“I sit down religiously every morning. In the course of a working day of eight hours, I write three sentences, which I erase before leaving the table in despair. The effort I put out should give birth to Masterpieces as big as mountains, and it brings forth a ridiculous mouse now and then.”
That is a quote by novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924, “Heart of Darkness” and other acclaimed works), from an essay by Stephanie Stone Horton.
In her 2010 paper, Horton (at the time a PhD candidate in Rhetoric and Composition at Georgia State University) writes:
“Composition research has largely ignored the affective disorders – depression and bipolar disorder – and their influence on student writing. This is remarkable, as depression abounds in the college population. In a 2008 study of 26,685 undergraduates, nearly 25 percent reported depressive symptoms affecting academic performance.
“Yet, these writers remain marginalized by our profession. Depression can cause severe writing blocks; depressed brains show a pronounced slowing of frontal and temporal lobe activity. Mania can spark intense creativity, but also can escalate to a functional breakdown.”
One of the ways that art students learn to paint is to copy the work of a master.
Of course, there are many more complex and abstract design, creativity and innovation challenges than traditional portraiture.
The Human-Computer Interaction Group at Stanford trains people in designing interactive systems.
In a research study they conducted, subjects drew animals to inhabit an alien Earth-like planet and were presented with example drawings at different stages in the experiment.
The results indicated that “Early exposure to examples improves creativity (measured by the number of common and novel features in drawings, and subjective ratings by independent raters).
“Sometimes, we place too rigid or high expectations on ourselves. For instance, some creative professionals have this idea that success means creativity would come easy for them, when in reality, creativity is an ebb and flow process.”
Creativity coach Lisa Riley – from post Self-care and Creative Achievement.
In her book The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen writes that author and Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes “illuminates creativity’s natural cycles” in her book The Creative Fire, and “describes the creative process, which is analogous to the fulfillment of potential, as a ‘loss and restoration’ pattern of slowing down, descent, underground gathering, quickening, and a burst of intensity.
“This ebb and flow is the reality of the creative life and that we must expect and accept.”
For many creative and gifted people, who place demanding expectations on themselves, and operate with high sensitivity, intensity and imaginational excitability, it may be a real challenge to allow this slowing and turning inward.
Janet Echelman creates net sculpture environments in metropolitan cities around the world. A graduate of Harvard with Highest Honors in Visual Studies, she has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Bali, India, Portugal and the United States.
In her TED presentation video below, she talks about changing her form of expression due to circumstances.
It can be very productive for artists to embrace this kind of fluidity in their form of expression and identity: if you can’t paint or be a painter, then sculpt or make use of some other form of expression.
“I went off on my own to become an artist, and I painted for 10 years, when I was offered a Fulbright to India. Promising to give exhibitions of paintings, I shipped my paints and arrived in Mahabalipuram. The deadline for the show arrived — my paints didn’t. I had to do something.
“This fishing village was famous for sculpture. So I tried bronze casting. But to make large forms was too heavy and expensive. I went for a walk on the beach, watching the fishermen bundle their nets into mounds on the sand. I’d seen it every day, but this time I saw it differently — a new approach to sculpture, a way to make volumetric form without heavy solid materials. My first satisfying sculpture was made in collaboration with these fishermen.”
A number of writers and researchers associate the personality traits of high sensitivity and introversion with creativity, and find that creative people are more likely to be characterized and impacted in various ways by having these qualities.
Elaine Aron, PhD, author of the The Highly Sensitive Person, thinks “HSPs are all creative by definition because we process things so thoroughly and notice so many subtleties and emotional meanings that we can easily put two unusual things together.”
[From my post Being Highly Sensitive and Creative.]
Creativity coach and therapist Lisa Riley notes, “Throughout my practice, I have encountered a connection between highly sensitive people and their own creative impulses…
“Creatives often feel and perceive more intensely, dramatically, and with a wildly vivid color palate to draw from, which can only be described as looking at the world through a much larger lens.”
How can parents, educators and business leaders support people to become more creative, innovative and entrepreneurial?
“Innovation-minded parents encouraged their children’s play, passion and purpose.”
Tony Wagner is currently the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard and the founder and former co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The quote above is paraphrased from his article My View: Creating innovators, in which he notes that many people believe that “America’s economic future depends on more students taking courses in science, technology, engineering and math.”
“However,” he adds, “it is clear to me that the more important goal is for all students to graduate from high school or college ‘innovation-ready,’ and merely requiring students to take more of the same kinds of classes will not be adequate preparation.”
Creative thinking involves dual and often opposing qualities such as convergence and divergence, control and abandon, order and disorder, certainty and uncertainty.
A symposium last year brought together researchers from UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior with eminent Buddhist scholars for a “two-hour conversation about their distinctive yet complementary understandings of compassion, creativity, mental flexibility and attention, as well as the role mindfulness meditation may play in cultivating these qualities.”
J.K. Rowling has said of herself as a child: “I was shy. I was a mixture of insecurities and very bossy to my sister but quite quiet with strangers. Very bookish. Terrible at school.”
She was also “never happier than when reading or writing.”
From my post J.K. Rowling: an ordinary and extraordinary childhood.
Feeling happiness or other positive emotions has a strong connection with being creative, according to a number of research studies.
Lucid dreaming is the experience of being aware that you are dreaming, and even being able to control the dream.
In her post Inception’s Dream Science: Fact or Fiction? dream researcher Deirdre Barrett writes about Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film and some of its premises about dreams.
Barrett says “It is possible to influence your dreams by a technique psychologists call ‘dream incubation.’ Breakthrough dreams – where a writer dreams the plot of a novel or a scientist dreams a formula or someone just has a major insight about their personal life – these can happen spontaneously, but you greatly increase their probability by specific requests of your dreaming mind.”
She describes dream incubation in detail in her book “The Committee of Sleep”, and summarizes the technique: “If you want to dream about a particular person, or topic or problem, you should think about the topic once you are in bed, and form an image of that topic–because dreams are so very visual–and let it be the last thing in your mind before falling asleep.”
The movie “Inception” does not really show the behavior of experienced lucid dreamers in her research, she says; for example, characters in the movie “continued to laboriously climb a cliff with a rope even once they knew it was a dream.”