On being a creative dilettante

Sharon Jessup Joyce

For many of us, being creative is a basic urge, like sleeping or eating. But our regular lives take up so much of our time and energy, the creative urge gets pushed aside. In my case, as wife, family member, pet owner, teacher and homeowner, there always seems to be something practical that needs doing for someone or something. It leaves my neglected creative muse waiting around in the corner a lot.

But if my poor muse never seems to be first in line, I have always managed to carve off regular bits of time for her. This time has added up considerably over the years to give me great joy as an amateur writer, cook, gardener, decorator, photographer, knitter, quilter and nature-lover. I am still the rawest of amateurs in some of these areas, and have become pretty competent, if I say so myself, in others. Not surprisingly, my competence is mostly related to practice. I cook and write a lot more than I quilt, so I’m a better cook and writer than I am a quilter.

But not necessarily a happier one. I like being on all parts of the learning curve, from the moment a creative activity first catches my attention, to the point where I can do something almost entirely from muscle memory. I even like the sometimes exasperating middle of the journey, when I know quite a lot, but can demonstrate that knowledge only a little. When it comes to creative pursuits, I’m a dilettante: an amateur who dabbles in a field of interest, often without achieving expertise.

That’s because creative dilettantes love the process more than the result. Something catches our interest. We envision. We try. We learn. We forgive ourselves for the usually imperfect results. Sometimes we even improve. And then we do it all with another activity. The disasters are funny stories to tell on ourselves. The occasional triumphs leave us feeling like Michelangelo, Hemingway or Julia Child.

When I was young, I thought creativity was synonymous with talent. Now that I am middle-aged, I have come to see that creativity is not about ability, but about attitude. It is simply the drive to take raw materials and transform them into our vision. It’s a way of interacting with the world around us, of finding the art in the ordinary. Innate talent is not required. Just the joy in doing.