“But I am not creative, like you!” cried my friend when I asked her to join the drawing course with me. All my pleas to assure her that all humans are designed to be creative by nature failed. She wouldn’t budge.
Most people fall in the same category as my friend. They don’t consider themselves creative. “This wouldn’t be a big deal if the self-assessment didn’t tend to become self-fulfilling,” says James C. Kaufman, author of Creativity 101, “but it does. We think we’re not creative, so we don’t cultivate our creative potential and—voilà!—we’re not creative.”
In his book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, Gordon MacKenzie discusses how he used to go into elementary schools to teach students how to make sculptures from sheets of steel. When he began each class, he always started with the same question: “How many artists are in the room? Would you please raise your hands?” The pattern of response was invariable. The first graders were all in, leaping in the air, hands enthusiastically shooting for the stars. But with each successive grade, less hands were seen waving in the air like they just don’t care. MacKenzie notes, “By the time I reached sixth grade, no more than one or two (raised their hands) and then only ever-so-slightly—guardedly—their eyes glancing from side to side uneasily, betraying a fear of being identified by the group as a ‘closet artist.’”Vince Gowman
I used to be like that too. I wanted to create but didn’t believe I was creative. I thought only some gifted people were creative. But I didn’t give up my dream so easily. I started studying creativity and found that creativity was not the domain of the select few. Creativity is innate to humans just like flying is to birds and swimming is to fish. Birds fly, fish swim, humans create became my mantra.
Not only that I started doing specific exercises to unleash my creativity. Here are 15 tips to get your creative juices flowing.
1. Practice idleness
Contrary to the common belief that ‘Idle mind is devil’s workshop,’ the idle mind is the germination ground for ideas. We need idle time to be creative. Incorporate idleness in your routine. Switch off the TV and sit still in a quiet room. Meditate. Take regular ‘do nothing’ breaks.
I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spent in the most profound activity.
Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.
In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.”Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters on Life
2. Make unexpected connections
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.Steve Jobs
Learn to make connections. Warm-up by finding connections between two unrelated things – a cat and a suitcase; a window and a carpet; a bird and a picture. For example, both the cat and the suitcase could be black which leads to confusion, or the cat can fit in the suitcase and travel with her owner. Now you think of the connection between a window and a carpet.
3. Imitate or Copy
Don’t let the mention of imitation or copying put you off. We learn by imitation. After all, humans have originated from monkeys. All great artists start by imitating their heroes. Imitation is an ultimate compliment. It tells the person being imitated that you value their work so much that you want to produce work like them. Of course, you will never be able to become exactly like them because you are you and she is she. Your ultimate compliment to your hero is when you transform their work into something of your own.
Copying an idea or style is not plagiarism. Definition of plagiarism is – trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse engineering. Cast copying was an acceptable way of training new artists during the Renaissance. Copy those whose work you admire and you will find your own voice. Your own style.
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”Jim Jarmusch [MovieMaker Magazine #53 – Winter, January 22, 2004 ]
4. Generate ten ideas in two minutes
You are having a creativity drought because you are not generating enough ideas. Take a pen and paper and write down ten ideas in two minutes. Don’t evaluate, just keep writing. The first few will be easy, middle ones will be a bit of a struggle but the last two to three will be the hardest. They will be the nuggets you are looking for. Do this exercise every morning and you will flex your creative muscle within days.
“Many people need idea therapy. Not so that they can come up with great ideas right this second (although maybe you will) but so that people can come up with ideas when they need them: when their car is stuck, when their house blows up, when they are fired from their job, when their spouse betrays them, when they go bankrupt or lose a big customer, or lose a client, or go out of business, or get sick.”James Saltucher
5. Nurture your courage
Every new idea is different by nature – it’s off the beaten path and it takes courage to risk failure or rejection. The crucial element of being a creative is to have the courage to take a risk. Find out what gives you courage. Is it past successes, a well-thought-out plan of action, encouragement from others, belief in yourself, faith in your idea, a big potential payout, having alternatives or trust in the universe?
“Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.” Aristotle, Philosopher
6. Follow your curiosity
If courage is the father of creativity, curiosity is the mother. The creative people are always curious. Curiosity is gentler than passion. It leads subtly to the unknown and ultimately leads to answers.
You don’t need to do anything spectacular, just take one lead and start asking questions. Your question could be as simple as this, “Now what do I want to know about this?” Then start looking for the answer. The answer may not excite you to run out naked shouting “Eureka.” But it might hold your attention for a moment. At that moment it might lead you to something else. Then curiosity will ask you to just spend a few more moments and find the answer to another question it has popped in your head.
I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shell exist on the tops of mountains along with imprints of plants usually found in the sea. Why thunder lasts longer than that which causes it. How circles of water form around the spot which has been stuck by a stone. And how a bird suspends itself in the air. Questions like this engaged my thought throughout my life.”Leonardo da Vinci
7. Ask a fool
This is what the role of the court jester used to be. To present things with a different perspective. If a man is sitting backwards on a horse, who is backwards, man or the horse? What will be a fool’s idea? How many ideas can you come up with thinking with court jester’s hat on? Read my post to use the energy of a trickster.
8. Find your motivation
What puts fire in your belly? Your motivation is the fuel that ignites creativity. There are many motivators – money, survival, personal expression, creative outlet, passion, recognition, leaving a legacy, having fun, dissatisfaction, deadlines, mortality. What is yours?
9. Use constraints, put obstacles
Creativity thrives with constraints. It loves to overcome obstacles. Nina Katchadourian started using her inflight time to make art using just her mobile phone camera. Her project Seat Assignment has been displayed at several art museums throughout the world and her collection is continuing to grow.
10. Rearrange things
When out of ideas, rearrange things. Look at them backward. Turn them upside down. Read the chapter from the end and work your way towards the beginning, paragraph by paragraph. It will make you notice things which you would have missed otherwise. Rearranging things make different connections. Like letters of Scrabble, whole new words and meanings will come into play.
“People who are resting on their laurels are wearing them on the wrong end.” – Malcolm Kushner, Philosopher
My friend will not join me in the drawing course but she is an amazing cook. When she goes to any restaurant and likes a dish, her quest is to recreate it at home.
How do you express your creativity?