Are We All Born Creative?

“I can’t even draw a stick man,” they cried.

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“I can’t paint”

Almost every day we hear of new innovations in technology, in medicine and in the arts which remind us that humans are capable of remarkable creativity. Creativity is our vehicle of self-expression and at the heart of what defines us as the human race.

But are we all creative, or is there something inherently different about creative people?

For almost the entire duration of human life on earth, the popular conception of creative people was that they were born that way, with unique gifts that obliged them to seek out and fulfil the singular vocations of their destiny. They were the Da Vincis, Giottos, poets, shamans, romantics, novelists, and inventors, of their age. The mystification surrounding creative individuals then solidified it’s place in modern society, perpetuating the hindering misconception that only the “chosen” ones were bestowed with any natural creative or artistic ability.

This misleading and often naive notion is rife amongst the layperson — usually quick to profess, “I can’t even draw a stick man” — but aren’t we all forgetting that we were birthed with imaginations as pliable as Play-Dough, teeming with the endless possibilities of a tub of Lego. We each began life as an imaginative and creative child, so at which point in our lives did creativity forsake us? For many of us, perhaps the school system failed us in seeing the true value of studying art, design, music, or dance. As children we are all naturally creative, yet by the time we reach adulthood, our creativity has been ‘educated out of us’ by the barriers of school, society and corporate business.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up ~ Pablo Picasso

Imperatively, perhaps it is the definition of ‘creativity’ that needs to evolve with the times. The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of creativity is the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness. I and many members of Circular agreed that creativity does not have to be constrained to rigid ‘artistic’ constraints such as painting or writing. The world is your canvas and you are the painter; expressing creativity in any which way you deem it: cooking, the way you talk, your mannerisms, how you treat others, the way you dress, your inventive jokes; or even something as mundane as making a cup of tea, filling systems, computer code; or simply a creative response in the use of a meme on Twitter (as displayed below).

Hijacked by Hendrix ft. Zai

Leaving the definition of creativity open to interpretation, over on Circular, I posed the topic question to my fellow users, “Can creativity be taught or is it an inherited trait?” The differing stances reflect that creativity remains a clouded subject; shaped by individual experiences, upbringing, openness to new ideas, and connecting the dots. Here’s some of the highlights from our Slack channel discussion:

Lewin: It can’t be taught, a skill can be taught but not creativity. Creativity can only be refined, that’s what I think.

Natasha: Definitely born with it, that’s why people who aren’t so creative like to mock creatives — due to jealousy. You can have multiple skills but creativity is something you’re born with.

Shihab: On the most part, I feel as though creativity is inherited, like concepts can be conveyed and passed down, but the individual has to have the eye for it…Perseverance is key, most people don’t have the drive to continue with something and tend to give up early on.

Hendrix: I’m interested in how people view the difference between creativity and talent to be honest. Because a lot of artists are talented but the creativity is on zero.

Atli: Definitely born with it but I feel like it can be taught to some extent since creativity seems to be being able to find solutions to problems, no matter how big or small. Turning something you’re imagining into something real is skill you have to exercise.

Rhymes&Oils: I think believing that creative talent is bestowed upon on us as soon as we fall out of the womb is a dangerous idea lol. It’s why creatives (fine artists particularly) are not taken seriously. It’s why some may think asking for free art is okay. Creativity is something you have to work at, regardless as to whether it comes organically to you. I feel the definition of creativity is important here. See to me, when someone says they are not artistic as they lack the ability to paint an aesthetically pleasing picture, well I think they’re looking at ‘creativity’ and ‘art’ through the narrow lens of society’s definition. Anything from the way you make a cup of tea, dress yourself, express yourself to others, the music you listen to, etc, are all ways you are being creative. We are conditioned from a young age on what creativity is.

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Image via Daniel Cheung

Izaac: Machines can make original symphonies that humans can’t detect the difference, they’re nearly at a point they can do the same with paintings. I think we mystify a lot of creativity to make it seem more unique. By most peoples definition creativity normally boils down to thinking differently, thought patterns and mentalities can be trained and learned. Obviously some people pick it up more than others but I don’t think there is a natural barrier. Especially due to how subjective creativity actually is, I think some homeless people are creative by how they ask for money — can be anything.

Sandy: When we say creativity define what area? Because I mean, if we think about a lot of musicians…taught or inherited?

Zai: I think creativity is mostly learnt through experiences post birth. Some have a better eye than others but for the most part your what a lot of it is down to.

Tobi: Interesting. I think it depends on what we view as ‘creativity’ or ‘creative’ and what we think art is or can be, but, I digress. I think creativity is inspired, whether we are conscious of that or not. A lot can come into how people create, from outward experiences of the world to economical and environmental privileges to inherited culture through to being introverted/extroverted and how that means we utilise our time, view people and generally view the world from a young age, etc etc. I don’t believe there are few things that can be taught, but how we apply our experiences is how we shape our creativity and what makes us unique, so in saying this I believe everyone is creative (is, not can be) and harbours creativity. If that makes sense.

Jack: I believe creativity is an inherited trait. However i do believe, like anything, with research, hard work and belief you can become a really creative person who is just as good or even better than someone who is naturally creative. Also comes back to: “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”, for me.

Alex: I think it’s been said already. It’s like a muscle we all have and some people use it more than others making it easier for some? And if you believe in muscle memory and stuff like that being passed down genetically I guess that accessibility can be inherited but I believe habit can have a stronger effect whether it’s a habit of your own or something you grew up witnessing growing up. Also are we talking about creativity within just these arts? I imagine it’s important not to confuse creativity with taste. I imagine the first time humans discovered how to make a fire took some creativity. Maybe that’s just ingenuity or being innovative.

John: Everyone’s creative in my opinion. as a human being, you will find yourself being creative in some way or another naturally. However, school and education and adult life works to wear that away and we end up training our minds to leave all that to fancy, when it’s an innate thing. Creativity in its seed form is innate but creativity is a skill and it should be developed and trained and finely tuned. That comes through actively seeking inspiration and creating. That’s my opinion.

Upon some reflection and taking on board the points raised in our Circular discussion, I am unsure whether you can flat out say that we all are, or are not creative because there are too many variables such as the initial level of creativity, the desire to nurture it and the methods chosen to nurture it. It seems to me that the difference then would be one of tenacity rather than one of creativity. Creative adults have tenaciously held on to that childlike creativity where the less tenacious have conformed.

Simultaneously, I strongly hold on to the idea that we are all creative. It’s pretty hardwired into us as human beings and is a massive part of what makes us human. I don’t care if someone grows up to be a bureaucrat. They still have the interest, ability and need to create. I think that people need to have places in their lives where they can exercise their creativity to feel as happy and fulfilled as possible. Everyone does not see the world in the same way, even engineers and accountants, and creativity is a way to express that unique view of things.

I think this is one of those nature or nurture questions. All of us have a seed of creativity inside us. It is a matter of how that seed is fostered that will determine the breadth of our creativity. For some, the creative seed is watered and fertilised enough for the tree to see fruition. For others, it is left in dry soil to whither and die. Some people have seeds of such strength, they can survive an arid desert while others are weak and even all the food and water can barely keep them from starving.

Ultimately, what’s important to take on is that creativity is only limited by your own imagination, perseverance, and mastery of skill.

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