my creativity has to be seen to be believed. But when you always make something for something, when you’re worrying that other people are going to see this, the joy of creation can be lost in the stress of the finished product.
And the lack of need of a finished product can stop you getting creative in the first place. When I’m stressed or worn down from days of doing admin and laundry and other productive things, I find myself with itchy fingers. I can feel my extremities wiggle and tap away, crying out for something creative to do – but I don’t do it because I don’t have a “reason”. It isn’t someone’s birthday so there’s no need to make a cake. There’s no point writing that novel because it will never get published anyway. My body is genuinely crying out to me that it needs to do something creative, but still I ignore the impulse because it’s not “productive” enough.
A few weeks ago, at my Grandpa’s birthday lunch, my nine-year-old niece left the table to go put on some lipstick she’d found in her bag. It was just a cheapie from Claire’s Accessories, but Maisey looked great (frankly, she looked better than I did on the occasion). But then she started playing around with it. She drew lines on her arm and smudged them so she could tell her mum, “Look, I’m bleeding.” She ended up with lipstick everywhere. She went from an elegant, finished look to a bit of a mess – and I’ve never been so inspired by a nine-year-old in all my life.
Maisey didn’t care about looking perfect or making things pretty; she was interested in the fun of playing with lipstick, she was all about the creativity and the experimentation rather than the end result. We were in a public place, her complete mess of a creative experiment was there for all to see, but she couldn’t care less what anyone thought. It was all about the journey, the learning process, about doing something imaginative just to see what would happen.
Because that’s what you do as a kid; you make things, you imagine, you experiment and you play. But somewhere along the way we forget we’re creative. We forget that there’s joy to be found in mixing things up and trying something new, even if it goes horribly wrong. But the point is that you made it, you did it, and I really believe the journey of creativity is the thing which piques God’s interest, rather than the thing you end up with. When you’re a kid, no matter how it turns out, your long-suffering family still sit and watch your fashion show or put your picture on the fridge – they’re just happy that you’re proud of this thing you’ve done (and that you were kept busy and quiet for a few hours!)
So be a kid again; make something new for no reason other than to simply make it. Knit an ugly scarf, make a terrible racket on the guitar or do a self-portrait that looks nothing like you. It’s messy, it’s not pretty and it didn’t turn out you expected but that’s not just creativity – that’s life.
And I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather life be fun than perfect.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti