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Creativity is not just about art

Creativity is not just about art
Hello. My name is Dennis Roche, and I’m a Consultant Artist to Mercer’s Institute For Successful Ageing in St. James Hospital in Dublin. I’m also an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Gerontology in the School of Medicine, Trinity College, Dublin. How do I know if I’m being creative? Isn’t creativity just about art? Dr. Gene Cohen was a psychologist who did much research into the benefit of creativity and art-making to the older brain. He conducted a large-scale clinical trial into the effect that attending a weekly community arts group had on the health and well-being of people living in the Washington area of the United States.
His research showed that attending an arts group helped older people to maintain their good health for longer. Other researchers have found that group singing, i.e. Joining a choir, had similar effects on mental health and wellbeing. Dr. Cohen focused on two things that he thought were of benefit and that people can find in abundance in a community arts group. These are social engagement and the opportunity for control or mastery of a new skill. Now, art-making or joining a choir probably isn’t for everybody. But that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise your creative muscle. In fact, getting older means that you may have more access to the creative side of life. You are likely to be less inhibited.
Inhibition is the number one factor in blocking creativity in people. To illustrate what he meant by creativity, Dr. Cohen told the following story. His in-laws had arrived for a visit in Washington in the midst of a snowstorm and emerged from the subway lost. Unable to hail a cab or reach the Cohen family by phone, Dr. Cohen’s father-in-law had an idea. He and his wife walked across the street to the pizza takeaway, ordered a pizza for delivery to the Cohen house, and then insisted that the delivery man take them along too. Dr. Cohen observed that age allows our brains to accumulate a repertoire of strategies developed from a lifetime of experience.
This has been referred to by other researchers as crystallised intelligence. His father-in-law hadn’t done the pizza routine before, but the accumulated experience of other successful strategies helped stimulate the thinking that produced a creative solution. Research has shown that exposure to cultural events and art improves the health and well-being of people who have access to them. The Open Window project uses technology to connect patients who have reduced access to museums and art galleries, giving them the opportunity to join in with cultural and creative events. Here’s a picture of an older hospital patient using a telepresence robot in the Open Window project to make a virtual tour of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
This was the first time she had used a computer, yet here she was enjoying the exhibits with other members of the public. I want you to think about how you could be more creative in your life right now. How could you open a window on creativity? Being creative can mean seeing things differently, as in the story about Dr. Cohen’s father-in-law in the snowstorm. He had a problem that led him to see the pizza delivery boy as a means of transport and wayfinding. Thinking creatively helped him to see things differently. Art involves creative thinking to communicate ideas. Artists can use lots of different ways to communicate. They can make small things big, big things small.
They can take two things that you wouldn’t normally see together and put them side by side. This creates a contrast that allows us as viewers to see a new perspective, to see and think about things in a different way. Have you ever solved a problem creatively like Dr. Cohen’s father-in-law?

In the video, Denis talks about thinking creatively, and outlines how it isn’t solely to be used artistically. Thinking creatively and using crystallised intelligence is something that is available to all in everyday experiences and helps us to age successfully.

Denis outlines a problem that was solved creatively in the video, but can you think of challenges that you have solved creatively?

  • You might not have been aware of how creative you were being then, but having watched the video, you might think differently. Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Denis Roche is a Consultant Artist for Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing at St James Hospital, Dublin.

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