New angles on creativity


Dear Artist,

These days, high-powered creativity coaches are offering themselves to the world of business. Companies improve their bottom lines with the latest techniques in creative thinking. Much of what they’re saying has been known to artists for some time.


“Barcelona, June 13, 1933”
oil on canvas
by Joan Miró (1893-1983)

Today’s top mantras include keeping new ideas private until the time comes for a full birth in the presence of the right crowd. Another is accepting the idea that creativity pops up in unusual places in its own sweet time. The bathtub, the car and the fishing boat are often mentioned. Execs are told to move unresolved ideas to the back burner and let them simmer. In other words, go golfing. Here are a few more:

Watch your use of the word “creativity.” It’s pretentious and can scare creative ideas out of you. “New” is a word that’s suspect as well. Good ideas don’t have to be totally new ideas. The better ideas, new or otherwise, are often generated when the original questions are clarified. Rephrased questions lead to rephrased answers. In the world of ideas, have the courage to be wrong. Nothing is too crazy to look into. Be your greater self and dump some of your conservative tendencies.


“Women and Bird in the Moonlight” 1949
oil on canvas by
Joan Miró

“The creative person,” said creativity pioneer Frank X Barron, “is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive and more constructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.” Crazy or not, take your ideas into another room and beat up on them. Furthermore, ideas fleshed up in rough form (sketch) go a long way toward making them full blown. Also, commit yourself to making the better ideas happen — it’s not enough to just have the ideas — it’s important to get the wheels turning. And know that for every creative question there are generally several right answers.

Execs are also told to start relying on their hunches. “A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something,” said the film director Frank Capra. Also, there is a “state” of creativity, even though it’s not on the map. “The object,” said art educator Robert Henri, “isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” Naming and claiming your creations are also up there on the list. “I start from something considered dead and arrive at a world,” said surrealist painter Joan Miro, “And when I put a title on it, it becomes even more alive.”


“Message from a Friend” 1964
oil on canvas
by Joan Miró

Best regards,


PS: “We’ve become conditioned to believe there is only one right answer. This goes back to the school system where you were rewarded for coming up with the one right answer that the teacher expected. To beat this conditioning, try to think of three right answers.” (Claude Legrande, pres. Ideaction Inc.)

Esoterica: Current research seems to indicate that the human brain is hard-wired to judge ideas at the same time that we generate them. It’s an instinctive response going back to the cave days when we had to deal with sabre-toothed tigers. An inner judge rules and makes a quick decision based on what worked before. Delaying judgement may not save you from a tiger, but it’s vital in creative thinking. Time gives the opportunity for more than one layer of the old cortex to go to work. A whole zoo of ideas is possible.

This letter was originally published as “New angles on creativity” on August 19, 2005.


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are now available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“I think of my studio as a vegetable garden, where things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. You have to graft. You have to water.” (Joan Miro)



    • I believe this is the most inspiring commentary of all among Robert’s messages. He has written many helpful thoughts on art and attitude but this one stands out! Thank you.

  1. Jamuna Snitkin on

    I agree with Mary. This is how it is experienced. I feel never ending gratitde for having been introduced to Robert and Sara

  2. Thanks for the re-do of this letter. After being away from creating for some time due to other life circumstances, I am excited to get back in the studio and play.

  3. Thank you for the article. Indeed, when one is in that state, where art isn’t possible to be brushed off, there is a world one has accessed that offers unforeseen possibilities. All you have to do as an artist is to take whatever is next to you and draw and paint as it comes. Zoltan.

  4. Patricia Lovering on

    This is lovely, as a hyper creative person this mirrors the birth of my freshest ideas and their organic arrival.

  5. I really look forward to reading every article,that gets posted, always a delight to be able to glimmer another exciting angle to art,art appreciation, life skills,life appreciation,and how there are always golden nuggets obtained from everyone. So,I agree,on the 3 correct possible answers…simple,yet so right!! And,I love the simple,visually eye catching vegetable garden phrase quote by Joan Miro, a beautiful reminder of just relaxing,kindly providing an untangled foundation of life skills, tangle free! I love watering my plants,and myself in this glorious sun,here in the UK.

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I, Ramya Sadasivam, have been practicing art since 2006. I so love to portray Indian culture, customs, day to day chores of the hard-working laborers, happy village life and life of women. I love to capture the difference in values between the shadows and bright light and also I like to capture genuine emotion.


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