“What is Creativity & why do we need it?” by Melanie Thompson

“What is Creativity & why do we need it?” by Melanie Thompson

Melanie Thompson Talk   July 3rd

What is Creativity? and why do we need it ?


I have been wanting to give a talk on the subject of creativity for a long time. And as I said in my introduction on the 3rd of July in this point in history we need it now as a resource more than ever.

I started the event by Introducing myself – interdisciplinary artist / arts lecturer making connections between different art forms and exploring the languages they share. I then shared a little of my most recent work Empathetic Shoes ( see previous blog post ) to give the audience as sense of my current artistic practice. I then asked everyone to close their eyes and remember a time when they last felt creative. That could be cooking , gardening, creating something new – does not have to be specifically artistic. Then ( with their eyes open ) I asked them to go into the garden and take a picture with their phone, or if not with their minds eye of something or someone that interests them/ excites  them  / pricks their imagination. And save that for the end of the talk.

The talk 

I always like to start with a definition, what are we talking about ?  Creativity – the use of imagination or original ideas, to create something.

I have been teaching about art making and creativity for many years. I see the act of creativity as essential as food and water and as with those fundamentals, I believe without creativity in our lives we internally wither and die. ……

So what is it this itch, this force, this rush, this power called creativity?

In a seminal review of the literature on creativity , Barron and Harrington noted that creative individuals could be described in terms of their “high valuation of aesthetic qualities in experience, broad interests, attraction to complexity, high energy, independence of judgment, autonomy, intuition, self- confidence, to accommodate apparently opposite or conflicting traits in one’s self-concept, and finally, a firm sense of self as ‘creative’ ”

Further adjectives included “active, alert, ambitious, argumentative, artistic, assertive, capable, clear thinking, clever, complicated, confident, curious, cynical, demanding, egotistical, energetic, enthusiastic, hurried, idealistic, imaginative, impulsive, independent, individualistic, ingenious, insightful, intelligent, interested widely, inventive, original, practical, quick, rebellious, reflective, resourceful, self-confident, sensitive, sharp- witted, spontaneous, unconventional, versatile, and not conventional and not inhibited”  Are you feeling this is describing you ?

At the end of THEIR book THEY say –

Creativity is a complex and multi-determined psychological construct that has rarely been measured through objective means. Differential approaches to creativity comprise of  various, often conflicting, theories.

Not much help ! so ……..

My take on it is this.

We are curious from the moment we are born and true creativity is that desire to understand, question and then transform everything we meet and collide with in our life’s. But like all skills it needs to be practiced and developed and taken care of and if it is not, we begin to feel very uncomfortable.

Every human is a creative being but unfortunately unless that part of you is nurtured it can go into a kind of stasis which creates unhappiness and frustration and depression.

Creativity of course is totally bound to the imagination. when they are both allowed to flourish, an environment is created, which opens a door to an awareness where it is quite possible to step outside excepted social norms and learnt boundaries and travel to new uncharted worlds. This pairing gives you confidence and a sense of power within your life because you, are defining what is and what is not possible. When you let creativity in to your life you are much more likely to take risks and feel empathy towards many different sorts of people without fear or malice. You can afford to  be generous and kind because you feel you have little to loose, because creativity keeps giving in terms of energy and satisfaction.

So why do we need it so much?

As children we process and learn through play and play is the mainstay of creativity.

If children are not allowed to play they become unable to process their experiences and become emotionally and psychological ill.

When we grow up and become adults, in the west particularly, we are conditioned to follow our intellect and only what we see and no longer trust our imagination, intuition or curiosity.


This means that our lives become very restricted and boring and a bored human being gets very unhappy very quickly and then if there is no release they also become angry and destructive to themselves and the world around them.

Human beings need to be challenged throughout their life’s, to extend themselves and to question and interrogate what is around them. Creativity fulfils those needs.


So how do we relearn how to play, to explore, to take risks and be more curious?

Step 1 – We first need to make space, unclutter our minds, our lives, let go of old habits and prepare to entertain new ways of being in the world. And to return to a state of curiosity.

Step 2  – We need to then make a commitment  to something, anything,  learning a new skill, a workshop, a recipe, a book, a journey.

Step 3 -. Like all journeys we need to equip ourselves, not with money or objects but basic social skills, listening / conversation / watching and learning without judgement.

Step 4 –  Then we need to  re-tune into the creative frequency circuitry which is all around us and hold our noses  and  jump without fear.


All this does not happen over night, as an artist I am constantly having to re- assess my practice to make sure it is not too comfortable, too easy. But also at the same time creating for myself working situations where I can feel safe and supported.

You never feel secure, everything is always very fluid and ever changing but when you are inspired and in the flow it can be the best feeling in the world and feed you for many months after.


Finally I want to share with you all a mini list / manifesto which I have developed over the years to follow in all creative situations


Manifesto for creativity


  1. Be open from the start to different ways of perceiving your personal practice.
  2. Search out not only the commonalities but also the differences between your own work and others.
  3. Listen, be prepared to have a dialogue, and meet others half way.
  4. Let go, allow the common / shared idea to develop, don’t hang on to your definitions of what works and what does not.
  5. Take your time, collaboration like any skill takes practice; discover your own rhythm of work.
  6. Challenge your habits and be aware of inherent prejudices in yourself.
  7. Do not make assumptions about what you can or cannot do, or what your collaborators might be capable of.
  8. Always be curious, try to say yes more often than no.
  9. Be brave, trust the process, the end result will take care of itself.
  10. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
  11. Follow your instinct.


End of talk


Finally I ended the talk / event by asking everyone to share their interesting observation in the garden with the person next to them. This was a huge success and it took 2 or 3 tries to stop everyone to come together for a final question and answer session.

See film on web site for question and answer session as well as the talk and introduction.

I thoroughly enjoyed this event. I have given many talks before about my own work and other artists work and practice over the years but this felt particularly relevant now in the times we find our selves in. After the talk I received a lot of very positive feedback and I am excited to say there will be more talks soon. Watch this space.

Melanie Thompson