Is the creative life fundamentally selfish?

I have a new favourite blog – The Textile Blog by John Hopper. I only had to read one post and I knew that I would find the kind of material that I love to read. The reason I like it is because it does more than leave me with a “That’s nice” or “Huh, interesting” kind of feeling. Instead it leaves me thinking – really thinking – about this creative life I have chosen to pursue.

And the question I found myself pondering today was, “Is the creative life fundamentally selfish?”. Now there’s a question for you. Does my choice to live a creative life mean that I am selfish or self-absorbed?

The obvious answer to that is,”I hope not!”. “So why pose the question?”, I hear you ask.

Well, it was triggered by this article entitled “Creative Art as the Sharing of Personal Insight”. It opens with the idea that being involved in the creative arts is sometimes judged as being a form of selfishness, or hedonism, or self-absorption. This really struck a chord with me because I sometimes find it hard to explain to people why I chose this fork in the road. Why am I not the career scientist everyone thought I would be when I was younger? Why have I chosen instead to pick up fabric, needle and thread? And indeed isn’t this latter path somehow “a bit frivolous”, and perhaps even “worthless” when compared to a scientific career? And the natural outcome of all those questions is that sometimes I do feel a bit selfish as a gleefully follow my passion every day and have the joy of absolutely loving what I do.

Thankfully, John provided me with the perfect antidote to these doubts. He explains that “creative art…is about the cycle of absorption and exhalation”. This is the idea that all creatives absorb inspiration from a myriad of sources (both conciously and unconciously), pass it through the lens of their own unique experience, personality and skills, and then exhale something new. And why is this a good thing?

“You are making available to the human condition, the journey that you took from inspirational wonder, through the flow of absorption in work, to the resulting piece, which is to be experienced and enjoyed by others….Creative artists are the practitioners of endless possibilities, guides to the wonder of the world around us, and revealers of the complexity of the human condition”. John Hopper, The Textile Blog

In my humble little corner of the creative world I will gladly take on this philosophy.

But I think it goes a little further than that…. at least for me.

In my weekly patchwork group we have built a very strong community of women who came together originally because of a shared passion for quilting and patchwork. But the ties are now much more than that. We take care of each other when life throws up problems and obstacles; we share joy and excitement in new achievements or milestones; we share the fruits of our labours with family and friends; and we have developed a strong community culture of giving back. Our main community project is to make quilts for foster children. Twice a year we deliver upwards of 30 quilts for children in foster care. The idea is to make sure that each child has a special quilt which is just for them to keep. It is not going to solve the big underlying problems that have put them into foster care, but it hopefully brings a little bit of love and comfort to otherwise pretty tough times for them.

A simple quilt made for foster children from donated squares of fabric.

A simple quilt made for foster children from donated squares of fabric.

There are countless groups, just like ours, all around the world. They serve a very important purpose beyond the obvious one of providing a venue for a creative craft to be practiced and shared. These groups become communities where participants (generally speaking) take care of each other. It might just be a warm hug on a down day or the offer of real assistance when illness or family crisis strikes. And in many groups, that caring is soon extended to some sort of charitable endeavour. Just imagine how much poorer our world be without the contributions of this everyday creative work.

So do I really feel selfish as I pursue this creative life? No. Rather I feel lucky and privileged to be a small part of a worldwide movement that does a whole lot more than just “play” with craft. Sometimes, it is all about the pure wonder and inspiration that John Hopper describes in the creative process. At other times, it is just about sharing some love and compassion with a little generous creativity in an otherwise busy world.

Sharing a little piece of everyday creativity - an A5 journal cover embroidered for a friend.

Sharing a little piece of everyday creativity – an A5 journal cover embroidered for a friend.

 

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