The Cleverness Of Being Unclever

Who do you think of as very clever? What sort of people come to mind when you hear that word?

It often surprises me when I show someone, how to do something on a computer for example, that’s very simple to me (like highlighting some text, copying and pasting) and their reaction is something like “wow thanks you’re really clever at this stuff!”

I don’t think I am, I just learn through trying things out, reading, and a LOT of trial and error!

To most of us, we see someone as “clever” if they can do things that we would have no idea how to even begin to do. Things we didn’t even know you could do.

It doesn’t matter what the context or application is, if we can’t do it and someone else can they are clever. More clever than us.

And this is where we run into problems.

When we come across such “cleverness”, we tend to think: “Wow, they’re so clever. I can’t do that. I seem so stupid in comparison. I’m useless!”

We won’t usually say something like: “Wow, they’re really good with computers, that’s something I’d like to learn to be better at. But I bet they can’t write a haiku, or organise brilliant parties, or repair clothing, or paint with oils, or jive dance, or rebuild a bicycle, or make delicious cookies, or… [insert here the huge list of creative talents you know you have when you actually stop and think about them…]”

In other words, we instantly elevate whatever it is the other person has just done to some mystical level of talent and accomplishment that’s much higher than anything we have done ourselves.

It’s highly likely that same person would look at all ways YOU create and be thinking that THEY’RE inadequate!

Remind yourself regularly of all the talents and skills and experiences you have. Write out your Ultimate Creativity List with all these different ways you’re creative.

In terms of creating art, “cleverness” can often be a hindrance too.

image: RPatts

Imagine the simple scenario of a young child who likes crayons. When they’re very young and can barely hold the crayon, they just make marks on the page. There are no lines, no edges, and often they’ll colour right off the edge of the page without a care.

A couple of years later and the same child will have started to pick up a few adult rules about creating. Like you must always colour inside the lines, grass must always be green, houses must always be square boxes with a door, four windows and a chimney on top.

The child actually loses a sense of freedom and spontaneity in their creating, because already the “rules” are closing in.

You can apply this analogy to any form of art. If we’ve been creating in a certain medium for years, then we will do things without thinking, go through the motions, and maybe end up with pretty much the same art over and over again.

But coming to a brand new art form, we’re completely UNclever.

So we’re free to experiment with it however we wish, before we absorb the rules and observe the boundaries.

As you can see, many times the naivety and experimental attitude of being unclever wins out over cleverness, in creating more spontaneous, more exciting, and maybe more personal, artwork. And that’s a pretty clever way to create!

Two thoughts to leave you with:

1. What new (to you) artform have you always want to try but never quite got around too? There’s never been a better time than now to try it. Pick something, just one thing, and make plans this weekend to start a small creative project in that new area.

2. How can you approach your main creative form(s) in a new way? How can you come to it in a completely unclever way, as if you’ve never tried creating in this medium at all? Again, make plans this weekend, leave your cleverness behind and experiment!

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2 thoughts on “The Cleverness Of Being Unclever”

  1. I admire your “cleverness” in coming up with interesting new topics to write about and keep them pertinent. I’d run out of topics, especially if a deadline loomed. My brain tends to shut down in those situations. Which is why I don’t work at a newspaper anymore, ha!

    I tend to avoid “cleverness” and go the familiar route because I really, REALLY hate to fail. It’s like, I just can’t take one more failure so I’ll just go about this the same way I’ve done many times before. It’s another obstacle to push past.

    Unless I think outside the box and find my inspiration from unlikely sources, I’m likely to live in an unchallenging rut every day. I imagine this is how you are able to come up with so many topics to write about.


  2. Thanks for your comment Diane.

    The core of it is that 1. I look for ideas in everything I do and see in everyday life and 2. I believe I’ll always have a steady stream of ideas, more than I’ll ever be able to develop.

    With these in place ideas just come really. Oh and I read a lot, and I keep a running document open where I list possible article ideas too, so I always have ideas to fall back on.


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