Is being “creative” really all that?
Creativity is intelligence having fun. – Albert Einstein
This is a revised version from the original post dated 2017.
Selfishness & Creativity
Is creating art inherently selfish?
Is being a human inherently selfish?
And is the idea being selfish inherently good or bad?
Most people use the word selfish as a pejorative or negative term. But there’s actually an element of usefulness in being selfish. It doesn’t have to mean that you ignore the world in favour of a narcissistic viewpoint – although you probably can’t be an unselfish narcissist.
A certain amount of selfishness can be healthy. Even a downright good thing. It could be said that my planning a run during the hours my children are awake is a selfish act. And it is… at least on a certain level. But accounting for some “me” time – and acknowledging that my children don’t require my physical presence 24/7 – is not only selfish but necessary to my own quality of life. Never mind my sanity, and therefore that of my family.
I am overall a better person, mother and human if I get that run. Or whatever the selfish act is. So what about my creative outlets?
Several years after I first wrote this article, I came across a similar pondering by Caroline Zook of Wandering Aimfully, who says this:
We need to begin dismantling this idea of what it means to be selfish and reassemble it with the understanding that focusing on one’s self can actually be a very positive thing.Caroline Zook
The Creative Flow
The idea of the eccentric artist suffering away in a garret, or not engaging in society while under the influence of their muse, is in nearly every creative form. Writers, poets, painters; all have experienced that rush of intense creativity. You just KNOW that if you leave your typewriter, computer, notepad, easel, etc., you’ll lose your flow. And sometimes that flow doesn’t “flow” with clockwork consistency, and it can be frustrating and difficult to try to get back into it. It can be just as frustrating to be asked to put it aside for something else – like eating supper.
But really, how is this different from when you become entrenched in a task at work that requires your absolute focus? You know this has happened to you. You’re right in the middle of thinking your way through something, and you get interrupted. Maybe it was a well-intentioned interruption (what’s that? you brought me a macchiato and a side of cookie?) or your manager has a question (or worse, a complaint), or your kid has a demand for your attention. It can be so difficult to get back into that original mind-state after the distraction.
But isn’t that another form of selfishness? You need that time and focus to dedicate to your task.
You may prefer to think that creating lines of code couldn’t possibly be the same level of creative involvement as painting a masterpiece, or writing the next great Canadian novel. But I’m not so sure. In my own self-employed way, I can be equally engrossed in creating or fixing lines of code in a website as I can when I’m applying a tricky layer of media over another on a canvas. Regardless of what the action is, I need concentration and enough selfishness to ensure that I get the time and space to concentrate.
So can you create without selfishness? I doubt it. Unless there is a magical zen tube of limitless creativity and vision that you can just hook into at will (and maybe I just need to practice more meditation techniques) you have to engage in a certain amount of selfishness in order to engage your creative muscles. You have to be selfish with your time, your energy, your materials, your thoughts. All of those things are the tools you need to create out of your mind.
So what’s the takeaway here? Don’t worry so much about labels. Embrace a little selfishness. And read my post on Balance to try to make sure you don’t take it too far the other way!