28 J. Daniel Sawyer

28 Jul

Creativity and Virtuosity


Sounds important, right? Sounds pretty grand?  I think so. I’m with
Julian Simon in believing that creativity is the ultimate natural

It’s easy, though, to go from thinking highly of creativity to idolizing
it. Externalizing it, by calling it your “muse.” Mystifying it by
calling it “inspiration.” Specializing and rarefying it, by using words
like “talent.”

I think all of those words are bullshit. Creativity is the basis of
human intelligence–it takes leaps of imagination to learn language, to
explore, to grow.  Where most people think of creativity as this extra
something that comes in on top of things like solving a math
problem or driving a car, I’ve become convinced from my reading of
neurology that creativity is the engine that drives even these mundane

But if that’s true, why do most people feel uncreative?

Part of it, I think, comes from the way we idolize creativity. By
conceiving of creativity as this special extra substance, we cordon off
the everyday world in a curtain of gray, isolating it from the sense of
adventure and fun that would imbue it if we were, for example, five
years old.

Part of it, too, is that creative thinking is dangerous–even a
seemingly harmless piece of creative thought (such as the idea that heat
can be transformed into motion with a very simple machine) can
completely remake an entire civilization if people run with it. As
social creatures, we’re disposed toward not making waves, and so as we
grow we’re subtly disincentivized from indulging in all but the most
useless forms of creative thought.  The thrill of thinking dangerous
things gets coupled with shame, and more ordinary forms of creativity
get shunted to the side as unimportant.

And I also think that people confuse creativity with “talent”–another
X-factor that nobody defines. While it’s true, so far as I can tell,
that different people are born with different aptitudes for certain
things (intelligence, athleticism, music, etc.), and that those
aptitudes get fertilized by the way a person grows, this doesn’t spell
creative genius–and it doesn’t mean that you, if you feel like you’re
on the short end of the genetic/environmental stick–are uncreative.
Great painters and composers and writers and lovers and inventors are
made, not born–and even as adults, after all the conditioning we’re
subject to as we grow up, we can still learn new things.  If you first
learn to paint at 40, you might not ever be as good as the person who
was encouraged from the age of six, but so what? The important thing is
that you enjoy the learning process, and cross apply that daring to try
new things to other areas. Virtuosity–that seemingly effortless,
perfect creativity that people envy–isn’t inborn. It comes from years
of deliberate practice (this is why there are so many “talented” people
working desk jobs and living lives that bore them to tears–being told
you’re talented makes you lazy).

In other words, the X-factor of “Talent” is bullshit too.

So, as you read this blog series on creativity, spare a moment to
Creativity isn’t just about art. It drives science, technology,
religion, relationships, culture, parenting, and jigsaw puzzles.  You’re
probably creative a thousand times a day–you already know how to do it.
If you’re blocked, don’t despair–just look for places you’re habitually
creative and draw from them, and use them to remind yourself how it’s


Posted by on July 28, 2011 in Creativity Guest Posts


2 Responses to 28 J. Daniel Sawyer

  1. Neil Colquhoun

    August 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    Be alive, be aware, live your life, and break out.
    Don’t believe the hype – if you let what others think of you get in the way, then you’ve lost.

    Stay Alive – Neil

  2. Doc Coleman

    August 16, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Creativity infuses every aspect of human life. We just need to recognize it for what it is.

    Of course, it usually serves to get us into trouble in various ways.


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