Freja Malmstedt

The Uncomfortable Truth Behind Your Creativity

A few years before I moved to the UK and still lived in my hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. I was dating a guy who I met through my friend’s brother. He was everything I wished for as a 19-year-old girl. He played in a band, had long hair, tight jeans and a room wallpapered with posters of one of Sweden’s top pop bands; Kent. After a few weeks of modest dating, he asked me if I wanted to come and listen to the their upcoming gig that would take place the following weekend. I enthusiastically accepted the invitation and ended up in the front row of the intimate crowd among the friends and family who were there to listen. The bright lights of the stage went down and converted into a dim headlight of blue and red colour, as the bass and keyboard’s melodies spread across the cramped venue.

I recognised it so well. The squeaky synth and the angst filled lyrics describing empty cities, concrete buildings and black painted hearts.

After the show, halfhearted applause and a light kiss on the forehead, he asked what I thought. With blushing cheeks I nodded and said I liked it, avoiding the uncomfortable truth that it all was a total rip off, a stolen sound from the big idols he so delicately taped to his bedroom walls.

When you engage in the creative sector, whether it is art, music, writing or any other creative profession, there is a basic knowledge that the fact of surrounding yourself with the work of others will help your own creative process. It will help you to develop your artistic skills and techniques, give inspiration to ideas and help you on your way to discovering your own creative identity.

Although this may be rewarding and supply basic tools for one’s creative development, it is something that my friends and I are often resistant to. The conversation about being one with your ideas and finding confidence in the fact that they are yours from the very start often winds its way into our discussions. For we all have them, our sources of inspiration. The role models, exhibitions and significant works of others that so easily trigger our creative initiative that fuels our own art. We study them, imitate them, become inspired by them and surround ourselves with them on a daily basis because we are told to, because it’s supposed to help us.

During my high school years in Sweden, I took a creative writing course to improve my writing skills. At this time I had a friend whose sister was a spectacular character. She always ended up in all sorts of absurd situations and we could spend hours on my friend’s living room couch talking about her latest antics and conquests. I’d write down these stories in my bedside writing book before I went to sleep, and gradually those small random notes evolved into a short novel that my teacher marked to the highest grade. But instead of being proud of my improvement, my entire body was filled with guilt. The character was not my own, the events taking place in the story were told to me by someone else. How could I call this story a creation of my own? Did it belong to me or someone else?

I have a consistent fear within my creative mind, of the day when I suddenly end up there in the dim blurred spotlight with everyone pointing out the bits and pieces that belong to the others before me, the ones that I have surrounded myself with for so long and passionately. Facing the fear that, of all those pieces, not one belongs to myself.

My influences feel annoyingly transparent and all I want to say already feels said. For many years, my idols, role models and sources of inspiration have felt more like a burden than a strength. A flock of demons that sit on the top of my shoulder gently reminding me that my originality only exists in my imagination.

For me, originality and success go hand in hand. In order to be successful in the artistic sector I must contribute with something new, something innovative. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant but what is important to recognise is the ambitious stress this sort of mindset creates. It will slow your creative process down to zero.

Over the years I have discovered that the projects I start in my own intimate and personal space for my own enjoyment, away from the perceived eye of the public, is the projects I get the most out of. They are not there to be revealed or tracked down. It does not matter anymore if my source of inspiration shines through and reveals traces of creativity that once belonged to someone else. That stress is no longer there and at last I have succeeded.

How do I learn to manage the unbearable thought that nothing I create is coming straight from my bare mind? By recognising that all my ideas are intrinsically connected to my inspiration, that the two are inseparable and that it would in fact, be a great injustice to remove one from the other.

David Bowie once said, “The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from”.

Reading this eased my mind to such an extent that I realised that once I accept that my work is no different from anyone elses; A sack of stolen goods from everything I see and hear everyday mixed with my own initiative, my creative work process not only becomes more enjoyable but also more rewarding, and allows new ideas to take more accommodation than what I normally would allow for in the hotel of my mind.

Learning to embrace my influences instead of hiding from them has helped me to be more confident in my creative process, I now realise the beauty in being able to find ideas in someone else’s work and to strive for the goal that someone, someday might do the same in my own.

This may not be a truth covered in shiny gold but it is a truth you can relate to.

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