Elusive Creativity, Valentine’s Day

Art, Blog, Creative, Creativity and Art, hilary zaloom

I think about creativity, or more often, the lack thereof, all the time.  Especially because it is a thing that I desperately want in spades and that I’m desperately afraid I don’t have in any really good way.  I mostly think I have some creativity, but it’s the mediocre kind at best.  But I have also not given up on the idea that I’ve got it, buried somewhere.  I just have to keep trying to find it.

One of the things I keep remembering is painting in kindergarten.  I was bored in kindergarten, nothing but the resident parakeet holding any interest for me.  I remember a play ironing board — that was supposed to be fun, really??  And big wooden blocks and the cardboard kind that are painted to look like brightly-colored bricks.  All I remember is being bored and watching the other children and wondering at their seeming total engagement.  What I thought, every day, was that I was different, and in the wrong way.  And then there was painting.  Big sheets of white paper on an easel, bright colors, big brush, a smock over one of the smocked dresses I was sent to school in by my English mother every day, just in case I didn’t feel different enough from the other kids.  What to paint?   I had no idea, none.  I was frozen.   I think a lot of the freeze came from my awareness of others seeing what I was doing, of exposure.   I’m pretty sure it was the teacher who, seeing me frozen in front of the easel, suggested I paint my house.  I remember painting the house, the sun, some flowers, over and over and over.  Formulaic, each item in the picture the stick-figure equivalent of the thing, the house, the sun, the flowers, the clouds.  And being bored with that.  Wasn’t there something else to paint?  What?  I never thought of anything at all, not that I remember.  In the face of that being my level of creativity at the age of five, I am still striving to find it.  Hope springs eternal?  Nuts?

A book about being creative I recently was reading, like so many other writings and talks about creativity, tells the reader to remember the creativity of young children, how they just draw things without thinking about it, with freedom, with abandon.  Where was my freedom and abandon? I can come to no conclusion other than that I was stunted creatively at the tender age of five.  Which, of course, adds to my fear that I never will have that freedom and abandon. Then I read this article: How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.  I wasn’t pushed to the brink like some kids are, but what was applauded in my family was the kind of achievement my parents could understand and revel in telling their friends and family about.  This did not encompass art or performance of any kind unless it was worthy of a NY Times review.  But my brother managed to get past that and then some: Paul Zaloom.  (And he was on the cover of the Arts & Leisure section at least twice, with his own, non-Beakman’s World, shows being reviewed six times by the Times.  Hell, he even brought his own brand to Beakman!)  Nor did another brother, Chris, let his upbringing squelch his creativity.  (No website — Google him.)

I, of course, had my childhood moment of rejection, like most, all?, of us do.  I had done a painting of a room with black walls in art class, somewhere between fourth and seventh grade, probably.  But I had made squiggly holes in the picture of the room and the paper layer I put underneath, to show through these holes, had marbled bright colors, oranges, I remember, and others.  I loved it.  I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread.  Spooky, deep, darkly, crudely beautiful and totally surreal to my young self.  The image came to me, I think, in a dream I’d had.  I don’t remember exactly what she said, but the teacher told me with whatever she said that it was worthy only of instant dismissal — complete rejection when I had actually expected
“Wow!”.  I don’t remember doing another thing with that sense of wonder and thrill, of making something unique.  We all have those experiences, but it shut me down.  One foray into the creative, then finished.

How does this relate to Valentine’s Day?  We have a tradition, Jim, Isabel, and I, of making each other Valentines.  Sometimes I plan way ahead and knit something, like the heart in the jar and the gargoyle below.

But those knitted things are all made from other people’s patterns, like playing a Mozart tune rather than writing one’s own. The ones I came up with on my own, the Baby-Bel Cheese wax monkey and the watercolor heart, were done in a huge hurry.  Creativity for deadline-driven things like Valentines won’t kick in until there’s tremendous pressure, like having 2-4 hours before it has to be done. And as happy as I am that I don’t just go buy someone else’s card (and that Jim and Isabel don’t either), I do end up with the feeling that all I can do is mediocre, sort-of, so-so kinds of things or else play someone else’s tune.

But the Valentines also tell me, in spite of my feeling that they’re less than glorious, that I am still striving to not give up on creativity.  And they’re Valentines, not what I truly care about being creative with. I am still striving to get to the creative, the truly me creative, with my pictures.  I know I have to not let the meh Valentines and other such things undermine that.

There are two times since the black-room-picture incident that I have had ideas for pictures that just came out of nowhere. One was a pastel I did for Jim’s 40th.  For those of you unfamiliar with the picture this is based on, it is Jim as Rene Magritte’s Le Fils d’Homme (Son of Man) but throwing the apple up in the air in a happy-go-lucky way rather than having his face obscured by it.  Except it really doesn’t look like Jim.  Who knows why I thought I could pull this off back in 2011!


I didn’t question my idea, just went with it in spite of my lack of experience drawing (I’d only been drawing as an adult for two years) making the outcome less than what I had wanted it to be.  But I still love the idea.  And lately I’ve had an idea for a series, which I have started.  I keep questioning whether the idea is good, but I am forcing myself to keep going with it, to stop questioning, just do it.  My first stab at it has not turned out with the effect I wanted, so I am going to do it differently, not throw the idea out, not yet, anyway.  My perseverance is still there, but so very fragile!

I guess the thing that I’m happy about is that I am still thinking that there is an almost-untapped well of creativity buried deep, that if I keep grasping at the glimmers of it that crop up, that it will become more and more accessible to me.  I will keep beating down the voice that tells me I’m kidding myself, that I will never take the lid off that well, if there even is a well.  I will keep beating down that voice…I hope.



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