Column: The Finer Things
The Colors Of Creativity
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013 23:02
Shimmering, brilliant, and enchanting, my world, 15 years ago, was a place where pixie dust made dreams come true and grand castles promised happily ever-afters. I believed, then, that if I wished hard enough, I’d wake up in the morning with wings, able to fly. I imagined, then, that if I could reach the clouds and snatch them from the sky, they would taste like sweet, pink cotton candy. I painted puppies purple and grass blue. I always scribbled outside of the lines, and I habitually put glitter on everything that I made. Fifteen years ago, my world was a beautifully exhilarating place of sparkle and color. Fifteen years ago, my fantasies crafted my reality.
It’s quite obvious to say that things, for me, have changed since then—I see the world differently, from a mature, experienced, and aged point of view. And really, that’s okay. It’s only natural that such a shift in perception should occur—it’s part of becoming an adult. Sooner or later, everyone realizes that the grass is actually green and that clouds are just puffs of accumulated condensation. But how and why does this knowledge influence the way that we understand reality? Does growing up mean that we must let go of imagination? What happens to creativity?
Creativity involves novelty and open-mindedness. Defined, it’s the ability to transcend conventional ideas, patterns, and rules, and instead, to create and construct new thoughts, forms, and methods. Creativity is about surpassing the mundane, the accepted, and the usual, and reveling, rather, in the original and innovative.
For children, this process comes more naturally. They’re innocent and naive—their perspectives untainted by the black and white filter of reality. Because they haven’t experienced as much of the world as an adult has, children aren’t as limited by its sharp actualities. They are free to fantasize, to create. In addition to this philosophical explanation, though, there is also a more biological, scientific one too. According to researchers Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson, creativity becomes increasingly constrained with age because of the physiological development of the brain. They explain how the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for rule-based behavior, is not fully developed until after puberty. Thus, when we’re younger, our creativity is not controlled by logic and reason but inspired by curiosity. Our thoughts, unrestricted and free flowing, are less inhibited.
So, “to stimulate creativity,” Zabelina and Robinson say, “one must develop childlike inclination[s].” Basically, we need to find a way to revert to a younger mental state in order to create. These two researchers, however, are by no means the only people to have stated such a solution. Incredibly ingenious individuals across disciplines have alluded to the same truth—elucidating upon the source of their successes.
Artists, writers, inventors, and philosophers as well agree that approaching life as a child enhances creative thought. Thus, like a child, we must be brave, confident, and free. Concerning boldness, painter Henri Matisse once said, quite clearly, “Creativity takes courage.” And regarding personal assurance, the poet Sylvia Plath explained, “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Even the great philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, spoke about creativity and the importance of being open to it. Eloquently, he said, “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” In order to imagine and create something that beautiful, we have to let in a little juvenile chaos every once in while.
Maybe I’m too old for “dancing stars,” gumdrop palaces, and purple puppies, and maybe I’ve outgrown my belief in fairy godmothers and magical forests—but that’s just how life goes. Maybe I can’t actually live in the world that my five-year-old self made, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t approach it in the same way that I used to—with glistening eyes, unbounded excitement, and inspired creativity. Maybe things are more real now—more black and white. But who says that life has to be dull and gray? No matter how old I am—whether I’m five or 50—there’s one thing that’s for sure: I’ll never be too old to pull out an old box of Crayolas, with shades and shades of crayons, and spend an afternoon coloring, creatively, outside the lines.