Where Does Creativity Come From?


By Troy Headrick

I’m going to share a secret with you.  Several years ago, back when I was living overseas, I used to create artwork and show it internationally.  I even sold quite a few pieces.  Then, for reasons I won’t get into right now, I stopped making art.  (By the way, my header image is a pencil drawing that dates back to one of my really productive periods.)

I’m currently in the process of resurrecting my art career.

Now that I’m creating images on paper again, I’m thinking a lot about creativity.  Many questions come to mind as I do this pondering.  Perhaps the most pressing query is this one:  Where does creativity come from?

Before I share a really interesting theory that proposes an answer to this question, I’d like to take you back to my childhood.

My mother tells this interesting story that dates back to the time I first started speaking.  One day, according to her, I said this really strange sounding “word.”  It was my first utterance and she had no idea what it meant.  I said it again, and again, she was baffled.  So she started walking around our house, picking up all sorts of objects and showing them to me.  She could tell by the consternation on my face that these things were in no way related to this strange sound I was making.  Finally, she picked up a pencil and, as she tells it, I reached up and took it from her.  She then quickly gave me a sheet of paper and I began to sit and draw.

Does this mean some people are simply born knowing (or sensing or feeling or whatever the right word is) that they want to create?  What was happening inside of me at the time I was wanting to hold a pencil in my tiny hands and use it to draw?  Of course, I cannot go back in time and crawl inside my head to find out what was happening there.  That’s a shame.

I did a little reading about creativity and found a number of articles that discuss something called the “diversifying experience” (see this article and this one).  Quite a few theorists believe that such experiences play an important role in helping some people develop their creativity.

Simply put, a diversifying experience—it can be traumatic or pleasurable—can be any sort of happening that triggers the individual to become more individuated.  These experiences are transformative or jarring and thus cause a person to respond by seeing and thinking differently.  After having such an experience, one leaves the herd, in a manner of speaking, and begins to wander alone, developing ways of living that differentiate one from the masses.  In “Why Weird Experiences Boost Creativity,” Scott Kaufman writes that a person can become more creative by “re-shuffling” the brain.  This reshuffling takes place when one abandons normal ways of doing things or rejects habitual behavior.  Examples of such activities include eating “something new for lunch” or walking “backwards…to work.”  Doing things in a novel way can put one in a “better position to be creative.”

What do you think about creativity?  Can it be learned or nurtured?  Are creative people born or made?  I’m looking forwarding to hearing what you have to say.

Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy:  Blog & Art.


34 thoughts on “Where Does Creativity Come From?

  1. I definitely think a person can both born keen on creativity, but also that it is something learned because of our environments. Though something like this would be hard to prove exactly because of what you said– you can’t really go into the head of a young one and see what they’re thinking. Either way, this was a lovely read! I should definitely be trying to do things a different way to get my creativity flowing better, thank you!

    1. Thanks for the compliment and comment. I agree. Creativity is probably something some are born with and also something learned. There’s probably a creativity gene. Actually, I think I do a little research after posting this and see if geneticists have found such a thing. I do like the argument that having interesting life experiences can provide one with a kind of impetus for thinking outside the box. In my life, I’ve seen that sort of thing play out. During those periods of my life when I was most adventurous, I was also very creative. Again, thanks for participating.

  2. Creativity is definitely born from that well of “what if…?” Because then there is freedom to explore any possibility. Unfortunately people have this sense of curiosity and wonder stomped out of them early on, the need to fit the expectations and desires and whatever of the family and social units (demographic) around them.
    Pills pills, pediatric and psychoanalytic diagnostics, “be normal, fit in, don’t be an inconvenience, get it right, smile don’t cry”. Don’t think for yourself, do the steps, stand in line, don’t make a mess, stay inside, sterilize, fixate on illusions, idolize, immortalise, be seen in the scene, just to be seen, sweet and silent sapient sheep.
    I shouldn’t press “send” but I’m going to. WOOOP, the pot is shaken and maybe stirred.

    1. Thanks for posting such an insightful comment. I totally agree. Creativity is definitely seen as something that’s potentially “dangerous.” After all, creatives are those that challenge the status quo, swim upstream, speak truth to power and so on. What society wants is those who keep their eyes and ears and mind closed. It needs folks to follow rules, to wait patiently, to be satisfied with what’s doled out, to work themselves to death and be content while doing so…Creativity is very much related to the notion of “impatience.”

  3. Very interesting! I think we do have to nurture and value our creativity for it to blossom. Only speaking from personal experience. I do believe it is within all of us. Some more pronounced or comfortable with exercising it.

    1. Like you, I’d like to think that everyone has the potential to be creative. You’re also right to think that creativity is something that requires nurturing for it to fully blossom. Here’s to nurturing creativity! Thanks for your comment.

  4. Hi Troy! What a great post. First of all, I love the piece of art you shared! I’d love to see more of your work. Secondly, I love this idea of exploring our creativity, at any age. It certainly can be difficult to get over the hump of even allowing ourselves to do so. I believe we all have something unique to share with the world. May we embrace the journey of self-discovery and artistic endeavors! 🕊

    1. Thanks for the kind words about my art. I have noticed that you do some nice work too! I’m in the process of scanning some new artwork so I can begin to put together a little website. Absolutely! Let’s all celebrate our individuality and the self-discovery that takes place when we begin to “find” ourselves and pursue all manner of creative endeavors. Thanks for the comment!

  5. I was blown sideways by your art. I agree with Snapdragon – more sharing!

    Some people are, as a friend put it “Born with crayons in hand”. It takes determination and hard work and willingness to flop to nurture that into something that is more than scribbles. When my local grandson is here, we color, we paint, we cook – so that he has options for being creative and figuring out what he likes to do. (Err, I’m not a fan of his TV shows.) So we make messes, and it’s a great bonding thing.

    I think, especially if we’ve had out creativity stifled when we were children (THIS is how you draw a bird) as adults we struggle to allow that process to happen. The great thing is, it’s a way of self expression, and sometimes when we don’t have the words or the cooking skills or the ability to paint, that gets expressed in a different manner. This often opens up a whole new hobby or way to be processing emotions.

    Finally, there is creativity born out of necessity “I’m broke, and this is what I have in the house until payday. Can this make a soup?” Or when people would cover acorns with cloth to make buttons, because “real” buttons were pricey. There are a million ways to be creative in the face of adversity. Having a flexible mind, and being able to “what if” a situation, be it something critical, or something expressive, is where I believe most creativity comes from.
    Saying that, I still don’t understand Pollack – but to each their own.

    1. One person’s mess is another person’s masterpiece! I was so happy to hear about you and your grandson. It’s important that we help others as they begin to explore themselves and find ways to self-express. I totally agree that society often treats creatives with distrust. They are, after all, keen to ask all manner of questions which makes them somewhat “dangerous.” As your rightly put it, “necessity is often the mother of invention.” Thank you very much for another great comment!

  6. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It’s interesting to read how other people are thinking about it. I’m beginning to think commitment and practice are necessary because even those that have felt drawn to their crafts from early on will go through dry-spells and periods of doubt.

    1. Sadly, there have been long periods of my life when I stopped doing artwork of the sort I posted here. What made me turn my back on that part of myself? There’s so much truth to the notion that “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Thanks very much for posting such a cool comment.

    1. One of the worst things that can happen is when we stopped dreaming and scheming! It’s interesting that my father studied the fine arts in college and there I was, at an incredibly young age, sort of following in his footsteps. I wonder if there’s a creativity gene? Thanks so much for your comment.

  7. I love this write! I personally think there has to be something innate – a given skill as there are people who can pick up a pencil or paintbrush and create masterpieces just like that but others who can’t. I like to write, sew, cook, bake and have taken up some pastels on the odd occasion and dabbled with art. I’m not fantastic at any one of them but I get enjoyment from all of them and from sharing my results. Something happened when I was very young which made me change from an extrovert to an introvert and I have no idea what it was (my Dad once said something which led me to think about it), but it was around the same age that I became creative – drawing, colouring, making models from anything I could find, etc. When I was a little older and could write, I turned to writing as an outlet so I agree with your comment on experiences leading to a person developing creativity but still think there’s got to be something inside of them which gives them the natural ability to just do things better than others without having to practice for months or years to reach the same level.

    1. The older I get, the more I think it’s more about process than it is about product. You mentioned that you don’t think you’re especially talented with art but that you love doing it. The doing is where the real magic takes place! I’m not even sure it’s about “finishing” things. It’s more about starting them and pursuing them. You ask an interesting question. Why are some apparently more talented than others? I wonder if talent is just what appears to manifest itself once a person become well practiced? Something worth pondering! Thanks so much for posting such an interesting comment!

  8. For me, creativity comes in when I do not overwork. If I do different things outside of work, I tend to have sparks of ideas rushing to my head. If I work, they are gone.

    1. Thanks, Betul. I both write and do art. I’ve noticed that it is sometimes difficult to be creative in more than one way. For example, if I do a lot of drawing, I can have trouble writing The same is true the other way around. It’s like I’ve got a certain amount of creativity inside of me and once I deplete it, I have nothing left in my creativity “bank account.”

      1. That is interesting! I never thought about that. Granted, I only write. But now I am wondering if my creativity in academia can be affected by this too.

      2. We’re probably all unique. Lately, though, I’m finding that I have increased “stamina” when it comes to creativity. I think creativity comes in waves or phases. There are periods when I feel incredibly creative and both write and draw stuff that I’m really happy about. Other times, every bit of creative work I do feels forced. Creativity is probably affected by all sorts of things.

      3. Yes. One thing that really affects my creativity is my surroundings. Some places make me more creative than others. Cafes, my parent’s home, sea. These are the best for creativity. But not school or office.

      4. In your last piece about “noise,” you talked about the importance of being around people and interacting verbally with them. When I want to be creative, I think I have to mostly shut those voices out. However, when I am creativity “stuck” or stymied, I sometimes can have a breakthrough by having a deep conversation with another creative person. I’ve read several books on creativity and am inspired (based on this exchange) to look more into the topic. Creativity is quite mysterious, it seems.

      5. It is! I think if we overdo anything, it affects us negatively. If we have our loved ones around and the noise is too much (for example, we spend too much time talking with them), this does not leave much time for creativity. Otherwise, a good amount of it sparks creativity. This concept is very sensitive to conditions

  9. Such a fascinating subject. Interesting to hear about your early childhood memory. Julia Cameron writes about your inner artist being a child and you seem to be able to pin point the moment your artist was formed! I have been going through a programme of creative recovery (and writing about it if you are interested) Good luck with finding your way back to creative pursuits.

    1. Cool comment! I’m interested in the Julia Cameron person you’ve mentioned here. (I’ll do a little Googling later.) I’m also intrigued by your creative recovery experience. By the way, I looked at your blog and would like to reach out to you later today or tomorrow. Again, thank you for participating and please look for my message. Take care.

    1. I do agree that creativity is a loving act, a giving act, which is why we should be supportive of musicians, writers, artists, and all creative types. I wonder why it feels so good to do something creative? Thank you very much for your comment.

  10. Honestly both. I discovered i had a talent for poetry 13 years ago, and because i worked on it and developed it, it grew stronger. My talent for writing was triggered by a traumatic experience. But reading more and practicing made me better at it. I used to draw a long time ago but lack of follow up made me believe i was bad at it. Recently iv been rekindling the fire inside me to draw and create art.

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