You Don’t Have to Be an “Artist” to Be Creative

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A person need not be an artist per se to be creative, and a person need not have a particular talent for the more commonly recognized forms of artistic expression in order to be creative.

A lot of people confuse creativity with artistic talent. Because I’ve been writing a series of articles on creativity and because I think creativity can play such an important role in enriching our lives, perhaps it would do well to define the difference between creativity and art.

Art has been defined in different ways over the ages but is presently most commonly viewed as either the process or the product of putting various things together in such a manner that the senses are stimulated, emotions are evoked, or a message is communicated on some level. And almost all modes of artistic expression carry with them some type of aesthetic value. Britannica Online has defined art as “the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or experiences that can be shared with others.” Modern definitions of “art” differ significantly from early definitions based on the Latin roots of the word, which were more synonymous with the idea of a “craft” or “skill.” Terms like “medical arts” derive from these definitions. But these days, most folks accept the notion that when we speak of a true “art” we’re talking about aesthetic creation.

Although it’s hard to imagine a form of artistic expression that doesn’t involve creativity, creativity is not synonymous with artistry. A person need not be an artist per se to be creative. And it’s especially true that a person need not have a particular talent for the more commonly recognized forms of artistic expression (e.g., painting, sculpting, dance, drama, etc.) in order to be creative.

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Creativity is also not the same as ingenuity or innovativeness, although creativity is an essential part of innovation. Creativity is about seeing new things, adopting a new perspective, or “thinking outside the box.” Innovation involves applying new concepts and new approaches or principles into different contexts to solve old problems. Such innovation often leads to even more discoveries as well as inventions.

All of us have the power to be creative. And there are things we can do to enhance our creativity (see “4 Habits of Creative People”). More importantly, research increasingly testifies to the fact that creativity is not only good for the individual, it’s good for society at large. That’s why it’s so important for any culture to nurture the creative energies of its people and to take care not to stifle our innate creative inclinations.

Blind conformity and social repression are the arch-enemies of creativity. At the individual level, it’s hard for a person to think or act in novel or imaginative ways while holding an unwavering belief that one must always do what’s acceptable or that there’s only one “correct” way. Similarly, a culture that imposes authoritarian rule, dictating that only certain ways of doing things are acceptable or in line with the tenets of religion or governmental philosophy necessarily discourages individuals from having or advancing ideas of their own.

You might wonder why I make such a fuss about creativity. The short answer is this: We live in an increasingly complex and challenging time. There are billions of us on the planet, its resources are dwindling, the potential threats to our survival and prosperity are increasing exponentially, and a lot of the old answers simply aren’t working. We need creativity now more than ever. And we won’t get it by doing nothing. Creativity needs to be fostered and nurtured. Creativity is an integral aspect of the human spirit. Everybody has something to contribute. You don’t have to be a painter, sculptor, performer, or poet to participate in the ongoing and universal enterprise of creation. And all of us need to do our part to help ensure that the creative energies within each of us are valued, promoted, and provided an atmosphere to flourish.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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