Not too long ago, I was scrolling through Instagram when I saw an ad promoting a “Creatives Weekend.” I’m sure I’m not the not only who’s come across posts like this, and at the time, it didn’t catch my interest. But the more I thought about it, the more it made me wonder. Did it honestly apply to me — or to anyone I knew? What does being a “creative” even mean in today’s world? What are the current connotations of that title?

I’ve learned that creativity comes in all shapes and sizes. Those forms are traditionally categorized into four levels of expression, which equates the most advanced types of creativity with artistry. In my line of work, however, the term “creative” usually refers to either a photographer, a videographer, or a graphic designer, which makes me wonder if I’m biased toward these specific skills and if I overlook other creatively inclined people — such as writers, chefs, video game engineers, etc. Are all of these people ”creatives”? And, who among them are “artists”? What does the relationship between creativity and artistry look like these days?

With these questions in mind, I set out to clear up some of the cloudiness and get a grasp on exactly what “creative” means today.

Photo by @pat_kay

Some Perspective

My initial searches brought me to a broad outline of creative industries from John Howkins, published back in 2001. He defined these industries as: “a range of economic activities which are concerned with the generation or exploitation of knowledge and information.” Such industries include “advertising, architecture, art, crafts, design, fashion, film, music, performing arts, publishing, R&D (research and development), software, toys and games, TV and radio, and video games.” Searching for a throughline, I realized that all of these focuses are all quite imaginative at their core and involve problem-solving.

Though these ideas were published almost two decades ago, what I find most fascinating and exciting about this list is that while all of these industries are still thriving, the newest wave of creative people are breaking down the walls between them. Today’s “jack-of-all-trades” creatives are employing a blend of expression and cross-medium collaboration, all garnished with a splash of personal branding made possible by the dawn of social media. From typographers to graphic designers to videographers, creatively inclined people are all working within the same stratosphere to further establish themselves and make a living.

Photo by @smartin06

At the same time, this realization sparked a greater fear: that despite the range of talent afforded by today’s creatives, the platforms of our era are causing them to be seen through a single lens. Canadian professor Marshall McLuhan famously said that “the medium is the message.” So, if all varieties of creative people are sharing their unique skills and productions through the same medium, are they simply reduced to an Instagrammer, a YouTuber, or a SoundCloud artist, and in the process get further herded together under the umbrella term “creative”? Or are they able to stand alone in their respective disciplines and be identified as such? And, perhaps more importantly, is this consolidation under certain social media sites limiting their ability to be original in their work?

Photo by @marlondutoit

Artistry Versus Creativity

When it comes to the spectrum of creativity, artistry has traditionally been the goal. Because of this, it’s no surprise that the terms “artist” and “creative” are often blurred together. But in this article, Nicolas Cole makes an effort to detach the two: “The difference, it seems, is in [the] message’s destination. If it is aimed outwardly at an intended audience, you might classify it as ‘creative.’ If the message is aimed inwardly, and acts first as a mirror for the creator, sparking self-reflection, it leans more toward the realm of art.”

Creatives and artists both use skills to construct a meaningful message. As Cole sees it, the difference is distinguished by whom that message is directed to. A creative’s work represents a means to an end — a message hoped to be well-received by an audience —  while art operates as a procedure of reflection and expression.

In light of this, I think it’s safe to say that platforms such as Instagram and YouTube have created the modern “creative.” Because of their reach and overall accessibility, the line between artists and creatives has been further blurred. Traditional artists can now widely share their work without needing the approval of a museum or selective publication, and not-so-traditional creatives can establish followings that they would not otherwise have access to. As a result, this social shift has lumped a number of creative-types under one umbrella.

Photo by @edwardkb
Photo by @aljvd

Originality’s Role in Creativity

In this age of social media, however, we cannot overlook the apparent decrease in originality among “creatives” as a whole. Because creative works are so widely and readily available these days, uniqueness is often harder to come by. When starting any creative endeavor, it’s understandable, and sometimes even helpful, to mirror the work of those who inspire us — be it poets, painters, or entrepreneurs. If nothing else, it’s a way for us to find our bearings and establish a point of reference for our own creative aspirations. But after a while, it’s time for us to evolve and find our own voices — after all, that’s what makes both creativity and artistry engaging.

The Instagram account @insta_repeat has shown us how easy it is for “creatives” to fall into the same styles and patterns, and never move beyond what inspires them. During a recent discussion with its creator, our own Kacie McGeary mentioned the importance of holding ourselves (as well as others) to a “greater creative standard.” I think that’s spot on.

Photo courtesy of @insta_repeat

Although there are countless creatives who inspire us through genuinely original works, in order to expand our imaginations and hold ourselves to the same creative standards, we need to remember to follow our curiosity, explore various mediums, and veer in new directions. This also requires looking internally for inspiration, and not relying on others alone. Diving into the pool of replication doesn’t lead to original outcomes; that can only be done by sharing one’s own voice and experimenting, even if that means failing at first.

Photographer Arno Rafael Minkkinen compared this idea to the inner workings of Helsinki’s central bus station. To summarize, a huge number of buses leave the main station each day and head for what looks like the same destination — or the exact creative path, if you will. But then, after a mile or two, the buses veer off in their own directions. Minkkinen believes that to discover any sort of novelty in your work, you must first trudge down a well-worn path, and only after doing so will you have the necessary experience to discover what you came to say.

Photo by @insearchofperfect

During those first few metaphorical miles, you will undoubtedly create work that is comparable to others, but if you stick with your passion in the face of rejection and unwanted comparison — or, as Minkkinen puts it, if you “stay on the bus” — you will eventually get to where you want to go.

Photo by @ellisreed

A Final Word

In a world where everyone has the opportunity to share their perspective, it’s become clear that we each have some amount of creativity within us — even me, I’ve realized. Though I didn’t end up attending that “Creatives Weekend” I saw on Instagram, it doesn’t mean I lack the ability to innovate and solve problems creatively. Just like everybody else, I am no longer bound by traditional gatekeepers who decide which thinkers and makers get to be heard. But what we need to remember this: while navigating sites like Instagram and YouTube, what we’re seeing deserves context — piece by piece, word by word, photo by photo. This will help us understand each creator’s intent and view them as an individual instead of just an “Instagrammer” or “YouTuber.”

Finally, through these accessible tools and platforms, we’re seeing the creative potential of a larger community, combining mediums, blurring lines, and, most importantly, pushing each other to that “greater creative standard” I mentioned earlier. So, don’t be afraid to stay on the bus and keep searching for that next big creation. I can’t wait to hear about it.

We would love to hear what you have to say about this topic. Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Header image by Khara Woods.

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Brad Donaldson is a writer and editor proudly based out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Although his roots are in Canada, his desire to see more of the world frequently takes him away from home. His work, both as an editor and writer, has appeared in local newspapers and publications.