Can Creativity Be Taught?

There are three steps that may help you to tap into your creative self!

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By Kathleen Thometz

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My friend and I were chatting in our neighborhood the other morning when I noticed two rabbits, facing each other, still as statues, on a neighbor's front lawn. "Bunny bookends!" I exclaimed. "No, wait! They're having a duel. I wish I had my camera to take their picture! I'd Photoshop little six-shooters in holsters onto their hips! Do you see that? Does it look like a duel to you?"
"No."
"Is it because you don't let yourself see it?"
"No, my brain doesn't go there. I just see two rabbits on the lawn."

That is the difference between how a creative and a non-creative person think. I have been on a quest to see if I can figure out if I can teach creativity to self-described non-creatives. This journey has me reading books and articles, breaking down my own creative processes, and interrogating self-described non-creatives as to the way they think on any given subject or situation, like the rabbit one above. I don't know if creativity can be taught but I do know there are things I do which allow inspiration to flow through me.

David Brooks, in a recent column, What Is Inspiration? describes inspiration as "some moments — after much steady work and after the technical skills have been mastered — when the mind and spirit take flight...They kind of steal upon you, longed for and unexpected." While I do agree that inspiration often appears at odd times and is often longed for, especially if you are feeling uninspired, I don't believe you need to have worked hard or mastered a skill to be inspired. I do believe that you need to be working on or toward something, whether consciously or unconsciously for inspiration to strike.

The one thing you need to realize about anyone who is creating anything, be it art, literature, music, computer programs, etc. is that they are constantly solving problems in order to bring their idea to fruition. That is the nature of the creative process. According to Alice Flaherty, a Harvard educated neurologist, neuroscientist and author of The Midnight Disease, creative work includes a combination of novelty and value and a creative thinker requires some talent and drive. She states that ingenious solutions that are tried and true are not novel; if something is odd but has no use it's not creative, and drive is more important than talent in producing creative work.

There is a popular notion that creative people are "right brain" and non-creative people are "left brain." It is true that the right side of the brain is responsible for creativity and imagination and involves divergent thinking and the left side is responsible for logic and analysis and favors convergent thinking. But true productive creative peoples' brains are constantly alternating between divergent and convergent thinking. For example, when a writer creates a first draft of a story he is using divergent thinking but then shifts to convergent thinking to edit the piece. The right side creates and the left side tests the viability of the creation. It is only with this balance and shifting that the creative person will actually produce anything.

Everyone's brains can be hardwired differently and learning to be creative may not be possible. I have found that these three behaviors help promote my creativity:

Allow Disparate Things To Exist In The Same Space. When I go for a walk, I look at the houses, nature and other people and let ideas run rampant through my head. For example, while I was walking past a house under construction, I noticed their clematis was growing on their white picket fence and a chain link that had been placed there by the construction crew. That alone was a cool juxtaposition but then I thought if I built an urban/country house combo I might surround it with a fence that alternated chain links and pickets.

Step Away From Creative Problems To Find A Solution. The answer usually comes to me while I'm doing a task unrelated to the problem at hand. A stray comment from someone can inspire a solution. Sometimes it seems like my brain works on the problem in the background and an answer suddenly appears. Ms. Flaherty says we should not be fastidious about where great ideas come from.

For example, when I was making a prototype for my Fashion Week camp I was having troubling finishing the display. The attendees would be creating hats, shoes and dresses, which I felt needed to be on a runway of some sort. Each time I looked at the wood platform pieces, no ideas would come. I wasn't thinking about the problem as I was opening a package of new bed sheets. I pulled out the tri-fold cardboard beneath the sheets and "dressing room mirrors," popped into my head! We would put small tri-fold mirrors on the displays, which will nicely reflect their pieces.

Act On Creative Impulses. When I get an idea, I usually execute it. For example, I have a lovely vignette in my hallway consisting of a small stone table, an orchid, and a watercolor painting. I was walking by and noticed a pair of dirty socks on the stone table. My initial reaction of annoyance with my sloppy kids turned into the thought that my family and life keeps interrupting my beautiful home. So I have started photographing a series My Perfect Home...Interrupted. I now get excited when I see my kids junk in interesting places around the house.

What does allowing the creative into your life get you? It may afford you a richer life, a better performance at work, or a new perspective on all kinds of things. You may start realizing your dreams. The more you create the more your brain percolates new ideas. Thomas Edison was right when he said, "Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration." In a nutshell, the drive to create is more important than talent. So get cracking!

I'd love to hear what inspires you! Email me your story at kathleen.thometz@doodleartanddesign.net

Kathleen Thometz is an artist, writer and founder of Doodle Art & Design, a teaching studio in Western Springs. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs: Rainbow, Sunshine and Thunderstorm. Check out the Doodle Art website at www.doodleartanddesign.com

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