Creativity in Times of Crisis

Creativity in Times of Crisis — cauliflower that looks like coronavirusA crisis is a call for humanity as well as creativity. When what we have learned to know as normal is suspended we need to use our creativity to develop new concepts and behaviors. In these unprecedented times we have to be creative to navigate the unknown. There is no default to fall back to. We need creative thinking skills to figure out how to work from home while keeping our kids busy and safe. Maybe even how to compensate for the lack of toilet paper — though I hope that’s not the case for you.

This specific COVID-19 crisis, which has forced most of us to stay home, not only demands us to utilize our creative problem solving skills but it also provides an opportunity to deliberately practice our creativity. Creative action, especially when it involves doing something with our hands, helps us to ease our mind and makes us less anxious and depressed. Several studies have documented the connection between creative activities and well-being. Carrie and Alton Barron’s book The Creativity Cure combines evidence and tools on how to use our hands and mind creatively to increase happiness. In the last few days I have heard from several friends who have picked up their knitting or started writing and felt better because of it.

Yet, sometimes in a crisis it isn’t that easy to pick up a creative project. First, if you are like me, you already feel overwhelmed by all the options and invitations that come to your inbox daily. There are a lot of great ideas, generous offers, and interesting topics, yet precisely because there are so many possibilities choosing one to take on can become paralyzing. Second, in a time of crisis it seems especially hard to be playful and joyful. There is fear and sorrow. When you haven’t already built creative habits it can be difficult to start a creative activity with a heavy heart.

When my business shut down and schools closed I immediately thought that I would now have the opportunity to move my own creative ambitions further along. I have a writing project that has been stalled for the last two months, since there were just too many other things going on. Two weeks later I had to acknowledge it didn’t work out the way I intended. I wasn’t not surprised that I had a hard time getting back into it — maybe I just have to re-familiarize myself with the topic and the idea of writing. But it didn’t get easier. I had to force myself to do it, and the results were poor. I thought as an expert on creativity I had all the tools available on how to overcome “writer’s block,” I have researched the topic extensively, watched others struggle, and I have helped my clients to overcome those struggles over and over again. I know the tools and techniques to work around the hurdles, yet nothing seemed to work. I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to create momentum. I am used to working from home, I am used to being productive, I am used to getting myself out of natural ruts. Not this time.

I think it is because my heart wasn’t in the same place. It was my will to move this project along — and don’t get me wrong, I am very passionate about it. But in order to do so I had to ignore everything that is going on right now. My thoughts and emotions were so caught up in this crisis, it seemed impossible to open up to other thoughts and topics. Reading the article “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief”, by Scott Berinato, helped me understand that what I am feeling is grief indexed, and that grief can’t just be funneled right into creative productivity; it needs to run its own course. I wanted to be productive and turn hay into gold like Rumpelstilzchen.

What is plan B? I still believe that it is good to devote time for creativity and  to tune the news out for parts of our day so we avoid getting sucked into sadness, despair, and fear. Instead of trying to press through (ambitious) creative projects with willpower, we can make room for what is often referred to as “small creativity.” Small creativity are not the breakthrough moments, they are simple ideas that don’t look very shiny. Berinato explains that “emotions need motion.” Grief is the time for easy forms of creativity, with lots of wiggle room — giving our sense of playfulness a light tickle instead of a hard nudge. Balancing time and space to process (going inward), for example going on a walk, and to express creatively (going outward).

Creativity in the times of crisis needs to let go of efficiency. We need a creativity that acknowledges our needs and our grief. Emotion needs motion. Creativity needs motion and movement as well. With creativity in times of crisis we are more like jugglers than bulldozers.

Creativity in times of crisis is an invitation to play and loosen up.

Unless you are Bob Dylan, you may not create a 17 minute-long song about John F. Kennedy’s death. But you might create a chalk message in your driveway to lift your neighbors’ spirits.

Creativity in our house:

baking bread — the 14 step/ 24 hour edition

Building multi chamber forts

Hopscotch with new limits

English tea time


1 Comment

  1. Hello Dirty Easel !
    Happy to read your well thought out words~
    Reminded me when my husband painted the apartment wall during 9/11. I wrote poems and gathered together all my art supplies and volunteers and headed to the FEMA and Redcrosss stations to support families searching for information about their loved ones and children needing to wait for hours.

    This crisis is so different in how to support and how to express creatively at the same time. I’ve joined a list of therapists offering free counseling worldwide to healthcare providers and first responders. That assists me in making me feel that I am trying to contribute in some meaningful way – it doesn’t address my need to be creative- I try to take photos on my daily runs or walks; I love framing/reframing the world – but what I would really love to do is write something ; anything really – (as you have done in this piece ), or a poem, something expressive , anything! I didn’t know I had this need until reading your words –

    Thank you for opening and reminding us to not give up on creativity ~ I’ll be looking for pockets of joy amidst the seriousness and filling them with creative expression.
    Corinne Arles, M.A., LCAT, LPC
    Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. – Anais NiN


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