Saturday, March 8, 2014

Passing the Test

A recent article in the Huffington Post examines the characteristics of creative people and offers some interesting insights. When I read such articles, I am always curious as to whether I possess the traits they identify. Am I really creative? Do I pass the test? It was somewhat reassuring that my experience seems consistent with their descriptors.

Daydreaming or mind wandering is one of the traits they note as involving the same brain processes as imagination and creativity. Apparently daydreaming is connected to our ability to recall information when distracted. That might explain why ideas often come to me while driving or doing yoga. That's when my mind relaxes and begins to free associate, making connections that don't always follow a linear path. Sitting down to try to come up with a creative idea is guaranteed failure. You have to sneak up on your quarry when it least expects it. In this case our quarry is our own subconscious.

I especially like the trait, "they work the hours that work for them". I actually do my best creative work very early in the morning, usually when I can't sleep. Now my studio is 20 minutes away and I've never tried driving there pajama-clad and half-asleep, but the ideas that fuel my painting often arise in that semi-somnolent state. My brain is in a different form, more fluid, not yet sharpened into the tighter analytic shape it assumes by day. Poetry and writing flow best early in the morning and I often write in bed for an hour before rising.

Conversely I work best late at night when the challenge is some complex spreadsheet puzzle or even word games. Often this is creative work as well, albeit of a different nature-numbers and patterns. I am beginning to understand why I found traditional work hours so frustrating. The times I work best fall outside of the normal workday!

Many of the traits they identified exist in a constellation. Creative people are curious, they observe everything, take risks and seek out new experiences. Those characteristics go together with intellectual curiosity as the bedrock. When you are curious you pay attention, looking for new inputs to feed your curiosity. If not enough is going on in your immediate environment you seek out new experience which is a form of risk-taking, interjecting something unfamiliar. For me travel, learning new skills and volunteering have often proved important in generating new experiences. I've referred to them as elements in my process of setting the table, laying the groundwork for the unexpected and serendipitous moment that often proves important in the creative process.

I was especially interested in the trait of "getting out of one's head". Here they discussed the process of stepping into someone else's shoes and in doing so, out of one's own. When I paint someone else's stories, I find myself trying on their experience, not just what they were thinking, but what they were feeling. I have found that sometimes it helps to write poetry on their experience as a way to distill it. Its imagery often gives me a door to find my way into a painting.

Creative people view all of life as an opportunity for self expression. I am in an artist's lab. Of the 24 artists who participate, most engage in a variety of media, all vehicles for self-expression. An artistic presentation may also be incorporated into clothing. In my own experience, I have found that painting and writing essays complement each other. Poetry plays a different role, serving as a gateway to other forms of creativity, a tool as well as a complement.

Interestingly, the research reports that a creative person is both introverted and extroverted, a combination which is unusual. We've all heard of the shy actor who loses that shyness on stage. As the "artist formerly known as introverted", you will find that with a microphone in my hand, a whole other side emerges. People who have seen me in my performance mode just don't perceive me as introverted, a subject of considerable bemusement to my shy inner self.

And happily, creative people are intrinsically motivated to follow their passions, not for external rewards, but for the sheer pleasure of bringing their skills to a challenge that intrigues them. This is an engine that I know well as it has led me to the path I now pursue.


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