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November 21, 2018

How to look at art: How do we learn creativity?

AfroSookie na Nyumba, by Edwin Wainaina, 20, 2017
AfroSookie na Nyumba, by Edwin Wainaina, 20, 2017

Creativity can be learned. It can be strengthened, similar to our muscular ability. Those who say otherwise reflect the old notion that creativity is a 'God-given' talent we are born with or without. Failing to explain the human acts of creating new knowledge, they attribute them to the 'acts of God'.

In the 21st century, as the rate of innovation promises to be 1,000 times that of the 20th century, creativity is more essential than ever. Not only to constructing new worlds, but adapting, surviving and succeeding in them.

But, how do we learn creativity? The process has several layers.

First, we learn positive beliefs about creativity. Creative people enjoy being creative. They see creativity as the force for improvement, transformation and success. They are committed to creativity, emotionally involved in the creative process, and are willing to get more creative.


Second, we develop 'creative character'. This is the openness to new experience, independent judgement, willingness to take risks, and courage to go against conventions. Creative people are resilient. They believe in their ideas and are driven by self-efficacy and self-realisation.


Third, we foster our 'creative skills'. Creativity is the ability to connect knowledge across disciplines. It is a type of thinking that answers questions 'what if?' and 'what can be?' and generates new 'outside-the-box' ideas.

Creative skills also mean the visual thinking and the capacity to evaluate, communicate and implement new ideas.

The visual thinking — observation and visualisation (imagination) skills — is instrumental in selecting and connecting information. If we are adept at the visual thinking, creativity comes easily to us.

When we connect information, we actually connect images. Mathematician Jacques Hadamard describes his thought processes as largely wordless, accompanied by mental images of the solutions to problems. He surveyed 100 of the leading physicists of his day, and their responses to how they work mirrored his own. 

Many Nobel Prize scientists have reported the same. Albert Einstein had the solution to the General Theory of Relativity revealed to him as 'one clear image'.

More than 85 per cent of our thinking is mediated through vision. The brain neurones specialise against images, say neuroscientists. A recent research of the University of Chicago demonstrated that starting 385 million years ago, animals evolved due to the development of vision: seeing played a key role in the emergence of their ability to plan actions.


And, fourth, we should learn creativity from others. Generating ideas in a team is the 'ground zero' of creativity.

What are the activities that foster creativity? Experimenting with art practices, materials and techniques develops our visual thinking. Creative-thinking exercises teach us the techniques of connecting information. Challenging the 'this is how we've always done things' attitude in solving daily problems helps us to practise creativity on a daily basis.

The right learning environment is instrumental to creativity. This should be an atmosphere of friendship and collaboration, openness and honesty. All judgement of new ideas must be suspended (until evaluation stage). Curiosity and 'crazy' and 'half-baked' ideas must be encouraged. Learning should be structured and focused. And to create satisfaction and build confidence, it should have good humour, cheers and praises.

Take responsibility for nurturing your own creativity. Start by paying attention to your inner dialogue when you try to create something new. Talk to your creative friends and family, and share with them video and photo diaries of your creative experiences.


Alla Tkachuk is the Founder of the creativity training programme in Kenya, MASK,

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