My connection to the arts is fueled, in equal parts, by a reverence for individuals’ creative expression and an appreciation for the ways in which creative expression impacts our lives everyday.  One of the aspects I enjoy most about my career in the arts is the opportunity it affords me to speak directly with artists about their work.  Examining the processes of professional artists is one way to better understand how and why creative expression is relevant to innovation.

This link between creative expression and innovation is readily observed in those who devote considerable time to their creative practice.  For example, in order to begin a new painting, an artist draws heavily upon well-developed skills of observation and reflection.  An artist must also have an overarching plan for how to proceed before a single mark is made, and yet most artists relish the moments of spontaneity that arise as they work.  Is this a gross oversimplification?  Yep.  But it helps to illustrate how these steps map to innovation and problem solving.

A sustained creative practice, broadly defined, promotes the fluidity of ideas that is integral to innovation.  It also promotes the judgment necessary to discern if an idea is worth pursuing, as well as the imagination and discipline that are necessary in order to work an original idea through from conception to a satisfactory and concrete end.  And yet creative expression is often underutilized as a method for achieving goals which are outside the arts; or worse, entirely overlooked.

Few would disagree that an original painting/play/sculpture/song/poem is evidence of creative expression.  But often the direct line between individual creative expression and creative outcomes outside the cultural sector seems less apparent.  The importance of creative expression to the cultural domain is clear, while the importance of creative expression to other domains remains fuzzy.

Imagination and the skills of deep observation and reflection that are invaluable to an artist’s process are also integral to the essential stages of innovation.  Breaking with the status quo–in any situation, in any domain–requires balance between adhering to an overarching plan and an openness to spontaneity.  Providing something novel, which has value, is dependent upon creative thinking.

Innovation that takes place outside the arts also demands a type of creative expression.  In many ways, volunteering ANY new idea or perspective is essentially an act of creative expression (but that’s for another post!).  Innovation can’t take place in the absence of creative expression.  And while the growth of an idea requires many stages before it can mature into a creative outcome…without creative expression, only the status quo remains.

© 2011