Creativity in art: the ultimate overview
Understanding the foundation of your art and waking up your inner artist
What does creativity mean to you?
Listen to a short audio version of this blog post here.
Creativity is the driving force of all artistic processes. Understanding what it means to be creative is fundamental to your relationship with yourself and your art-making process. A solid grasp of this multifaceted concept known as creativity in the visual arts can positively impact your work and help you create art that you love.
In this post, I’ll share with you my most essential knowledge of creativity in art, including:
My definition of creativity in general and of artistic creativity in particular,
A short explanation of the relationship between creativity and transformation, and
A set of personal reflections on the role of creativity in art.
I wish you a pleasant reading, and I look forward to hearing from you!
What is creativity in general?
Creativity is a seed, an inborn and imperishable one, which can spread in manifold ways and can grow into extraordinary things. It is like the tree inside the acorn – it makes everything possible. Literally everything.
“If you cut the acorn open, you won’t see a giant oak tree, but you know it is there.” (Wayne Dyer)
Creativity is your ability to make innovative connections and free associations that others don’t the way you do, and to reinvent reality, each time anew.
Creativity is also a means by which you can co-create reality — you and life itself working in tandem. I say co-create because you’re not alone on planet Earth, but you’re an important member of a global community of artists who are both creators in their own right and co-creators of a different world.
One of the things I like most about creativity is that it challenges conformism and the conventional perception of empirical reality. It is like a versatile lens that enables you to see close up, as well as far beyond appearances and the limits of your physical vision.
Creativity has tremendous power: it can lift you out of contingency and arbitrariness, and propel you towards meaningful action. Consider it a way to make an infinite number of unique contributions to the ever-expanding Universe.
Furthermore, for every visual artist including you, creativity is a wellspring of possibilities that can fuel your artistic fire. Trust it and follow its lead!
Creativity usually works its way forward in small, sometimes imperceptible steps, but it can also occur in spurts or so-called “quantum leaps” on occasion. In any case, there’s no user manual, no blueprint, and no conventional pattern.
“What mystery pervades a well! ” (Emily Dickinson)
Can creativity be lost and found again?
Once in a while, it feels like your creativity has vanished. Why is that so? Because creativity is a fluctuating capacity of the brain. That is to say, your capacity to create is determined by your physical and mental condition, which is subject to daily influences, such as social, interpersonal, and emotional dynamics, to mention a few. So, yeah, creativity might sometimes feel lost, and you might even hit artist block. This is completely normal and undeniably human.
Without a doubt, you’re not constantly at the peak of your creative potential, nor are you always in a creative mood (nobody is, in fact), but creativity is always there. Creativity is part of everyday existence. It swings, but never goes away. It lies dormant until you act on it. Remember the acorn inside the oak tree?
Creativity has always filled me with a sense of wonder, purpose and adventure. I adore the combination of meaningfulness and surprise, as well as the joyful sense of awe that the gift of creativity awakens in me. I’m simply fascinated by the creative spark that each of us has!
Notice how creativity pulls you out of the ordinary and off the beaten track. Observe how it shakes your fears and breaks past your barriers, enfolding you like a wave or even enveloping you like a tsunami.
Creativity has the power to set you free.
What is creativity in art?
I associate creativity in the visual arts, in short, creativity in art or artistic creativity, with the acquired ability to see like an artist and express oneself differently.
What does it mean to see like an artist?
Seeing like an artist is a way of seeing – an individual and unique one – much like your entire Self. It is seeing the world from a personal angle that only you have. It is also changing ordinary things into extra-ordinary hybrids, exploring new, alternative ways, and transforming empirical reality via close observation and regular practice.
Seeing like an artist means shifting your vision from conformity to unconventionality. Yet it is also noticing things you’ve never noticed before, or seeing beyond the limitations of your regular vision, like the mouse in Torben Kuhlmann's children's book Armstrong.
Armstrong tells the remarkable story of a little ingenious rodent with enormous imagination and courage (the first living creature to ever land on the Moon prior to the Apollo 11 Mission!). The astute mouse provides ground-breaking evidence to his fellow mice: the moon is a huge stone sphere. A huge sphere made of stone? No way, that can’t be! The mice declare: the moon is one huge slice of cheese!
Who’s right and who’s wrong? The mice see what they have been taught to see, whereas the artist sees something else, in this case, ultimate reality. The view of his fellow mice is confined to their knowledge and daily habits. The artist’s singular vision goes beyond; it pushes the bounds of conventional perspective and explores uncharted territory.
How to express yourself differently
Unlearn your usual ways of making art (whatever they may be), wander off the beaten road, and explore alternative paths for your art. Observe relentlessly and never give up. And above all, trust your creative Self.
You've always made marks with brushes? Instead, try some wooden sticks. You've always enjoyed painting from nature? Then take a more abstract approach: focus on your marks, think and create without an end in mind, use less materials and tools, and allow yourself to be surprised.
Find out more about how to be a process-oriented artist right here. Have you tried doodle paint before? Here's my daily practice in 3 steps to unlock your artistic creativity. Are you too much in your head? Then find out here how to create art with your heart in 5 easy steps.
Creativity thrives under constraints, and it doesn’t need a road map. The truth is that no map exists. You must decide to abandon the comfortable, conventional path. Are you terrified of making this choice? Then remind yourself that you can’t live your life without making decisions. Make creativity your best ally, and artist block will no longer bother you.
Creativity and transformation
Every artistic process involves transformation. Nevertheless, there can be no transformation without creativity, which is a prerequisite for any art-making process. The more you train your creativity, the better you'll get at making art, regardless of the path you take from artwork conception to completion (which, by the way, doesn’t always follow a straight line).
Do you believe that regular shifts in perspective will be impossible or unnecessary? Then you're in for a rude awakening: routine kills creativity. Because there's no safe blueprint to which creativity will ever adhere, and no user manual, which transformation will ever follow.
Creativity is unconventional, anti-conformist, anti-canonical, unpredictable, and truly liberating. That's the beauty of it. It is pure energy in motion, dynamic and versatile, intentional and purposeful. It has no limits, although it is not constantly at its peak. Therefore, it requires from you full commitment and a steady practice.
Ask yourself this question: are you all in? Give yourself an honest answer and then proceed.
What is transformation in art?
Transformation is a reality shift, a process of transition from empirical reality to an individual reality. It is an act of turning the mundane and ordinary into something different.
At this place of mystery and wonders, where empirical and personal reality meet and yet never settle, the threads of creativity and art become entwined, and you can realise your full potential as an artist. It is in this place that you can truly explore the depths of art, and create something unique. Thus, transformation is a powerful process of transfiguration of the commonplace.
Now, think of René Magritte’s Key to Dreams. This painting evokes, essentially, the mystery of transformation and transfiguration of the commonplace: seemingly unrelated objects and words that conjure memories or feelings from the past, are combined in unfamiliar and unexpected ways. A shoe is associated with the word moon, a hat with the word snow, and so on. Immediate reality turns into a personal, one-of-a-kind world and vice versa, becoming one.
In fact, reality is self-expression, and your perception is reality. You can read here more about perception as reality in the visual arts.
What is the role of creativity in art and life?
When life appears to be too complicated, disrupted, or messy, I like to visualise it on two axes: horizontal and vertical. Daily chores, duties, and trivialities, in short, everything I must do, are represented as points with numerical values along the horizontal axis. Contrary to what I must do, I see everything I love doing, which I can’t quantify but can experience qualitatively, on the vertical axis (like art, spirituality, compassion, kindness, and love).
My favourite, as you might assume, is the vertical axis, because it is on this bold, dynamic one that I experience creativity in art and action. To borrow a phrase from the amazing American architect Richard Backminster Fuller,
“Vertical is to live — horizontal is to die”.
Creativity may offer your life a sense of verticality because it has the power to lift you above the ordinary and must-do, and to propel you into the love-do, which, you guessed it, is your creative process!
Creativity helps you disrupt conventions, forge new routes, and make free and unique associations between ideas, concepts, emotions, memories, symbols, imaginative forms, objects, and words that can be developed into the most fulfilling and original artworks. At the same time, creativity inspires you to use colours, tools, textures, and materials in unfamiliar ways, to explore their intrinsic qualities, and to express your unique Self in new ways.
Creativity can help you find what Lisa Congdon refers to as "your artistic voice". As long as you use it, you don’t have to constantly search for new ideas and solutions.
Creativity can also help you transform rather than reproduce empirical reality (think exploration, combination, modification). Not least, it can show you how to take your artworks out there, and how to offer them to the world rather than keeping them all to yourself.
Find, transform, gift are the 3 fundamental stages of any art-making process that you can read about in detail here.
Art, creativity, and inspiration
Art and creativity are are inextricably linked. Creativity is an inborn seed that paradoxically contains infinity. Art is a beautiful and one-of-a-kind manifestation of it.
Creativity, like all seeds, needs a little inspiration and a lot of artistic practice to thrive. Creativity must be actively and consciously nourished and increased. It requires training and expects you to use it. The trick is that it doesn't grow on its own, and it isn't an exclusive privilege of a select few, but rather a spark or chance embedded in each of us from birth.
Inspiration, creativity's near relative, is nothing more than your receptive response to a variety of stimuli such as forms, materials, colours, past or current experiences, and much more. One thing is certain: inspiration can be a stroke of genius or a lightning bolt only for people who dabble in art, but never fully commit to it.
A short recap
Let’s wrap up this rundown of creativity in art.
Creativity is an inborn seed that contains the infinite, paradoxically. It is a gift, just like your entire Self. It is your ability to observe empirical reality differently and express yourself in unique ways, to make original connections and free associations that others don't, and to reinvent reality, each time anew.
Creativity allows you to produce innumerable, one-of-a-kind contributions to the ever-expanding Universe. It takes you out of contingency and arbitrariness, and moves you into meaningful action, giving you, thus, a sense of purpose and adventure.
At the same time, creativity allows you to live your life on the vertical axis since it has the capacity to lift you above trivialities and the must-do into the love-do.
But, like all seeds, creativity requires daily practice. It must be actively and purposefully cared for, nurtured, and developed from a natural potential to actual skill. It must be trained, and you must act on it, because it does not unfurl and flourish on its own; it needs your active contribution.
Creativity in art is magnificently unconventional, anti-conformist, boundless, and free. It is, in fact, a verb. It is energy in action, dynamic and versatile. It is intentional and purposeful. But mind you: it lacks a road map, a user manual, a plan, and a standard pattern.
Embrace your inborn creativity, honour its potential, and open up your spirit to all the possibilities that it has to offer! But don’t expect creativity to do the whole job. Observe and practice relentlessly. Because committed and intentional work always pays off. 😊
Thank you for reading till the end.
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Recognise your pointlessness and keep creating!
From Germany with love,
What to read next: related posts
Want to understand what art inspiration really is, and how to get inspired? Read my blog post "The truth about art inspiration + how to find inspiration and stay inspired as a visual artist", and listen to my podcast episode with Susan Hopkinson.