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In 2016, after having had enough of being a blocked and uninspired illustrator and graphic designer in a city, I moved to a community and course center in the Swedish woods, determined to never again work as a professional artist. I volonteered in their kitchen and garden, discovering to my amazement that inspiration started sprouting in me after a few months, like a Phoenix from the ashes.

I then made a list of things for myself to remember, things that I had learnt to do and NOT to do in the future if I wanted creativity to be my friend. The list looked like this. 👇

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A while before, I had been working as an illustration teacher at Folkuniversitetet (an art school for adults) in Malmö. Prior to one of my courses, I got contacted by a woman who wanted to attend the course, but first she wanted to know what type of teacher I was. Would I be judging drawings as good or bad, would I shame my students if they didn't produce perfect illustrations?

This woman had loved to draw as a child, but been ridiculed by her art teacher at school and after that been unable to draw, convinced that she was too bad at it. But her longing grew stronger and stronger until she, now in her 40s, wanted to draw so badly that she was willing to confront her fear and sign up for an illustration class – but first she needed to know if I intended to teach with the same judgemental attitude that her childhood teacher had done. (I didn't.)

After that occasion I have heard the same story countless times – the art form varies (singing, dancing, painting, etc) and the person criticizing could be a teacher, parent, sibling or classmate. It usually happens between the age of 7–12. But the result is always the same: the person stops doing the thing that they had previously enjoyed so much, full of shame and convinced that they shouldn't, for fear of more criticism and questioning from their surroundings.

As if creative expressions existed only in order to be perfect?! As if they existed only to result in commercial products, generate likes on

Instagram and become a profession? "What are you going to use it for?" is a common (extremely square) question that tends to add to already existing self-criticism and tall poppy syndrome in the people who wanna start taking pottery or singing classes as adults. As if we were only allowed to learn new things as children, as if only children were allowed to stumble and create in imperfect ways, but as adults we have to make perfect and sellable products right away?

Let me tell you: after having been a professional artist for 25 years, I know that creativity with the sole purpose of generating likes and money but lacking excitement, satisfaction and inspiration is worthless. You could have a pretty website, lots of followers, a studio in a fancy neighborhood and live off of your art but unless you LIKE what you do, forget it. The childish creative joy needs to be there, because it's the fuel itself.

And that joy is not dependent upon likes or whether what you do generates money. You can feel that joy while embroidering a tapestry lying on your kitchen sofa, weaving a basket in your garden and composing your first song on the piano.

And I think it's important. I think creativity is an inherent human quality and that it's a human need to be in touch with our creative energy, without goals or expectations of productivity and marketability, without competition and comparison. We need to be in it because it's joyful and meaningful.

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I'll illustrate this text with a picture of myself as a child, AKA my inner child <3  Here I am with my grandfather, picking chantarelles.

So what happened then? I said I'd decided never again to work as an artist?

After realizing the kind of pressure I'd put on myself, I started doing things differently. I listened to my gut feeling more, I learned to enjoy myself and not just be efficient, and I started following my dreams and visions. I started doing things for fun that I wasn't gonna post on Instagram or try to sell, such as embroidering snakes on fabric, making my own incense, gardening, getting nerdy about psychology, sewing a skirt. And thanks to finding the joy and the rest in creating again, I could and did continue to work as an artist.

I have learnt what is fertile soil for my creativity, and what circumstances and attitudes that completely crush it. I have heard many peoples' stories and understood how universal this is, how many people share the same experiences. I have seen that our fear of creative expression is a cultural problem and not an individual one.

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At the same time, I am noticing how people around me are more burnt out, sad and stressed than ever.

I look around and see how our Western culture treats people as if we were robots, linear thinking, rationality and efficiency being the priority. But the rest of the human being, the parts that make us whole beings such as feelings and intuition and soul, are considered by our culture to be secondary and a bit woo-ey.

Creativity and creating for the sake of joy are definitely connected to feelings and intuition and soul. It's connected to the inner voice and the inner child, our inner truth. The goalless be-ing serves as a balance to all of that efficient doing.

I consider creativity a medicine for us stressed-out people in the Western world, with the capacity to regain balance in our psyches and by extension, balance on our planet and how we treat the earth.

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