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Cultivating Curiosity

Updated: Mar 17

Sign that says stay curious

Curiosity and Creativity go hand in hand. It is difficult to be creative if you are not curious. Asking the question "What if?" leads to a spark in the imagination and takes your brain on a journey involving adventure and exploration:


"What if I do some oil pastel scribbles before I paint with watercolour?"

"What if I incorporate some beautiful paper samples in my artwork?"

"What if I try drawing with my non-dominant hand"


Curiosity allows you to ask questions beyond "what's the correct way to do this?" and kicks the right side of your brain into gear. So it enables you to stop slaving over your realistic drawing of a butterfly and allows you to ask other questions about butterflies which may make your artwork infinitely more interesting. Questions like:

Why shouldn't I help a butterfly hatch out of its chrysalis (you shouldn't, BTW)?

What does my butterfly look like as a caterpillar?

How long will it live as a butterfly?

What plant/s does it look for on which to lay its eggs?

What does the world look like to a butterfly? (Maybe Georgia O'Keefe asked herself that question).


orange butterfly on white daisies

The left side of our brain labels and categorises things. It is the part of the brain that will label your butterfly as a Black Crow or Blue Triangle or by its Zoological name if you happen to know those sorts of details. There is nothing really wrong with that. But replicating a realistic butterfly is arguably not very creative. Allowing the right side of your brain to contemplate nuance, discrepancies and the "what ifs" is.


You have probably heard the saying that "Curiosity killed the Cat". I heard it most as a child when someone was trying to tell me that a) what I was interested in was none of my business or b) that I could get myself in trouble if I strayed from the linear path that was laid out for me.


I am not going to deal with a) because quite frankly some things are none of our business and when it pertains to the lives of our fellow humans, it is always good to ask yourself, "do I need to know that?" You might want to know the details of someone's messy divorce or scandalous affair, but you don't need to.


No, in this post, I am talking about option b). And yes, risk taking is exactly that...you could potentially get yourself into a mess by doing or thinking beyond the ordinary. But the rewards are almost always worth the risk. As a continuation of the saying goes, "Curiosity killed the cat, but I bet she had an interesting life until then". And when we are talking about art supplies and the imagination, really what kind of harm can be done? Worst case scenario, you don't like the results and you consign your piece of paper to the (recycling) bin. But you can't progress beyond the ordinary if you aren't prepared to try something different and see what happens.


Cat sitting on a step curiously sniffing a bush

I was reading this morning about how curiosity can be killed by the CAT where CAT stands for

Conformity

Apathy

Tabloid Mentality


Conformity and trying to conform is an unfortunate bi-product of the ideology that we all live under. The systems we live with are designed to make us conform - including our education system. Conformity makes us afraid to step outside of our own or someone else's comfort zone. We want to be "normal" But like I say to students, no one in the art world has ever achieved anything by playing by the rules. Particularly in the world of art, conformity is rarely a good thing. And yet we want to know the "right" way to apply paint, or promote our business or use a particular tool. Certainly we can learn from other artists or practitioners but we should never be trying to fit into a box that someone else has determined we should fit into. Creativity is always stymied by conformity.


Apathy is when you don't want to make the effort to go on the adventure. We think that surely it is up to someone else to leave the safety of the harbour and explore the wild and deep oceans beyond. You don't want to take the risk of getting lost or having to clean up any potential messes. But as writer Julia Cameron says, you can't make good art if you aren't prepared to make some bad art along the way. Apathy keeps you exactly where you are and prevents you from changing, growing or daring to be different.


A Tabloid Mentality is something that happens as a result of an over-exposure to mass media and the internet. It makes us less curious, because over time we become desensitised to the small details, the little factoids that make life a little more interesting. We get so used to seeing the over-dramatised, the shocking, the scandalous, that we begin to see everything else as a bit ho-hum. It needs to be a big, sensationalised social media deal before it can get our attention. The solution to this malady is to reduce exposure. Turn off the TV and stop searching the internet for scandalous tit bits. Replace it with roaming around your garden or a park and asking yourself how old that gum tree might be and what it might have borne witness to over its lifetime. Before you know it, you will have an idea for a new artwork.


So, we should work hard to remain curious - our creativity depends on it. Curiosity can kill the banality caused by the CAT, so it is worth pursuing. Good luck on your next adventure!


Flag with the word explore on it.

If you want to read more, try:

Messer, M. (2001) Pencil Dancing : New Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit, Walking Stick PR

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