Creativity, Fear and Humiliation
Brené Brown once asked Kevin Surace, the then CEO of Serious Materials, and Inc. magazine’s 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year, this question: What’s the most significant barrier to creativity and innovation?
Kevin thought about it for a minute and said, “I don’t know if it has a name, but honestly, it’s the fear of introducing an idea and being ridiculed, laughed at, and belittled…”.
I’ve recently been working with some quite amazing people. (All are classed as being ‘vulnerable’ in some way. This has got me thinking about labels (again), and how the work vulnerable makes others feel, and how those labeled vulnerable feel about it. … I’ll write about this next time.. off on another tangent). Yesterday I worked with a small group of women and their children who had been subjected to domestic violence so extreme that they were living together in a secret refuge. The workshop is part of a series organised by Susan Merrick, the artist in residence for FiLia, and we were exploring creativity through playing with materials – paint, ink, tissue paper and glue. Susan is interested in the conversations that come forth in these gentle, arty sessions, and I am interested in how creativity finds its way out in the darkest of times.
Every single session, class, workshop I have ever done has begun with two or more (sometimes lots more) people telling me that they’re rubbish at art, they can’t draw, they hated art at school, they were ridiculed, humiliated and shamed about the art they produced and that they were only here because it might be fun and someone said there was cake. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Without exception. Even my first year A Level Art & Design class had a few students telling me that actually they were crap… yeh, right… I interviewed you remember? What is going on here? Why do so many people think like this? I think it fear plays a big part. We are afraid to make mistakes, to look stupid. Everyone around is us is just so much better than us. It’s crazy. I start most classes and workshops with a little exercise called ‘Playing with Stuff’ *. I put cheap paper out on the tables – wallpaper, newsprint are good – and sticks, twigs, masking tape, cardboard and poster paint. The rules are: there are no rules. People are encouraged to make tools from the sticks and tape, and to make marks on the paper. Every mark is the ‘right’ mark. Every splodge, smudge and drip are perfect. From tentative dabs come confident sweeping wavs of paint across the paper. There’s a few little giggles at first and then loud bursts of laughter. The energy in these sessions is fabulous. I encourage people to show their work – maybe to the person next to them, and maybe to the group. Often I will hold up a piece and explain just what makes it so wonderful. Others join in, and suddenly people are talking. Talking about your artwork and how fabulous the colours are, or how much they like the patterns and the way you used the tools, and how did you create that bit because it’s beautiful?
If you’re a manager and you want your staff to come up with ideas, you are responsible for making sure that the environment you create is one in which those ideas can be expressed without fear. If you’re a head teacher, or senior person in an academic institution, are you creating an environment where your staff can play with ideas and concepts? Or are you too wound up in protocol to see the depths of despair?
We know now that children need to play in order for them to develop into fully functioning humans. I think we all need to play without fear.
* I wrote this in a lesson plan once. Some people have no sense of humour!
Cate Field is one of the Artists working on Statements in Semaphore and is one of the workshop leaders. This article was first published by Cate on LinkedIn May 11th 2017.