During one of my recent web dalliances to read more about how photographers, or humans in general, are creative, I found a 2004 paper published in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review called, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Creativity by Arne Dietrich, who is at the American University of Beirut, in Lebanon. He’s actually a very funny Ph.D. specializing in the neurobiology of creativity who writes about himself in self-deprecating fashion. His papers are however quite serious and he is well respected.
As it opens, he writes that creativity includes two significant characteristics: The production of work that is “original and unexpected” and “useful.” As a photographer, I understand original and unexpected, but useful? I’m not to sure how useful photographs are versus, let’s say, an artificial heart valve in the shape of a pretzel.
He goes on to say that creativity requires the ability to maintain a decent attention span (that made me nervous). If our brain can store what we’re thinking long enough so that a creative solution – those original and unexpected and useful thoughts that solve the problem at hand – can evolve, primarily in our prefrontal cortex, we have the ability to be highly creative.
Now, what I was going to say?
Oh, yes. I love his description of creative thinking – “novelty production.” That sounds like someone who invents cheap ten cent toys you might find in Chinatown, or some very clever photographers.
Anyway, he continues to write that research studies show “creativity goes beyond the rational” and there is a link between creativity and bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He references that with a half dozen studies but then in his next sentence, counters that with other studies that demonstrate, “creative work can also be the result of laborious trial and error.”
Now, that sounds like photography.