Thursday, April 9, 2020

The Creative’s Question

(Photo Credit: Alice Dietrich)

Creativity can be hard to define. “Being a creative” shouldn’t be.  ♦ 
Over the past few years there has been a shift in the language (and the thinking) around the word creative. Before, people would say that "being creative" was an aspect of their personality, the kind of vague descriptor that might have been given to you by a loving mother or an excited art teacher in elementary school. But in recent years the word has gone from being an adjective to a noun, and those who once considered their creativity a skill now use it to define a very broad skillset, if not their entire professional identity.

In a world of ever-increasing, always-available content, the “creative identity” has emerged as a kind of catch-all producer of dynamic and varied media. Graphic designers, writers, artists, photographers, podcasters, video essayists, and many more have set aside past job descriptors and claimed the creative identity as a flexible, adaptable, and highly employable title for what they do, and for the many talents they can bring to a business. What’s so intriguing is that there are no set qualifiers to be deemed a creative—there are no licenses, accreditations, or PhDs to obtain. Creativity seems to be in the eyes of the creative, and even defining it can feel wrong because of the very essence of what it represents: newness, imagination, innovation, inspiration. In other words, creativity can often feel like an abstract concept, and defining it can seem as elusive as plucking a snowflake from wet pavement.

But for creatives looking to earn a living from their work, that’s a problem.

“I see creatives all the time that don’t know their worth or what they are actually valued at,” says Michaela Mitchell, a recruiter for Creatives on Call, a staffing company that connects creatives with top employers. “Some companies think creatives aren’t worth investing in,” Mitchell says, not because they don’t think creatives are worth the money, but the opposite: “They think they are too expensive, not worth it...”

Maybe part of this discrepancy comes from that age-old tension between art and commerce: there’s the romanticism of doing art for the sake of beauty alongside the reality that people, creatives included, need to pay rent and buy groceries. Even more troubling, there are sometimes misunderstandings around the basic idea that creative work is indeed work and, as such, ought to be compensated.

“With the word ‘creative’ people assume pottery, whimsical. People don’t take it seriously as compared to people who say, ‘I am a scientist,’” Mitchell says. “I see an undervaluing of creatives in business.”

Instead of unlocking a world of colorful possibilities, identifying as a “creative” might be a greater detriment than benefit, precisely because of the misunderstandings around the term and what it means. However, according to Mitchell, there are bright spots that creators can cling to, particularly when dealing with companies that recognize the need for strong creative.

“Some companies more than others value [creatives’ work], like Procter & Gamble. They see the worth in investment. It’s obviously [also] a lot about their budget.”

Companies need creatives now more than ever in order to stay competitive in an ever-growing and connected world, and this provides enormous opportunity for creatives—whether designers or writers or those with talents across media and genres—to explore the freedom to create whatever identity they feel encompasses their ability. But they have to be prepared for the world to question them and to be ready to demonstrate their value, both to companies and for their own understanding of their talents and (financial) worth.

Here are some simple, helpful things creatives can do to make sure they’re clearly defining who they are, what talents and skills they bring to their work, and how these can be of benefit to potential clients:

Be confident in your worth. Evaluate your abilities, portfolio, and skills in order to walk boldly into professional settings and not get short-changed. This might involve updating your skillset, making an online portfolio, or pursuing different avenues of creativity; it will be different for every creative!
Don't be trapped by comfort. It is very easy to get onto one track as a creative and pursue it exclusively—why not explore a little? Be open to different and foreign ways of creating, because it might just land you a pretty sweet gig, and also awaken new passions you didn’t know you had.
Don’t get hung up on definitions.Due to the endless media platforms, it can become difficult to define yourself to one or the other. Instead of focusing on your title, turn your focus to what you are trying to accomplish. The best way to showcase your ability is through your work/portfolio, and many times, success looks a lot more like a hodgepodge rather than a streamline. You can read more about how other creatives have flourished unconventionally here.
  • About the Author
    Carrie Bantz is a senior Marketing major and Creative Writing minor enrolled at Miami University who is interested in nonprofit work or ministry following graduation. She is a proud third generation Redhawk, and in her spare time you can find her reading, singing, playing piano or guitar mediocrely, or hanging out with her sweet friends.

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