by Annette Polan
You don’t have to be an artist to be creative, but you do have to be creative to be an artist. And, very few people are born great artists. I certainly wasn’t. My years of educating artists at the Corcoran College of Art as well as my own studio practice taught me that creativity is a skill that can be learned.
Creativity, however, isn’t just for artists. As Marty Wilkstrom, founding partner of Atelier Management and managing director of Harrods, put it: “All good business is a combination of art and science. Art opens up the world and science rationalizes it.”
To reach the top of any field, you have to be smart and you have to be creative – left brain/right brain. The best lawyers, doctors, scientists, mathematicians, entrepreneurs of all types as well as artists are creative. Innovative thinkers use feeling and intuition as well as cognitive skills to gather information. This information is usually understood and retained through images. When thinking, the mind is alive with imaginations and memories and even daydreams.
This kind of creative thinking is an acquired skill, learned and cultivated through concrete practices. Creativity guides us toward original problem solving that can eventually shatter conventional ideas. It helps devise new ways of looking in order to see things freshly and more deeply – whether arguing before the Supreme Court, curing cancer, writing software or making art. Scientists, political leaders, business leaders, doctors and lawyers as well as artists benefit from creative approaches to unraveling puzzles.
Certain skills and habits are common to all who are innovative. Uncertainty can become an opportunity to make breakthrough connections. Freedom to explore new ideas in a non-linear, lateral way is crucial to the creative process because too much rational judgement stifles opportunities for growth. It is essential to cultivate at least six indispensable patterns of behavior to be productively creative:
Other functions are also important. KEEP TASKS AND IDEAS SIMPLE and clearly defined. A SINGULAR FOCUS attracts ideas, power, and energy to expand the original vision and open new goals. Some of the most important discoveries in medicine and science began as “happy accidents.” It requires acute powers of observation to recognize these opportunities and then PATIENCE and DISCIPLINE to follow clues to new goals.
EXPERIMENT. Experimentation is only possible in a supportive, nonjudgmental environment that encourages expression of different perspectives. Don’t be afraid of FAILURE. Failures often lead to innovation. However, Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning economic historian, Harvard Professor emeritus advises: “It’s critical to be able to let go, to give up those unfinished, imperfect thoughts to someone else. That way you can keep going with positive energy and not be burdened down like you are by incompletes. Then what’s finished is done; what you wanted to add and to change becomes the nucleus for something new and exciting….”
Art and science are both human attempts to comprehend and then explain the world around us. When done successfully and in tandem, they can cause us to see the world in a different light. In the words of Albert Einstein, “The greatest scientists are artists as well.”
Annette Polan is an internationally known portrait artist living in Forest Hills, DC. (We wrote about her and her work in 2014 and 2017.) She has photographed and painted the official portraits of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and other leaders of industry and government. Her work hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and other museums and private collections in the US. In addition to painting, Polan is Professor Emerita at the Corcoran College of Art + Design at George Washington University.