The Rear End

The Creative Curse

an epic battle to make something new

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster |

Art: The battle begins.

I’m starting to realize that, throughout my life, I’ve struggled to be creative. Not because of some sort of mental block, but because I’m kind of, well ... afraid to be creative. Like many of you, the thought of doing something that exposes part of my inner self is terrifying. Throw in the unstructured, unpredictable nature of most creative efforts, and bam – I’m a bit of a nail-biting basket case. And it started a long time ago.

My first “official” art class was in sixth grade. And by “art class,” I mean I actually went to a separate, artsy classroom where an actual art teacher was waiting to teach me art, as opposed to opening my desk to pull out a box of crayons (which is also awesome, but different). I can’t remember what I took away from that class, other than how to lie to my school principal.

See, this was at a Catholic middle school and, for some reason I can’t now fathom, the boys and girls were separated for art class. So, for most of my preteen classmates (hopped up on hormones and brand new armpit hair), art class was an excuse to one-up each other in classic grade school debauchery. One time, it got so bad the entire class was sent to the principal’s office because – somehow – tempera paint got squirted all over the place ... possibly on the teacher. The principle lined us up and looked each of us in the eye, asking if we “threw paint.” I decided to see what happened if I just stared back and him and said, “No.” I soon found myself back in class.

I’m not saying I was innocent, but, technically, I didn’t “throw paint.” Anyway, at this age, for me, art class wasn’t about creating anything. It was about dealing with peer pressure and trying to be included – not an atmosphere conducive to self-expression. I sure as hell didn’t want to look like I enjoyed learning how do draw fruit, even though I really did.

The summer after that, I joined a friend for summer painting classes through Parks & Rec. This was one of my first experiences with art in a non-school setting – which made a huge difference. I really got into it. I even ended up giving a lot of my paintings to family members as Christmas gifts – which they cherish with breathless adoration to this very moment.

I wasn’t afraid to create art at the Parks & Rec. class. I was isolated from anyone whose opinion could affect me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was just painting to, you know, paint. The experience was profoundly different. I’m not saying I was any good, but I got a hell of a lot more out of it. I was focused on something, and I was proud of myself. That alone was worth the registration fee (thanks, Mom).

I wasn’t afraid to create art at the Parks & Rec. class. I was isolated from anyone whose opinion could affect me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was just painting to, you know, paint.

I took one art class in high school, and I loved it. Art was an elective, so the class was tiny and I didn’t know most of the people – again I was separated from the eyes of my peers. But unfortunately, I waited until my senior year to take art, so that was pretty much the end of my visual art career.

As far as self-expression and getting older is concerned, I’ve noticed two ways people seem to go. Some people I know have largely stopped caring about what most people think of them, at least to a point where they’re able to do something creative without fear of snide comments. But a lot of people seem to get more and more set in their personality, so it just becomes harder (and scarier) to break out of it. When you’re young, I know it can be pretty difficult to do something out of the ordinary – but when you’re 35 and grilling out with friends, and you tell everyone about the joys you’ve discovered in ganache, you risk just as much exposure of your inner self.

Sure, there are plenty of people – adults and otherwise – who love throwing words like ganache around to anyone within earshot. These are the same people who will go on and on about this amazing new food they’ve discovered called feta cheese and act like they’re the culture queen of the Target checkout line. But honestly, I think most people carry a fear of creativity with them into adulthood.

And you need to be pretty self-motivated to make art as an adult – when you don’t have a class schedule and grades to obtain. Once you’re all grown up, if you don’t know where to start and you can’t find (or afford) art classes, options are limited. You’ll need to locate and befriend an old, grizzled, washed up artist. Perhaps they live in the apartment above you. They will be grumpy, and they will not like you, and they will slam their door in your face. But persistence and a true love of art will unite the two of you. You will learn much from them about art and life. When they die at the end of the movie mentorship, it will be heartbreaking.

Or you just need to find some art supplies and start making something.

On the bright side, we appear to be living in a bit of an arts-n-crafts Renaissance right now with the advent of web-based mass outlets for creativity like Tech like this makes it easier for art-makers to reach an audience, but I believe the other factor at play is a “comfortable separation from your comfort zone” – in that you can be creative in private and show it to people under the anonymity of the world wide web. That’s a powerful development for closet creatives.

Right now, the Eau Claire school district is struggling over how to staff and fund art curriculum, and it’d be a shame if these important programs were further hobbled. Kids need as much exposure to creativity as they can get, both in school and out. We can’t take away what little exposure they have now.