The awe of human creativity

Every so often I look at things and my perspective steps back, familiarity retreats and I see with fresh appreciation of what they are and the connections between them.

Do you ever experience that?

Recently it’s happened at home as I realised the amount of human creativity embodied in the things around me.

I don’t have massive collections of stuff – moves between rented accommodation reinforce the value of being selective! – but on the other hand I have spent nearly 50 years being interested in lots of things, in times that were ready to indulge me.

Standing under the waterfall

I looked at the shelves of DVDs and CDs in the lounge, and felt the immense luck of living in an age when the talent and work of so many people can be funnelled through to us so easily and conveniently.

created things on a chair

Music that’s meant a lot, TV series that have kept me wondering what will happen next, even audio plays continuing the legacy of Doctor Who. The Lord of the Rings movies that I obsessed about for three years.

That whole cultural inheritance of writing and stories that’s available to us, from the epic of Gilgamesh to The Dresden Files. Some of them are on my bookshelves. As well as fiction, there are people writing about things, sharing their knowledge and ideas from mythology to online business.

I have shelves of tabletop roleplaying games, with their fictional settings, rule systems and artwork, and the deeper layers of writing and presenting it all to teach people how to create an experience. I can see it because I’ve done it. But if I look at an individual illustration, that’s magic I engage with at the surface.

My growing collection of boardgames too. Physical production has become easier, interest has mushroomed, and now there are so many new releases every month that it’s almost impossible to keep track as people around the world turn their ideas into cardboard.

Not to forget older forms of expression in art and craft. I was on holiday in Wales a few days ago, and spent some of the time – some of the wetter time! – in art galleries, looking at all the pretty things. A couple of small ones came home with me.

In a pottery gallery I was listening in on a conversation about the effects of different kiln types and fuels you can use, and the difference that makes to the way the finished pots look. Some of that is knowledge passed down, but a lot of it had come from the joy of experimentation.

And I think of my hidden supplies of art prints from the seafront at Brighton, things from artists at the local wildlife centre, and little objects from gift shops all round the country.

Not forgetting – how could I? – the vast repository of the internet, where this post will reside in company with millions of blogs and video libraries growing too fast to comprehend. All the dreams and effort of our brilliant monkey clan.

What’s the art of you?

So here’s a question. What are you adding to the mix?

This is absolutely not an excuse to beat yourself up. So if you were going to, stop.

If you can’t think of anything, make sure you’re being honest. There may be things that exist because of you that other people really value. Even if you’ve got used to them and think of them as ordinary.

If you have something inside you, why not let it out to take fledgling unsteady steps and see what happens? It might even be something you used to love in an earlier stage of your life story that you’ve set aside and papered over because it wasn’t convenient somehow. There are lots of stories like that, where people revisit something and wonder why they ever let it fall away.

And there isn’t forever. My mum, who died five years ago, I think could have been a children’s story writer if she and life had aligned differently. And of course that alignment and what went into it is complex, but I’m sorry that we never got to see it.

If you already use your skills to produce paintings or ceramics or glass work or novels or poetry or TV series or music or … please keep doing it!

But maybe your skills are around helping people reinvent themselves or instilling the seeds of creativity and happiness in young people. Maybe your art is human art, put on display in the world.

Creativity leads us upward

One of the big functions of creative work is helping people see outside their usual territory, and maybe shift to inhabit more of themselves.

It might be a glimpse of beauty, or a respite from wear and tear. Or a new insight, or an appreciation of what our fellow travellers have done, perhaps leading to a widened sense of what is possible and new vision and courage. We certainly can stand more of all those things.

And the wonder. Just the sense of wonder, that cracks open painted windows and lets the sea air in. The antidote to a great many toxins.


Things on a chair credits. Chair by Brown Dog. Scarf by Calzeat. Glass picture by Glass Relief. Drawing picture by Zorian. Avatar: the last airbender DVD. Doctor Who CD by Big Finish. Joe Jackson: Body and Soul. All Rolled Up gaming accessory. Port Royal card game. Large book by JRR Tolkien. Small book by T Gray!


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