Creativity Is More Than Just Ideas

One of the most interesting things to me, as an artist, is listening to other artists or aspiring artists who are stuck on a single problem. “I don’t have any ideas!”

While creativity absolutely relies on ideas (how can you work on anything if you haven’t decided what to work on, after all?), I think the main issue is that most creative people believe that you have to have a new, earth-shattering idea in order to get started on your creative work.

“I have no ideas” generally doesn’t mean that the new artist has nothing to work on. There are plenty of subjects painters can paint, or plots that playwrights can write, or videos that YouTubers can make. However, the idea that each idea needs to be unique, popular, searchable, saleable, and pure is what trips us up. While art is often a place for people to express new ideas, to explore new subjects, and to break new ground, we often overlook one of the most important aspects of creativity: craft.

In creative circles, craft often gets a bad rap. The word “craft” brings to mind amateurs who dabble in this and that, never taking the work they do seriously. “Arts and Crafts” tends to mean something less in the minds of creative people (and the general public), where “Art” is elevated to a pedestal and “Craft” is considered something to be sold at Christmas fairs.

However, craft is the main structure upon which your ideas will hang. Ideas without craft behind them will be nothing but thoughts. Many artists fall into the trap of believing the ideas or thoughts that they’ve come up with is enough. How many times have you spoken with a writer who has a “great idea” for a novel that never gets written? How many videos have you watched on YouTube whose titles sound absolutely promising, but are riddled with sloppy camera work, tinny sound, bad acting, or an unstructured process?

One of the beautiful things about craft is that it can be improved through repetition. In fact, that’s one of the only ways in which you can improve. Building upon your successes doesn’t often happen by creating the unique, novel, or unknown. Craft depends upon iterating the things you do until you’ve honed them into exactly what you want, and being able to create repeatable processes that end in success more often than failure.

Remember, the next time you think to yourself, “I have no ideas,” that you may not be in a place where a new idea is necessary. Bring out your old standbys and see how you can improve your craft. You may find that the ideas start flowing when you stop looking for them.

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