Ever since I was a kid I’ve been interested in the nature of creative thinking. Where does it come from? Can it be learned? Can it be taught? I’ve been curious about my own periods of creative intuition and creative ineptitude. I’ve also been interested in the difference between “wild child” creativity and mature creative self-management.
Most of our creativity takes place in the right back corner of our brains. In addition, many folks are able to toss the creative ball both fore and aft and port and starboard. Studies of various brain disorders and traumas have thrown further light on the game. Anne Adams was a Vancouver, BC, scientist and painter who recently passed away from the effects of PPA. Primary Progressive Aphasia patients eventually lose their ability to speak. Anne tracked the progression of her disorder in a remarkable series of paintings. As her condition deepened, her creativity seemed to move to a different part of her brain. Her work became more linear, mathematical and ordered. One of Anne’s paintings, Unraveling Bolero, takes Maurice Ravel’s Bolero and makes it visual. Ravel, who died in 1937, also suffered from PPA.
Neurologist Bruce Miller of the University of California in San Francisco notes that one part of the brain can learn to do what another part becomes incapable of. While modifications take place in the process — as in muscle building for specific sports — by persistently asking, we get. With curiosity, audacity and effort, creativity can be redeployed. Just knowing it’s there for the taking is part of the game. Sophocles said, “Look and you will find it; what is unsought will go undetected.” Like Anne, we need to be prepared to let creativity take us where it will.
We all have personal keys to developing our creative potential. For some it’s necessary to remain mute — for others a mild distraction is needed — music, even TV. Our individual preferences in reference material and experience are precious triggers. Studio tricks, attitudes and physical exercises jiggle the liquid brain into building the creative muscle. Our miraculous computers are forever rebooted. These days we seem to be able to modify and improve the performance of just about anything. Not including the use of drugs, you can train your creative brain to be brainier than you think.
PS: “If one part of the brain is compromised, another part can remodel and become stronger.” (Dr. Bruce Miller)
Esoterica: The idea of “wild child” creativity developed from the “noble savage” concept of the 19th century. These days, most of us try to know ourselves and manage our creative development. Doing what we can with our given abilities, we stretch ourselves when needed. The regular and reapplied art of stretching typifies the creatively evolving brain. In my observation, creativity is a self-motivated neural thing that becomes a winning habit.
This letter was originally published as “Building the creative muscle” on April 18, 2008.
I wish each and every one of you well during this global health crisis and encourage you to flatten the curve by staying at home with your creative materials. I hope our Painter’s Keys community can be a source of friendship and creative inspiration during this time and always.
In friendship, Sara
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“I bring you with reverent hands / The books of my numberless dreams.” (William Butler Yeats)
The Killarney are of Ontario is in what is called the ‘near north’. The landscape is wild and rugged. Giant granite cliffs plunging deep into the glacial lakes. There are no roads leading to our painting locations. We travel by a large, sturdy pontoon boat. This is a self-catered retreat. You bring your own provisions and cook your own meals in our fully equip cabins at a northern camp. Our instructor, Keith Thirgood, has been teaching artists his own unique approach to painting for over 12 years. Learn how to find order in the chaos, control your colours and create paintings that work. Learn modern colour theory, values, shapes and lines, what makes for a good painting. This retreat is suitable for beginners wanting to learn to paint in a fun, outdoor location, as well as more experienced studio artists who want to try plein air, plus artists who are looking to loosen up and paint in a more post-impressionist style. To find out more and register, please visit www.wilsonstreetstudios.
I grew up on a farm in Ohio, and that experience gave me a love of nature and the seasons and a deep belief in personal independence, as well as a love of experimentation. These have been the foundations of my work as a painter. I believe that learning in art or any subject is lifelong, and that the most important lessons we learn are through our personal interests and experimentation. After my husband’s death in 2018, I visited Israel the next year, and was inspired by the amazing landscape colors, and especially the old city of Jerusalem, with its crumbling walls, and its deep religious importance. I found my way out of grief by painting the Eight Gates of the old city.