Creativity: Nature or Nurture?
By Peggy Wright, Writer, Editor, Designer, and Visual Artist
For some reason, our culture promotes the idea that you either are creative or you are not, that this ability is somehow an accident of birth. In reality, the survival of the human species has depended on the fact that evolution has bred creativity into human nature, all human nature. I believe that creativity is not an eitheror
state of being but, rather, is a personal characteristic on a continuum from low to high. You can move your own creativity up the scale by nurturing it.
Furthermore, creative activity isn’t only the creation of art. The role of a scientist requires just as much creativity as the role of an artist. The subject of the creativity is just different.
Everyone who has ever found a solution to a problem has employed creativity. Most of the time, these efforts don’t require high levels of creativity. Building your creative power, however, can prepare you for the moment when the world thrusts that whopper of a problem at you.
People high on the continuum of creativity have learned to take an active role in developing it by regularly proposing problems that they want to solve. They routinely exercise their creativity. This exercise can occur in many spheres of life, such as when developing an idea for an art quilt or when raising funds for your church. If you don’t challenge yourself, your creativity will never grow.
An idea is just the beginning of the creative process; most of the effort revolves around finding solutions to issues that arise along the way. As a visual artist, I may have a picture in my head of the final product, but that idea is abstract and the final product that I make is very concrete. The tools and materials that I use have limitations, and I have to respond to them in creating the final work. I have found that the idea is important, but often the process alters it into something partially or entirely different from the place where I started. The changes reflect my solutions to the problems that I faced along the way.
Often when you search for a solution, you will feel uncertain, and you will find it easier to quit than to face the ambiguity of the situation and work through it. I know that this uncertainty often stopped me in my development as an artist. I have had to learn to ignore the anxiety that I feel at the beginning of each new project and have felt in every project that I have ever completed. I now know that the anxiety is part of the process. The key is that I must keep working even when I feel that I will never find a solution. The true magic in creativity lies in the fact that the solutions do come. And sometimes, those solutions are just amazing, often arriving when least expected, such as upon waking or when driving.
You can increase your ability to find better and more creative solutions to any problem, and you can move your creativity from low to high on the continuum:
- Develop Your Skills in Your Chosen Field to a High Level. Whether that effort means becoming proficient in painting with watercolors or in developing software, experience in a field gives you a broad knowledge of the possibilities. That knowledge may just provide the solution that you need.
- Show Up. Sit Still. Slow Down. Our life is very fast paced, which is not conducive to the development of creative work. You must dedicate some time to exercise your creativity at least once a week and preferably every day. If you work on a project, even if you don’t find a solution that very minute, you provide your brain with the material that it needs for those magical moments when ideas just pop into your head. Also, all the ideas in the world mean nothing if you don’t set aside time to evaluate and develop them. Problem- solving is hard to do in the abstract, especially when you are working with very concrete materials or with the constraints of systems, whether they are human or physical.
- Feed Your Senses. Have Adventures. If you are a visual artist, go to museums or attend openings at galleries. Build your knowledge of the visual solutions of other artists. If you want to write mysteries, read as many as you can and analyze how they develop their characters or how they build suspense. All fields will have some equivalent methods to develop your experience of the solutions of others in your field in a conscious manner.
- Pay Attention. Live Mindfully. When you are working on a topic, watch for its presence in the world around you. You will be amazed how often you will find it. Give yourself a suggestion such as “I will look for ‘X’ as I go about my day.” The examples that you find may give you ideas on ways to proceed in your own projects. Also, take notice of novel and interesting ideas that others have used successfully in solving problems even if they have nothing to do with your field. Sometimes you can translate them into solutions for your own projects.
- Be Fearless. Take Risks. Being afraid to make a mistake is one of the worst enemies of creativity. Often you can develop the things that start out as mistakes into new solutions to problems. You must train yourself to look at mistakes as opportunities to do something new.
Have fun nurturing your creativity!
Peggy Wright lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her creative passions are beading and quilting, and currently her focus is creating two-dimensional fiberart. Her interest in creativity is long-standing, involving much reading and evaluation of personal experience. You can reach her at email@example.com or 651-698-2760.