In Praise of Making Things No One Will Ever See

I have a long list of things I’m unlearning. I think of this “unlearning” as one of the great tasks of adulthood. When we inspect the ideas we absorbed in our youth and then intentionally decide which ones we want to keep and which to let disintegrate, it’s an act of maturity and growth. Do I still agree with this perspective? Is it true and good?

One of the things I’m unlearning is the idea that everything I do or experience must be useful. I’m intentionally taking action in opposition of this, particularly in the area of creativity.

I was in graduate school when my first child was born. Having that creative outlet while navigating my new life as a mother and soon after experiencing divorce and single motherhood was so crucial to my survival in that season. When my son was little, I would often put him to bed and then do informal printmaking at my dining room table, then spread the prints all over the living room so they could dry during the night. I even made a music video around that time, just because it was fun and I had an idea, not because I had an agenda. 

Years after I graduated, I was working full time with a job title of “Creative Director” but all that creativity happened between screens and not fingers. Once I realized how much I missed the physical act of creating and making, I still struggled to make space and time for it, especially because it felt wasteful to use art supplies if it was “just for fun.” I was believing the lie that creativity was only valuable if the end result was shared with an audience.

Lately, I have been intentional to try to reclaim my own creativity and give myself permission to make things simply because the making brings me pleasure. Although I believe there is great benefit in the mental relaxation of creativity, I’m not making things because it will make me a better mother, wife, friend, business owner. 

Andy Goldsworthy is an excellent example of an artist who seems to embrace the act of creating without concern for longevity or functionality. Much of his art feels like a temporary mural or installation from found objects like leaves and stones.

It’s this type of creativity I’m interested in right now, except even more private than that of a professional artist who has photographs of his ephemeral art.

I’m interested in delight. In pleasure. I want to remind myself of the value of creativity for its own sake. I want to make time for it as a mindfulness practice, as prayer. I want to unlearn the expectation that everything should be useful. I don’t want to measure everything in my life by its function. I want to play with crayons and markers and get glue on my fingers. I want to make things because the act of making is full of delight, not because in the end, I’ll have a product. 

Not all creativity has to result in “content” to be shared in public for people to consume. You don’t have to be a professional or aiming to build a career for making art to be worth it. Creativity does not have to be a commodity. This is really a reminder to myself to play with the fancy markers and sit and color with crayons even if my kids are not around. Just because I find it fun. 

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