Creativity: an Idea of Reality?

Yesterday, I watched something that BLEW MY MIND. Totally. One of those ‘WHOA’ moments. Thanks to the awesome author/illustrator Sarah McIntyre for posting this on Facebook:

It’s quite long. You might not have time (or interest) to watch it. So I’ll explain what it was that made me see things in a new way. Different artists work, of course, in different ways. When artists work on an animated film, they all have to work in the same way – and so we’re introduced to four Disney artists, working on Sleeping Beauty. We see how they all have to agree on style etc. And then those four artists go out for the day and paint a picture of the same tree. Only, of course, we end up with four completely different paintings. One likes to apply paint with a palette knife; others use charcoal or ink or brushes. (My personal favourite is the one who decided to do a close-up of the trunk.) It’s a visual demonstration of how each artist responds differently to the same stimulus.

The whole mini-film is narrated by Walt Disney himself. And although it’s an interesting vignette in itself, the killer line comes at the end. Disney quotes from a book, The Art Spirit by Robert Henri:

“The great painter has something to say. He does not paint men, landscapes or furniture, but an idea.”

I loved art as a child; my first ambition was to be an illustrator. But I became tangled in trying to draw or paint what I actually saw. I was always disappointed at the results because I couldn’t replicate what I saw.

And NOW I see where I was going wrong. And where countless young people (and adults) go wrong when it comes to art in all its forms. When you draw, you should be drawing your perception of the thing, not the thing itself. It’s so OBVIOUS when you think about it! Allowing someone to draw their idea of something frees them from trying to replicate reality – and enables them to access their own ability. It says, ‘Here, we don’t want you to capture what’s actually there. We want you to capture your inner view of it – which may bear very little relation to the object itself.’ Maybe if someone had said that to me as a teenager, I might have developed my art skills further instead of giving up under the crippling weight of school requirements.

I think this applies to writing too. Writing isn’t about trying to replicate reality. It’s about trapping your idea of reality on the page. And because we are all individuals, with thoughts and ideas of our own, each idea of reality will be different and each equally valid.

Last year, I came across a quote by Einstein in which he said the true sign of intelligence was not knowledge but imagination. I took great pleasure in telling students this on my school visits: that they were NOT measured by how much they knew but by how much they could imagine. Now I have another inspirational concept to impart: that when you create, you shouldn’t try to create what already exists, but what you see and feel about what exists and can exist. The difference is crucial – and what a great message to help unleash creativity!

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