Thoughts on Creativity

by Eleen Polson, an Expressive Arts Therapist

 November 2016 ~ www.creativelearning4life.com

 Part 1:  What is creativity?

We are living in unprecedented times with ever increasing demands, higher life expectancy and more resources at our finger-tips than ever before.  Creativity is spearheading this evolution in technology and commerce yet creativity in education has been marginalised in favour of the more logical subjects like maths and languages (the three R’s).  Let’s share a few thoughts on Creativity.

 Children are creative, right?

According to a national study by Kobus Neethling in 2005, most young children see themselves as creative and exhibit a superior level of creative behaviour. However, this decreases dramatically over time.

  • 98% of children from 3 to 5 years of age express superior creative behaviour
  • at 10 years of age, only 35% of children express this level of creative behaviour
  • at 15 years of age, only 10% express this behaviour

According to Neethling, this is mainly due to people not being encouraged to express their creativity at home, at school and later in the workplace; they no longer see themselves as creative and therefore do not engage in creative activities. 

 What is creativity?  

Although the arts (singing, dancing, painting, acting) initially come to mind when thinking about creativity, it is much more than that.  Creativity is needed in every aspect of our lives to explore and find solutions to challenges and demands which make life fulfilling and worth living. Creativity is creating order out of chaos. We are made in the Creator’s image, and by being creative we live out our birth-right.  When we lack creativity we feel frustrated, lack energy and motivation.  When we are creative we feel alive and fulfilled. 

Looking at academic assessments which measure creative thinking (the Torrance assessments) these include several parameters like story telling ability,  emotional expressiveness, visualisation, humour etc.   

The little child looking out of the window, getting lost in their own fantasy world, might be the most creative soul in the class.  The story teller or the joker who is always talking, might be the most expressive person.

Other tests cover ‘everyday creativity’. These examine activities like dressing, cooking, gardening, hobbies and even how one commutes to work.

If we think about creativity in this way, we immediately realise that we are all creative. This is reassuring and inspiring, allowing us to discover and develop this God given ability. Creativity enhances our lives and those around us.

Part 2, explores creativity and how to cultivate it in our day to day lives.

 Part 2:  How to be more creative

As explained in Part 1, “What is Creativity”, we were all creative as children – but lost the faith in our own creative powers whilst growing up.  Creativity is much more than just the expressive arts (singing, dancing, writing or acting).  It is the ability to create order out of chaos.  It is the ability to express oneself in unique ways.  Each and every day we create our lives through our activities.

Once we understand the importance of creativity, we can grow and cultivate this valuable gift.  How do we do this?

 Prioritize creative activities

Research in positive psychology, education and neuroscience have shown the essential health and developmental benefits that exist in participating in creativity.  There is an increased emphasis on stimulating creativity and participation in the arts to counteract for the years of neglect in this arena.  No longer is creativity seen as a luxury, but it is acknowledged as essential to health and well-being, assuring that we not only live but flourish.  What makes you feel most alive?  Is it dancing, making something with your hands, preparing a new dish, walking in nature, listening to a piece of music?  How often do you do this?  Just imagine how this would enhance your personal level of happiness, if you could do a creative activity every week? If you cultivate this ability of feeling alive within yourself, you will be able to enhance the lives of the pupils that you teach. They will watch you, be inspired by you and model themselves on your positive behaviour.  Prioritizing what feeds your soul will have a remarkable impact not only on your own health but on your enjoyment of life.  

 Focusing on the Arts  

Doing any form of art (colouring in, painting, singing, dancing) is medicinal and healthy in itself.  Everyone who has ever lost themselves in a creative project knows the feeling. Neuroscience tells us that we are using different parts of our brain resulting in whole brain functioning. 

There are two ways of participating in the creative process.

Firstly one could focus on the end-product with a planned outcome. This utilizes your “left brain” and analytical functioning. An example could be to copy a picture while painting.  You expect a certain outcome and you know the steps to reach it.  Another example is learning to do a structured dance like the cha-cha.

Secondly you could just trust the process and focus on the experience while participating in the creative act. Here you do not know what the end-product would look or sound like. It is using your right, creative side of your brain and there is no judgement, just the experience.  There is no right or wrong way to be creative, there is no conditioning or expectations.  Anything is possible.  It is like whistling a tune that you make up, or doodling while talking on the phone, or singing in the shower as if no one and everyone is listening.  It is enjoying the freedom of expression without any expectation.

One method is neither better than the other. Experiment with both and notice your different feelings of happiness and creativity. 

In the next part we will look at how to overcome blocks to creativity encouraging your pupils to freely express and create. 

  

Playing together towards integrated well-being and mental health.

 Part 3:  How to overcome creative blocks – and help others to be creative

Creativity is an innate natural human ability. Creativity manifests itself in every aspect of our lives. Typical we are overly developed in our analytical, logical functioning. The challenge is for us to access the “right” side of our intuitive, holistic, creative functioning.  To be truly creative, we don’t require to know what the outcome will be, but rather to appreciate and embrace the process and to allow all possibilities to emerge. 

The blocks to creativity are;  

  • The fear of the unknown. The creative process is unpredictable and inspiring as there are no rights or wrongs. This can initially be scary but once we understand this different way of functioning it is no longer intimidating, but very exciting.

  • The tyranny of the end-product. To have a specific outcome in mind can be a killer to any new idea, image or song that wants to burst forth. If we know what something should look like, we are often disappointed and robbed from enjoying the pleasure of its creation. Creating with the end-product in mind is more a ‘left-brain’ activity. Creativity encourages us to be open to any new possibility – however unexpected and rewarding.   

  • The fear of failure.  We are so accustomed to everything being evaluated that it stops us before we even start to express or create.  If there is no right or wrong in the creative process, how can we fail? Teachers’ mind-sets and our educational system are designed around evaluations and the end product. Although this may be necessary in some instances, it is a significant creative block.  There should be spaces and times when everyone can create, just doing and expressing without expectation or evaluation.

  • The inner critic. We have all experienced that internalized voice that sounds very much like a parent, sibling or teacher. Whilst it may warn and protect us from looking stupid, it is often so domineering that it can be a hindrance to us trying new things.  The critical voice and the need for approval from others often stops us from experimenting and allowing us to make mistakes – making mistakes is a very necessary step in the development of the creative process and life’s journey.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes, Art is knowing which to keep” ~ Scott Adams, American Cartoonist. 

 

How to encourage creativity:

Experience has taught me to create from my 'right' brain, without planning, intuitively trusting the process every step of the way without knowing where it will end. This process in creativity, creates the most inspiring and self-fulfilling journey. This can also be called creating from point Zero where there are no expectations, no man-made rules, conditioning or guidelines.  It is a blank canvas where anything is possible; whatever feels right in the moment.

Become aware of how it feels to create (a song, a dance, a picture, a meal) and value the positive impact of doing it with mindfulness and enjoyment.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to experiment, to experience, to try out new things, to silence the critical voice: Trust the process and be prepared to be surprised.

Playing together towards integrated wellbeing and mental health.