Creativity is a word used in a great many contexts; it is complimentary when used to describe an artist, but it has a quite different connotation when used to describe a witness’s court testimony. Creativity is defined in this article as the ability to produce through imaginative skill. A successful creative person coordinates imagination with specific talents, knowledge, and pragmatism to bring about something unique.
Unfortunately, coordinating imagination, talent, knowledge and worldliness is an elusive aptitude. Most people never even try to achieve such coordination, and even those who accomplish it find that they go through periods when they lose this ability and go into creative slumps. The productive creative person has the capacity to keep him/herself consistently feeling enthusiastic, “in the groove”, and full of new ideas. This is a skill, which can be learned; the creative person need not feel passive and subject to the vicissitudes of mood and energy. Creative flow can be controlled and maintained. It is the purpose of this article to describe ways to prevent such slumps and/or to get out of them and become creative again.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied the lives and work habits of many exceptionally creative people, people whose work has changed our culture in some important way. He studied artists, writers, and musicians, but also scientists and business people. He found that these people knew how to enhance their lives and make day to day experiences more vivid and enjoyable. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi felt that this capacity to enhance experiences is a major component of becoming and remaining consistently creative.
We list below some of the things an artist can do to enhance experience:
- Maintain knowledge. Artists often become specialized. Enamelists may only know what is happening in enameling, or even only one aspect of it. It would amplify creativity if the artist studied a much wider range of art than just what he/she does. Thus, the enamelist should be interested in the history of art, go to exhibits of classical and contemporary art, and view experimental art, the more removed such art is from the productions of the artist, the better.
- Artists should be social. The myth of the artist as a solitary, unsociable person developed because many artists need large blocks of undisturbed time to get their work done. At other times, socializing with other artists, or other interesting people, keeps ideas flowing and helps with the development of ideas, which are unconsciously incubating.
- Artists should develop new skills, not necessarily to directly use these skills in their work, but to develop new perspectives. Thus, enamelists producing non-representative work might take a course in human figure drawing or painting
- As we mature, we lose our childlike sense of wonder and curiosity. Finding delight in the unknown provides for endless delight for there is no end to the unknown. The artist should make a point of having a new experience every day, try a new food and talk to someone at work that he/she does not know too well. This will widen the artist’s range of knowledge and allow him/her to see things from different perspectives.
- The artist should try to be different at times, experimenting with his/her personality and appearance. Artists should try to surprise their friends by being outgoing if they are usually shy, or self-centered if they are mostly sympathetic and altruistic. This is neither as difficult nor as weird as it sounds. As long as the artist uses a sane friend as a model for this new personality, the artist can be confident that he/she can try different personality styles without winding up finger painting in a mental hospital.
- Artists should break with routines, change schedules, and try new work environments. Enamelists might visit other enamelists and work in their studios or they might enroll in a workshop. This should be done in moderation, as too many visits might make the artist an unwelcome guest, and too many workshops can produce brainlock.
- Get enough sleep. In many a movie, a muse visits the sleepless artist in the middle of the night, an ingenious piece of work is the result. However, in real life, the mind generates ideas and finds new approaches to old dilemmas a lot better when it is not exhausted and thirsting for rest.
- Artists should know themselves, really know themselves. Likes, dislikes, things they are impartial to, whose attention matters to them. Creative individuals are in touch with their emotions. They are very sensitive to pain, boredom, jealousy, and the regard of others. This self- knowledge allows for a greater infusion of investment and variety into the work they create. Some advice to artists: get to know yourself by keeping a journal and taking time during the day to stop and analyze what you are doing and how it makes you feel.
- When brainstorming, artists should produce as many ideas as possible, this increases the chances of good ideas that lead to successful productions. Even when a solution to a problem has surfaced, they should continue to brainstorm because a better solution or one that may be useful in the future is not unlikely to come forth.
Once the artist breaks the usual routine of experiences, he/she should be sure to write down everything that was surprising and interesting. This is a good way to make experiences less fleeting. The artist may also find a pattern of interest, a domain worth exploring. When something does seem to spark curiosity and interest, the artist should be sure to follow it and learn about as many aspects of it as possible. An artist should experience life to the fullest. Some more advice to the artist: do more of what you love and less of what you hate. Once you really get to know yourself, spend your energy in a way that brings back the highest returns in the form of quality of experience. Try to eliminate the dreadful wear and tear of existence and allow for a brighter, more exciting and interesting view of life. This is sure to reflect in a major scale on your creativity and on you in general.
The management of stress is not an inborn talent. It can be learned. Each artist can learn to manage or avoid those aspects of his/her daily life which cause stress and can learn to seek out stress reducing experiences. One good way to start is to get a good book on stress management. I recommend Robert Thayer’s Calm Energy. Books by Albert Ellis, among others, are also very helpful.
Okay gang! Now go forth and create.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. 1996. Creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention.
New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Thayer, Robert E. 2001. Calm Energy: how people regulate mood with food and exercise.
New York: Oxford University Press.