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On creativity, part 2: lessons from the zen garden

Updated: Jul 4

Rebecca Bau Gaspar, Copywriter and Content Editor, DMA Partners

It’s a slumberous Sunday in Australia and I’m swinging on a peach-coloured egg chair on my godmother’s veranda. There are plants in odd pots and jars. Lanterns and beads hang from wooden beams above me.

My godmother and I are chatting dreamily about life, philosophy and humanity, the way you do in the warmth of a long, lazy afternoon.

The conversation lulls into a happy quiet.

“I’m not a creative person,” she suddenly declares.

My godmother, who has built this backyard utopia, who crochets intricate, one-of-a-kind blankets for her loved ones, who could fill dozens of cookbooks with her kitchen experiments, and who has transformed my worldview with her insights into spirituality.

I am stunned.

Since that day, I’ve talked to many people about their understanding of creativity: an interior designer, a small business owner, a teacher… all with different perceptions of the word, and none of them seeing themselves as ‘creative.’

We eulogise over figures like Steve Jobs and label them ‘creative geniuses.’ We debate nature vs. nurture, left-brained vs right-brained, artistic expression vs utilitarian output. Our obsession with creativity is all over the place. Just as thinly spread and omnipresent, apparently, is our incomprehension of it.

The changing definitions, the misconceptions, the grandeur, the buzz… I think many of us are left feeling alienated and overwhelmed. People can easily feel a cavernous disconnect between their perception of what’s accepted and lauded as creative in society and their own abilities.

Creativity, though, is a nuanced phenomenon. That gives us room–the creative license–to take ownership of the label and call ourselves ‘creatives’ amidst all the noise. Maybe that simple act will empower us to truly connect with our creative selves, whatever that means for us. Call it placebo, imposter syndrome, manifestation, whatever you’d like. Or call it science.

Dumas and Dunbar’s 2016 study on creative stereotypes shows creativity is a highly malleable product of perspective. One group of mixed college students were told to think of themselves as eccentric poets, another group as rigid librarians (the control group were let be). They each invented uses for ordinary objects like a fork and a carrot. The ‘eccentric poets’ came up with the most varied and unique ideas. Interestingly, the physics majors channelling their inner poets invented more uses than the art majors in the other groups!

So, perhaps being creative is simply a matter of feeling uninhibited; free to channel our perception of creativity into who we are and see what we can make out of it.

That Sunday in the Zen Garden, surrounded by beauty and small acts of creation, my godmother and I gave each other permission to call ourselves ‘creatives.’ And maybe that’s an important step for all of us to take to explore creativity in all of its colour and possibility.

Image by <a href="">Freepik</a>

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