Creativity vs. Conformity

Here in Levanto, there’s an apartment building in town with glassed-in balconies.  On one of those balconies, the owner has painted over the glass with the paints that you always see used on shop windows.  It is a bright, child-like scene of sky, sun, birds, clouds, and water … could even be Levanto itself.

I’ll admit that I don’t find it particularly beautiful, but as I was looking at it there in the midst of two dozen other glassed-in balconies with no paintings and no personality, I thought to myself what courage it took for that man or woman to paint that picture there, knowing full well that the neighbors would probably laugh at it, and that everyone in a small town would know who did it.  When I was in America this summer, a man who had painted his house Smurf-blue in his otherwise very pale suburban neighborhood was derided by his neighbors, who went so far as to even describe it as the “height of impropriety.”

And so I got to thinking … how much creativity in the world  is stifled by conformity?  From a very young age we absorb the expectations of everyone around us to be one way or another, we imitate the trends that we find most acceptable to others before doing that which might be best for ourselves.  And when we censor our spontaneous inclinations in order to fit in with the crowd, that’s when natural creativity takes a hit.

I doubt that by so doing, we necessarily deprive the world of a budding Steinbeck or Matisse, but we deprive ourselves of that spark of art can make life more interesting and more satisfying.  It can stunt our ability to come up with new ideas, try new things, and be true to ourselves.  That’s why it is so important to buck conformity now and again, to let yourself breathe a bit deeper and smell the world around you more intensely.  I don’t mean that you have to embrace counter-culture in everything (itself a form of conformity), but simply go with your instincts to paint an old table blue, or to build a rock wall around your garden, or pull out that favorite shirt that is no longer fashionable but still fits you right.  In my own home, my wife (the really creative half of our marriage) and I (who try to keep up) are going through an amazingly fertile, creative period.  And we’re loving it.

In a world where so much is dictated to us from sources that have ulterior motives for us to listen to them (most of them marketing), it almost seems a rebellion to go your own way from time to time.  Paint, write, design, create, blog, grow, sew, knit, plant, sing, play, wander, wonder, think … it’s how we bring out what is we.

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