Can Creativity Be Learned?

Throughout college I struggled to find an answer to this question. Looking around the classroom, it felt as if my classmates had been born with much more creativity than I had. “That must be it.” I thought to myself. “Why else is their work so much better than mine?” I figured there was a genetic limit to individual creative potential and I just didn’t measure up. Well, I’ve come to find out that perhaps I was giving up before I really even got started.

One day in a senior design class, I presented this question to the group during a discussion with our professor. I remember it opening up a much more interesting, deeper dialog than whatever we had been previously talking about. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one that was troubled by this question.

Ideas from both sides were presented and both seemed valid. Some believed we are born creative and others were adamant that creativity is something we learn. However, I didn’t feel like either option applied to me. As we spent the rest of class hashing out the question of creativity, I realized this idea was much bigger than myself.

After leaving the classroom, I still didn’t have an answer, but I did learn that I wasn’t alone. Others were struggling with the same question. For the moment, I put it on the shelf to focus on graduation but it would resurface soon enough as I got started in my design career.

With some of my first jobs after graduating, I felt I was back in class again comparing my work to that of the more senior designers. Again, somehow they were much better at coming up with creative ideas than I was. Soon the same questions I had before came back to me. Would I ever reach their level of mastery? How long does it take to get there? Can I really teach myself how to be creative or is it inherent?

Now, after more than a decade away from the classroom, I have found the answers to my questions. Overtime I’ve learned that the more work I do, the better I get. The more influences I let in, the more inspiration I find for my work. The more challenges I end up facing day-to-day force me to push myself harder. And the more I push myself, the more I have to look inside for answers. All of this culminates into me becoming a more creative person.

So can creativity be learned? Or are we born with it?

I believe the answer to both questions is yes. As children, we color with crayons, play with toys and make up imaginary worlds with far-fetched thoughts. Creativity has been with us all along. As adults, we have to return to these childhood actions to practice, play and allow ourselves to be as free as our inner-child will let us. As we get older and start learning “the rules” creativity tends to take a back seat. We want to know that what we’re doing will work and will be done correctly. However, with creativity there is no right answer. There is only your answer.

It doesn’t matter if you can draw like Rembrandt or can only make finger paintings and stick figures. Nor does it even matter what profession you’re in. Creativity is our way of seeing differently. Not theirs, ours. It’s how we come up with solutions to problems that no one else can solve. It’s how we are able to go to the moon!

As a graphic designer my job is to use my sense of aesthetic, color, space, style, humor, wit, taste, passions and interests outside of design to create my work. If I’m open to influence and introspection, I’ll always find creativity when I need it. It’s right there for the taking. We just have to recall it and practice using it. Creativity is not just for the “creative-types”.

You can do this too. Just go out and play.

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