The creative everyperson


The last rosebuds of autumn (A5 ink and watercolour on Daler Rowney Ivory sketchbook page 2019)

Some years ago I stopped drawing and painting: I wasn’t developing, it took up time I could be spending with my new girlfriend, and it was proving to be more frustrating than rewarding. When I married and had children it was fun to draw with them and make them birthday cards, but it wasn’t until I returned to the UK after nearly 20 years away – my personal life and career in tatters – that I started again, this time seeking out evening courses and workshops to help me progress.

In between I’d tried my hand at photography but the area that best satisfied my need to create was cooking. I’d always cooked – I nearly poisoned myself on instant curries as a student and then I lived alone for some years and, as I enjoyed eating, I thought it would be useful to be able to cook.

It wasn’t until I gave up drawing that I really started to improve. The process of cooking a daube de bouef or a good risotto was not unlike the practice of art: it took time, some knowledge of technique and a certain amount of skill, but in order to cook well one had to develop an instinct for the subtleties of flavour, to know when to stop, to feel a part of the activity itself. In short, I transferred my frustrated creativity from the art of drawing to the art of cooking, with the same intensity.

Recently I came across an article in RA, the magazine of London’s Royal Academy of Art, by Oli Mould, author of a book called Against Creativity, which argued against this concept:

Apparently everyone is creative….No longer is creativity an attribute we associate with skilled artisans and visionaries; every person, every job and every place must be creative to survive…The concept of creativity is now so ubiquitous in modern-day parlance that any semblance of what creativity actually creates has been lost.

Mr Mould gets the bit between his teeth after this, roping in the Uber app, the John Lewis Christmas ad, artisan coffee shops in Shoreditch, and high-rise residential housing for the super-rich to show how ‘creativity’ has been harnessed to profit and destroyed as a meaningful concept.

Personally I see no harm in a wider vision of creativity: isn’t your neighbour’s pleasing arrangement of flowerbeds creative? Isn’t a hairdresser creating a style that pleases her customer creative? I work in the marketing department of a book publishing company and I urge my colleagues to be ‘creative’, to go one step beyond their comfort zone, to think of innovative ways to bring our niche programme of academic monographs to the attention of their potential readership. Are any of those less creative than some of the artists I see on Instagram, churning out variations of their single theme time after time?

Let’s not rebrand creativity as the sole preserve of the professional artist or composer. Not all of us can call ourselves artists but we can all be creative. Frankly, if I had to choose between the perfect risotto and Jeff Koons’ balloon dog I know which I’d choose.

20 thoughts on “The creative everyperson

  1. I agree. Everyone is creative in their own way. While I paint, my husband plays piano or guitar, my mom is a florist, my dad is a wiz with a back-hoe and dirt, my brother in law is a landscaper, my grandpa a welder, etc. Pretty much everyone I know is creative within their own interests no matter what that interest is.

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  2. Creativity is built into the human genome and is the twin sister of innovation. For some it may lay dormant, but for many it provides joy in the recognition of its appearance throughout human activity. Visual artists can no more build a wall around creativity than claim drawing skills as their sole domain. It is not what we are capable of that defines us, but what we live. Hopefully, as we communicate our ideas about subjects through our artwork, our creative voice will find a home in the creative recognition of others.

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  3. I worked for a bank for many years, making commercial loans to small businesses, and there was an enormous amount of creativity required in working with the financial statements, matching the needs of the borrower with a loan structure that would be manageable and appropriate for both bank and customer, handling negotiations, and at times, doing things like helping a customer do financial projections, find your way through city streets where you’d never been, learn the specifics about businesses from lamp manufacturing to battleship components, learn what a machine tool was… I could go on and on and yet everyone I knew said, how can you stand such a boring job and such a boring industry? I’ll tell you, it was just the opposite. Sharpened my wits big time. I 100% agree. Creativity manifests itself everywhere and in everything.

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    • Thanks, Claudia, that’s a terrific example which I fear Mr Mould would not approve of! Creativity in the service of commerce seems to be his greatest bugbear, yet there you have a perfect example of just how creative that can be. And as theunintendedcurator has just commented, it’s not what you do but what you live. I suspect you brought your innate creativity to that job in a similar way to how you bring it to your art today.


      • Yes, I think so. I really enjoyed every aspect of making loans and like everything else, you can do the minimum or you can go big. My job let me poke into all kinds of areas, both physical and mental spaces, that are usually off limits to most people, and I tried to be respectful of that privilege but also – well, life is just fascinating and there is a lot going on in business, especially when you get down to a more grass-roots level, that is just fun to do or know. And, it was my obligation to try to do the best for my customers, and in a small business environment, well, nothing is ever straightforward!

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      • You know, I enjoyed the banking work I did, never a dull day, and a whole lot of crazy stories came my way, just in the normal course of business. Money and people – a perfect combination for drama.

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  4. Michael, I absolutely love your watercolor painting. It has such depth. I’m going to have to study this one. Mostly my watercolors are splotchy and out of control. Your use of ink works so well to define the subjects, but beyond that your shadows give the painting much of the depth as well.

    Thank you for sharing a bit of your history and philosophy. I have enjoyed reading the comments as well. You inspire interesting perspectives.

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  5. Risotto or Koons? no contest.
    Claudia is so correct. In order to do anything well you need to pay attention and work with what you are given. And often the most creative and important part is paying attention.
    Your roses have a lovely melancholy…just like autumn. (K)

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    • Thank you, Kerfe – I take it we’re all agreed on the risotto? Thanks for your enjoyment of the roses too. As I explained on my Instagram post, they were buds that sprouted in December but the days were too short for them to get any further and they just stayed like that. It seemed right to honour their valiant attempt to bloom in the depths of winter.

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