I get this question all the time and occasionally I get challenged by people who think creativity can’t be taught and comes down to talent alone.
I believe creativity is a learned skill. Creativity is really about creative and critical thinking skills, which can be taught and measured. In fact there are rubrics for evaluating the quality of creative thinking and critical thinking.
The talent issue is an interesting one because talent in my estimation equates to an intuitive aptitude towards a certain medium of expression of creativity. Simply put, I believe talent relates to the medium of expression and is not the definition of creativity.
What is talent?
When we define creativity as a combination of originality and spontaneity it is easy to see how everyone has originality within their life experiences and perceptions and that the spontaneity relates to the ability to master technique at an intuitive level.
Talent relates to an intuitive ability to express ourselves within a particular medium. Let’s take photography as an example since I work with photographers all the time in my business.
Within photography there is a tremendous spectrum of possibilities for intuitive expression. Technical skills can range from precise and complex to extremely simple. On the precise and complex side would be the zone system developed by Ansel Adams as well as composite digital images or CGI graphics that are used in cinema. On the simple side would be the use of a Holga plastic toy camera or a cell phone camera that requires little expertise to operate and allows for a completely intuitive response to subject matter in a manner found in the works of street photographers such as Joel Meyerowitz and Damon Winter.
Someone could have talent barrier with a particular medium such as painting, photography, sculpture, music, and writing, but that doesn’t preclude that person from being creative it just may limit which medium of expression is used to best represent that person’s creativity.
Creativity in life
Creativity exists in all facets of life. One can be creative in cooking, in fashion, interior design, architecture, or in how they speak or plan parties and events.
I once met a man who was a carpenter that had dropped out of school. While he had not studied architecture formally, his home remodels transformed simple houses into works of art that were in very high demand. His creativity came out in his finish carpentry that made sense to him on an intuitive level. Talent relates to the craft that is necessary to express a creative idea in a fully resolved manner.
Accessing the creative part of the brain
However, what is most important to creativity in the visual arts is the ability to access the part of the brain that sees the world graphically much in the way that the cubist did. For photographers this can be challenging because it requires an ability to deconstruct the infinite details into basic shapes and patterns.
While I suppose there are those people who may struggle with accessing this side of the brain I have seen so many students who have struggled initially that were able to gain access to the graphic part of their brain through intense effort and practice. Much of the effort comes from research and simply looking at a lot art and design. Visual perception is like a muscle that needs exercise in order to become a top performer. Research helps prepare the photographer like exercise prepares the athlete and both are in need of pre-visualization skills in order to perform at the highest levels.
The real challenge to the development of creativity is that it is socialized out of children in favor of learning how to conform to societal rules and norms.
Creativity isn’t limited to the fine arts
What I want to emphasize is that creativity is not limited to traditional artforms. Creativity exists in every facet of our lives if we choose to access and express it. It is simply a matter of adopting a mindset of asking the question, “what if….” and being open to experimentation and developing skill to the point of moving past conscious effort into the subconscious intuitive response.
Talent and creativity without discipline is wasted.
Now another aspect we haven’t discussed is that even if we can agree that someone has creativity and talent within them, it is wasted if there isn’t a lot of work that goes into developing it and cultivating it into outward expressions. This is a matter of discipline and commitment to an idea and the time necessary to develop that idea into a fully resolved expression.
It may also include a commitment to gaining some knowledge on how to apply that idea to a particular medium of expression. Regardless, this is where the real creative struggle lies for all of us. It is not a struggle for ability but a struggle to commit to an idea and to give ourselves the time necessary to work on that idea long enough to create something that is fully resolved (to borrow a common art critique term) and ready to share with the world.
What do you think? Post your comments and let’s start a discussion!