When someone asks you, “What is your creative process,” how do you respond? During my over 25 years of painting, the creative process has always been a fascination. How would you define or describe it?
I researched and learned that scholars in various science fields have for centuries attempted to delineate the creative process. Elusive as this process is, labels, phrases and diagrams have been constructed in an attempt to articulate how the creative mind works. Perhaps it’s my years of training and work as an educational psychologist that led me to seek out more information. Reading about these theories was enlightening.
When I did this inquiry into creativity, the knowledge helped in clarifying some of the how’s and why’s of the frustrations I had experienced as a painter. Though there is no exact structure, the information was comforting because I could put a name on the phases of the creative process I had endured and sometimes plundered through.
These experts of philosophy, mathematics and psychiatry studied creativity seeking to understand its origins, processes and nuances. (After all, isn’t it magical?) I believe you will be interested in their attempts to articulate the sequential stages of the creative process.
The Creative Process Delineated:
These defined stages have evolved over time, but essentially the literature states them as follows:
- First Insight—the original thought or problem to solve;
- Saturation—the gathering of resources;
- Incubation—unconscious and conscious ruminating;
- Illumination—the Ah, hah! moment;
- Verification/Production—the resolution.
- Hibernation—the time of rest and restoration after the process is completed. By the way, this important step was not added until the end of the 1900’s.
First Insight—step 1— is the process of becoming aware of a problem and knowing that something is missing. Creative people seek out problems through questioning and observation—to discover gaps or problems that no one else has perceived.
Once the idea has been identified, the next activity, referred to as the Saturation—step 2— involves retrieving more information, collecting pertinent data and formulating specific questions. This research can take place within a very short period of time or it can take years.
The Incubation —step 3— the processing of all of this input is then necessary.
Sometimes the creative engages in other activities, even unrelated, while this data merges, sorts and stirs, and ebbs and flows between the conscious and the unconscious. This allows our unconscious the time to massage all of the information, like kneading bread, and is essential because one cannot “push the river.” The unconscious must percolate to make the connections that the conscious mind cannot make. As in Step 2, the time involved for this stage can vary significantly – from hours to years.
Step 4—Then suddenly an adrenal surge springs forth seemingly out of nowhere. Eureka occurs or Illumination, and the idea takes form. A potential solution seems imminent. This stage is the shortest within the entire process. All of us have experienced these exhilarating moments when we have been trying to solve a problem—of any type—and suddenly a resolution pops into our heads, like igniting a fire.
Verification/Production follows as step 5. It encompasses the actual doing or production of the solution. People, particularly non-artists, often think of this hands-on activity as the only time artists are creating because the output is visible—in other words it is concrete. In actuality, we have been ‘creating’ long before this occurs.
When I began gathering my visual resources for a painting back in Saturation—step 2, I had already made small contributions to this stage of the process. Sometimes within Step 5, I encounter painting problems that require a mini-like cycle of the creative process, which means I cycle back to First Insight to improve upon the idea. (I have this indicated in the below graphic with the light blue circle.) Obviously, creativity is not a linear process, but a circular one.
This graphic articulates how I delineate the steps in my creative process.
What are your thoughts about the creative process? Do you identify with any of these steps?
In Part II of this discussion, I will elaborate on the Verification stage and go on to complete the cycle as well a as add a couple of steps that I have experienced. I will also indicate where many creatives—artists for example— stop in this process and why. Sadly, they do not complete the problem they initially wanted to solve.
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