All humans are creative beings, whether or not we were told this as kids or adults. We deserve to have creative experiences even if we don’t consider ourselves creative people. As a musician, I feel lucky and grateful that I get to make a career in a creative field. But even still, when something is your job, it can feel less creative and more like work. A method for paying rent.
As performers and students, we spend so much time on technique and learning solos and excerpts we “should” learn. We do have to think of creative ways of playing the music that we already know, but we often spend less time creating new music and more time echoing our teachers and peers.
Creation doesn’t have to be practical. Writing new music doesn’t have to be reserved for composers and improvising isn’t reserved for jazz musicians. I think many of us seek permission to pursue certain creative endeavors. We feel like we can’t improvise because we’ll be bad at it, or we don’t know how to start. You didn’t know how to play your instrument in fourth grade, but that didn’t stop you from joining band in fifth grade. Why is that so different now that you’re no longer a “child”? (Maybe more importantly, aren’t we all just older children?).
There are usually less rules than we think there are. We set mental rules for ourselves. We think because we’re classical musicians, we shouldn’t play jazz. We’re visual artists, so we shouldn’t learn an instrument. Or, art isn’t our “job,” so we don’t have time to learn a new language that we want to pursue, or learn how to knit, or pick up a guitar, or get better at photography. Even if something else is a priority to you, why does that mean you can’t add a new form of expression to your life?
When we make an art form our career, we demand a lot from ourselves. Understandably, we want to be experts at what we do, but sometimes, to a fault. If we’re more concerned with the product than the process, it can take away from our love of the art. If we are improving either to win a competition or for a teacher’s approval, how much are we playing for the artistic expression? If we are playing only the excerpts on audition lists, how much are we exploring music for the sake of exploration or expression or enjoyment or childhood wonderment? To what extent are you creating music out of discipline, and to what extent out of enthusiasm?
How creative are you being if your entire experience with your creative endeavor is academic and intellectual? What if you explored beyond what is required of you for school or your job? What if you explored different styles of music, transcribed songs you love, tried composing, bought a used guitar, made a bunch of weird sounds on Garage Band, or spent more time belting harmonies to the radio in the car? Maybe there’s a type of art that you haven’t let yourself explore, either because of time, money, or you don’t think you are good enough. Maybe you love poetry, or drawing, or cooking, or you want to learn a language, or wear clothes that actually express you. In what ways can you free yourself, no matter your occupation? Reconsider the effect it might have on your life to try it anyway. Take the leap.
Big leaps start with little steps, so let yourself be a beginner. If you’re learning to crochet, you’ll have to start with a bad pot holder before you can make an afghan. If you’re picking up piano again, your concept of music in your brain is going to be more advanced than the coordination of your fingers. If you’re learning to improvise, it’s just going to sound lame at first. You’re allowed to do things not-expertly. Accept being a beginner, or you’ll never become a master.
I have been reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for many months and it has been a great source of inspiration for me, especially during quarantine and since graduating. Cameron suggests her exercise called morning pages, or 3 pages of longhand writing every single morning. I usually don’t get to 3 pages, but I find this to be an extremely valuable method of self-discovery, both career and life-wise. I often find that I have thoughts that are stuck in my head that I don’t even process fully until I write them out, and it has been the most effective way to not only release creativity, but also realize the ways in which I want to live a creative life.
There is something so whimsical about childhood, about creating for the sake of creating, for not being jailed by deadlines and judgements. I encourage you to connect back to this whimsical state, give yourself permission to try something new, pick up something you used to love as a child, and let yourself play.