We live in a society that admires its artists. At the extreme, they are viewed as untouchable geniuses, blessed with a holy grail filled with this stuff called “creativity” that many look for, but few find. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can lead to “artists” burdened with unrealistic expectations and disillusioned “non-artists” believing creativity is beyond reach.
But creativity isn’t the fountain of youth or the city of El Dorado. It’s an essential skill valuable not only for completing creative projects, but for developing solutions to the social and political problems we face today. Most of us have the power to draw from our creative sides, and can do so if we dismantle cultural myths like the following.
“You’re Either Born Creative or Not”
It’s hard to look at artists like Pablo Picasso, who painted 13,500 paintings and 100,000 prints and engravings, and not think that there’s something that makes these productive “geniuses” naturally more creative. However, like most cultural ideas about personality, this notion is based on the false assumption that there is some special artistic talent we receive at birth.
In fact, most studies show that the idea of being “right-brained” or “left-brained” is just a myth. Instead, creativity is more likely the result of a process than a personality trait, and these processes can be taught. Our educational system is grounded in this idea: we learn to do creative work in steps, whether it’s brainstorming before writing or learning how to draw a wire frame before drawing a figure.
“Creativity Means Originality”
Creativity and originality usually go hand in hand in our minds. After all, those who reject the norms to craft something entirely new is what being creative is all about, right?
But if you think about it, every “original” idea builds on all the ideas that came before it. And even the most outside-the-box artistic creators began by learning the fundamentals of their craft. Before you worry about originality, remind yourself how many times we’ve retold Cinderella or how important learning music theory is. This is how culture works: we create new meaning by building off of what is already there.
“I Can Only Be Creative When the ‘Muse Visits’”
Creative ideas strike us at the strangest moments: in the shower, during our commute, or at 12:37 a.m. when we’re lying in bed. That can make it seem like creativity is this fickle thing, flitting in and out whenever it sees fit.
Here’s the thing about “the muse”: she doesn’t create something out of nothing. When you’re stuck on a project, and an idea suddenly strikes when you’re in the shower, it’s because you already spent time brainstorming, pondering, and debating before you got in the shower. Persistence and patience — not magical figures — breed creativity.
“The Bigger the Incentive, the Greater the Creativity”
One of the most destructive myths that circulates about creativity is that it only comes with outside motivation. This idea suggests that individuals can be bribed, threatened, or even forced to do creative work, and that a competitive incentive is the only path to creative genius.
While it can be true that “necessity is the mother of invention,” studies have proven that high-stakes pressure kills creativity more than promotes it. Unfortunately, this is often the mindset behind how our schools and workplaces are run. Creating stimulating environments that promote collaboration can go much further toward our goal of nurturing creativity.
At the end of the day, creativity is more than just the ability to paint a mural or compose a symphony. Creativity will always be the force that helps us change the world. The first step to unlocking our full creative potential, and bringing about cultural and social change, is dismantling commonly-held myths about creativity.