Creativity in art, science and all other domains

Future posts on creativity

In the coming months I intend to contribute many posts on the subject of “creativity”. As most of these will be taken from my book “Fresh Insights into Creativity“, it seems appropriate to start with an excerpt from its “Introduction” :

Excerpt from the introduction to “Fresh insights into Creativity”

A need to understand the nature of ‘creativity‘ has been with me since I was a teenager. This volume is the fruit of a lifetime’s search for answers to questions relating to this subject. For those who wish to go deeper into the ideas on offer, I have written three other books.  Two of these provide practical help for people seeking to improve their artistic skills. The third is a scientific book. This describes the research and the ideas emerging from it that are largely responsible for the originality of the other three books. The science concerns how the brain, first, makes sense of and, then, makes use of the patterns of light that enters the eyes. Their titles are: “Drawing on Both sides of the Brain”, “Painting with Light and Colour” and “What Scientists can Learn from Artists”.

An unexpected development

I was fifteen years into my life as a practicing artist and occasional teacher of drawing and painting when, quite unexpectedly, despite my lack of relevant background as a scientist, I was offered an opportunity to become involved in scientific research. After some hesitation, I seized it in the hope that the scientific method might help me make sense of a range of painting, drawing and teaching related questions to which I had been seeking answers in vain.

I remember being far from confident that anything worthwhile would come out of this jump into such unfamiliar territory. In the event, as the years passed, I found myself being progressively and positively astonished at the outcomes. As it turned out, with the encouragement and help from an ever increasing number of new colleagues, I was able to discover answers to almost all the questions I had formulated beforehand. Better still, I found solutions to a large number of others that were to arise.

Of the many conclusions that emerged from my time as a scientist, one that was of particular relevance to this book concerned the relation between artistic and scientific creativity. I came to realise that, at a fundamental level, there is much less difference between art and science than surface appearances may suggest. As we shall see in the following chapters, this conclusion and the evidence for it have practical implications for all who aspire to creativity in either of the two disciplines or, indeed, in any other domain of human activity.

Other books on creativity

Books and articles on both artistic and scientific creativity abound. Between them they treat both subjects in a plethora of ways and target every conceivable kind of readership. Some are written by authors rooted in artistic tradition, others are by people coming from a scientific background. Some talk as if creativity is the preserve of the artist, seeming to believe that, if scientists want to be creative, they need to be more like artists. Others concentrate on scientific creativity, largely ignoring and not infrequently scorning the artistic perspective as too woolly-headed.

Fortunately others are more even handed. However, among these, there is nobody that I know of who has had the luck that I have enjoyed of being an artist who has been able to work as a scientist among scientist colleagues, studying the acquisition and use of artistic skills, with a particular focus on artistic creativity. It is due to this unique art/science perspective that I have persuaded myself both that, (1) Artists can greatly benefit from giving serious thought to the scientific method as a framework for their creativity, and that (2) Scientists can learn a great deal from the experimental paradigms and outcomes of artists.

Autobiography

One of the features of this book is the role of autobiography. The reason is that my life provides good examples of an often demonstrated truth, namely that one person’s experience in one domain can provide ready-made perspectives that have the capacity to evoke valuable insights in another. Thus, on the one hand, my experience as an artist and art teacher made it possible for me to make what my scientist colleagues enthused about as a valuable contribution to their research and, on the other hand, my time in experimental and theoretical science revealed all sorts of information of value to artists.

In particular my personal experience illustrates a major theme of this volume, namely that the creative process always involves bringing a number of nested frameworks of constraints to bear on something. Omnipresent and of unvarying importance among these is the overarching framework provided by the infinitely complex and invariably rich personal experience of the creator. Each person brings their own context of thought and feelings and, in combination, these can provide novel contexts capable of breaking up or bypassing log jams produced by the habitual ways of thinking of others.

Similarities and differences between artists and scientists

As should be clear from the above, one of the recurring ideas in my writings is that artists and scientists have more in common than most people seem to think. Thus, artists have paradigms and explore them by means of experiment, and scientists cannot get anywhere without ideas whose existence depends on the guiding role of the feeling centres in the brain. If there are any differences, they are ones of emphasis. Three candidates stand out:

  • Scientists have traditionally sought to design experiments with as few variables as possible, and to find ways of controlling for each in turn. Artists have preferred to live with high levels of complexity (and uncertainty), always having to juggle with a bewildering number of interactions at the same time.
  • The outcomes of the experiments of scientist are likely to be easier both to interpret and to replicate, at least within the narrow domain that they set out to explore. This does not mean that conclusions of validity to scientists cannot be drawn from the artists experiments, particularly ones that have become part of traditions tested over extensive periods of time, sometimes indeed over centuries. On the contrary, there are many of them, as the contents of my four books should make clear.
  • Artists are much more likely to acknowledge the guiding function of the emotions, which scientists may even deny.

7 thoughts on “Creativity in art, science and all other domains”

  1. fascinating on the interaction between science and creativity – from one who pioneered a crossover choice of A-level subjects at my school!

    1. So true, so very true! One of my brothers is a molecular/cellular biologist and we have the most amazing and enriching conversations…

  2. I feel I have been often wrongly criticized for an apparent ability to tolerate high levels of ambiguity, while I feel it is a gift. I recognize it may lead to procrastination and postponement of decision making, but if allowed to choose my gifts, then I would indeed “choose” it.

  3. I am a lover of both science/math and art, so this article is exciting to me. Having read on and learned a tiny bit of Mr. Pratt’s discoveries, I am enlarged intellectually and freed up artistically. And most certainly his teachings need to be taught far and wide as they are directly in contradiction to generally accepted teachings of drawing and color. It’s just a shame that faulty information continues to be disseminated to students of art.

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