What does it mean to lead a creative life? When most of us hear the words “creative” or “artist,” we imagine aloof hipsters in berets and black turtlenecks. A “real” artist, we’ve been told, is someone who makes a living from their art— and takes their work very seriously. The mythology of creativity can be summed up in a single dictum: to create is to suffer. Think about it: the tormented writer brooding over the page, the out-of-work painter living in destitution and squalor. To create, we think, is to end up like Fitzgerald or Plath or Hemingway— with your head in the oven or your hand around a barrel shot gun. Or to be the next Jimmy or Janice or Cobain— dead before your thirtieth birthday.
Is it any wonder we neglect our quiet yearnings to sculpt, to write, to draw, to paint? There’s too much at stake. Being an artist means risking our sanity, our livelihood, our lives themselves. Even if we resist the enticing allure of the tortured artist mythos, most of us still buy in to the romantic idea that being an artist requires dramatic change: if we want to write, we have to quit our day jobs and be willing to die nobly (penniless in a gutter preferably) for our art. We have to smoke cigarettes while wearing a cynical too-cool attitude and a sullen expression on our face. We have to engage in deep, pretentious, philosophical discussions about what qualifies as “real” art. Or sell our house and move to a picturesque studio in Paris or a brownstone in Brooklyn, New York. In other words, being an artist is entirely incompatible with who we are today.
But what if creative living is, as writer of enormous generosity of spirit Elizabeth Gilbert suggests, simply the “courage to bring forth the treasures” that are hidden within us? What if we could be more creative in our lives as they’re constituted today? What if creative living wasn’t all this agony and torment (and let’s be honest: at this point the “tortured artist” persona is a trite cliche) but rather a joyful, light-hearted, playful way of being?
For me, creative living only requires one thing: a willingness to be a more enlarged version of ourselves. Being an artist doesn’t mean making a living exclusively from our art- it means having the courage to follow the trail of our curiosity a little bit everyday. What fascinates your intellect? enchants and enthralls your spirit? engrosses your attention? More than a job, being an artist is a way of inhabiting the world, a certain orientation. To live creatively is to really live: to be alert and awake to existence’s pure bliss. It’s to love at the greatest heights and to feel at the profoundest depths. It’s bringing something forth into the world that didn’t exist before, not for awards or acclaim or some other external reward, but for its own sake. And more than anything, creative living is unearthing transcendence from the mundanity of the everyday.