On Creativity — why we shy away from being creative the one thing that differentiates us from all other living organisms

(This is not a self portrait but a caricature drawn by my friend Chancy to showcase my experiments with facial hair in my college days)

As humans we have been endowed with a skill that no other living organism possesses, and yet many of us choose not to exercise it. Our ability to imagine that which does not yet exist is what has enabled the progress of our civilization. Whether it be a cotton gin, combine harvester, automobile, integrated circuit or the space shuttle our human ingenuity has made the impossible possible and transformed our lives on earth. We express our ingenuity not just through these physical gadgets but also through art and sculptures, writing, theatre, music, culinary creations and thousands of other ways that cater to our various senses. But clearly the creative geniuses amidst us are just a few, a small percentage of the 7.8 billion we share this world with.

Have you ever wondered why so few of us actually use our creative abilities? What makes a creative person different from the rest? Can each one of us be creative? Is our creativity something we are born with? Is our creativity product of our education, our upbringing ? Or is it just the innate curiosity that some have over the others that spawns this capability. What is special about Jonathan Ives, I M Pei, Elon Musk, M F Hussain, A R Rahman, Pandit Jasraj or a T M Krishna? Can we all aspire to be like them ? Is the eagerness alone enough to bring out the creativity from inside us?

Let’s investigate this together. It’s been my dream lifelong to be able to recreate as a sketch the beautiful faces I get to see daily. The pictures stay in my mind an evoke an emotion, but when I sit down to recreate it all I end up with is a face that in no way resembles what’s etched in my memory. Imagine my consternation at my inability to recreate what’s etched in my mind.

One could argue that it is my lack of training in sketching that is limiting my ability to draw the face. But I think there is more to it than just that. For drawing is like being able to write. You could know what to say but if you have not learnt to write you cannot write the word. But my issue is more than my drawing skill which I agree is probably pathetic. It is my power of visualization that is bad. I perceived the “gross” face but never noticed the details the eye brows, the shape of the eyes, the nose, the ear lobes, the teeth, the lips, the chin, the dimples, etc. How could I possibly recreate the face? Without an ability to pay attention to the details it’s almost impossible to recreate the face.

An artist, a painter a sculptor or architect is blending a vision of multiple things from their memory. We all probably experiment nowadays with Faceapp. But an artist has to do this in their memory, blend Waheeda’s eyes with Madubhala’s nose and Kajol’s smile to create their own Mona Lisa. It’s possible the faces in an artists work are perhaps influenced by someone they have seen in their real life. So someone must have influenced Renoir’s “Two Sister’s” and Wyeth’s “Christina”. But it’s possible the really classy artists go further and can blend features from multiple faces to create a truly unique but pleasing face.

We see this every day around us in the unique architecture that I M Pei is associated with, the art of Salvador Daly, the music of Pandit Jasraj (listening to whom invariably gives me goose bumps for his music touches my soul), or in the ground strokes of Roger Federer (“My sons friends gifted him a T-shirt asking him to be himself unless he was Roger Federer, if he was Roger they asked him to stay as Roger Federer). If you have watched Roger weave his magic on the tennis court you will understand why? Now based on your favorite sport you can replace Roger with your favorite sportsman — Lionel Messi, Cristina Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Virat Kohli, etc.

Now what separates these individuals from most of us. Are we all creative in some way? Do we just not know it. Or is it that only some of us are creative. This is probably a complex question and you may or not subscribe to my view. Clearly some of us are born talented. All that implies is that some of their sensory abilities are highly developed at birth (genetics , environment we lived in since conception to child birth). But that’s like getting a degree from college (maybe a poor analogy), it only gets you a head start. Clearly having a skill or talent at birth is an advantage for it creates un-leveled playing field. But being precocious at birth is alone not sufficient. The talent has to be nurtured and cultivated and has to become a passion for the individual. Like Malcolm Gladwell shares in his “Outliers”, 10,000 hours of practice is what makes people from being good to great, from being talented to being creative.

I think we each have skills and are gifted with the ability to develop our skills. Based on our upbringing and the freedom we had in our childhood some of these could have been suppressed. But clearly after we reach adulthood nothing is stopping us. There are several retirees who paint, make jade glass windows, build log cabins, learn classical music, learn to paint and sketch, etc. So clearly age is not a barrier.

Being creative is inspiring, it’s energizing and helps us de-stress and makes us happy too. If we spend some time asking ourselves what we enjoy doing we may actually rediscover ourselves. A lot of time our fear curtails us from exploring and exposing our creativity. We are afraid what others might think of us? It requires some courage for us to break out of this. We each have our passions. I had a roommate n college who was passionate about watching movies and a cousin who dreamt about a movie and it’s scenes before watching it. Maybe they could have each become as good as M Night Shyamalan.

Also creativity is often confused with success. A lot of great artists died as paupers and their art was discovered after their death. Emily Dickinsons father didn’t allow her to publish and her maid discovered her poetry after her death. In our pursuit of success and good living we forget to be creative or choose a career or profession that does not allows us to express ourselves. Your happiness and fulfillment will come from your creativity not wealth or your medals or your degrees. Imagine how much more beautiful this world will become if we can all start exhibiting our creativity !