Does Creativity and Originality Mean Anything Anymore?

My family is overly artistic.  It’s almost a disease.  The women in my family all sing like Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (that’s a compliment), and the men like Gibbon monkeys.  With our fingers we all can pluck or blow or strum or key the right notes on over fifteen different instruments.  We almost started a family band, but my pride and embarrassment stopped us short of becoming the next Partridge Family (or Jonas Brothers to my young readers). 


And then there’s drawing, and painting, and poetry, and writing, and photography, and pottery, and landscape design, and interior design, and craftworks, and pastoring and teaching (creating creative lesson planning), and you see we are all very much like the Royal Tenenbaums (or J.D. Salinger’s Glass family) of the artistic, creative world.  Since probably only 10% of my readers will understand those two references, we are good—no, great at creating things. 

And this greatness has still gone, for the most part, unnoticed.  Yes, there have been awards, and prizes, and accolades, and congratulations, and kind words about pieces of these created crafts or performances, but there hasn’t been much in terms of WORK or MONEY. 

You see, I don’t think people care about creativity any more.  We train it in our young; rewarding their expanding minds with lollipops and star stickers and magnetically attaching their masterpieces to the refrigerator, and then, like a training bra or cell phone instead of a bicycle, we graduated to expecting certain grades and correcting wrong words, grammar, and theories.  I’m not saying this is wrong.  Our intellectual constructs have to evolve with our age, otherwise we’ll all look like the majority of grown men who are still stuck at age 14, playing video games all day long and objectifying naked women who would never give them the time of day. 
"I love you" poem, Carl Sandburg

I imagine back in the day, that the imagination of men, who no doubt thought about naked women, had to use actual intellectual and personal skills in their fantasies before any reasonable woman would think about disrobing before them.  In other words, I think their fantasies had a real life applicable skill.  It trained them how to formulate words to woo a woman.  Have you seen some of their poetry?  Masterful stuff.  Today we have porn.  And some guys expect life to look like porn, and thank God it doesn’t, cause the majority of pizza delivery people should never be in the buff, and I wouldn’t trust any table surface, anywhere, without Clorox disinfectant wipes.  

So we throw money at movies we already know.  Is it a sequel to a blockbuster?  Yes?  Okay, then sign me up.  I already know the characters.  No need to use my brain.  I don’t think I used my brain one time in Transformers 2.  Just saw a lot of morphing close-up scenes and explosions: like having a sky-lighting firework accidentally explode in your face, but without the second degree burns.  I recently saw Moonrise Kingdom instead of the overhauled Spiderman flick, and now I am out of the loop, because nobody saw my movie, and they are all talking about the same thing.  Who cares, though.  My brain won.  It had to think, and care, and imagine a technology free world in 1965, where kids acted like kids. 

I acted like a kid.  I created vast universes with my G.I. joe figures in the backyard, filled with drama, action, and millions of subplots.  I wrote stories that made the teacher laugh and applaud.  I turned myself into a jack-of-all creative skills, and I thought it made me a well rounded person.  But I was wrong. 
Lego Imperial March, Darth Vader, Emperor
Yes, I do collect Star Wars Legos, and do play with them from time to time.  
The world wants cookie cutter pieces.  I thought teaching was the career I would flourish in, because my imagination was always coming up with better ways to teach a concept or skill.  I hate worksheets.  I hate bookwork.  I love to force students to open their minds and show me what exists up there, rather than having them take down notes about what’s inside mine.  Isn’t that what teaching is about? Helping kids discover what they are capable of? 

Apparently not.  They (Administration), just like the corporate world, want people who do it “their” way.  Frank Sinatra wouldn’t even make it as a Choir teacher today, with his opinions (course, thinking about it, Ol’ Blue Eyes would be a terrible teacher).  I just lost out on a job, where apparently, the word of mouth, experience, ability, skills, and qualifications were in my favor, but someone else would probably do it the official way, instead of the inventive original way.  Does that sound too bitter?  Maybe.  Maybe I’m not actually as good as I thought I was or am.  Maybe there are other factors.  In educational-ease, they use the word, “best practices” which is a phrase that really says, “teach it this
Sad Payton Manning Colts
You mean I have to use your playbook?  Uh, did you not see what I
did for my last team?  
way, because we’ve decided that the most kids get the most out of this methodology.”   Fine.  I think this works good when you have an ineffective teacher, a bad teacher, or someone who is brand new to teaching.  Otherwise, it stifles good teachers.  Can you image if the quarterback coach of the Denver Broncos looked at Peyton Manning and said, “Well, Peyton, I know you’ve been really successful running your system of offense, but based on my schooling, I think you should throw the ball like this (changes motion) and only run the plays that I call from the sideline.”  I’d drop Peyton from my fantasy football roster as soon as the season started--if this were the case.

You don’t mess with success.  And yet, non-creative people, yes men, and copycats are now running the show in many industries and institutions.  And they are playing it safe, and by the numbers.  And safe and by the numbers have no need for artistry.  And unfortunately for me, and millions of underemployed creative people everywhere, we are living in a grayscale world, that doesn’t appreciate our color pixilation.

So, please,  go out and buy a book instead of watching the next Batman.  Buy a CD of a local artist instead of three lattes at Starbucks.  Look into buying original artwork instead of a huge picture of Jimmie Hendrix that every other frat boy has (and can’t name more than two songs of his).  Or better yet, try and do it yourself, and see if you still have anything worth sticking to the fridge. 
Kurt Vonnegut "Go into the Arts"


  1. I find that this same thing occurs in the Air Force as well. Societal retardation infests the military as well.

  2. Oh my, I started the monkey clip and left it running while I was reading. It was absolutely the best mood music. They were all animated during the set-up of your argument, then they got a little quieter and almost solemn toward the end, and now they are silent as I type my response.

    Thanks for making me think. I don't believe that I have thought of our society in this regard, but the more I reflect the more I agree with you. Everything is cookie cutter, mass produced. It's just cheaper to buy everything from the big box stores than it is to take the initiative and make it or have it made.

  3. Chris, my advice to you, is the exact same words as your poet, Kurt Vonnegut. Take it from an unashamed artist, those words will make you happy. I'm sorry about the job, but there's something better for you, I believe that. Good article, raw and honest.