Creativity in art: the ultimate overview
Understanding the foundation of your art and waking up your inner artist
What does creativity mean to you?
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 called creativity in the visual arts can positively impact your work and help you make art 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’s like the tree inside the acorn – it makes everything possible. Everything.
“If you cut the acorn open, you won’t see a giant oak tree, but you know it’s there.” (Wayne Dyer)
Creativity is your capacity to make innovative connections and free associations that others don’t do the way you do and to reinvent reality each time anew.
Creativity is also a means through 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 a significant part of a global community of artists – creators in their own right and co-creators of a different world at the same time!
One of the things I like most about creativity is that it challenges conformism and the canonical recognition of empirical reality. It’s like a versatile lens that enables you to see up close, as well as far beyond appearances and the limits of your physical vision.
Creativity has tremendous power: it can pull you out of contingency and arbitrariness, and it can move you straight into meaningful action. Just think of it as a means for making a countless number of unique contributions to the ever-expanding universe!
Furthermore, creativity is a spring of possibilities for every visual artist including you, which can fuel your artistic fire. Believe in it and follow its lead!
Creativity usually works its way forward in small, sometimes unnoticeable steps, but once in a while it can occur in spurts or so-called “quantum leaps”. Either way, there’s no user manual, no plan, no standard pattern.
“What mystery pervades a well! ” (E. Dickinson)
Can creativity be lost and found again?
Once in a while, creativity may feel like it’s completely gone. Why is that so? Because creativity is a fluctuating capacity of the brain. This is to say, your capacity to create depends on your physical and mental condition, which in its turn is joined to daily influences from various social, interpersonal, and emotional dynamics, to name just a few. So, yes, creativity can feel like it’s sometimes lost. This is absolutely normal and unquestionably human.
Without a doubt, you’re not always at the height of your creative potential, nor are you all the time in a creative mood (in fact, nobody is), but creativity is always there. Creativity is part of life itself in a daily motion. It swings but never vanishes. It lies dormant until you act on it. Remember the acorn inside the oak tree?
Creativity always gave me a feeling of wonder and a sense of purpose and adventure. I simply love this combination of meaningfulness and surprise, and this so positive feeling of awe that the gift of creativity awakens in me! I’m fascinated by the creative spark that each of us has!
Notice how creativity takes you out of the ordinary, off the beaten track.
Observe how it shakes your fears and breaks through your limitations, enfolding you like a wave.
Creativity has the power to set you free!
What is creativity in art?
I identify 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 – like your entire Self. It means seeing the world from a personal angle that only you can have. It also means combining ordinary things into extra-ordinary hybrids, exploring new, alternative ways, and transforming empirical reality through close observation and regular practice.
It's shifting your vision from conformity to unconventionality. But it's also noticing things you’ve never noticed before, or seeing beyond the limits of your habitual vision, just like the mouse from the children's book called Armstrong by the German author and illustrator Torben Kuhlmann.
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 before the Apollo 11 Mission!). This clever mouse presents his fellow mice with ground-breaking evidence: the moon is a huge stone sphere. A huge sphere made of stone? No, no, no, that can’t be so! The mice proclaim: the moon is one big piece of cheese!
Who’s right and who’s wrong? The mice see what they have learned to see, the artist sees something else, in this case, an ultimate reality. The sight of his fellow mice is limited to the confines of their knowledge and daily habits. The artist’s unique vision goes beyond; it breaks the boundaries of conventional perspective, and it reaches brand-new horizons.
How to express yourself differently
This is what you can learn from Torben Kuhlmann’s hero: to be able to express yourself differently, you must unlearn your usual ways of making art (whatever they may be), walk off the beaten track, and explore alternative paths for your art; observe relentlessly and never give up; trust your creative Self.
You’ve always used brushes to make marks? Then try some wooden sticks instead. You’ve always liked to paint from nature? Then adopt a more abstract approach: focus on your marks, think and create without an end in mind, work with fewer materials and tools, and let yourself be surprised.
Creativity thrives under constraints, and it doesn’t need a road map.
The truth is that there's no map. You must decide to leave the comfortable, conventional road behind. Feeling afraid of taking this decision? Then remind yourself that you can’t live your life without making decisions, and befriend your creativity – make it your best ally, and artist block won't bother you any longer.
Creativity and transformation
Transformation is at the core of every artistic process. But there’s no transformation without creativity. Therefore, creativity is a condition for you to be able to carry out your art-making process.
The more you train your creativity, the better you can get in making art, regardless of the trajectory you adopt from artwork conception through to the finish (which, by the way, doesn’t always run in a straight line). If you want to know more about the art-making process, read my blog post entitled “What are the stages of the art-making process? Understanding the creative process in visual arts from concept to completion”.
Do you think that regular changes or shifts of vision won’t be possible or even necessary? Then you’re in store for one big surprise: routine kills your creativity. Because there’s no secure plan that creativity will ever stick to, and there’s no user manual that transformation will ever follow.
Creativity is non-conventional, anti-conformist, anti-canonical, unpredictable, and genuinely free. That's the beauty of it. It’s pure energy in action, dynamic and versatile, intentional and purposeful. It knows no boundaries, but it’s not always at its height. Therefore, it requires from you full commitment and steady practice.
Ask yourself this question: are you all in?
But what is "transformation" in art?
Transformation is, first of all, a reality shift (from empirical to an individual reality). It is immediate reality becoming something else – a personal expression, a unique world. And it’s right in that place of mystery and wonders where empirical and personal reality meet but never settle that the threads of creativity and art get entwined.
Think of R. Magritte’s Key to Dreams. This work evokes, essentially, that mystery: objects, and words, which are seemingly unrelated and call forth memories or feelings from the past, are being juxtaposed in unfamiliar ways. A shoe is associated with the word moon, a hat with snow, and so on. Immediate reality turns into a personal, unique world and vice versa, becoming thus one.
Reality is ultimately self-expression, and your perception is reality.
What is the role of creativity in art and life?
Especially when life seems too complicated, disrupted, or messy, I like to imagine it on two axes — a horizontal and a vertical one.
I see the daily chores, duties, and trivialities, in short, everything I must do as points with numerical value along the horizontal axis. Contrary to what I must do, I see everything that I love to do, which I can’t count with numbers, but I can experience qualitatively, on the vertical axis (like art, spirituality, compassion, kindness, love).
As you would expect, my favourite is the vertical axis, because it’s on this bold, dynamic one that I experience creativity in art and action. To put it in the words of R. Backminster Fuller,
“Vertical is to live — horizontal is to die”.
Creativity can give your life a sense of verticality because it has the power to pull you out of the ordinary and the must-do and to raise you above trivialities into the love-do, which is your art-making process.
Creativity helps you disrupt conventions, walk new paths, and make free and unique associations between ideas, concepts, emotions, memories, symbols, imaginative forms, objects, and words that can be developed into the most satisfying, unique artworks. At the same time, creativity inspires you to use colours, tools, textures, and materials in unfamiliar ways, to explore their inherent qualities, and to express your unique Self originally.
Creativity can help you find what Lisa Congdon calls "your artistic voice". With the help of creativity, you don’t have to constantly search for 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 instead of keeping them only for yourself.
Find, transform, gift – these are, in my opinion, the 3 fundamental stages of any art-making process that you can read about in detail in my blog post entitled "What are the stages of the art-making process? Understanding the creative process in visual arts from concept to completion".
Art, creativity, and inspiration
Art and creativity are intrinsically entwined. Creativity is an inborn seed in which infinity is paradoxically contained. Art is an amazing and unique expression of it.
Like all seeds, creativity needs a bit of inspiration and lots of artistic practice to grow. Creativity must be actively and consciously taken care of, nourished, and increased. It needs to be trained, and it wants you to act on it. The trick is that it doesn’t just grow by itself, and it isn’t an exclusive privilege of a chosen few, but a spark (you may also call it a chance) planted in each of us from birth.
As for creativity's close relative called inspiration, it’s nothing else but your receptive response to a range of stimuli, such as forms, materials, colours, past or current experiences, and much more. One thing is sure: inspiration can be a stroke of a genius or a lightning discharge only for those who flirt with art but never truly engage with it for life.
If you want to find out what inspiration really is, then read my blog post entitled “Art inspiration: what it is and what it is not + the difference between creativity and inspiration”.
A short recap
Let’s wrap up this rundown of creativity in art.
Creativity is an inborn seed, which paradoxically contains the infinite. It’s a gift, like your entire Self. It's your capacity to see empirical reality differently and express yourself in unique ways, make innovative connections and free associations others don’t, and reinvent reality each time anew.
Creativity enables you to make countless, unique contributions to the ever-expanding universe. It pulls you out of contingency and arbitrariness, and it moves you into meaningful action: it gives you a sense of purpose and adventure.
At the same time, creativity enables you to live your life on the vertical axis because it has the power to take you out of the ordinary, out of the must-do, and to raise you above trivialities into the love-do.
But, like all seeds, creativity needs daily practice. It must be actively and consciously taken care of, nourished, and developed from a native potential into actual skill. It needs to be trained, and it needs you to act on it, for it simply doesn’t just unfold and grow by itself. It needs your active contribution.
Creativity in art is splendidly non-conventional, anti-conformist, boundless, and free. It’s actually a verb. It’s energy in action – dynamic and versatile. It’s intentional and purposeful. But mind you: it has no road map, no user manual, no plan, no standard pattern.
Embrace your inborn creativity, honour its potential, and open up your spirit to all the possibilities that it may offer to you! 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
Want to understand what art inspiration really is, and how to get inspired? Read my blog post entitled "The truth about art inspiration + how to find inspiration and stay inspired as a visual artist".