We live in a time in which we have come to believe that there is not much inside of us — only the things that teachers, parents, and other people have put there. And we think that the only thing we can do is to take this information and to change its form and give it back. We think it is necessary to learn points of reference, rules and techniques to exercise creativity.

Creativity does not require anything from outside — it is in everyone right from birth. That’s why children, as soon as they are born, start moving, putting things together, scribbling, playing. And when children have the possibility to paint in an environment where they can express themselves freely — where they are not taught to do things — they very soon become more confident, more healthy. The function of expression and play is the same for us as adults, it’s just that we have buried it more.

In creativity it’s not the product that’s important, it’s ourselves. When we focus on the process, what happens between us and the painting, we have the fulfillment right there at the moment. The value of the painting becomes the value of the process we go through.

There is often the tendency to want to paint something important, deep, essential. I tell people just to do the little thing — a point, a line, a scribble — as long as you do it with integrity. Instead of fighting and wanting the big thing to happen, you just do what you can do. And that already is enormous, because it’s the first gesture to come from within, without listening to the pressures of how you should develop, what you should do. This is the true value of expression. It’s not to perform something special, it’s just to come back to what you are.

After all, we cannot know what we are going to express. What is really creative is bound to be a surprise because it’s something we couldn’t have thought of. This is the thing we resist the most. We want to know where we are going, why we are doing it, and what it is going to give us. We want to know it all. To be creative means becoming more familiar with being a little lost. If we are always full of what we want to do, there is no room for the new.

There is always a moment in every painting when we don’t know where to go. These difficult spots are very important, because they mean something is being born. I encourage people to keep painting during these times, to dig further into themselves until they discover that after every hard moment there is an opening, where very old feelings begin to move. Then the painting starts revealing themselves to themselves, and surprise comes. When people start tasting the fruits of these hard moments, it is like nothing else, it brings everything alive.

To be creative is really just to do what we want. But this is very hard. We find that we don’t know what we want to do. It is very rare for most people to dare: to first look and see if they want to do something, and secondly to do it. We have lost contact with this daring, this desire to connect with oneself in a way that is deeper than thought. But underneath, it’s what we really want — we want the connection, we want the discovery with the feeling.

It is very important to find the right environment, where we can allow ourselves to paint in this way — without judgment, comparison or criticism — because it frees the perceptions for other things. Creativity is not reserved for one subject, like painting. When it starts moving, it moves everywhere. That’s why it’s so interesting.

This is an edited transcript of a talk given by Michell Cassou, an artist and teacher who leads classes in creative expression at her own Painting Experience Studio, 509 Noriega Street, San Francisco, Ca. 94122.