My last post was about the importance of creativity, how it affects our mental health. Today, I want to dive in a little about why that's true from a slightly different perspective. The pastor at the church my family has started attending recently just finished a series on happiness. How we find happiness, the fact that it's about relationships not material stuff, etc. The last installment was about giving. He pointed out that studies show volunteering our time, helping others, giving of ourselves increases our level of happiness in ways nothing else does. Well, except creativity. He mentioned that, but didn't expand on it in his sermon, and I had to get my thoughts out on the topic.
First of all, creativity is a form of giving. We don't think of it that way most of the time. And I don't mean just giving away the products of our creativity. We all know that a hand-made item well-received as a gift makes us feel happy. I spent years painting these little holiday-themed plaster figurines and Christmas ornaments and giving them away to family members and friends. I loved seeing people light up at the sight of my creations, and I loved seeing those creations proudly displayed in their homes every year. It made me happy.
Now I sell most of my artwork--the artwork I don't keep for myself, of course. I generally expect payment for the work I do, and most of my friends and family won't allow me to give them my art because they want to support this endeavor. It's nice of them, and the money sure comes in handy, but the happiness comes from seeing how much people--friends, family, and total strangers--actually want to own my art. As I said in my Realm Makers Facebook group after attending the conference as an art vendor this summer, "I feel as though I put little pieces of my soul out, and you all wanted to take them home with you and nurture them."
That is why creativity is giving. Artists put pieces of themselves into their art, and each little piece goes with whoever buys the art. Even if no one buys it, the artist's soul remains in the artwork, forever removed. We can't regain it by destroying the work. Once we've put ourselves into the artwork, that's it. Yes, it can make some of our work hard to let go. Sometimes, it's impossible--the artwork is simply too personal, and not having it nearby would be too much. The paintings I did right after my son's death are an example. Those were a gift to myself in a way. Meant for me only. But my other artwork still draws from deep within, and each time I sell one of those paintings I have to say goodbye to a little part of myself.
But that's where the paradox is. We give away a part of ourselves, and somehow that makes our souls fuller. Just like giving our time to volunteer, just like giving our money to a good cause, just like helping out someone in need. The only difference is that most of the time with art we don't know where that little piece of ourselves is going to go. We paint or sculpt or photograph, we carve or draw or crochet, we write or compose or choreograph--we do anything to make something that wasn't there before, weaving part of ourselves into the finished product, and we are giving. Even if what you create never leaves your house, a piece of you has been released into the world around you.
So, don't think of it as being selfish when you insist on time to work on creative projects. Don't think of it as "taking time for yourself." Think of it as time spent giving, sharing pieces of yourself and making room for new growth so you are able to give even more.