"Creativity takes courage."
- - Henri Matisse
The ancients imagined creative inspiration to be an elusive and fickle Muse, a female immortal who either favored one- -or not. Throughout history, artists have turned to wine, hallucinagens, music, gum-chewing- -you name it- -to spark that inspiration when the creative well ran dry. Luckily, we now have science.
According to Valerie van Mulukom in her recent article "The Secret to Creativity- -According to Science," studies are being done to determine just what creativity is and how to generate it. And yes, what van Mulukom describes as the science of creativity comes remarkably close to Matisse's assertion that courage is the requirement. First of all, van Mulukom explains that scientific studies have identified "three different but interlinked types of imagination." The first, Creative Imagination, is the ability to do something unique and groundbreaking on a large scale. The second, Fantastical Imagination, is the ability to lose oneself in vivid and realistic fantasies, imaginary worlds and daydreams. Lastly, the third type is called Episodic Imagination and is similar to Fantastical Imagination except it involves visualizing events based on real memories and experiences rather than magical ones. According to scientific studies, these three types of imagination are all part of the creative process, and can be consciously developed.
As van Mulukom's article proposes, creativity can be- -well, CREATED- -in certain conditions and with intent in certain environments. For example, actors can practice their craft through exercises in fantastical imagination, and parents can provide their children with opportunities for fantastical PLAY that serve as practice sessions for creative problem-solving. Van Mulukom points out exposure and experience are the best teacher of creativity, and quotes Picasso as having said, "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist."
But here is my take on it. I have always loved and lived to create. My father was a graphic designer who trained my aesthetic eye, while my mother was a speech and drama teacher who encouraged me to play. Creative experimentation and making things was part of every day. Yet when I first came across Matisse's words, they resonated with me because anyone who is as passionate about art as I am is deathly afraid of making bad art. So here is where the COURAGE part comes in: creativity thrives on practice, perseverance, and fearless experimentation no matter what risks or costs of failure and mistakes. This means an individual must be willing to diverge from convention, risk ridicule and misunderstanding, possibly even putting relationships and lifestyle in jeopardy...pretty much what all those I consider greatest creative geniuses do/have done.
Learning the science of creativity is just the first part. The harder step is conquering the perfectionist within and putting one's creations out there for others to like- -or not. I believe creativity is a desire to connect with others in a meaningful way, and I have never met an artist who wasn't afraid to expose his or her creations to a critical world. I wish I had Picasso's confidence, bravado and self-possession, Matisse's passion for experimentation, and Frida's fearless exposure of her inner self. I hope courage is something that just takes practice!
"La Gerbe" by Henri Matisse. Paper cutouts.