By GLYNIS VALENTI
Times Leader Staff Writer
Upon hearing the word "creativity" many people envision eccentrics wearing funky clothes (possibly berets) who live on the fringe and may be somewhat temperamental, even a little scary. The reality, however, is that nearly everyone has a little spark of creativity inside, and winter may be just the time to add some kindling.
Creativity isn't exclusive—everyone is creative in his own way. If knitting or beading isn't your thing, try music or writing. Experts say keeping a journal and playing are two ways to connect with your creative self.
Though creative pursuits are usually synonymous with artists, they are in no way restricted to the arts. Scientists, mathematicians, doctors, gardeners, chefs, teachers, coaches, parents, housewives, managers and entrepreneurs can and do perform creatively on various levels, and everyday life provides opportunities to explore what one does and how to do it better and to problem solve or prevent problems. The desire for self-expression on some level is in man's make-up.
What defines "creative?" The ancients did not consider art at the time as creative and actually had no words to express the concept. Thinking of "creation" solely as work of the gods (and in later societies, of God,) a famous quote from Plato relays that period's sentiments when he was asked if a painter "makes something." "Certainly not," stated Plato, "He merely imitates." The concept as it is known today did not develop until the Renaissance and was finally accepted during the Age of Enlightenment in the 1700's.
Innovation, interpretation and imagination are all components of creativity. Innovation means to re-new, to make something new. Coming up with a fresh solution, perspective or technique is what it's all about, presumably an improvement over the standard or status quo. New versions-interpretations-of classic plays, dances, music or recipes can be considered creative, offering a different way of viewing the presentation of a standard. The ability to visualize outcomes and possibilities is imagination-writing science fiction, redoing the living room, daydreaming about winning the lottery. Yes, daydreaming is considered a creative activity because it is developing scenarios, places and conversations outside of the immediate reality and inside the head.
Researchers have identified several traits in consistently creative people. Three of those are curiosity, risk taking and spending time in solitude. Curious people want to know how things work and how to solve problems. They like learning and knowledge about their subjects of expertise and passion and/or about new subjects. They are open-minded about where the process will take them. Curiosity spurs them to create for its own sake.
Creative people take risks. They put their ideas on the table, and consider trial and error part of the process. To them, failure is not a deterrent, and fear doesn't hold them back. The legendary Colonel Harland Sanders took no for an answer and moved on-more than 1000 times, living in his car-until someone agreed to use his chicken recipe, after which it became a success. Risk takers don't lock themselves into a specific outcome or path, but are persistent in the pursuit.
Historically, more than any other characteristic, creative people cite the need to spend time in solitude, relaxing the mind, stepping away from the issues at hand. Taking a walk in nature or meditating quiets the mind from the "chatter" of emails, cell phones, iPods, television and other people. Albert Einstein said, "I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind." Many artists, musicians and scientists state that creative inspiration or solutions to problems appear during quiet time rather than when the mind is focused on hashing out problems and projects.
How does one foster creativity? Here is where winter helps. Humans have a tendency to hibernate during the dark, cold days and nights of January and February. Start with the solitude. If you haven't thought of ways that you are or could be creative, try asking yourself what you would do, what you would be and where you would go if you could do anything you wanted-money is no object, and there are no people tied to you. This is for only you. Would you be a painter? A song writer? An archeologist? Take a few minutes each day to sit with eyes closed in a quiet room. If thoughts come into your head, let them vaporize into the blackness. Take slow breaths. The brain and body recharge.
In 1992 a writer named Julia Cameron published "The Artist's Way," a course in "unblocking" and developing creativity. Spiritually based, the book provides 12 weeks of creative exercises, and addresses the hindrances to creativity: fear, negative beliefs, money. The "course" begins each day with writing three "morning pages," a stream-of-consciousness journal of whatever comes to mind before getting out of bed. She and many other artists swear by this technique (which is slightly different from journaling) to completely clear the mind of clutter, and start fresh each day.
Traditional journaling is also cited by many as a way of keeping creative juices flowing. Writing down dreams, ideas, conversations, letters and feelings releases those thoughts from the brain without losing them entirely. Many years ago this writer began her own "soul search," with journals chronicling the passage and finding the connection to self. Many creatives make journaling a daily habit.
A friend who is a dancer shares this: "From the moment I discovered free-form movement, I knew it was the best way for me to creatively and authentically express myself." As one explores the possibilities, look for the "knowing" feeling. She is inspired by music that literally moves her emotionally, spiritually and finally physically. What is the activity (singing, solving puzzles, arranging flowers) that expresses your true self?
Another way to become inspired is to visit a library or a museum or a movie theater-anywhere that may show you examples of your creative interest(s). If cooking is what excites you, find a cookbook with recipes that are either similar to what you want to do or a totally different style. If you like photography, check out books on classic art or artists to look at color, light and composition. Read biographies on Einstein or Steve Jobs or Oprah Winfrey to find out some of their habits and how they began their paths.
One creative friend who works on advertising and marketing projects says, "Photography inspires me in huge ways. When I need to be inspired I visit websites with awesome photography, and the creative juices start to flow."
Once you've identified your own creative connection, connect with others. Take a cake-decorating or cooking class. Writing poetry or lyrics? Take a creative writing class, or talk to a band or church music group about setting your words to music. Look for opportunities to meet like-minded people-quilters, jewelry makers, painters. Produce a video for YouTube. Start a blog, and join an online discussion group. There are more possibilities to be creative and more access to information, learning and expression than any era before this.
Creativity at its simplest is thinking of a new outcome and producing it. And there is a little part of everyone that wants to contribute and leave a legacy. In fact, many would say that one's purpose in life involves a creative link to that contribution. In "Cannery Row," a movie based on John Steinbeck's novel, a character voices one of this author's favorite quotes, "A man ought to make a mark, even if it's just a scribble."