Elusive Muses, Inspiration, and Pragmatic Tools

Elusive Muses, Inspiration, and Pragmatic Tools

by Stefani Rossi December 26, 2012

If you haven’t yet heard the buzz, you should know that the 21st Century has been deemed the age of creative practice. Multi-national corporations are looking for versatile creative workers, and so are most of your average employers. Coast to coast, creativity (and the disciplines that foster it) is raising eyebrows—in a good way.

This should be a boost for many of us who regularly practice artistic disciplines. And yet…what do people mean when they say “creative”?

For quite some time I’ve encountered the notion of “creative temperament.” You may have, too. It basically lets people off the hook for being poor planners, kind of flighty, esoteric, a little bit compulsive, melancholic, innovative, “inspired” in fits and spurts, and maybe a little prone to addiction. But that’s clearly not the type of “creative” that’s going to land someone a job. (I think for most of us who have been practicing our art for any length of time, we know those descriptors are not congruent with the type of rhythms and effort that produce consistently excellent work).

In Christian circles, people often talk about how we are creative because God is creative and we are made in His image. Everyone has a creative impulse. And I heartily applaud that perspective. But at the same time, I emphatically believe that creative impulse doesn’t emerge into something that becomes productive for an individual or community without a goodly amount of sweat, fumbles, and more sweat.

I had the good fortune to meet Steven J. Tepper earlier this fall. He’s the associate director of the Curb Center for Art, Enterprise, and Public Policy.

His field of expertise is sociology, and he’s interested in creativity and what differentiates creativity from other patterns of thought and work. In a recent Chronicle Review article that he penned with George D. Kuh, Let’s Get Serious About Cultivating Creativity, they take a crack at describing what distinguishes creative patterns of thinking:

“Creativity is not a mysterious quality, nor can one simply try on one of Edward de Bono’s six thinking hats to start the creative juices flowing. Rather, creativity is cultivated through rigorous training and by deliberately practicing certain core abilities and skills over an extended period of time. These include:

  1.  the ability to approach problems in nonroutine ways using analogy and metaphor;
  2.  conditional or abductive reasoning (posing “what if” propositions and reframing problems);
  3.  keen observation and the ability to see new and unexpected patterns;
  4.  the ability to risk failure by taking initiative in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty;
  5.  the ability to heed critical feedback to revise and improve an idea;
  6.  a capacity to bring people, power, and resources together to implement novel ideas; and
  7.  the expressive agility required to draw on multiple means (visual, oral, written, media-related) to communicate novel ideas to others.

Where can we find this kind of rigorous training and deliberate practice in creativity? One place to look is arts-degree programs, which squarely address and nurture the cornerstone abilities and skills of creativity—analogizing; imaginative leaps; observation; ambiguity; dealing with criticism and feedback; producing complex, collaborative projects; and the ultimate challenge of communicating new ideas to discerning publics.”

Do you recognize those qualities in yourself? My guess is that you do.

I want to be careful not to sanitize “creativity” in a way that leaves no room for mystery, and partnership with the divine: true inspiration. But I offer Tepper & Kuh’s work as well-articulated support for how creative thought is unique, and how developing creativity requires rigorous work.  And perhaps during a season of celebrating the incarnation—divine mystery become flesh and recognizable—their description of creativity might help us recognize more effectively what we do.

What do you think?

Stefani Rossi
Stefani Rossi


Stefani Rossi studied painting and printmaking at the University of Puget Sound. In 2010 she received her MFA in painting from Colorado State University. Her work has been exhibited nationally in solo and group exhibitions. Stefani has worked with Ruminate Magazine as visual art editor since 2008. More of Stefani’s work can be viewed at www.stefanirossi.com

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