In an old bio of mine you’ll find the following few lines:

I just like creating things… The result has been about 10 years of learning by doing, and developing a career that isn’t easy to summarize except to use the word “creative.” (At some point “creative” became a noun, which is good for me I guess.)

I was inspired to explore that last idea after I realized I had taken a point of view on this noun, and found myself trying to cleverly expand upon it. After all, this website is called Matt Williams Creative. While, in that context it’s used pretty ambiguously, what does it mean to be “a creative?”

Let’s start this the way undergrads begin bad term papers…

The dictionary actually does list “creative” as a noun: “One who is creative.” Bam. Case closed.

However, doesn’t it break some kind of fundamental law to define a word with the same word? That would be like defining attractive as “one who is attractive.” No, it’s “one who attracts.” (Technically it’s “having or relating to the power to attract.” Semantics.) So shouldn’t a creative be “one who creates?” Or “having or relating to the power to create?” I like that.

It’s noun definition is also, “creative activity or the material produced by it,” meaning the thing that is created. Or put another way, “Creatives create creative.” What?!

I’ll actually take a non-stand here and say… it doesn’t matter. I can see this is a dangerous grammatical rabbit hole I’m traversing. However, as I peruse around the internet machine, I find a lot of professionals — a fair amount of them freelancers — calling themselves “creatives.” So I feel the need to delve deeper into this idea, since I’m obviously one of the herd, but don’t want to be a millennial cliché (a pretty common theme in my life and career).

What about the word “artist?”

I’ve read a couple articles disputing my definition, so I took time to re-examine. This article is interesting because it’s saying instead of “creative,” we should be calling ourselves “artists:” “[For example, a] website banner was designed by someone who is skilled in creative means and mediums and he or she is, in fact, creating something. Isn’t it art?”

I love the saying “art is.” It makes me feel warm and fuzzy. It means art is limitless. It’s whatever you want it to be. It also means anyone can be an artist (and should be, for the record!) I am an artist. 

Here’s why I don’t use it: When I say the word “artist,” what comes to mind? For me I think painters — Picasso, Michelangelo, Rembrandt — then, almost immediately, that imagery is replaced with musicians. That’s probably the effect of living in Nashville for nine years and having a fiancé who is an artist manager.

What I don’t think of right away is someone I’m going to hire. While this site is my little creative lair, it’s purpose plain and simple is to get me work. Matt Williams Art doesn’t have the same descriptive, call-to-action, work-for-hire ring to it. To me, artists do things for themselves. Sometimes they try to make money off of those things; sometimes they don’t. I do that too. But creatives create for money. At least that’s how I choose to differentiate the two.

“Creative” as a noun is ambiguous.

And that’s the point. At least that’s why I use it. I’m not “a creative” because I “create creative.” I am “a creative” because it’s the only catch-all, general word that concisely describes what it is I do.

At the beginning of this post I cited my bio. That was actually the result of a couple drafts. Initially, the last line ready thusly:

At some point “creative” became a noun, which is good for me because it just kind of works. “Artist” doesn’t capture the business side, “Consultant” doesn’t capture the artistic side, and people tend to respond poorly to, “Oh, I do a bunch of stuff.” Granted, “Creative” always merits follow-up questions, but it’s a good starting point.

I nixed that part because it was unnecessary, but there you have it. It’s an all-encompassing word that doesn’t pigeonhole me into being a “designer,” an “actor,” a “writer,” etc. But it also doesn’t disallow me from using those terms when I need to be more specific.

Thoughts? Agree or yell at me below. Or, since I brought it up… hire me!