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An entire life for a second of brilliancy

The odd relationship between time and creativity

“The timeless in you is aware of life's timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today's memory and tomorrow is today's dream.” - Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet.

Not all time is money.

When I sell a painting people ask how many hours I spent on it. Generally I don’t remember, I have a notion of the effort involved, but because I work on several paintings over the same period of time, it is difficult to tell. This week a friend asked, “how can you know if your artistic business is profitable? What’s your productivity ratio?”.
 

“No idea!”, I thought. Should I count the time I spend walking in a park? Going to a Museum? Listening to music? Drawing? Reading? The conversations that nourish my inspiration? The visits to the art supplier to explore new materials? The exchange with my colleague artists over a glass of wine? Most of the time I spend doing art does not immediately translate into money.

And that’s fine, it is logical, that’s how creativity works.

Picasso was ahead of Neuroscience.

Remember Picasso’s napkin wisdom story? They say he was sitting in a Paris café when an admirer asked if he would do a quick sketch on a paper napkin. Picasso agreed, quickly drew the work, and handed back the napkin — but not before asking for a significant amount of money. The admirer was shocked: “How can you ask for so much? It took you a minute to draw this!” “No”, Picasso replied, “It took me 40 years”. Picasso was absolutely right: everything we create takes an entire life. Neuroscience is on his side.

It takes an entire life to build your own unique brain. And it make take a second to come up with a brilliant, innovative idea.

Neurons, constantly communicate with each other and create paths or “relationships”. Neurons, like persons, adapt themselves and change throughout their entire life, this is what scientists call “neuroplasticity”.

If we make a parallel with social relationships, those who are most frequently cultivated become stronger. When they are young, the stay in touch through various channels, they are agile and flexible, while the older neurons that have started to specialise get used to a particular function and become more rigid, but can reignite paths through new experiences.
 

People used to think that the different brain functions produced themselves in specific parts of the brain. It was common to say that creative thinking happened in the right hemisphere and analytical in the left . Scientist Susan Greenfield explains the advances of neuroscience: “Now we know that it is not like that: there is no function controlled by a single part of the brain. Vision, for example, involves different aspects of form, movement and colour in which at least thirty parts of the brain intervene. […] Each brain structure contributes to a final function which is not hierarchical but instead functions as the various instruments in a symphonic orchestra. The internal processes of the brain determine how each one sees the world, but when the external stimuli that we experience in each specific moment start to simultaneously change the organisation of the brain cells, and therefore your thought”.

Since the ‘90s there have been studies that demonstrate that the brain accesses information available in our memory in a complex way, this is what is called the theory of the “brain mosaic” or of “intelligent memory”. Being creative means creating new connectivity networks between neurons.
 

Sculpting your unique brain.

Doctor Bryan Kolb summarises this way the interaction between our brain and experience: “Everything that changes your brain, changes who you will be. Your brain is not formed only by your genes, it gets sculpted through a life of experiences. Experiences alter the brain activity, and the latter in turn alters the genetic expression. Every change of behaviour that you exhibit reflects alterations in your brain. The opposite is also true: behaviour can change the brain.”

Our memory is being constructed since our birth. Everything is being registered in our own unique experience, thus each brain wires in its own individual and singular way. Everything we live through leaves its marks and links in the brain. This personalised wiring is totally different and irreproducible in each person. We are 7 billion human beings and no two brains are identical, because we have been constructing our “mind” minute by minute, forming a singular neuronal activity of our own.

The more experiences we gather, the higher the possibilities of making new combinations, that is, of being creative.

Here are my tips about time and creativity:

  • Don’t measure productivity in monetary terms:  it took you an entire life to form the brain you have, and you still have the rest of your days to invest in creating new neuronal connections,
  • Value the time you spend gathering inspiration, doing physical activities, yoga, meditation, reading and dreaming.  Investigate areas that are not directly related to your own domain.  It’s not time wasted, it is fertilizing the soil for new ideas,
  • Create opportunities to reflect, practice and produce.  Most creative ideas are the result of a lot of previous pondering and experimentation,
  • Time constraints can be effective to create focus, as long as they do not produce unnecessary stress.  Set time to play and go for it!.  This is a delicate balance:  it is important to acknowledge that there may not be an immediate result.  Value the process.
  • Becoming more conscious about the way creative ideas are formed will make you more aware of the worth of diversity:  mingle with people of other cultures and personalities.  They will bring you a wealth of ideas.
  • Remember that new ideas are ephemeral, they come from unusual associations and therefore insights may be difficult to retain.  Have a notebook at hand to be able to capture them as soon as they appear.
  • Translate your understanding of the way ideas are formed into appreciation for others’ creative efforts:  enjoy the differences, get interested about other people’s story, be curious about the way they make associations, respect the time they need to process information.
     

Picasso was right. How long will it take to create "you" and your ideas? An entire life.

"Time is an illusion" - Albert Einstein

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