Being Creative (When You Have Good Taste)

I get it. You have good taste. You’ve spent years cultivating an appreciation for jazz or poetry, sculpture or gastronomy, and you know what’s what. That’s great! And also, not so great. Because it’s getting in the way of your creativity.

Photo: CCAC North Library

Photo: CCAC North Library

It happens all the time. We make tentative moves in an artistic direction, such as sitting down to sketch or start that screenplay.  We’re secretly very excited, because we’ve had this idea for a long time. But then we step back to admire our work, and deem it garbage, because it’s nowhere near as good as what (insert person you admire) is doing.

We beat ourselves up for being untalented and boring. We tell ourselves that creativity isn’t that important after all. We’re adults. We’ve got bills to pay. It’s not going anywhere anyway.

When I teach piano or voice lessons, the adults are the students who struggle most. Not the five-year-olds whose feet don’t touch the pedals, or the thirteen-year-olds whose voices are changing. It’s the grown-ups. Hands down!

It’s tough for adults to get past the first few lessons. Their voices crack, their fingers stumble over “easy” piano pieces, and they get supremely frustrated. God forbid I make adults improvise on the piano! I tell kids to make up a song and they go nuts - tonality and time signature be damned! Adults look at me like I’m a crazy person, and they have to be tricked into improvising. (They love it, I promise.) Improvising or not, adults quickly feel embarrassed or defeated because they know what good music sounds like, and they believe they’re not making it. 

Good taste! Standards! BORING.

When you played as a kid, did you ever worry about what your action figure’s storyline said about your narrative voice? Did you ever wonder whether the placement of your stickers displayed your understanding of balance and harmony? I doubt it. You just followed your fancy and played.

But as adults we don’t let ourselves play. Instead we point, judge, and criticize. We save our harshest words for our own endeavors - if we start them at all. We wage internal battles to tamp down our creativity. I’ve been there. Sometimes I’m still there, because I’ve got good taste, too, FYI. But here’s what I have found helps:

When I sit down to create, my (boring) artistic standards are not invited to the party. When I’m creating, I get to play. I get to experiment. There is no right or wrong. Censorship is right out. I get all my ideas out and I move on.

Revision and fixing is for later. Hemming and hawing is for later. If I edit while I create, all of my good (vulnerable) stuff disappears, and then my work is bland and doesn’t meet my (boring) artistic standards. Editing while I work gets me nowhere. 

Creating without judgement gets me everywhere.