The academic world and the artistic world are coming together to prove and advocate for the idea that your creativity can be nurtured I’ve lived in both worlds; I studied creativity at UCL (University College London) doing psychological experiments and I’ve worked as a professional musician, so I’m passionate about spreading the message that creativity is malleable. Creativity is like a muscle which can be strengthened over time.
It is true that some individuals have more natural creative abilities and they will consistently generate more new ideas with greater originality and elegance. This makes sense intuitively – we all remember the kids at school that were always better at art, or the adults in the workplace who find it easier to come up with lots of ideas or ways around problems.
In the academic psychology world, there was a long-held corresponding view that creativity was a stable trait that some individuals had in abundance and some didn’t, and that this was something that did not change over time. But recently, creativity is also being studied as a phenomenon that varies as a function of different situations or states that an individual experiences. The academic view is changing, and the view that creativity can be cultivated and learned is gathering pace.
Robert Epstein has been studying creativity since the 1970’s and found that he could boost creativity through giving individuals exercises to complete. He believes there are four major skill sets that are essential to enable people to express their creativity. Julie Cameron, the author of books and screenplays also found that the creative process could be enhanced with simple tools. She wrote ‘The Artist’s Way’, the renowned book that takes readers through a 12-week programme of finding and expressing their own creativity.
The first of Epstein’s skill sets is ‘capturing’ ideas as they occur to you. This means writing them down, recording them, sketching them out – whatever way you need to capture your ideas before they fade or disappear. The critical element here is to not to judge the idea. Just get it recorded, don’t interrogate it or play ‘devil’s advocate’ or even try to develop it. Get it out of you as quickly as possible. Mirroring this academic recommendation is the artistic tool recommended by Julie Cameron. She advocates the writing of ‘Morning Pages’ where people write 3 pages of their ‘stream of consciousness’ first thing each morning – whatever comes into your head, don’t judge it, just write it. Again, the motto is to get it out as quickly as possible before you have a chance to criticise it.
The second and third skill sets, in my mind, are similar and potentially linked; they refer to broadening your knowledge and surrounding yourself with more physical and social diversity. When you broaden your knowledge by learning about more interesting things, you are filling the toolkit of your mind. Similarly, if you are proactive about managing your surroundings, you can broaden your horizons and enhance the tools you can draw on when a creative task presents itself. Again, as it happens, Cameron had created a tool that helps people to puts these skill-sets from Epstein into action. She encourages people to have an ‘artistic date’ once a week where they do something new to broaden their horizons.
The fourth of Epstein’s competencies is to be challenged by difficult problems to solve. A complex problem is likely to require different skills, ideas and behaviours to complete the task. To solve the problem, you must connect elements in a new way. You can use greater knowledge and experiences that you have built through broadening your horizons. Cameron, the artist also covers this in a practical way – readers are encouraged to set themselves artistic challenges to complete.
I believe there is another skill which is essential for creative muscle building which is persistence. Though they haven’t pulled it out as a skill set as such, both the academic and the artist emphasis working at it by showing up at the blank page every day, continuing to broaden your horizons and finding new ways to challenge yourself.
Einstein described creativity as ‘intelligence having fun’ and said that he didn’t have any more knowledge than any other physicist of his day. But he captured his ideas, he played with the knowledge, challenged himself to come at the problems from different angles. He worked hard and it seems to have had fun. Same as the rest of us, creative work and creative play are intertwined and most importantly in our own hands.