Creative theory

This section contains some of my own research into the psychology of creativity, including my MA critical research paper, plus further thoughts and discussions on various related subjects.

MA Critical research paper (submitted 2009)

A necessary process: The psychology of creativity

As an illustrator I have always channeled my efforts into creating highly polished, technique-driven images – pictures to impress.  My obsession with the quality of outcomes has led me borrow from others’ styles and neglect the vital period leading up to it – the creative process.  As a result, I have found my work lacks originality and life, and by utilising others’ illustrative aesthetic I have been tapping into their unique creativity as a short-cut to finding my own.  Consequently, my project has centred on the examination of the creative process and its underlying psychological mechanisms.


Our creative abilities separate us from all other life on earth.  We are not only able to perform taught or instinctive tasks, but also to create inventive, personal solutions; an ability we have learned to beautifully misuse.  Originally developed as a mechanism for survival, our aptitude for generating original solutions can be harnessed to manipulate the world in a range of expressive ways.

The desire to create is visceral.  As such we all need to create.  But as technology moves us towards increased efficiency in mass-production, could our obsession with progression cause us to neglect the importance of creative control?  Are we being pushed ever further away from being able to fulfil this primitive need?

Through an investigation into the neuropsychology of the creative process, this essay seeks to frame creativity as an essential brain function – as necessary to mental well-being as exercise is to physical health.  Through highlighting the importance of the creative process to both artist and artistic outcome, this document aims to reinforce the relevance of creative process to the contemporary creative practitioner.

The science of creative thought

‘Instead of concrete things patiently following one another in a beaten track of habitual suggestion, we have the most abrupt cross-cuts and transitions from one idea to another’ (James, 1956)

At present, creativity is immeasurable.  Unlike IQ, testing an individual’s ability to construct original, innovative ideas cannot be assigned a number.  Creativity is a way-of-thinking. It exists in everyone – if not as a quantifiable capability, then as a collection of attributes.

From an early age we exhibit creativity – initially through the form of pretend play. At the age of about eighteen months infants begin to utilise their creative minds to learn about the world around them.  Childhood pursuits such as imaginary conversations and the application of original associations to objects (using a banana as a telephone for example) replicate adult situations, equipping individuals with the skills required in adulthood.  It is has been postulated that this form of play shares the same cognitive basis as adult creativity and that it not only aids childhood learning but also prepares the brain for creative thinking in maturity (Carruthers, 2002).

The origins of human creativity lie in our evolution.  As the size of our brains have grown, so too has our ability to asses and solve problems.  Creative thinking is essentially a problem-solving mechanism – one which enables us to pre-empt potential outcomes by imagining ‘what if?’  Although originally developed to generate solutions related to survival, we have come to adapt this ability to meet our own psychological needs and desires.

In the 1950’s American psychologist J.P. Guilford identified two ways in which the human mind tackles problems – divergent and convergent thinking.  Convergent thinking is a process that seeks to locate one specific solution to a predicament.  Divergent thinking involves the generation of many solutions by drawing together areas of un-associated information (Guilford, 1967). This recognition of divergent thought processes had been earlier identified by the philosopher and mathematician Henri Poincare who described it as a creative ability to ‘reveal unsuspected kinships between other facts well known but wrongly believed to be strangers to one another’ (Poincare, 1913).  Guilford suggested that particular aptitude in utilising both of these literal and lateral processes (with a bias for lateral thinking) could be the hallmark of creative ability.

The area of the brain responsible for the generation of divergent thinking – the frontal lobes, [Fig. 1] perform functions such as abstraction (the capacity to appreciate abstract concepts) and set-shifting (the ability to stop one action or thought process and start another).  Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Cambridge Oliver Zangwill first put forward the notion that damage to the frontal lobe might reduce abilities in divergent thinking (Zangwill, 1966) – a theory later proved by Dr.Brenda Milner testing the effects of lobectomies on creative ability (Milner, 1984).

Pseudoscientific generalisations are often made about areas of the brain – in particular how creative thought originates from the right cerebral hemisphere.  While the right side does seem to exhibit more lateral processes than the left (which exhibits a greater degree of logical evaluation), it is a more complex relationship between both cerebral hemispheres that results in creative thinking.  More specifically, it seems that an interaction between the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain is responsible for original idea generation.

One of the key drives for creative engagement is, neurologically speaking, a chemical incentive.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which influences behaviour (amongst other things) through its actions on the regions of the brain associated with motivation and reward.  The frontal lobe is rich in dopamine-sensitive neurons and it is believed that the neural networks in this region play a key role in rewarding creative success.  In addition, the midbrain Mesolimbic pathway [Fig. 2] when reinforced by dopamine, decreases latent inhibition and increases arousal – a process which is believed to facilitate creative idea generation (Flaherty, 2005).  Research into this area led Harvard professor Alice Flaherty to link the frontal lobe (idea generation), temporal lobes (idea evaluation), and mesolimbic dopamine (reward) into a ‘three-factor’ model of creativity (Flaherty, 2005).

There is still much to be discovered about creative thought and psychological processes in general. That creativity stems from dopamine release as a result of a process between the frontal and temporal lobes is still a matter for debate (Heilman, 2003).  There is little doubt however, that we do obtain a sense of reward and satisfaction from problem-solving and engagement in the creative process.

In addition to our scientific understanding of creativity it is important to take into account the current limitations in academic knowledge of the brain, and to remember the important role creative practitioners play in furthering this understanding – if not for the wider community then at least for themselves.  Creativity may at present be scientifically immeasurable, yet as creative individuals we are capable of gaining an important insight into our own personal potential, in order that we may manipulate specific areas and to allow our creativity to evolve.  Utilising experiments such as the design fluency test (a test of frontal lobe function) and imposing restrictive pressures upon our practice expands our understanding of the brain’s creative mechanisms and builds knowledge of our individual abilities.

There is also great psychoanalytical debate surrounding the causes and purpose of creativity, with differences of opinion existing between the various schools of thought.  Freud’s views on creativity lean towards a neuropsychological model – asserting that creativity stems from basic instinct and the biological satisfaction derived from creative achievement.  Kleinian theory on the other hand takes a more philosophical stand-point, suggesting that creative motivation derives from the search for reparation, play and unconscious childhood thoughts (Glover, 2004).

Eminent thinkers of the early twentieth century such as Freud, Anton Ehrenzweig and Ernst Kris carried out a great deal of work in the field of artistic interpretation and aesthetics which continues to shape our view of creativity and the creative process today.  In particular the practice of pathography (the interpretation of creative outcomes to deconstruct the vicissitudes of a creator’s psychological motivations) has altered both perceptions of creative motivation and contemporary psychiatric treatment (Glover, 2004).  Freud’s method of analysing artists as patients and their work, not for its artistic or contextual qualities but for what it divulges about the underlying psychology of the individual in turn laid the groundwork for psychiatric treatment and the development of art therapy.

Diverting forces

‘Disability is an art—an ingenious way to live’ (Ehrlich, 2004)

For all artistic practitioners, creative process is unavoidably subject to a host of diverting forces which exert influence by varying degrees.  Occasionally these forces are so extreme that they result in a greatly distorted creative approach.  The immense plasticity of the brain allows individuals to adapt to overcome a great variety of restrictive circumstances.  It is the human brain’s unique ability to do this that provides us with the essence of creativity.

Individual capacity for creativity can be affected by a variety of psychological and physical abnormalities.  Depression, schizophrenia, autism and dementia impose various effects on the neural networks responsible for creative thought (Glazer, 2009).  Disabilities of the body can also influence creative potential by reducing ability to physically carry out creative acts or by restricting the senses.  An example of this is Sue Chambers, whose physical degeneration after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis led her to give-up a life-long love of painting. [Fig 3] An increasing lack of muscular control had rendered her unable to apply paint to canvas in the ways she desired.  Several years on, Chambers returned to painting, embracing this lack of control and using it as a source of inspiration (Chambers, 2009).

The ingestion of chemicals is also capable of altering creative ability.  Drugs that suppress or stimulate frontal and temporal lobe function can cause effects similar to those experienced by sufferers of mental illness (Chatterjee, 2004).  Alcohol and drug abuse have long been used to enhance emotions and experience but chronic use of such chemicals eventually inhibits the individual’s ability to transcribe them.

Paradoxically, as creativity relies on divergent, problem-solving thought-processes, the addition of obstructions to the creative process can actually enhance innovation rather than hinder it.  Barriers through which an individual must negotiate can assist divergent thinking by forcing the brain to seek-out other more lateral approaches.  In fact, a dearth of limitations can often hinder creativity.  Innovation strategist Andrew Razeghi writes ‘when there are no limits the motivation to get creative is lost in abundance. Our inspiration to get creative is thwarted . . .  constraints provide the perfect opportunity for creativity to flourish’ (Razeghi, 2008).

Craig D. Adams, an editorial illustrator working in California has developed a particularly stringent creative process. [Fig. 4] With a distinctive style he describes as ‘rustic 21st century minimalism’ (Adams, 2009), Adams has formulated a framework that effectively shapes his creations.  Using development software originally designed to create animations for now out-dated computer hardware he has been able to generate an original graphic language.  Built around limitations, this way-of-working channels his illustrative skills into a recognisable, communicative style.

The Danish director Lars Von Trier is perhaps the most famous advocate of self-imposing limitations to the creative process.  As a key author of the Dogme 95 manifesto [Appendix 1] he sought to inflict restrictions on the way he and others approach film-making.  He sees barriers as positive contributors to creativity stating – ‘If you have some limitations when you work you are forced to use your imagination’ (Fiennes, 1998).

A Necessary Process?

Throughout our lives we continually engage in a creative process of some form or another, though we often fail to acknowledge it.  Everyday tasks require a certain level of ingenuity in order that they can be carried out.  Whether deciding the best way to open a jar of jam or designing a building that can withstand an earthquake, our creativity is used to form a solution.  Seeing creativity in this way – as a ‘normal’ brain function and not just as a gift for the few – allows us to highlight its importance.

‘Raw artists’ are people with no artistic knowledge or training who have spontaneously turned to the creative process (Thevoz, 2004).  This drive for creative involvement seems not to come from mere desire or cultural inspiration but as the manifestation of a deep, visceral urge.  Raw Artists reveal our primitive need to create, by framing the creative process as a means in itself.  Creating often with no direction or incentive, they define creativity as our default state; a necessary human process.

There are many examples of the expression of this innate drive to create – from the reclusive janitor Henry Darger [Fig. 5] who spent forty years creating a fifteen-thousand page fantasy epic which he never showed to anyone (MacGregor, 2002), to Jimmie Lee Sudduth [Fig. 6] who couldn’t afford art materials using leaves and pigments made from berries to make images outside which the weather would quickly destroy (Andrews-Trechsel, 2006), raw artists seem to create through necessity.

Raw Artists display a rather extreme desire to create, but their drive highlights everyone’s need for creative input – no matter how small.  However, since the industrial revolution, our relationship with creative processes has changed significantly.  The invention of mechanised mass-production brought with it the monotony of factory work; repetitive employment often lacking creative decision-making.  As a result, craftsmen – less efficient than their mechanised counterparts, have become progressively redundant.

At the turn of the 20th century, John Ruskin responded to this decline by founding the Arts and Crafts Movement (Hilton, 2002) – a philanthropic attempt to reverse the technological tide.  The movement idealised the notion of craftspeople taking pride in their work and Ruskin – an influential art-critic and social commentator – sought to alert society to the importance of creative labour for mental well-being.  Marxist theory also highlights the importance of individual creative contribution.  The social and political theorist Jon Elster asserts that creative work is important to happiness (Gordon, 1990).  Unlike Ruskin, who stated the need to encounter this through livelihood, Elster suggests that creative satisfaction can be achieved as effectively through hobbies and leisure.

Regardless of where a creative outlet is found, modern research supports the notion that creative input is a key contributor to sound mental health.  The Encyclopaedia of occupational health and safety states that ‘workers in unskilled manual jobs have shown high prevalence rates of minor psychiatric disorders’ (Stellman, 1998).  In addition, studies into socially isolated elderly people have revealed that involvement in creative pursuits provided ‘significant improvements in depression’ as well as ‘increased alertness, social activity, self-worth, [and] optimism about life’ (Greaves, 2006).

Creativity for healing and spirituality

For some, the creative process is not a means to an end.  Creativity can also be utilised to address therapeutic or meditative requirements.  Through engagement in a creative process it is possible to benefit from the psychological, spiritual or religious by-products of creative thinking.

Art therapy is a relatively new method of battling psychological illness.  It works on the premise that ‘the creative process involved in art making is [both] healing and life enhancing’ (The American Art Therapy Association, 2009). Art therapy combines traditional psychotherapeutic theory with an understanding of the psychological benefits of the creative process.  Used to increase patient’s insight and judgment, it has also proved to reduce stress and increase cognitive abilities.

Patients with a range of psychological abnormalities from schizophrenia to depression, find that their quality of life can be improved by an engagement in creativity.  For some whose illness has led to social seclusion, the involvement in creativity gives them a feeling of worth and purpose.  Others find answers to their problems through introspection – using drawing or painting to interpret the causes of depression.  The reasons behind the positive health benefits acquired through art therapy are not fully understood.  It seems however that it is a combination of self-reflection, the satisfaction of authorship, and the ritualistic calm found within the creative process that can assist psychological healing (Edwards, 2004).

The repetitive ‘ritualistic’ acts of some creative processes are also used as an aid to meditation.  Acquired skills and cyclical tasks occupy the conscious mind with a routine task allowing the unconscious mind to travel elsewhere.  Using the creative process to enter a spiritual plane of thought has been long employed in the practice of religion.  Benedictine scribes would spend months creating intricately illustrated manuscripts feeling that the process of doing so gave them greater insight into the divine (Alexander, 1992).  Similarly, the Bahá’í  faith actively encourages followers to engage in the creative process.  Son of the religion’s founder `Abdu’l-Bahá stated ‘art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God’ Esslemont, 1950).

Many religions across the world use art as a tool of prayer believing it enables communication with their creator.  The Navajo Native American Indians expunged evil spirits by creating sand-paintings, a form of creativity used by the Australian Aborigines to pass on spiritual power and sacred knowledge.  Similarly, Tibetan Buddhist monks create music and objects which they believe gives them contact with Buddha (Hastings, 2003).

Deep engagement in a creative process can lead any individual to enter a tranquil, subconscious mode of thinking; a state of mind not always associated with religion.  It is a feeling of removal and a sense of external direction that leads many to believe they are conduits rather than authors.  This creative ‘flow’ which some describe as ‘divine channelling’ sees the individual entering a condition of detached artistry in which unconscious decisions are made and the outside world falls out of focus.  Artist Lisa Ann Bonfiglio describes in her experience of painting a sense of channelling the world’s energies into a personal creative piece – ‘I become the conduit, the vehicle for the energy to flow into my being and out through my fingertips imprinting the energies onto the canvas’ (Bonfiglio, 2009).

The creative process as an art in itself

Creativity is generally measured by what it produces.  The end-result is usually regarded as being most deserving of attention, yet the product of a creative process only demonstrates the very end of a long journey.  What comes before it is no less worthy of appreciation and yet as its passing is unobserved, it often remains unconsidered.  This unseen part of the journey is left to be extrapolated through a posthumous deconstruction.  As its creator employed divergent thinking to produce an outcome, so too must those who go on to appraise it; the interpretation of an artist’s intentions often being a matter of subjectivity where no single answer exists.

As a result, products of creation can be compared to a crime-scene – they consist of a collection of traces left by an act that has already taken place.  And as a crime-scene is subject to an investigation into the motives of the perpetrator, so too are creative outcomes.  Consequently, to actually see the creative process in action is to see the ‘crime’ committed.  In these circumstances the viewer does not take the role of investigator – instead he becomes both a witness and an accessory of the crime itself.

The 1976 film Heart of Glass by Werner Herzog (Herzog 1976) contains an extended scene documenting the art of glass-blowing.  The scene employs the creative process as an act worthy of visual and contextual appreciation in its own right.  Combining our intrigue in acquired skill with the aesthetic qualities of the process we are shown an alternative perspective of the art of making glass.  The molten glass and the human movement involved in the process form an intense aesthetic experience where the act of creation and not the creation itself takes centre-stage. [Fig. 7]

Such documentation is clearly capable of diverting importance away from creative outcomes.  In this case, by focusing on the act of glass-blowing the finished work of glass becomes almost insignificant – a waste product from the production of a film.  This shift in balance,- where outcome supersedes process, is significant.  Instead of requiring a process to reach an outcome, the product of creation becomes a by-product of an act in itself.  The creative process is turned on its head.

It could however, be said that viewing the creative process is too revealing; that such a disclosure removes the need for any dissection and discussion of the finished piece.  Werner Herzog is himself all-too aware of the demystifying effects of documenting a creative process.  The 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams (Blank, 1982) by director Les Blank follows the chaotic filming of Herzog’s epic Fitzcarraldo (Herzog, 1982)  More than just a ‘making of’, Burden of Dreams lays bare Herzog’s obsessive nature and single minded vision throughout the process of the film’s creation.  Subsequently, Herzog has stated he wishes the documentary ‘never existed’ adding that when it comes to an artist’s creative process it is far better for an audience ‘to have questions and not answers’ (Arnold, 2009).

The digital revolution and the creative process

If the technology borne out of the industrial revolution had a significant impact on the creative process, then the digital revolution is sure to drastically alter it forever.  Our creative tools have become increasingly complex over the centuries from basic tools such as brushes and pencils, to computers and software capable of realising unlimited graphical, audio or filmic creations.  But while technology has the ability to aid the creative process in a variety of ways, it also – as the industrial revolution has proved – presents the potential to remove individual input and starve creativity.

One often cited benefit of digital art is that the mistake has been eradicated.  No longer are we at the mercy of the unknown, as the virtual studio’s lack of permanency enables infinite corrections of error.  Yet a lack of mistakes (or more importantly a lack of problems around which we must negotiate) can stunt creativity and impose a clinical aesthetic synonymous with digital creation.

Whilst giving ultimate executive control, digital art can also render the individual a slave to a set way of working – removing creative input by offering a host of short-cuts.  Provided typefaces, filters and manipulation tools are all products of someone else’s creativity, and so an individual who uses them is adhering to another’s personal creative framework.

Used correctly however, incorporating digital methods within the creative process can yield positive results.  The immediacy of the medium and its circumnavigation of material limitations paved the way for the ‘freelance’ designer and also for the originality that comes from individual approaches.  In addition, the ready availability of computers and design software has given many the opportunity of a range of creative outlets where they would otherwise have had few.  Also in the wider sphere, the presence of the Internet with its vast source of artistic tuition, discussion and influence, has had myriad positive effects on the creative processes of countless practitioners.

Put simply, the computer is a tool at the disposal of the creative practitioner – not a creative entity in its own right.  A pen cannot guide the hand of an artist and a computer is not capable of helping us generate creative work.  While scientists are working on the possibility of utilising systems and software to create a computer model that can emulate the brain’s creative processes, this goal is a long way off.  Limitations in quantum mechanics, computer processing power and concrete knowledge on the structure of the brain make the creation of such complex systems impossible.  Although programs have been developed which contribute to the creative process such as random generators and idea production software, the creative decision making still lies with the person in charge (Gabora, 2002).


Investigations into the workings of creative thought have shed much light on how we generate innovative ideas.  Guilford’s concept of divergent and convergent thinking revealed how we are able to process information in a lateral way.  This, in combination with more recent studies into the precise neural networks involved in the creative process, has elucidated what compels us to engage in creativity; the challenges posed by the creative process, and the sense of gratification when a satisfactory outcome is reached.

For some, mental or physical barriers constrict and distort their creative process.  Human creativity is incredibly plastic and as such, we are often able to overcome such limitations through lateral approaches.  So resourceful are our creative abilities that some even self-impose barriers through which their creativity must negotiate, capitalising on the inventive solutions creative problem-solving can bring.

In psychological terms, the creative process is an essential contributor to individual happiness – creative control is a basic human need.  In making so many areas of our lives easier we are in danger of removing many of the challenges that make life worth living.  The more problems technology removes the less opportunity we each have to be creative.  Although the notion of returning to a pre-mechanised society is as unachievable as it is undesirable, the concept of enabling people to take pride in their work by allowing greater creative control is not.  If machines could in fact reduce the monotony of mass production instead of increasing it, it would be possible to redirect workers towards jobs with more creative power.  To employ humans for repetitive assembly-line work seems nonsensical when their unique creative abilities could be put use.

Regardless of ability, everyone has the capacity to create – each exerting his or her own original approach.  Creativity is one of our most precious assets – a psychological tool that enables us to generate original solutions and break new ground.  On investigation, an individual’s unique creative process is both aesthetic and revealing – as fascinating a subject as any outcome it provides.

My journey into the psychology of creativity began as an investigation into what makes me an original practitioner – my aim was to find a voice.  In that sense I have only part succeeded, and what I have discovered now seems far more important.  As a contemporary illustrator my focus has always been centred on creating a polished outcome – the element that people are willing to pay for.  In most circumstances, clients are understandably uninterested in how illustrations are created – focusing instead on the production of a good end-result.  My drive to gain commissions and meet clients’ demands has at times led me to adopt a similar attitude, placing the importance of outcome over process.  Like society’s hunger for efficient production, my need for swift, visually proficient outcomes has at times, neglected my ability to be creative.

By deconstructing my creative process through the application of restrictions to my practice, adopting unfamiliar ways of working, and documenting my approach – I have been able to learn a great deal about the way I tackle creative problems.  My preliminary work involved the construction of a book under restrictions (materials and time).  The entire process from start to finish was filmed, enabling me to reflect upon and examine the way I work (Pickering, 2009).  To observe my creative process is to view myself from a completely new perspective.  I have found that an interest in process and a degree of introspection is beneficial to discovering more about the way I work.  This, in addition to my research into the psychological reasons behind my drive to create has helped shed light on why I am an illustrator and how I do what I do.

More than anything, examining my own process has revealed a great deal about my ‘pre-programmed’ approach to creative tasks. My view of what an illustrator is and what an illustrator can be has started to shift.  Previously, my work was uniformly reliant on flat, 2D images and I was reluctant to deviate from this.  However, in a drastic change from my usual approach, I have chosen to ‘illustrate’ the psychology of creativity in an interactive 3D installation for my MA Show.  In that sense, I feel my investigations have expanded my practice, and as a result I would now be less likely to pigeonhole my creative role.

For the modern art practitioner, an appreciation and understanding of our own creative process is vital.  In identifying what drives and guides us to create, we are better placed to apply frameworks to our practice and adjust the way we work to achieve desired outcomes.  Investigating the psychology of creative thinking informs us of the mechanics behind the formulation of original ideas.  Doing so, arms us with the knowledge required to manipulate, inform and refine our creative process.


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Appendix 1
Dogme 95
.. is a collective of film directors founded in Copenhagen in spring 1995.
DOGME 95 has the expressed goal of countering “certain tendencies” in the cinema today.
DOGME 95 is a rescue action!
In 1960 enough was enough! The movie was dead and called for resurrection. The goal was correct but the means were not! The new wave proved to be a ripple that washed ashore and turned to muck.
Slogans of individualism and freedom created works for a while, but no changes. The wave was up for grabs, like the directors themselves. The wave was never stronger than the men behind it. The anti-bourgeois cinema itself became bourgeois, because the foundations upon which its theories were based was the bourgeois perception of art. The auteur concept was bourgeois romanticism from the very start and thereby … false!
To DOGME 95 cinema is not individual!
Today a technological storm is raging, the result of which will be the ultimate democratisation of the cinema. For the first time, anyone can make movies. But the more accessible the media becomes, the more important the avant-garde, It is no accident that the phrase “avant-garde” has military connotations. Discipline is the answer … we must put our films into uniform, because the individual film will be decadent by definition!
DOGME 95 counters the individual film by the principle of presenting an indisputable set of rules known as THE VOW OF CHASTITY.
In 1960 enough was enough! The movie had been cosmeticised to death, they said; yet since then the use of cosmetics has exploded.
The “supreme” task of the decadent film-makers is to fool the audience. Is that what we are so proud of? Is that what the “100 years” have brought us? Illusions via which emotions can be communicated? … By the individual artist’s free choice of trickery?
Predictability (dramaturgy) has become the golden calf around which we dance. Having the characters’ inner lives justify the plot is too complicated, and not “high art”. As never before, the superficial action and the superficial movie are receiving all the praise.
The result is barren. An illusion of pathos and an illusion of love.
To DOGME 95 the movie is not illusion!
Today a technological storm is raging of which the result is the elevation of cosmetics to God. By using new technology anyone at any time can wash the last grains of truth away in the deadly embrace of sensation. The illusions are everything the movie can hide behind.
DOGME 95 counters the film of illusion by the presentation of an indisputable set of rules known as THE VOW OF CHASTITY.
I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by DOGME 95:
1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place).
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.
10. The director must not be credited.Furthermore I swear as a director to refrain from personal taste! I am no longer an artist. I swear to refrain from creating a “work”, as I regard the instant as more important than the whole. My supreme goal is to force the truth out of my characters and settings. I swear to do so by all the means available and at the cost of any good taste and any aesthetic considerations.
Thus I make my VOW OF CHASTITY.

Copenhagen, Monday 13 March 1995

Thomas Vinterberg – Lars Von Trier – Søren Kragh-Jacobsen – Kristian Levring

(Taken from Lars Von Trier’s fan site)

Fig 1: The anatomy of the human brain

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Fig 2: The Dopamine Pathways of the Brain

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Fig 3: ‘Unwashed Dishes’ by Sue Chambers

Fig 4: ‘We Come in Peace, Shoot to Kill’ by Craig D. Adams

Fig 5: Untitled Image by Henry Darger

Your browser may not support display of this image.Fig 6: ‘Woman with a Hat’ by Jimmy Lee Sudduth

Your browser may not support display of this image.Fig 7: Glass-blowing scene from ‘Heart of Glass’

Art vs. illustration / design

From my experience within the creative community there is a long held misconception that the creative process involves the same drives and requirements regardless of individual situations. Moreover, many seem to think that engagement in any creative act is driven by a single requirement – that of producing a creative outcome. During several discussions on this subject I have often heard the same thing – that there is little or no distinction between what artists, designers and illustrators do – that there is no longer a division between these creative disciplines. While all creative people may produce creative results, what drives them to do so and the constraints under which they must perform creative acts are often very different. Recognising these factors is important in understanding and improving our own creative process.

As someone who describes himself as an illustrator, designer and artist you may be forgiven for thinking that my comments on the subject are hypocritical. However, I am aware that these labels represent three very distinct and entirely separate pursuits, each motivated by, and subject to a range of unique factors. Indeed by using all three terms I am keen to reinforce this difference.

When working as an illustrator my job is literally to illustrate. In most circumstances I am required to explain something visually that would be communicated less effectively using words. Of course, the procedure of devising something that communicates a message is a creative process. However, such acts of creativity are always subject to a range of specific requirements. They are acts of creativity that seek to solve problems – like answers to questions. The same is true when I am working as a graphic designer though I often find myself subject an even greater list of constraints resulting from design industry standards.

In contrast, my creative process as an artist is very different. For a start, I often have no external purpose for initiating a creative act. Art – in my opinion – is creativity for personal requirement. When I paint, I am indulging in self-expression and reflecting the world around me through my own personal mirror. I am still subject to a range of requirements (personal satisfaction for example) and constraints (ability, time etc.) but I am not required to communicate a message. This type of creative process is less limited in its potential – I can create whatever I want.

Understanding the varying motivations and outcomes of different creative acts enables us to better tackle creative projects and manipulate our own creative practice. Confusing the more restricted disciplines of illustration and design with less constrained acts of artistic creativity will surely negatively affect the creative processes and outcomes of both.

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One Response to Creative theory

  1. Pingback: Week 3 Tutorial: Theories of Creativity « Chewing on Pencils

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