Is creativity something that we’re born with or is it something we learn? It’s a question that people in art based fields often ask themselves. Studies by major universities show that people who tend to be more creative have different biological characteristics than those who are not. But not everyone is convinced. Some studies argue that creativity is a renewable resource that can be taught, enhanced and fueled, just like any other skill. So, is it nature or nurture? Let’s use myself as an example to delve into the subject and investigate whether the artistic drive inside of you is a gift of evolution or simple upbringing.
My mother was a very talented artist in the late 60’s and early70’s. She had painted canvases spread across her bedroom, sketch pads stored in stacks throughout our basement and framed photographs of her old art studios inside her office. Even as a boy, I remember asking myself, “will I be like mom (or as we say here in Chicago, ‘ma’)?” As I think back, I don’t recall her ever sitting me down and teaching me how to paint or tell stories, yet as I continued to grow, I learned that I had quite the knack for drawing and writing. Kids in grammar school use to come to me all the time and ask if I could help them sketch a picture or think of a story idea for a school assignment. To be honest, I never gave it much thought until I decided to pursue my career as an author. Now though, I often wonder, did I teach myself to be creative, using my mom as a guide, or was it something innate that helped me become the fairly creative man I am today?
According to researcher Kenneth Heilman of the Department of Neurology and Neuroscience at Cornell University, I never really had a choice. Kenneth discovered that the brain is divided into two halves that are joined by fibers called the corpus callosum. Writers, artists and musicians tend to have smaller corpus callosums, which allows each side of their brain to communicate better, creating new ideas and associations more easily. Kenneth found that people with this phenomenon benefit through an incubation of ideas that are critical for the divergent-thinking component of creativity. So for Keneth, my brain is just wired that way due to my small corpus callosum (hey, size isn’t everything).
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Helsinki conducted a similar study associated to musical creativity. In their extensive assessment, they found that musical creativity is based on one’s natural ability to judge pitch, as well as the coordination of beat and harmony. It’s the brain’s inherent ability to reorganize information that makes one a great musician. This explains why so many musicians like Mozart had successful careers at early ages. It has always been in their DNA.
On the contrary, according to Tina Seelig, the Executive Director of Stanford’s Technology Ventures Program, I, like any other creative person, slowly learned how to be as creative as I am. Through her studies, Tina has learned that creativity is a part of the “Innovation Engine”, a set of skills that can be improved by anyone with the right mindset. In Tina’s eyes, creativity is the process of creating new ideas, something that anyone can do if they just learn to think beyond the obvious. There are hundreds of paths, some easier than others, that can help you sharpen your creative skills. Through her studies, Tina has learned that we are all naturally creative, and like any other ability, some people may have more natural talent. However, it doesn’t mean that others can’t be just as creatively proficient. All they need to learn are techniques that help enhance their capacity. Much like speed reading or rollerblading, it’s a skill to be honed.
So which is it? While I want to believe that artists, much like Jedi or Hogwarts wizards, are biologically chosen to become who they are, I have to say that I have a hard time buying into that mindset. People aren’t just packaged in gift wrap and a bow, creative as they’ll ever be at birth. No, it seems to be something that slowly develops. Nonetheless, I have to admit that I’ve also met some pretty amazing artists within my day that didn’t do anything different from friends and colleagues when it came to improving their talent, yet they somehow managed to be twice as gifted as others when it came to painting, writing music, or sculpting. Maybe they’re just lucky?
Regardless, for me, it’s hard to agree with any blanket statement which states that creativity only has one explanation like genetics or daily practice. In my eyes, creativity is more than just what scientists can put under a microscope. Yes, it’s a combination of biology and skill, and yet it’s still something more. It’s an orchestra of experience, cleverness, inclination, dreams, love and chance. It’s a desire to make people happy with your work and a satisfaction that comes with conceiving something all your own. That’s something that you just can’t put into one from of scientific rationalization. Does that sound mawkishly sentimental? Perhaps. Still, it’s something I live by.
Through this short blog, we’ve studied what some experts have to say about creativity, using me as an example. But what do you think creativity is? When you examine who you are, can you explain it? Were you born with creativity or is it something that you were taught? Is it understandable or unexplainable? We as readers and writers sometimes forget that we live in a pool of creativity each day. Every blog you post or article you read is someone’s creativity put into motion. Maybe it’s time you take a second to ask yourself how you became the creative wonder that you are.
SEE THE FULL ARTICLE:
The Guardian, “Are Some People Born Creative”: http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/sep/19/born-creative-study-brain-hemingway
Business News Daily, “Who Says Creativity Can’t Be Learned”: http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/2471-creativity-innovation-learned.html