“Art itself has become an extraordinary thing – the activity of peculiar people – people who become more and more peculiar as their activity becomes more and more extraordinary.”
Eric Gill, Art and a Changing Civilisation, (“The Creative Process”)
Creativity as a discussion is as subjective and varied as created material. Whether contemplating art, writing, music, architecture, or scientific analysis, articles on creative processes reveal that, though experts agree on foundational neurological, inspirational, preparational, and other functions, “creativity does have a process, but the process is not linear” (Wu).
The University of Georgetown established an entire exhibition exploring the creative processes of people from all types of industries—designers, playwrights, authors, theologians, doctors, scientists, etc., and one display featured Alexis Carrel who “won the Nobel Prize for his vascular suture” in 1912. Carrel’s surgical innovation was inspired by his endless study of the human body, imagination, and driving need to “cure humanity of its manifold ills” (“The Creative Process”).
Carrel, in his book, Man, Unknown, says
To progress again, man must remake himself. And he cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor. In order to uncover his true visage, he must shatter his own substance with heavy blows of his hammer. (“The Creative Process”).
I agree with Carrel. I find that creativity, regardless (not irregardless—whoever created this linguistic abomination must needs remake himself, still—boom! You were Shakespeared!) of profession or industry, must firstly become honest in both ego and vision. As a writer, I produce fiction—a sanctioned lie—but my writing has to maintain an absolute authenticity. To provide an entertaining lie, I have to have the valid experience, inspiration, or research with which to base a story. Even in non-fiction, authenticity in interest or knowledge precedes intuitive and organized recollection of experiences and opinions.
In her article “The Creative Process in Eight Stages,” writer Kimberly Brooks lists vision, hope, diving in, excitement, suspicion, clarity, obsession, and resolution as the process by which she creates her paintings, though she expresses that her stages are universal for any creative person. Brooks’ stages “come in a flash,” and while I agree that ideas or changes to ideas often arrive unexpected, I don’t believe her steps are fundamental to everyone. Hope and excitement, for instance, seem like arbitrary additions to her list. Vision is hope in substance, and I don’t believe every creative person is obsessed with their work. Persistent or focused, is a more collective and accurate ascription toward a finished product. I do believe in thea mania, or the Divine Madness described by Plato in Phaedrus, and though most often describing transcendent religious zeal, the term applies to a creator in artistic fervor—but I don’t believe this state is imperative—more of a state of being than a stage of creating.
In an article titled “Breaking Down the Creative Process” by Jeff Guyer, the writer suggests that he is “always amused– and a bit leery– when people who consider themselves creative say that they have no creative process. That ideas ‘just come’ to them.” After I told Jeff Guyer to shove it because I’m a mad writer genius who plucks ideas from the air, he writes, “I can’t help but ask if ideas really do just come to them, or have they refined and streamlined their process to the point that they don’t even recognize it as a process?”
Fine, Jeff. But my eyes are still rolling because you’re not ruining my street cred.
Guyer mentions English social psychologist, Graham Wallas’ four stages of creativity—preparation, the foundational process of research, practice, experimentation, or observation; incubation, the formulation of ideas; illumination, or the concrete vision of what one wishes to create; and implementation, the execution of ideas into the chosen media.
Really, these are just fancy terms for Brooks’ vision, diving in, clarity, and resolution, though Guyer points out that he’s “seen [Wallas’] approach described in several sources recently and over the years, but few ever seem to give any proper credit to the source material, espousing these thoughts and concepts as if they were original ideas,” so he might fight Kimberly Brooks.
I have popcorn.
In a 20th century study, psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi compared the personal histories and characteristics of 90 men and women (Kerr). She found there were some commonalities—such as the loss of a parent or “negative… elementary and secondary school experiences”—but what propelled the most creativity was “the way they seized upon whatever opportunities or challenges had come to them,” and the “excitement and satisfaction of pursuing their goals motivated these individuals to surmount barriers and persist through difficulties” (Kerr).
Oops. Kimberly Brooks was on to something—my bad.
I guess I have to remove the smoke and mirrors of my melancholy, introverted, hipster-self for a minute, and admit that I agree that—to whatever non-linear degree I can—creativity has a process. For me, it was an early obsession with the metaphor—and I mean obsessed.
I’m glaring at you, Kimberly Brooks.
Creativity for me comes as I, and Guyer so arrogantly suggested, have streamlined my thinking over thirty years to think in metaphor subconsciously. I don’t see a tree without my mental Rolodex thinking old man, the skin of a dragon, sorrow, or a million other potential uses in writing. From any metaphor, no matter how stupid, an idea can breed other, seemingly unrelated, ideas if one is only willing to venture into the rabbit hole. I built a tile and photograph table once from a poem I wrote. The poem was terrible, but the table was cool.
Creativity for non-fiction stories or academic papers can follow the same processes as my elaborate lies or poetry. I like how the University of Georgetown exhibition included genres and industries that aren’t traditionally considered creative—unless one reads about the preparatory process of Einstein, his observations, math learnedness, or contemplative study, one can’t fully appreciate the genius behind his ‘Ah-ha!’ moments.
My favorite book on the planet, Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, explores the daydreams Einstein may have had while working out his theory of relativity. Lightman, a well-known astrophysicist, physics professor, and English instructor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), is also a poet, fiction writer, and lecturer. His creative process utilizes his love of the universe, curiosity, and masterful use of the metaphor to create believable lies that are authentically rooted in truth and fact.
But I digress. Read his books. He was my high-school boyfriend*, but I’m sure his wife wouldn’t like to find that out.