Illustration of thinking process

Original Ideas That Have Value

Thoughts on Creativity

Written by Prof. Barbara Bushey

In his book Creative Schools, Sir Ken Robinson defines creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. He asks us also to consider imagination, which he defines as the ability to bring to mind things that aren’t present to our senses, and innovation, putting new ideas into practice.

Robinson does not say that creativity is confined solely to the artists (indeed, the book is all about creativity in teaching), or that your ideas need be totally original to the world, or that value is only measured in the market place. If you realize that a rolled-up sock could be employed as a replacement for a missing drain plug, and this new idea allows you to enjoy a nice, relaxing soak in the tub, this is an original idea that has value—it meets our definition of creativity!

Many people think imagination is the tough part of this equation. I’ve generally found it quite easy to generate all sorts of ideas, but some people find this intimidating. Like any other skill, however, it can be developed. Spend a few minutes every day considering the essential imagination question: “What if?”

“What if…I painted the same scene in watercolor, oil, and pastels?”

“What if…I wrote a story from the point of view of my brother?”

“What if …we had eight fingers on each hand? How would that affect mathematics? The glove industry?”

I think innovation is the more difficult part of this equation, as it involves putting things into practice. The sock in the bathtub drain may be creative if you have misplaced your stopper, but it is hardly an innovation in a world full of cheap and effective drain plugs. If you have watched an episode of Shark Tank, you know that creative ideas face all kinds of obstacles.

If you have never painted with watercolor, and the idea you have seems to be perfect for watercolor, but you convince yourself you don’t know enough about watercolor to try, there will be no innovation. Innovation requires taking risks and making an effort.

For the visual artist or the writer, it’s rather simple: work every day. It sounds impossible, and I rarely have the luxury of a full day in the studio, but I DO get there every day, even if it is only to clean off a work surface or oil my sewing machine. Work begets work.

How do we ascribe value? The best advice I ever received was to make the art you want to see. If I think a work has value, that is all I need. If you receive satisfaction from your original idea, then you have won.

Never forget that God created us in His image. Let me say that again. God created us in His image. He wants us to be creators, too. I will leave you with a line from Mary Oliver from her work “Flow” in Long Life: “What does it mean that the earth is so beautiful? And what shall I do about it?”

Get to work.

Barbara BusheyProf. Barbara Bushey is the Chairwoman of the Art Department.