Creativity can’t be taught from a formula. It can be reduced to a formula but then it isn’t creativity anymore, it’s a set of instructions.

Do these steps in this order. Use these tools and materials in this way. Follow the best practices map and you’ll be fine.

We want guidelines like that because they remove the doubt and answer all our questions. We don’t have to do the heavy lifting because somebody else already did. Things are easy and that’s what most of us want. Easy, simple, tell me what to do. That isn’t creating. That’s following somebody’s rules.

This tells you what I see. What would you learn by following your own curiosity instead of mine?

By its nature creativity looks further. Creativity treats rules as the beginning, not the end goal. Creativity is getting your hands dirty and trying things just to see what happens. Creativity asks what if…

What if the best practices are actually a way to hide from trying something new?

What if we tried?

It might not work. We might look stupid and somebody whose opinion matters more than it should might laugh and publicly shame us. Or worse, just ignore us altogether.

So what? Who cares what Mr. Important Someone thinks? Does Mr. I. S. (whoever that is for you) know what you actually want? Probably not.

I have no idea what anyone wants from a hobby like this. What I do know is that we’ve taken what is ostensibly, one of the most creative crafts imaginable, and sunk eighty plus years into repeating the same instructions over and over, while we squander opportunity after opportunity to nurture people’s curiosity and their ability to see and think for themselves.

I could do the easy thing like everyone else but that isn’t interesting to me. The only map I can effectively draw is the one I’m creating as I go. If you’re interested, then let me tell you about what I’ve found so far. If not, that’s okay too. I think you might enjoy looking over there instead.


  1. Simon

    You remind me of one of the very many sayings attributed to Confucius:

    Life is not about the path to happiness. The path is happiness.

  2. Dave Eggleston

    I have had several art teachers say: “If you end up painting like me, I’ve failed at my job.” Art school isn’t about learning creativity, it’s about learning tools, craft, ideas to the point that you can create and express in your own voice. It’s a way to get to mastery of process more quickly than self-training. But it isn’t going to make anyone creative. We stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us, giants who stood on the shoulders of those who came before them and tried out new ideas on top of what came before. I think the hobby is the same, whatever hobby you’re in.

    Ultimately, what has proven the most effective in my art education has been to watch masters at work alongside me and to see them experiment and struggle and sometimes fail–because that tells me that we’re all struggling and there is nothing wrong with that. Mistakes are part of the process and are to be embraced. What matters is to do it. Creativity will come.

  3. Galen Gallimore

    Since we’ve quoted a philosopher and an artist, how about a musician? Toru Takemitsu, the composer, once said, “Sometimes I use the octatonic scale and sometimes I use all the other notes.” (Side Note: The octatonic scale is comprised of eight notes arranged in a sequence of alternating half and whole step intervals. This creates an unusual situation; there is no tonic-dominant relationship, a cornerstone of most western music. The resulting music is often felt as free-floating or without resting, and Takemitsu used it effectively in his piece, “To the Edge of Dream”.)

    I think creativity functions best within a set of bounds. No doubt we set those bounds for ourselves, whether we adopt someone else’s boundaries or determine our own. But once you have studied the image and are ready to model it, you must begin deciding. What will I include and what will I omit? What colors and textures will I use? What materials will best achieve my desired result? Then, within these confines, you will create.

    I believe the creative modelers of this age will skillfully adapt those time-tested and honored techniques as long as they are useful and go beyond them when necessary.