Beauty-Making Isn’t Always Pretty

How Pleasing Is Stifling Your Creativity

“…The woman who is virgin, one-in-herself, does what she does – not because of any desire to please, not to be liked, or to be approved, even by herself; not to gain power over another, to catch his interest or love, but because what she does is true.” – Esther Harding from Woman’s Mysteries

Sometimes things take time to fully land. Like a rose, they require time to open and reveal their deeper layers.

I had such an experience recently; I suddenly realized that my self-expression doesn’t need to please anyone. The monumental part was seeing how, like the quote above, it doesn’t even need to please me.

Long ago I had bought into this belief that above all else my expression – whether it be through writing, drawing, painting, dancing, whatever – had to be pretty and pleasing.

My own visual artistic practice always felt stifled and dry because it passed through that same filter every damn time. The final work had to look “good”. Ideally to others, but definitely to me. I could not tolerate it if it wasn’t pleasing. The byproduct being that whatever was most real and raw was scrubbed away, cleaned up, or edited out.

This is related to a much larger topic about commodified expression. Because when you make your living as an artist, writer, musician, whatnot, on a certain level you DO need to please your audience because you need them to purchase what you offer.

But even if you are not a professional creative, this mindset, this belief that there is “good art” and “bad art”, may subtly influence how you approach any creative endeavors.

This is why so many women have a triggered association with dance, for example. Or drawing. Or singing. It dredges up old stories about not being good enough. At some point, we were judged for our creative expression, usually when we were much younger, and it hurt and felt vulnerable, so to protect ourselves we just stopped creating.

Or we began filtering our creations through this value system of them being either good or bad, pleasing or not.

But what do we sacrifice by filtering our creative expression through this very limited lens?

What did I sacrifice by needing my artistic expression to look a certain way? By needing it to be pleasing?

I will tell you: I sacrificed truth.

Because every song that I sing or painting that I make or dance that I dance CANNOT BE pleasing, not even to me. It might be downright ugly or intense or difficult to digest.

And simultaneously, it can also be beautiful. Beautiful, not in the sense of it looking or sounding “pretty”, but the deeper beauty of something that resonates as TRUE.

I am reminded of this article that my mentor sent me a while back about the lament singers of Karelia. Karelia is the area of Finland where my maternal grandmother’s lineage stems from.

Lament singing was a custom in many parts of the ancient world, a practice of giving voice to our grief and sorrow. What jarred me about the article were not the words in the songs or the practice it was describing, but the song itself.

Lament songs don’t sound “nice”. I don’t want to listen to them. My ear isn’t saying, “oh what a lovely song,” but that isn’t the point.

It is raw and unfiltered expression. It is the communication of a deeper truth of the human experience.

And that is what I mean when I speak of creativity. The creativity of the Virgin. The woman is whole unto herself.

I invite you to ask yourself this question: what would be freed within you if your expression, your creativity, did not have to be pleasing? What if it didn’t need to look good to anyone else? What if you, yourself, didn’t even have to like it?

What if there was no way to measure your dance or your song or your art on a scale from good to bad?

What if good or bad ceased to have meaning or matter at all when it came to creative expression?

What story would you tell? What feeling would you convey?

What would you create, how would you express yourself, if you knew that how the final product looked or sounded didn’t matter as much as the process of creation itself being TRUE?

One Comment

  • I have been noticing my tendency toward “commodified expression” lately. What you share here is so helpful and clarifying. Thank you!

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