Creative Intelligence


Dear Artist,

After stumbling around in this inbox for half a day, I realize there are two main kinds of artists. Those who think it’s all about technique, methodology and process, and those who think all you have to do is “wing it.” The latter, sort of like skydivers without benefit of parachutes, are all over the place these days. Attitudes of “anything goes,” “anybody can do it,” and “I can do what I want as long as it has ‘heart'” prevail. While I’m a first-line advocate for intuition, just to make things difficult I have to tell you there’s something else we need to think about. It’s called “Creative Intelligence.”

In our game, this brand of intelligence is as valuable as IQ is to Ph.D. “CI” represents another kind of “knowing.” Not surprisingly, artists with a high CI know when to use their intuition. Knowing when to jump may be the highest calling.

But folks in the high CI category also know when to go for the nuts and bolts. It’s been my observation that CI comes easily to some — they seem to be born with it. Others have to work hard to get it. Creative intelligence knows:


“North Atlantic Schooner”
acrylic on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
by Coulter Watt

When to pause and rethink
When to dream different dreams
When to learn more about a subject
When to reject and restart
When to take a rest or shut down

The high CI artist also knows:

How to prime the pump
How to search and find
How to control the medium
How to let the medium control the art
How to accomplish specialized manoeuvers
How to coax ideas into crossbreeding

CI actually requires a long list that is custom made and held close to the chest of the individual artist. Furthermore, there’s no known method of administering a CI test — except perhaps realizing the outcome of self-anointed “professionalism.” But even that’s too narrow. Peer approval might be a more reasonable test. Or peer admiration. If there ever was a test, covert peer admiration might just do the trick.

Best regards,


PS: “It’s all those years of cognitive learning and study that lead to what many refer to as ‘intuitive’ painting, but they forget the intellectual process that got them to the point where painting became a fluid, natural act.” (Coulter Watt)

Esoterica: Creative intelligence also involves the simultaneous use of mind and spirit. Whether mind before spirit or spirit before mind, retrofitting and deconstructing spirit is the habit of our age. Perhaps the evolved CI guy is best at thinking it out first, then making the leap of faith, then covering tracks. “I throw a spear into the darkness. That is intuition. Then I must send an army into the darkness to find the spear. That is intellect.” (Ingmar Bergman)


Knowledge becomes intuitive
by Jim Thalassoudis, Adelaide, Australia


“Into Darkness”
oil on linen, 24 x 24 inches
by Jim Thalassoudis

Creative intelligence describes creativity, originality, intelligence and its application to the making of art. Although it can be, on rare occasions, “winged” by artists who are one step up from idiot savants, it usually takes a deep understanding of art, art history and techniques to be able to work intuitively within new areas of artistic exploration. The artist might not be conscious of it, but the subconscious mind is working overtime assessing content, subject matter and technique to get things to work. As an artist learns how to paint, certain elements that need to be considered start to become intuitive, once mastered. As an artist looks, reads, and experiments with art making, their level of understanding about art increases. This, in theory, allows artists to try out new things, to be creatively intelligent. One thing that is also important is to try new things without fear of repercussions from your “established art market.”


Critical critique
by Justine Osborne, London, UK


oil on canvas, 9 x 12 inches
by Justine Osborne

“Creative intelligence” Ha! I learnt this the hard way. Aged 19, as a first year student at one of the more famous art colleges in London, Central Saint Martins, we were all shaking in our boots as a tutor famous for his harsh crits was due to pay us all a visit. He made no bones and said, “You paint like you’ve had a lobotomy.” Ouch, luckily I had no ego to bruise, and this was the turnaround that made me realise I was using only part of the alphabet to paint. Those words reverberate whenever I get stuck and help me push myself that little bit further. To put it into context, I was taking interesting photos, painting from them, but not taking them any further in the painting process. They were merely copies of photos that were more interesting than the paintings. So a hard lesson, but an enlightening one.


10,000 hours of right effort to master
by Paul Burns


“This is your Brain on Music”
by Daniel Levitin

If you do your 10,000 hours of right effort, then you have something to offer, period. There have been Neuro Psych studies on this and study after study shows the people who put in the effort become the “Masters.” Talent is not reducible to Genetic advantage (IQ, CI, EI), the effort and hopefully the right effort of 3 hours a day for ten years will derive the “when to” and “how to” list. In Sports, in Music, in Painting – it takes hard work with learning resources, Period! Read This is your Brain on Music — A fascinating book, I thought of your blog. the entire book — from page 80+ can be applied to any art.



Our primary intuition
by James Powrie

Intuition is what we come here with. All else is only secondary to intuition. The ‘else’ is made up of beliefs, indoctrination, limitation… We are free to examine, explore and, if we choose, change our beliefs. Questions we may choose to ask ourselves are: Do I accept beliefs from outside sources without examining them? (indoctrination) or Do I create my beliefs deliberately to move me in the direction of what I prefer to create? We are either creating what we choose (our primary) or we are contributing to the creation of someone elsevs primary. Our primary feels right… That’s it.


Be the best or be different
by Diane Overmyer, Goshen, IN, USA


“It’s All in the Hands”
original artwork
by Diane Overmyer

In this day and age of millions of self-proclaimed “artists,” I think Creative Intelligence is really what sets truly gifted artists apart from the people who are just out there, “playing at art.” People often think that the only thing that matters is doing a good job at reproducing whatever it is that they are painting. As one of my former art professors often said, “You need to be the best or you need to be different.” If I can’t paint an apple better than everyone else painting that same apple, then I use my creative intelligence to paint it in a different way. When I see other people who are applying their CI to their own artwork, that makes me excited!


Creative intelligence is silent partner
by Lynn Harrison, Toronto, ON, Canada


Lynn Harrison

This morning, I was speaking to the very concerned parents (both artists themselves) of an extraordinarily gifted musician barely out of his teens. As he struggles against the paradoxes of the artist’s life (huge acclaim combined with lack of income, for example) he must quickly develop creative intelligence to navigate these tricky waters and survive (both as an artist and a person). In my own experience, life as an artist can at times seem an unsolvable problem. When I view it with “creative intelligence” however, I see it as a strange and beautiful puzzle… one that sometimes I “solve,” and sometimes I don’t. I do know that any solutions I find arise from two things: alert attention to conscious choices (technique, marketing) and a fervent faith in some deeper wisdom or order that I am but a part of… a sort of silent partner that provides ideas beyond my conscious understanding. I believe that creative intelligence can apply equally to art and life, and that if it is applied to both of these, both will flourish.


Must finally ‘wing it’
by Brad Michael Moore, Perrin, TX, USA


“Tinker Bell”
original artwork
by Brad Michael Moore

While I do believe (for me) it is a lot about technique, methodology and process, I also believe all I can do is to finally, “wing it.” That’s the only way I get by these days. Since everything else changes, I have found I too always seek knowledge to stay attuned to possibilities. However, I do believe that most all my efforts are the result of precognitive resonance — often from my dreams, and even from my interpretations of the energies that come from other creativities. Since I’m a mature artist, the technical aspect is mostly within me already, however I try to add to my base knowledge all the time — one good way, to read your blogs. When I sit down before whatever my blank canvas happens to be — I know it’s only a matter of time, and persistence, before I reach out and find, “What’s Been Eating Gilbert Grape.” We always find what we need to in the end — or how would we ever know when to stop?


Left brain formats right-brain creativity
by Nancy Redding, Andover, MA, USA

I did a whole lot of research on right-brain thinking twenty years ago when it was a “new” concept. I came to the conclusion that we teach to the left brain. The left brain observes, collects, records, and organizes information. The right brain has the capacity to ask questions that have never been asked before. The creative thinking process is beyond our conscious thinking so we can’t measure or track the process. When the “answer” mysteriously shows up we say, ah-ha, and call it intuition. Right-brain thinking is lost unless the creative thinker then shares that information in a left-brain format, linear and sequential. As a teacher, my goal was always to teach left-brain skills (color theory, for instance) then set up a lesson that allowed students to use that information in a challenging way, which was essentially an opportunity to use that information intuitively and unconventionally. The less-creative thinkers could work within the framework (the box) I established while the more-creative thinkers could be encouraged to think outside the box. Harvard recently did a study that was shared in a Boston Globe article. They went into art rooms and observed the kind of thinking that led to success. They observed students who were willing to trust their own ideas and follow through even in the face of temporary failure. I can’t remember the rest right now. They concluded that students were learning thinking skills that were not part of any other academic learning process.


Intuition is knowledge and experience
by Dusanka Badovinac, Netherlands


oil on canvas, 35 x 24 inches
by Dusanka Badovinac

Intuition, emotion and intuitive painting! Those terms are very much abused in these days. Artists without drawing skills or technical knowledge of art-making like to hide themselves after intuition. They very often throw some paint on canvas until their “intuition” says: Stop! Intuition is for an artist absolutely intellectual part of being an artist. It is your knowledge and experience sending you a message to your intuition; or better called emotional part of you as an artist. I work mostly on more (3-4) different paintings to help my self use my knowledge and intuition the best possible way. At one moment when I think I have said what I wanted I move my painting from my studio (in the attic), downstairs in my living-room. Then I look at them as a work of some unknown artist. This helps me separate my technical knowledge from my emotional way of experiencing my subject. Sometimes it took me months to decide to put maybe few brush-strokes; sometimes I just put the signature as a full stop at the end of sentence. It can also happen that I paint all over again. As much as I like that jumping around the canvas with my brushes and knives, I like sitting in my sofa and looking at my art.


CI quotient increases over time
by Mark Hope, Wasaga Beach, ON, Canada


“Hot and Cold”
oil painting
by Mark Hope

Thank you, thank you for offering a term that explains my understanding of the process of art making. I think there is something interesting certainly in my own case and I suspect others out there as well. I started out as a very ‘intuitive’ or using another term ’emotional’ artist, letting the piece dictate direction, colour choice, composition. As my passion grew, my need for technical prowess grew. As time wears on, these two aspects become more and more intertwined and I think (without trying to be egomaniacal) my creative intelligence quotient increases. New ideas that were impossible years ago are now within my grasp. The driving force is the passion for art.


Easier said than done
by Ron Sanders, North Port, FL, USA


“Tied Up”
oil painting
by Ron Sanders

“It’s all those years of cognitive learning and study that lead to what many refer to as ‘intuitive’ painting, but they forget the intellectual process that got them to the point where painting became a fluid, natural act.” (Coulter Watt) This is exactly what I was pursuing a few years ago when I abandoned most of my galleries to learn new processes and attack the weaknesses in my art. It was (and is) my philosophy that you must ingrain the knowledge so deeply that it becomes a part of intuition. Then you can paint from your heart without thinking too much about how to say what the heart has to say. And what’s more, know the best way to say it. For that belief I was roundly criticized by friends and strangers alike. I see too many artists that promote “Just paint from your heart.” But they get frustrated when what’s in their heart isn’t what ends up on the canvas because they lack the “know how.” The other group pushes emotional painting, and they are competent to do it. But they, like the quote above, have forgotten the path of learning that led them to that freedom. And so they mislead others into thinking it is an easier path than it is.


Creative freedom
by Pepper Hume, Spring, TX, USA


mixed media doll
by Pepper Hume

I have long asserted that the first law of art is discipline. The artist standing on a tower of knowledge, technique and methodology can leap a whole lot higher than the guy teetering on a little pile of flimsy gimmicks, let alone the one standing on the ground. If you are serious about making art, first learn the rules, the truths, the constants, the facts of all the elements – color theory, composition, etc. This opens up a universe of possibilities, unsuspected by the untutored. Nothing sets the artist’s mind freer for that leap of creativity. Okay, you “free thinkers,” stop groaning. When you learned to ride a bicycle, you had to think about leaning this way and that to keep your balance. You had to remember to push forward and down with one foot alternately with the other. You had to figure out when and how much to turn the handlebars to make that corner. Does any of that enter your mind as you ride your bike now? of course not. You think about the wind against your face, whether it’s bracing or painfully cold or soft and you concentrate on identifying each warm scent it brings. You experience the world around you while technique learned, but no longer conscious, propels the bicycle. You all but forget you’re riding one. Now, that’s creative freedom.


Mastered skills are unconscious
by Sharon McKenna, Ottawa, ON, Canada


Sharon McKenna

I was a physical education teacher in a past life and can see a parallel between learning any complex physical skill in athletics and the artistic act. For example, in a golf swing, much practice, learning and complex thinking goes into mastering the skill. But in order to execute the perfect swing, it is necessary to think of nothing — none of the discreet parts should be conscious. Let your body move in an intuitive manner to use all of the hard-won knowledge of lie, grip, wind, backswing — just be in the moment and feel one with the club. My best paintings happen when my unconscious is in charge of skills that I have mastered to the point of not having to think about them — I can just be in the moment. Joy in a paintbox!


Harmonization of left and right brains
by Marney Ward, Canada


watercolour painting
by Marney Ward

Creative Intelligence — I have spent most of my life trying to understand, define and develop that very thing. The Romantics first coined the term; William Blake called it Poetic Genius and later Creative Intelligence, Coleridge and Wordsworth called it the Creative Imagination. It was used in the sense of divine inspiration or intuition. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi developed an entire philosophy called The Science of Creative Intelligence, because he was a monk and a scientist and the form of meditation he introduced to the world was a systematic way to connect the conscious mind to the deeper, more creative levels of consciousness within. I earned a PhD studying Blake’s philosophy and became a teacher of Transcendental Meditation when I realized that meditation was connecting me to the source of my own creativity, but the ultimate realization of my own creative intelligence has come with my development as an artist and a poet. I believe Creative Intelligence is a harmonization of both hemispheres of the brain, the intellectual left hemisphere and the spatial/intuitive right hemisphere. It’s also a gradual awakening to the deeper, more powerful levels of consciousness we all hold within. Creative Intelligence allows our subtle intuitions to participate in the decision-making process of our art. It’s a marriage of intuition and inspiration with technique, hard work, experience and planning. I believe the best art needs both.


Trick is in choice of tools
by Helena Tiainen, Berkeley, CA, USA

Most people are either left- or right-brain oriented, so to say. Most are not equally balanced when it comes to intellect and intuition but tend to prefer one over the other. The same is true of artists. Perhaps it would be ideal to be equally yin and yang, but very few people seem to be able to balance the different aspects of the mind in such a harmonious fashion. Perhaps the whole disposition is predetermined by genetics. Perhaps it serves a greater purpose in the bigger picture than we can possibly grasp. Or perhaps it is all determined by our own likes and dislikes and keeps on shifting throughout our lives. But based on my own experience very few people seem equally intelligent and intuitive in their pursuits. The emphasis seems to be on one or the other. But when intellect and intuition work together the combination is usually more powerful than when one dominates the other. Just like it is best to let the painting flow when in the act of painting, it is also best to pause and step back to take a look at the painting to see whether the flow is going to the direction desired and what changes are called for in order to complete the painting. Listening to the voice of intellect and reflecting upon it with the feelings of intuition and learning from our own mistakes and victories to distinguish true intellect and intuition from our own personal hopes and fears is perhaps the very best any artist or person can strive for in life. The world is filled with tools. The trick is to learn which ones are the most suitable for the task at hand.


Priming the pump
by Graham Smith, Wongamine, Australia


“Bob the Builder”
oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches
by Graham Smith

Once we have got our tools together, and can make some reasonable marks on the canvas, I reckon the most important skill is knowing “how to prime the pump.” I am sure it is different for all of us, but for me it’s kind of like looking at something through my peripheral vision which disappears if I try to look at it directly. Or maybe it’s like seduction where the sledge hammer approach isn’t going to get any results at all. I have to coax and entice and let it well up inside me. It’s a kind of nonchalant awareness, where at one level I am as far away from nonchalant as possible but I know the process well enough now to let it rise and infuse me, but not to try to force it. There are ways to beckon it though. I find that looking through my files of images until one leaps out and grabs me is a good start. Or looking at paintings of others and recognizing the ones that are striking a chord at the moment. Or looking at my old paintings and finding a passage that I am particularly pleased with. All of this goes into the mix until it’s almost impossible to sit still. Sometimes I will potter around preparing canvases or the workspace knowing that the pump is primed and the juices are rising. None of this means anything unless and until I sit at the canvas and start. I try to make a habit of doing this every day. I do the mechanical stuff and, on a good day, watch the pesky juices do theirs.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Creative Intelligence



From: Lawrence J Philp — Oct 19, 2007

Carl Holty and Romare Bearden co-wrote a book called “The Painter’s Mind.” In this book you will find reference to paintings and painters. Terms like the “edge” and the “picture plane” familiar to most art students and artists alike become more real when read alongside the additional illustrations. I always wondered what “tempering volumes” meant until I read this book.

From: Lawrence J. Philp — Oct 19, 2007

Dear Robert Genn: Please let us see pictures of your studio especially your studio easel. I think that it would be great to see how you have applied your ingenuity to living and working as an artist. Thank you

From: Ted Duncan — Oct 23, 2007

Re: Creative intelligence. Here’s a little problem I created. Describe what you do, but you cannot use the words: I, me, or your name.

From: Dave Wilson — Oct 23, 2007

If everyone “makes it”, becomes the best, we simple have a ‘new normalcy’. Don’t worry. It’s not going to happen.

From: Julie Roberts — Oct 23, 2007

I would encourage everyone (especially John Ferrie who is dyslexic) to click on to this web site describing multiple intelligences: As a primary school teacher I like to educate parents on the subject so they can look for the unique intelligence of their child. It is healthy and encouraging for everyone to read about which way they are innately intelligent. Unfortunate for some, but necessarily, the school curriculum requires primarily linguistic and logistic intelligence. If children who are weak in these areas know that they are smart in other ways, self-esteem can be saved and enthusiasm nurtured. As with creative intelligence, innate ability in children and adults needs knowledge and technical skill to grow and thrive.

From: Jane Brenner — Oct 23, 2007

I will always remember the psychology professor on the first three days of the class. He went to the podium and said, “There is no such thing as intuition,” and left the room. None of us has ever forgotten that important thought.

From: Frank Armistead — Oct 23, 2007

There’s a lot here about balance. My father was a house painter and I grew up on ladders and scaffolds. I learned quickly there are two kinds of balance. One can stay safely and firmly in the middle of the ladder and paint the small area one can reach easily or one can learn just how to stretch to the absolute limit to paint beyond one’s reach.

From: Sandie Hawkins — Oct 24, 2007

I don’t know how you got my name, but I am really happy to recieve your newsletters! Thanks. I am relatively new to watercolor (the last 6 years out of the 50 I have been attempting to create) and am not familiar with the whys and wherefors of it. Any thing you send about it is very interesting to me, thank you.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 25, 2007

WOW!!…is all I have to say about the responses I’ve read regarding the “CI” clickback. My heart soars still. It is such a pleasure to read the comments and how many were right in tune with this concept. I was beginning to dispair from all the “I can do that” artists I’ve recently come into contact with. My firm belief that you have to paint what is within you is at the heart of all good painting. I won’t reiterate here what painting from photos or using projectors results in. I just wanted to say how much I personally appreciate reading the comments presented here today. Art is and will always be about who I am and what I have to say about the life that surrounds me. It’s my interpretation. My way of seeing. This for me is what I look for when I view others’ work. I bubble over with renewed enthusism. Thank you.

From: Kiri Green — Feb 16, 2009







pastel painting, 8 x 14 inches
by Rodrica Tilley, Montrose, PA, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Claudia Roulier of Idledale, CO, USA who wrote, “I divide artists into the Product vs. the Process groups; I think that pretty much defines them.”

And also Susan Pharaoh of Winnipeg, MB, Canada who wrote, “For too long I’ve been hearing from Art Teachers who claim, ‘If I make the students follow rules I’ll have no creative students!’ Bah and Humbug!”

And also Petra Voegtle of Munich, Germany who wrote, ‘You did not mention “serendipity.” The ability to handle serendipities to one’s advantage is a major element of creative intelligence.”

And also William Polm of Murrieta, CA, USA who wrote, “Yes, Creative Intelligence is best nurtured by study and experience. You must put mileage on your brush and your pencil. All other art learning risks superficiality.”

And also Rick Rotante of Tujunga, CA, USA who wrote, “Overdrive is what artists have from doing a thing repeatedly for years. They know what works and how to correct what doesn’t.”

And also Rick McClung of Atlanta, GA, USA who wrote, “In my opinion the more tools in your arsenal, the more likely a great work. Balance is key.”

And also Arthur Kvarnstrom who wrote, “An individual has to have the self-confidence to find it important enough to listen to and follow their inner processes.”

And also John Ferrie of Vancouver, BC, Canada who wrote, “I always thought that creative intelligence was something of an oxymoron. I was never a good student, I am horribly dyslexic and failed grade 3.”

And also Victoria O’Neill of Frazer, PA, USA who wrote, “An Ob-Gyn friend was visiting with some other guests and as they all left she stood at the front door and said, ‘Your house is just so creative! Maybe one day we could come over here and you could teach us how you do all this.’ Without skipping a beat, I replied, ‘Well sure thing, and afterwards you can show us all how to do a C Section.’ ”

And also Pam Craig of Memphis, TN, USA who wrote, “I jump off regularly and let fly but always with my parachute, because I expect to land if nothing else.”

And also David Lehmann of Menlo Park, CA, USA who wrote, “Your letter today on Creative Intelligence made me think of this quote from Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It is more about Art than Zen: ‘You want to know how to paint a perfect painting? It’s easy. Make yourself perfect and then just paint naturally.’ (Robert M. Pirsig)”




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