What Artists can Teach Creative Thinkers

Artists are innately creative, of course. That's why the rest of us, who are seeking to expand our creative powers, can learn much from them. Danielle Feliciano highlights three characteristics that we can borrow from artists to spur our own creative muse.

There is a common, but understandable misconception that artists are born creative – that within every individual who has wielded a brush with skill there is a deep well of eccentric genius. I believe the real reason that creativity is so conceptually tied to the arts is that it is a quality that artists strive for. Creativity thrives in the artistic community because it is appreciated there. Accidents, playfulness, and frivolity are encouraged because they lead to the unusual and the innovative.

The artist understands that creativity is not an inborn quality; they see it as a practice that can be learned by anyone. What the artist has to offer to the field of creative thinking is visual thinking, the ability to create options, and a willingness to fail.

Visualizing ideas is key

The ability to express an idea visually, however crudely, is the first and perhaps most vital key to the artist’s creative power. Pictures offer an immediacy that words do not. Logotypes, symbols, street signs, and maps offer a testament to this. Images are powerful tools for expressing and engaging with ideas. They are frequently easier to remember and can clarify concepts which are cumbersome in writing.

Learning to visualize ideas doesn’t require any exceptional drawing ability; it simply requires a willingness to observe and to try. The effectiveness of mind-mapping and diagraming lies in the fact that it allows you to see the big picture and the details at once.

  • Draw simple:Geometric shapes, arrows, and stick figures are easy to remember
  • See relationships: Use arrows, color, or shapes to show how things are connected
  • Keep it casual: The more you draw, the better you become, so keep it fun and don’t worry about the results

Quantity of ideas is essential to lateral thinking

Another key feature to visual creativity is quantity or series. Artists are taught to make scores of sketches before deciding on a final composition. This is a form of lateral thinking. In lateral thinking one tries to find as many solutions as possible. This is a contrast to vertical thinking, in which one pursues the first viable solution to completion. It’s easy to jot down and pursue the first idea, but by suspending judgment and developing options one is able to make more connections and perhaps make a conceptual leap to an even better idea than the initial one.

Here are several ways to increase your quantity of ideas:

  • Draw often: Doodle when you talk on the phone, when you’re waiting for the bus, anytime. You’ll be surprised what you come up with.
  • Make more: Even if you think you’ve found the solution, try and list a few more. The more you have to choose from the more likely you’ll find a creative idea.

Willingness to fail

This willingness to fail is the third characteristic of the creative artist. In order to succeed on a grand scale, risks must be taken. Being unwilling to fail narrows your options to only the most mundane, safe paths. The artists who exist today as household names like Leonardo DaVinci, Manet, or Salvador Dali all achieved their fame by challenging the norm, even when others criticized them. DaVinci in particular sketched hundreds of inventions, few worked, but these risks set the stage for him to develop some really innovative ideas – including a design for the first helicopter.

How can you increase your capacity to tolerate failure? Here are two ideas:

  • Take risks: When you’re drawing or brainstorming don’t fear the unusual. It may not make sense now, but who knows what it could lead to down the line.
  • Embrace failure: Every time you fail you learn something that doesn’t work. Trial and error is one of the most effective ways to learn.

By Danielle Feliciano

About the author

Danielle Feliciano is a designer and illustrator who is equally comfortable working with historical printing techniques, such as hand-setting type, and modern digital production. She is in the process of producing a book on visual thinking called The Right Brain Book,

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