Let's explore the intersection of creativity and mental health.
On a Zoom coffee morning, actress Susan Wokoma recently said:
“Your creative tools come into play when you don’t feel like creating.” - Susan Wokoma
Something in me shifted as I took that in.
So it’s true then. The greatest artists out there aren’t boundless streams of inspiration. They, too, are human.
They’ve simply learned how to use their craft to keep going.
When I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, my response to creativity is impulsive:
“Leave me alone, I don’t wanna talk to you today.”
The implication of which is that one must possess a certain disposition before engaging creativity.
Intellectually, I know this isn’t true. I’ve studied for three months under Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I know better. Yet, emotionally, the temptation to give in to doubt, despair, and self-pity is high.
As Ms Cameron herself explains, most of us haven’t been raised in a culture where art is viewed as a valid form of work.
Indeed, if you look at most movies picturing creative professionals, the stereotype of the whimsical, unreliable artist abounds.
In Friends, Joey, who is an actor, always borrows money from Chandler, who works in a mysterious office job. Rockstars become victims of alcohol and drug abuse, or so we assimilate from films such as A Star Is Born, Bohemian Rapsody, and Walk the Line.
To live creatively is to live indulgently, thinks the world. And so too thinks the artist’s brain.
Back to Susan Wokoma. In her panel, she punctuated:
“Hope is a discipline.” - Susan Wokoma
The creative soul knows that hope is as necessary to art as spreadsheets are to an accountant.
Hope is part of the work.
Perseverance is part of the work.
This is what craft is. To compile as many tools as is necessary to support the act of creation. To use them at the right time and trust your instincts.
Some days are easier than others.
Today, I’m having a really sucky depression day. That part of my life has its own toolbox.
The intersection of mental health and creativity is a whole different story, though.
At times, their goals feel mutually exclusive. The mind is begging for rest, detachment from productivity, uncorrelating work from worth. Meanwhile, creativity wants novelty, focus, things to play with.
With my problem-solving mind, I carve out distinct times throughout the day for each individual need.
It doesn’t always work.
Come 9 pm, the tension of not having produced creative material is compounded by the shame of the failure itself. Irrespective of any personal targets I’ve set for myself, I must ask:
"What is the kind thing to do right now?"
Is it to prepare for bed and let go of the rattling emotions?
Or is it to release words to paper without an expected outcome?
I chose the latter.
I choose to honor the craft.
Not my goals. Not my ego. But art itself.
Art is not only gorgeous paintings on a wall or Dame Judi Dench on a stage.
Art encompasses doubt, transgression, embryonic ideas, attempts, redrafts, and bad reviews.
There’s a reason they say it’s a journey. There’s a reason it’s non-linear. Every single moment that could birth creation is creation — if honored as such.
Art is present in the decision to write something mediocre instead of not writing anything at all. Because it signifies hope. It gives faith another chance at expressing beautiful stories.
Every moment matters. Not despite the obstacles — but because of them.