Creativity makes life joyful; community makes creativity possible
By Akcinya Kootchin
When I was young, creativity was a state of being. I loved art class, wrote short stories and danced. Yet as the years went on, I found myself dismissing my creativity. I didn’t think I was great at anything, so did I deserve to create anything at all?
However, as my creativity waned, I was simultaneously making these amazing friends, all of whom were undeniably creative. So, when in the midst of a pandemic, school, work and endless responsibilities, my once inescapable creativity now seemed unattainable — but I knew where to look for inspiration.
I don’t want to talk about creativity the way we do in school... What does creativity mean? How do you manage it? How do you make money? No disrespect; I am grateful for my education. But, what I want to know is how does creating make you feel like you’re alive? What inspires you? How do you move forward when it feels impossible? So I asked. And I’m going to tell you what I heard.
First, let me introduce you to some friends of mine. Julia (she/her) is a musician who also finds creativity in painting, cooking and hair & makeup. Ifiok (she/her) is a writer, a self-described “amateur” photographer and decorator. Imani (she/her) is a painter, curator, writer, graphic designer, and recently she took up dancing. Before you get imposter syndrome (like me), let’s remember that I’m trying to move outside the capitalistic narrative of creativity. All these titles after their names? They aren’t all things they do for profit, or even their primary mediums. They're for joy, release and play. Today, we’ll be giving them all equal weight as we discuss creativity.
What does creativity mean to you?
When asked to define creativity, everyone called it some version of their “authentic expression.” Imani talked about the importance of reflecting on your experiences and your culture. Julia spoke about rooting creativity in your authentic self. And Ifiok? Ifiok reminded me that maybe “creativity is not as complex as society makes it to be.” How was her laptop made? Redesigning her apartment? Dressing for the day? She sees creativity in all that. And that's important. Because if you see creativity that way, then there isn’t so much pressure on how you choose to express yourself.
When do you feel the most creative?
There’s this story Julia told me. One time, she was creating music, and was in a really good place. You know when you just feel like everything is flowing? When you can look up and suddenly five hours have gone by, and you’re better for it, and you’ve created something...
Everyone I talked to said they found they were most creative during that flow of time. But in this instance, Julia was flowing along, and then she hit a wall. She felt stuck. She realized that the sounds she was creating, and the direction the song was going in was new territory. She was scared to push herself. Because what would come out of her? What if it was a part of her she had never met before? But she took a breath and permitted herself to fail. And in doing so, she was able to push forward and create one of her favourite songs she’s ever written. It’s called No Warning, and will be on her debut album releasing in Summer 2022.
What inspires you?
Parents, strangers, friends, coworkers — inspiration has a human face. As a curator, Imani works to help increase the representation of Queer, Trans and BIPOC people in the arts industries. It is her community, and how her creativity can benefit her community, that inspires her.
Ifiok told me about her relationship with her dad — one of her biggest inspirations. Like any human relationship, she told me, theirs has gone through phases. And each phase of their relationship has inspired a new wave of creativity.
Julia told me that when she got bored of writing about her life, she turned outwards. She started going on intentional walks and observing the world around her. This inspired her to find new ways of storytelling. Like she told me, art is about capturing the human experience — not just her experience.
How do you sustain your creative practice?
Softly. Everyone I talked to sustains their creative practice with great care and self-compassion. They go for walks, they take breaks when they need to, they rest when they're tired. The women I spoke with showed great trust that their creativity would wait. And wait, apparently, it does...
Ifiok's solution to burnout is to take part in “little acts of creativity.” When she isn’t writing, she brings creativity into her life through journaling, organizing, or taking photos. Julia practises “showing up for her creativity.” Like Ifiok, if she doesn’t want to make music, that’s fine. Yet last summer, when she lost her inspiration, she filled up an entire sketchbook instead. When I asked Imani this question, she talked about self-care, and sustaining yourself beyond your practice. But what surprised me was so simple. She told me that she trusts that her ideas are good. It is through that self-trust that she gets out of her own way, and allows her creative self to practice.
How important is community to sustaining your creative practice?
Ifiok’s creativity primarily exists in her inner world. But for Julia and Imani, community is integral to their creative practice. For Julia, her stories revolve around how soliciting others’ feedback pushes and grows her music.
For Imani, community is “the most important thing.” She talked about how the curatorial and the creative world is rife with gatekeeping and creates barriers to access for many marginalized communities. Imani wants to “help break those barriers down and increase access to those spaces so that [communities are] represented within the art displayed in these spaces,” and so “people feel comfortable going into those spaces and engaging with the work, in a way that feels representative, or [that] they just feel comfortable, regardless of what’s being shown.” This goal is rooted in community. Imani also shared how being involved with activism and organizing in the city is inspiring. Particularly, seeing how activists and organizers connect with artistic practices. Like she told me — “everything is connected.”
What do you do when you feel unmotivated?
To summarize, when asked what they feel when they are unmotivated, their responses were very similar — cry, rest, spend time alone, talk to people, walk, run. You either do the work or you don’t. But regardless, you need to be kind to yourself and trust that the motivation will return when you (or it) is ready.
What are your thoughts on hustle culture?
I’m not going to lie — a vein of hypocrisy entered our conversations here. No one I talked to enjoys hustle culture. Imani talked about how capitalistic hustle culture drains people and degrades collaboration. Julia spoke about how she doesn’t believe that “art, acceptance, love, [or] play” exist in a rushed, standardized world. And yet, both of them were quick to admit they still fall into the trap of hustling. It was only Ifiok who could admit that she doesn’t overwork herself. Something, she says, she has grown to appreciate. Regardless, all our conversations on hustle culture boiled down to this idea that, yes, motivation and hard work are good, but is the framework that validates those traits one we should perpetuate?
My final thoughts
So now, it’s a cold Tuesday, and the sky is grey, and I am trying to summarize how I feel... I’d love to say that writing this provided me with divine inspiration, but that isn’t true. What happened was that writing this article proved I could write an article. While I sat, and asked insightful questions, and had deep conversations, I had already taken the most important step — I had started creating. And that’s what I would like to leave you with, reader. I would like to tell you (from the depths of my fears and insecurities) that all you need to do is start. Because I believe that anything — any misshapen, colour-clashing, discordant thing that we create — makes the world a warmer place. And if you get stuck, you can always remember this list of tips to nurture your creativity:
You are a creative person (believe in yourself)
Be curious and make a conscious effort to see the world as a beautiful place
Find the silver linings
Be compassionate (people are harsh on themselves even when they’re doing great work)
Let yourself learn and grow from bad situations
The little acts of creativity are just as important as the big ones
(Re)connect with yourself (remember what your inner child loved doing)
If your creativity feels stagnant, it’s because you’re not nurturing it
You are allowed to fail
This piece was published in New Wave's Spring 2022 Issue