Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What Is Creativity? - 15

I believe that we're all born as creative beings. The creative avenue that an individual takes, of course, varies from one person to another.

A friend had no interest in any of the arts, and didn't do that well in school, but he was fascinated with motors. How do they work? How could they work better? His first job was at a gas station, and he went on to hold several patents and to build a successful company.

When we're interested, fascinated, or even obsessed by motors, or by writing or painting, or by gardening, our choice of the creative path we'll follow is fairly simple.

But after I began teaching, I discovered that we often bypass the relatively simple road because we don't recognize our unique talents. I've come to define a talent as what we do so well and so easily that we're not even conscious of doing it. A talent is a part of who we are, rather than an achievement, and often doesn't have to be learned.

I've been working with a young student for two years. Industrious, intelligent, a tragic actress who can give me goosebumps, so pretty that one immediately thinks of her for the ingenue lead in a play. But last week I saw her in a short film and realized she has an enormous talent for playing "straight man" - the dumb one in a comedy duo who doesn't get it, who's the butt of all the jokes. She didn't appear to be acting, or "doing" anything but being herself. Yet the laughs she got were huge and kept building.

The first time I recognized what I now call talent in a student, I realized that I had not followed my own talent path. I had been trained as a classical singer for opera, lieder, etc., which I loved to research and rehearse. One summer I was cast in a tiny role in a musical, "On the Town." I only had 2 or 3 lines that were repeated in 3 different scenes. On my third entrance, before I had opened my mouth, I heard laughter and applause. I dismissed that laughter and applause because I hadn't worked for it, hadn't researched or studied comedy and the timing required. I had just walked out and said my lines.

Our educational system, which is a reflection of our culture, rewards hard work, but seldom rewards talent. After a difficult exam, a middle school teacher went round the room, asking each student how much time they'd spend studying. One of them said, truthfully, 20 minutes. He was sent to the principal's office and ended up being suspended from school for a few days. Because he had written a near-perfect exam without studying more than 20 minutes. Because he was talented.


  1. I am very interested in your series on creativity, Carol. You're on the right trail when you say that we so often believe that it is only through hard work that we can achieve great things. Watercolor artists will tell you that you have to work fast and let the paint do the work; otherwise, the colors will become muddy. Maybe it is in the sheer joy of watching colors (or words) do their magic that our creativity is born--our vision becomes apparent.

  2. Someone told me recently that when she worked with clay, she never had a vision of what she wanted to do. She meant that literally. She never saw a piece with her eyes, but let her hands create what they wanted.