Where do creativity and inspiration come from?

The following admission essay was submitted to highly selective universities.


As Itzhak Perlman’s fingers glided down the neck of his violin on the opening cadenza of Por Una Cabeza, I found myself languidly spinning around my office chair, eyes half closed. “Five minute break,” I decided, “Then I’ll continue painting.” I chastised myself for taking another break; it had only been twenty-five minutes since the last. I opened my eyes and glared at the piece I was working on. The colors of the base layer, shades of murky brown, dark green, and midnight blue, stared back at me. I let out a heavy sigh and turned my music down, abruptly cutting off the flowing melody. My “five-minute break” had lasted two and a half minutes, but every minute I wasn’t painting felt like another minute wasted. With four days left until the submission deadline for the “Charlottesville in Two Dimensions” art competition, I had no time to lose. Picking up my paintbrush, I swirled it around in sap green and tucked my hair behind my ear, inwardly cursing as a chunk of green found its way into my hair.

On the final night, after spending ten hours on one of the most difficult paintings I have ever done, I scanned my work and took in the near-perfect, hard-to-mix pink of the cherry blossoms, the white reflections of light on the river, and the purple and yellow dots of flowers in the corner. It was a nice, if not quite yet beautiful, fit for the competition theme, “Spring”. All the colors were there and what I wanted, but there was something else missing. I pursed my lips and narrowed my eyes, not fully satisfied. My eyes moved to my paint-covered phone. I snapped a photo of my painting and sent it to a friend, someone I trusted to give objective feedback.

“Wow, you’re definitely going to win with that,” was the reply I got. My fingers hurriedly tapped the screen of my phone as I messaged him, “But what’s wrong with it?” When my friend failed to give me the answer I was looking for, I thanked him and tossed my phone behind me. My shoulders slumped as I struggled to come up with what my painting needed to become truly beautiful. What was that element I needed? Moments passed, and the analog clock on the corner of my laptop changed to 12:00 AM. Hoping that something would strike me in the morning, I heaved my drowsy self out of my chair and decided to sleep.

At 4:27 AM, I woke up with a start. Throwing back my blanket and flipping my lights on, I skidded to my desk as gracefully as a half-asleep person could and took out a small Royal & Langnickel acrylic brush. After mixing the perfect shade of yellow, I painted a few streaks onto the trunks of the cherry blossom trees. At last, it made sense. Finally satisfied, I yawned and prepared to go back to sleep, suddenly excited about submitting this painting in a few hours.

In the four hours that my unconscious had taken over, I found the inspiration to finish my painting. Inspiration is an abstract thing, found in the depths of the human mind that drives us to create a purpose in the things we do and turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. It becomes innovation, as in the cases of Albert Einstein’s discovery of the Theory of Relativity and Thomas Edison’s light bulb patent. Just like how the year 1905 was magical to Einstein and the year 1879 was magical for Edison, 4:27 AM on that day was magical to me. Inspiration is the burst of creativity that comes unconsciously, that makes people truly brilliant. During that moment, at least, I, an artist and an aspiring innovator, felt brilliant. Genius is one-percent inspiration, as Edison famously said, but that one-percent makes all the difference.



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How would you describe the author’s voice?

What is the plot of this essay?

How do you define creativity? Is this student creative? Defend your answer.

Is this student smart? Defend your answer.

Is this student male of female? What makes you think so?

What is the ethnic or racial background of this student? Would this information alter yoyr p;reception of the essay? Should it?

How do you think you would react to this essay if you knew this student had been accepted to some highly selective schools prior to reading the essay? Would this information “prime” you to think it was good? (Hint: Science says it would.)

Some educators think that giving students who have yet to apply to colleges examples of essays like this is a mistake. They say these essays shape the way students approach their own essay. Are they right?

Do you agree with this Einstein quote? “Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.”

After reading this essay what clues would you use to guess what kind of background this student comes from?

Does this essay convince you this student would do well in a selective school? Defend your answer

Would you want this student as a roommate?

Itzak Perlman: Per Una Cabeza

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