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9 Illuminating Lessons on Creativity

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

9 Illuminating Lessons on Creativity Creativity has a kind of ethereal, ephemeral quality. It’s the muse that comes and goes as she pleases. It’s the breakthrough you can’t explain. It’s the aha! moment you worry won’t happen again.

But creativity, while magical in many ways, is concrete practice. It’s a garden that needs nourishing, planting and plucking. It’s the muse that sits at her desk at 9 a.m.

So how do we cultivate creativity? What does it really look like? We asked several creativity coaches and artists to share what they’ve learned about creativity throughout the years.

9 Comments to
9 Illuminating Lessons on Creativity

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  1. A very illuminating piece in every regard. Many thanks.

  2. Thank you for this article, really appreciate the information. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist which means that sometimes I focus too much on quality rather than quantity! You may also like to check out my MP3 Soak Up Information Like a Sponge- one of its objectives is to improve creativity. :) Having said that there is no substitute for consistent work! Have a great day!

  3. I love reading your pieces, Margarita–and not just because you quote me ;-) I always find something new and interesting to ponder. Thank you!

  4. “The creative process…isn’t some mystical fairy dust and twinkly lights that only happens to special people if all the stars are aligned. It’s work,” said artist Jolie Guillebeau, – That is so helpful to remember. And there are other ideas about being a creative person that can get in our way. When “The Artist’s Way” author and creativity coach Julia Cameron has asked people to list ten traits they think artists have, their responses have included: “Artists are broke,” “Artists are crazy,” “Artists are drug-addicted” and “Artists are drunk.” See other myths and ideas about being an artist in my Psych Central post Myths of Creativity and Creators – How They Hold Us Back
    http://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2012/03/myths-of-creativity-and-creators-how-they-hold-us-back/

  5. Sorry…I’ve met too many people in my life who are devoid of creativity, imagination, and originality. Not everyone is creative, just like not everyone can play basketball well, or hit a golf ball straight, write a novel, cook, or be a neurosurgeon. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses. It’s a lovely thought that everyone is creative, however misguided.

    • I’m afraid I have to disagree. I think everyone has the potential to be creative but often think that creativity is associated with the arts. examples: If you restore cars and can’t find a part – fabricating this part is creative. If you are cooking something and don’t have all of the ingredients – substituting something else is creative. There are millions of similar examples. My Dad is one of the most creative people I know – Not because of any particular skill he has but because he can come up with solutions to problems that others may overlook. If we try to define creativity in narrow terms, few will meet the requirements for being called creative.

  6. Thank you Margarita for opening this conversation by sharing yout perspective on creativity…

    For me… two necessary elements for creativity, and creative expression are commitment, and consistency.

    Creativity is all about looking within at what drives you!

  7. Some comments on your 9 points:

    1. Creativity is about showing up.

    No kidding? EVERYTHING is about showing up. The student going to school, the janitor sweeping, the husband and wife in their marriage. And so forth. How do I know? I have done all 3.

    There is creativity in everything. Cleaning an office, involves creativity. Doing someone’s taxes involves creativity. Writing a letter, a story, or a book involves creativity. Merely reproducing a floor plan in HVAC software to calculate temperature loads involves creativity. Painting a paint-by-number can, also. Again I have done each of these. You can make a sandwich creatively, or mechanically. I have done both.

    But creativity differs amongst things we do, and between people. I once saw an “artist” in a mall, reproducing (copying) small paintings. Other than some talent at painting and good hand-eye coordination, there was almost as much creativity there, as using a photocopier. But, some years ago, my then my 4 year old niece was extremely creative when she dismantled her mother’s chainsaw that had been left on the kitchen table… My sister was equally creative when she video recorded it….

    You might be very creative if you can create a new painting each day. That depends. If you are copying paintings on post cards, there may not be much creativity. If you are my girlfriend’s mother doing that, you are very creative. But then … none of her paintings looked a bit like the original picture!… Some were much better, even though at first, her abilities were not much good…. She got better with practice.

    Me? I could paint 1.000 years. I know of a dog who could produce more AND better art…. Painting is NOT my milieux.

    So you “should show up to do things you can”. There is a lot of creativity in installing the supply and return ducting for a new furnace in a home that is being retrofitted. I know a few guys who produce “art” this way. But you would not want me doing that either. Well, not unless you wanted to be cold in winter, and risk your house blowing up. I also know of a couple of guys who do it very mechanically, like robots. No creativity. The thing works, yes, but you can tell the difference between the two teams.

    2. Creativity is about getting curious.

    Well, there may or may not be much curiosity, depending on the task at hand, and the person. I know of a writer of story books and essays, who wrote a book on personal finance lately. Because the writer is famous, and can write well, the book will sell. She was “curious” about the subject. But the thing is full of VERY basic common sense folksy advice, like “You shouldn’t carry too much debt”. No kidding? Don’t expect a financial blueprint for your life in that book. Don’t expect too much advice on picking stocks, either. For that, you would need a professional in the field.

    Curiosity is only ONE doorway to being creative. The doorway that you use, depends upon you, your circumstances, and the creativity at hand. Building a brick wall, painting a wall mural, and fixing a steering wheel wiring harness all involve different types of creativity and curiosity. I knew the mechanic who did the steering wheel. That involved curiosity…. And great technical skill, and ability. He had talented hands.

    3. Creativity is limitless.

    In the long run, perhaps. But we have not lived the long run yet.

    But creativity in NOT Limitless. JD Salinger, who wrote, and lived on the proceeds of “Catcher in the Rye” all his life, produced little else of great fame or value to society. George Lucas produced Star Wars. That he “stole/borrowed/re-mixed” the original idea from an old Japanese legend, is often not known. That he got tired, and sold it to Disney (for billions), is known to most. That some 68% of the “writing” of books, cartoons, and art from “that universe” was done by others, is also known to some. That the greatest and most creative of his movies involved the lovable charater Ja-Jar Binks, is known to none. Most people over 8 hate poor Jar-Jar….

    Some people produce one great thing, others produce many. Look at daVinci. Even Larry Niven ran out of ideas for “Known Space”, and farmed it out to others, who have written some brilliant things. In a number of cases, he teamed up with someone else. In one case he teamed up with a very new writer. Partly to help that person, partly because he needed “another set of eyes”, to get around some mental blocks. One book he wrote with a number of scientists and mathematicians. He had the imagination, but the physics and math eluded his level of skill and education in the topics.

    As you say: In fact, sometimes the problem is too many ideas. Indeed. If you have ideas for 3 sculptures, you can, generally, realistically, only produce one at a time. You might jot some notes down on 2 of them, but you will have to START ON ONE, FIRST. You might begin work on the other 2 also. Depending on a number of factors, you might even be able to finish all 3 quite easily. (Working a bit on each each day.) But if you tried to do 33 at once? You will likely end up with a muddle. None will probably ever get done properly! Oh, some genius might be able to do that, but by and large, most people cannot.

    4. Focus on the process, not the product.

    Well, if you do not focus enough on the piece of work at hand, that can yield a disaster. Like my example of 3 vs 33 pieces above. You need to pay a proper balance of attention to both the process of producing something, be it a painted wall, or a book on poetry, or you will make a mess… as well as the outcome… What exactly is the desired end product? And is it pre-sold, or will you have to go and market it.

    Based on your example: Selling a painting, because of price, and taste, may well be harder than selling a small piece of jewelry. But that would also depend on the clientele in your area. And on your target market. In some areas, you will need an agent, otherwise you will produce something and never be able to sell it. Reality and paying the bills will, to re-mix Han Solo, “put a real quick end to your trip through hyperspace”.

    5. Being creative does not mean being skilled.

    Well, I will say this: That’s the biggest piece of horse doovers I have evver heard!

    If my mechanic friend had not been skilled in his work, the car would have been un-drive-able SCRAP. That wiring harness interacted with every part of the car. There were 60 wires in it. To get to the 4 wires he needed, he had to dismantle it. He also had to be able to put it back together….

    Some people cannot even draw a straight line. No matter how many ideas they might have for a painting, no matter how many times they might try to paint one, no matter how many resources one poured into them, you would never get a painting that anyone would buy or want on their wall.

    On the other hand, I knew of a man (he is dead now) who with ONE hand produced some incredible toy plastic models. He bought, assembled, and SOLD a number of them. He also bought, painted, and sold a number of paint-by-numbers. Recently I was offered $65 for one small piece I have hanging on the wall at home. I declined. It is not a matter of the money. It is that he painted that piece directly for me.

    So let me ask you, would you refer “Starry Night”, hanging on your living room wall, or something I painted? (You would likely not pay the same!) On the other hand, I love Leonardo. But the Mona Lisa is junk to me. If van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is evver stolen, I might be a suspect…

    No matter how skilled, talented, experienced you are, remember this: “Beauty lies in the eyes, ears, tongue, nose, and touch of the beholder.” — Pierre M. Laberge.

    Consider Yo-Yo Ma, -vs- a certain horrid high school band that became infamous in my neighborhood. Mind you, I am no fan of either. I concede to Yo-Yo’s talent, skill, experience, etc, but that is simply not my style of music. On the other hand, I know a lady who sings simple little songs that she remixes as parodies from classic 1060-1980 rock and other songs. Her voice, I would listen to, 26 hours a day. And 36 hours on Sunday. True, that would violate a few laws that run the universe, but I am willing to give it a shot.

    Anything, not just creativity, is the process of solving some sort of problem. But if you have no knowledge, no education, no experience, no skill at doing something… your ability to do the something, to successfully solve the problems, may not work.

    Again, there are some people who are geniuses at a thing. And then there are those who read 1,000′s of books, and have taken a number of writing courses. They always wanted to be an author. Their technical skills at correcting comma faults (etc!), and correcting awkward writing that others have produced, is awesome. Their ability to invent a story, or poem on their own? SIMPLY NOT THERE. I know such a man. I have worked with him. He simply does not have the proper imagination. He should not have tried to be a writer. He should have tried to become an editor….

    6. Forget perfection, and find the “magic threshold.”

    Well obviously. We are human. Perfection is the goal, but hard to get to. Rushing the job, or taking too much time, are both the enemies of production.

    If you shove everything through, you will get garbage. Worse, you will turn into a robot, and get no personal satisfaction from what you do.

    On the other hand, if you dawdle 50 years on one book, well, you better find something else to do during your life, at least to earn a living. And even then, the one book, is likely not to turn out that well. Oh, it MIGHT. But the probability IS low. It depends on who the author, and what the book would be.

    So, you need to find a balance. Everything is about “finding a balance”, from getting up and walking to the kitchen for a beer, to making a pie, to creating a wall mural. Marriage, walking the dog, delivering newspapers, and running for office are all about balance.

    Example” I know of a mayor who ran an incredible campaign, with a some very expensive (and very creative, though horrid looking) promotional literature. He had a “name”. An amateur defeated him. How? Some interesting news was leaked, 3 days before the vote. Oh, oh. Yup, that happens.

    I know of a high school, that wanted a big mural coming in to the school. A number of artists produced nice things, but none of them “fit”. The building was new. The first set of graduating students, having seen a blank wall for 4 years, finally begged to be given a chance. WOW! For one thing, their hearts were in it….

    As far as I know, their masterpiece is still there, and if some idiot painted it over, I want the individual responsible to be but to death by very slow torture. And I promise to be extremely creative…

    7. Creativity is full of surprises.

    Again, obviously. Merely existing in the world is full of surprises. Heck, I have done a few tax returns that became surprises. But then, there is more creativity in that, than someone might think….

    If one gets too many good surprises, it can destroy a person. Too many bad ones are even more destructive. The number, type, and degree of the surprises encountered, and the way they are dealt with, can affect the outcome of a project, a painting, a meal, or a life. Too many surprises can destroy you. Too few, or too many of the same kind, can bore you to tears or depression. I have seen both happen.

    8. Creativity is full of ups and downs.

    Again, obvious. Anything and everything is full of ups and downs.

    I remember a brutal snowstorm a few years ago. That was a downer. But the person I was shoveling with, made it an upper. Heck, I again had such a storm last year. But someone showing up, made it much easier. It started “down”, went up, went back “down”, and then went up again. Finally, it ended!

    This year, we had a storm … where my neighbor wanted to surprise me. Because of the orientation of my property, only certain parts of my deck and driveway are limited. He went out with his son, early, and they silently cleaned everything up, that I could not see. Where I could see, they either left a little (so not to arouse suspicion) or made it look like there was a lot (to fool me). THEY WERE INCREDIBLY CREATIVE! So I went out into the bitter cold, very depressed…. I had some stunning surprises! I recall standing out front, trying to figure out what had happened. They came out laughing like mad. My cleanup went very well. That was an up. Except the last pile. THAT was a downer. They had packed the snow most firmly. And just tossed some loose stuff over it. They sort of overdid it….

    9. Everyone is creative.

    Again fairly obvious. But there are different kinds and levels of creativity. Everyone is “differently creative”. Some are in the arts, some are in the catering business. Some forms of creativity are sell-able. Others are not. Some are useful, others are NOT useful at all…..

    If you don’t believe me…. Bernie Madoff was one of the most brilliant and creative financial geniuses of the century. He created a 66 Billion Dollar Ponzi Scheme….

    So tell me… How happy would you be about having your money invested with him? Well, when you thought he was getiing you 12.6% ROI, in a 4.2% world, you loved him. But when you found out that the thing was a Ponzi, and all your money was gone, you might wish he had been less creative….. You might love him less. (Cough!)

    The Lesson: BEWARE OF CREATIVITY: It is NOT all good. Another lesson: BEWARE OF CHANGE: It is not all good either. Windows XP, after Vista, was and still is popular. Windows 7 quite bearable. Windows 8? Lots of criticism. But it is very creative. Just not so liked or useful. Indeed there are several KINDS of change. But that is another topic.

    I can tell you the stories of many people who have been very creative, and it worked out wonderfully. Take John Steinbeck. Take Michelangelo. A number of others have also been very creative, but with little result. WHY? You probably never heard of those people. But they have been immensely creative, not just famous. Then there is good old Bernie Madoff. There are a number of people who wish he had not been quite so creative, or quite so famous, or quite so good a salesman…. They have my sympathy.

    Some people get a chance to use their creativity, some do not. Some use their creativity “at work”. Others, use it “at home”. Some get famous. Some do not.

    Sometimes, before we judge another’s creativity, we should walk a mile in their moccasins….

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