What is Creativity?

Hi everyone, I hope you're well? Thank you so much for the lovely responses to my previous series of posts, there's quite a sense of relief at getting all those words and experiences out.

Having shared all about what I called my 'creative' life got me thinking - what actually is creativity? What does it mean? How can we define it?

My first port of call - like any good student - is a dictionary.

Here are a few that I found online:

Collins Dictionary says it is "creative ability; artistic or intellectual inventiveness".

Cambridge Dictionary gives "the ability to produce original and unusual ideas, or to make something new and imaginative".

Dictionary.com expands a little further: "the state or quality of being creative; the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns,relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms,methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination; the process by which one utilises creative ability".

Well that's all fine and dandy, but to be honest they feel a bit vague, and at the same time overly intellectual, academic, and like they should only apply to things that are going to win prestigious awards.

That's not how I see creativity. OK, yes, there are elements of these definitions that I agree with, but for me it goes much deeper.

If we follow the dictionary.com definition back a bit to the word roots, we uncover a bit more of the direction I'm headed. For 'creative' we get "resulting from originality of thought, expression", and the verb 'create' includes these definitions: "1. to cause to come into being, as something unique that would not naturally evolve or that is not made by ordinary processes. 2. to evolve from one's own thought or imagination, as a work of art or an invention."

The key parts here for me are of creativity resulting from (self) expression, and a unique evolution.

If I were to boil it right down to the essentials, I would define creativity simply as self-expression. 

Those traditional definitions talk about originality and imagining something new, but I take issue with this. Firstly, I believe there are very few truly original ideas left to be found in the world today, instead everything is an evolution and a development of what has gone before, taking inspiration from our experiences, our education, things we see or hear or read about, and our interpretations of those experiences. And secondly, every single person on the planet is ultimately unique (on whatever level you care to look), so any ideas or thoughts they have will also be absolutely unique to them, despite potential similarities to what others might have dreamed up or done before.

That means, I really believe that every single one of us has creativity within us, but that we will let it out in different ways. Creativity can be found everywhere, in everything, and it is our unique expressions that bring about those imaginative, inventive, and singular results.

Think about language for example - as I often do. Language has developed over thousands and thousands of years, and has taken inspiration from everything around us, has borrowed incessantly from other places, and has become something that everyone uses in a slightly different way. Think about words that are imitations of the sounds something makes in the natural world, or a description of its characteristics. How about the words we borrow from other world languages to describe something that we don't have a word for in our own language, but we understand the concept (hygge, anyone?). We might start out as a child learning by imitation from our parents, learning by rote in school, but eventually we get to a point where we can start mixing things up by ourselves. We choose the words that come out of our mouths, or through our pens. We choose the combinations for putting them together - yes, there are certain rules that tend to work better - but it's OK sometimes to flex or break those rules. We choose the words that best describe the feeling we are trying to express or evoke. This piece I'm writing now would be different if one of you wrote it, even if we'd discussed the content beforehand.

I could go on and on listing a multitude of ways that we as human beings express ourselves creatively, sharing our individual experiences and interpretations of our lives and the world around us, but here are just a few.

♥ The child who skips everywhere because they are just too excited to merely walk.

♥ The clothes you put on in the morning depending on your mood, or how you want to feel because of something you have to do that day.

♥ Trying out a different hair style or colour, or a new lipstick, just because you feel like a change.

♥ The meal you 'throw together' from what's left in the fridge because you haven't had time to go shopping this week.

♥ The words you write in a card to a friend to express your empathy for the hard time they are going through.

♥ The way you decorate your house for Christmas, or any other holiday or occasion throughout the year.

♥ The cushions you choose for your sofa, the sheets for your bed, the towels for your bathroom, the kitchen cupboards you build from reclaimed palettes, and every other choice you make in decorating your home.

♥ The photographs you take - perhaps it's somewhere you've been often, but every time the shots look a bit different, or it's somewhere new and you notice little details that others just walk past.

♥ The names you give your children.

♥ The gifts you choose for people because you've thought about what they would like and what you want them to think of you.

♥ The flowers you grow in your garden, or buy to have in your house, because you love the colours.

♥ The filing system you update in your office to make it easier for you and others to find what you need.

♥ The yarn you choose to knit a new jumper in, even though you're following someone else's pattern to the letter.

♥ Crossing to the other side of the road on your normal walk home because it will give you a different perspective on somewhere so familiar.

♥ The way you sing your favourite song out loud in the car when no-one else can hear you.

♥ The suggestion you make in a meeting at work that ends up saving money for the business, or making more money, or improves something for the benefit of your customers.

♥ The friend who always wears odd socks because it makes her smile every time she looks down at her feet.

♥ The essay you write that takes a new twist on an idea or theory that others have been talking about for decades, even centuries (even Einstein had to build on ideas and inspiration from elsewhere).

♥ The pen you choose to write in your journal, or the font you use in your emails.

Every single little thing that you do every single day that marks you out as utterly and completely, authentically and indefinably you.

So that was a few more than I originally intended, but you get the picture. I honestly believe that every one of us is a creative being, and that we just have to listen and feel what is right for us to express our true selves to the world. And actually, even if you make a few choices along the way that turn out to not feel right, that's OK too, because exploring and experimenting are part of the fun - and we've all got some regrettable hairstyles, wardrobe disasters or kitchen nightmares hidden in our pasts.

Creativity as a subject has been experiencing a bit of a buzz recently, and if you haven't already come across people like Elizabeth Gilbert then I urge you to seek out any of her work - books, podcasts, TED talks - because what she says is really powerful, and shares the same holistic, individualist and authenticity-driven view that I have talked about here.

But also, look out for those people within your community (real life or online) who are proudly wearing their creativity on their sleeve. They might be the ones making beautiful things to sell, or sharing stories of their worldwide travels, writing beautiful poetry, publishing a new cookbook, renovating an old house in their own style, bringing up children in a way that best suits their family.

Whatever it is, enjoy it, appreciate it, and don't be afraid to borrow ideas that you want to try in your own life, or to discard anything that you know would never work for you. Remember, anything goes. You don't have to radically change the future of the world in a single day, but you can let yourself express yourself in little ways with every choice you make, you can be inspired by others, and in turn inspire others to try different things, to develop existing ideas, and to let your true creative self shine.