Art for creativity sake

Visual thinking is a highly advanced skill that demands great discipline and persistence to master

In Summary

• Practical study of visual art is limited in schools.

Nehemiah Njoroge, 24, Njoro - Consolation, other (Digital Painting)
Nehemiah Njoroge, 24, Njoro - Consolation, other (Digital Painting)
Image: Nehemiah Njoroge

Creativity is visual thinking. The ability to generate new ideas with the help of the vision is the primary medium of the most productive thinking across all fields of human endeavour. Art is the home ground of visual thinking. Better than any other subject, art teaches to innovate. Starving the visual faculty results in poverty of creativity.

Practical study of visual art is limited in schools. Its educational status is seriously undermined: it is seen as supplemental study or recreation. Art is not just the works of art; artworks are only its rare picks. Art is a cognitive activity. It is a form of reasoning in which seeing and thinking are closely intertwined. Art cultivates our responses to the visual form. It teaches us to make visible the invisible, which is the base for any scientific enquiry. Any intelligent understanding takes place within the realm of the image itself.

Our visual system is constantly faced with a staggering amount of information. Art accustoms us to the visual complexity. Experience of art enables us to control and regulate the visual data, to filter the relevant information from the irrelevant to form a coherent picture.


To be creative and generate new ideas, we must be able to see. But what is more important is to know how to transform what we see. We should be able to think in images that have properties of abstractness, structure, and meaning.

Abstractness. Art teaches to form images that are abstract in nature — picture ‘hints’ and flashes, fluid images that can change into new identities.

Structure. Abstract in nature, the images we think in must still retain the structural essence of the featured objects. Art teaches us to grasp the visual patterns of the objects. For example, looking at landscape, one needs to know how to determine the relationship between colour, scale, light and perspective. Or, to draw a human figure — how to discern shapes, proportions and movements.

Meaning. Structure must interpret the meaning. It needs to be fused with ideas. Creative thinking will not work if one thinks in images that do not carry any meaning. Art teaches us to look and to interpret what we see. Objects do not directly represent their essence; they offer the eye only shapes and colours. Objects evoke their essence only to the visually trained eye.

The story of Byzantine art is a good example of how structure conveys the meaning. Predominantly religious, Byzantine art was to worship God. Artists were faced with the monumental task as to how to represent the spiritual and the universal, how to go beyond time and space. What they did was genius. Abstracting the images of saints and martyrs — by making the figures flat, elongated and static — they conveyed asceticism and contemplation. And discarding the shadows entirely, they used Light — bright gold leaf — as a metaphor for sanctity and the Divine.

Visual thinking is a highly advanced skill that demands great discipline and persistence to master.



GREAT OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL CREATIVE YOUNG PEOPLE IN KENYA OR ANYWHERE IN AFRICA. If you are under 25 years old, enter your innovative artworks - drawings, paintings, collages, photographs, animations, graffiti, poems, or videos of singing and dancing — or entrepreneurial ideas into the MASK Prize competition before June 1 to win prizes. It is free and easy. Visit


Alla Tkachuk champions creativity of young Africans. Sponsor MASK Prize. Contact Alla on [email protected]