I’ve always wondered what it means to be creative, what making something that is worthwhile and beautiful looks like. It’s not an easy question to navigate.
Culturally, we are taught a very specific image of what good art and a good artist looks like. Vincent Van Gogh. Kurt Cobain. Amy Winehouse.
These artists have had a profound impact on the cultural landscape, but, like many others before them and I’m sure many others to follow, narratives surrounding their creative genius are largely reduced to their struggles with mental illness.
The idea enforced early on is that pain is essential to creative endeavors.
What does this message mean though, when often time the reality of depression, anxiety, and other diagnoses is not an outpouring of creativity, but instead can be isolation, self-hatred, and an intense lack of motivation to simply be healthy and perform everyday tasks – let alone be creatively productive.
This is not to say that mental illness should be erased from the conversation of art – to the contrary I think it’s incredibly important to honor the struggles of creators and recognize the ways mental illness affected their world view and the work they produced.
In fact, representation of people who have accomplished great things despite their mental illness is quite rare and in turn very important.
However, it’s dangerous in a society such as ours that too often undervalues or ignores mental health care to romanticize a very real illness in order to fulfill some image of a “tortured artist.”
While art can and should deal with the whole spectrum of the human experience, is it possible to reimagine the potential of creation and of self-love so those two acts can be powerfully connected?
It’s rare to hear a voice in the creative community who focuses on positive psychology.
Jeffrey Marsh fashion designer, author, vine star, and LGBTQIA+ advocate knows this writing, “I used to think ‘unconventional’ people like me are supposed to feel tortured.
We’re supposed to have dramatic bouts of self-hate, and disturbing dreams of never being good enough.
I did have some of that, actually. But that was only the pain of not trusting my own experience of life… Maybe your process is less about becoming a superhero and more about trusting he superpowers that are already inside you.”
This is a passage from Marsh’s new book How to be you, in which they pass on the lessons they learned in their journey to self-acceptance and love.
The book is full of personal anecdotes and sage wisdom about the importance of letting go of ideas of perfection, trusting your instincts, and being yourself.
Marsh knows that having this outlook on life is a lot easier said than done, so they also include a variety of exercises to help you on this path.
These activities include coloring pages, visualization exercises, and thought challenges such as keeping a daily joy list.
Taking time out of your day for these small exercises inspire creative engagement and spurs positive reflection, all while using the superpowers already inside of you!