disciplined creativity

It is a view familiar to most of us from kindergarten: creativity is a mysterious capacity that lies in each of us and merely needs to be “unleashed”. Creativity is what happens when people are liberated from the constraints of conventionality… The truth, of course, is that creativity is a by-product of mastery of the sort that is cultivated through long practice. It seems to be built up through submission (think a musician practicing scales, or Einstein learning tensor algebra).

Matthew B. Crawford, Shop Class as Soul Craft, p51 (emphasis original).

A dress made for the delightful Elissa

I’m kind of glad my parents didn’t decide what activity I was going to ‘do’ as a kid, but let me try my hand at all sorts of sports and hobbies. I got to try my hand at stacks of different things: touch football, netball, waterpolo, dance, sewing, cooking, trombone, F Horn…

I had lots of fun and wasn’t pressured in an unhelpful way; I was a child of a generation in Australia raised to believe “keeping your options open” is the most  valuable state to be in.

The only thing my dad ever insisted I discipline myself to master was mathematics (perhaps this was because I was less willing at this particular endeavour than all the rest!). As I approach 30, there’s a little part of me that’s a bit sad I’m OK at lots of stuff, but not the master of any particular skill.

I really feel Crawford’s point when I’m in the kitchen or sitting at a sewing machine. I know my creativity is curtailed by my lack of mastery; I feel the latent, unrealised possibility. And so, I’m disappointed that this realisation so rarely drives me to submit myself to the discipline I need to learn.



  1. Hi Nat, nice post! I hope you don’t forget the inherent creativity involved with stringing sentences together in disciplined, informed and aesthetically pleasing ways… which you practice often.

  2. Two very helpful books I’ve read on this subject recently: Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit, and Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

    1. I’ll happily accept any book tips from you Guan — they are sure to be excellent! In my reading on creativity, the lesson I have usually been taught is: “Just do it. Then keep doing it until you’re good at it.”.

      I suppose I lament that I’m very good at reading books about being a ‘disciplined creative’, less so at actually being one…

  3. I personally don’t know how much better you could actually be at sewing! I’m pretty sure that sentence made sense! You do a pretty darn good job at making dresses – rivaling Kenzo, with their fashion house!

    But I hear you, Sam managed to master most of the things he did in highschool/college; piano, saxophone, maths, Greek, Hebrew. He still uses these skills weekly. I was a great starter-but-not finisher!

    That being said, I was asked at church to make two videos for the family service and even though Sam would’ve done a better job, I got to make them! They turned out pretty well, I think!

    And, I do feel like I’m getting better and better at cryptic crosswords – Sam’s not allowed to learn to do them, because they’re mine! 🙂

    1. Thanks Kristy! I had fun making Elissa’s dress, but I stole the pattern, and I make kids clothes because they’re easier than grown-up clothes. So, there’s plenty of room to go before I’ll feel like I’ve ‘mastered’ the skill… I’m sorry I didn’t get to see your videos while we were in Sydney! I’m sure they were excellent.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s