May 15, 2022

How do ideas come about, and how are they brought to life? What exactly is creativity anyway? 

Do you know this too? Some days I'm bubbling over with ideas, others I wait in vain for just one good one. Isn't it comforting to know that this is part of a normal process?

Creativity is complex, sometimes chaotic, often contradictory, and certainly not a fixed path that can always be followed in the same way. And yet there is a kind of pattern, phases of creativity that do not always proceed in the same order or intensity, that can be intertwined or whose transitions can be smooth. But they are nevertheless - more or less - present in every creative process.

The Art of Thought

Science has extensively studied the topic of creativity and describes various models of how it occurs. The models differ in the number of phases they describe. In the process, however, they are very similar. 

The model I refer to here is the best known. It was established in the 1920s by the British psychologist Graham Wallas. Wallas had observed inventors and creative people in their work for many years, and in the process he crystallized 4 phases that each creative process contained. In 1926, he presented this model to the public in his book The Art of Thought.

The 4 Phases of Creativity after Wallas

By definition, creativity is the ability to generate original, creative and useful ideas. The stages of creativity, as Wallas describes them, do not necessarily have to be linear; the length and force of the individual phases can also vary.

Phase 1: Preparation

At the beginning of this phase, the problem first arises. An idea emerges, a thought settles down. Now we begin to research, collect material and information, think about possibilities, develop additional idea, etc. Often, we do not yet evaluate at this stage, we simply bundle together everything that might be useful.

Phase 2: Incubation

In medicine, the incubation period is the phase between infection and outbreak of a disease. It is similar in creativity. A thought, an idea, has infected us and permeates us until it breaks out.

The collected information works within us. Unconsciously we put them together, discard them, connect them with our experiences. Not much happens externally during this phase; most of it takes place internally. Often we even deal with something completely different. And yet, this phase takes an incredible amount of energy.

It can be associated with self-doubt, frustrating, and even depressive moods. Wrong approaches have to be discarded, some ideas turn out to be useless or impossible to implement. What sounds systematic is often a chaotic state full of hints and hunches, doubts and thoughts that cannot be formulated in concrete terms. Thus, the subjective impression can arise that nothing wants to work out, possibly no solution will ever be found. This costs a lot of energy. And yet, in the meantime, our preconscious puts together various ideas, influences and thoughts in new ways.

Phase 3: Illumination

The moment of enlightenment. Everything suddenly falls into place, sometimes as if from nowhere. The insights gained in the deeper layers come to the surface, we become aware of them. Eureka!

This time - sometimes lasting only a moment, sometimes hours, days or weeks - is full of joy, excitement and happiness.

Phase 4: Verification

Now begins the implementation, the moment in which I turn as a painter to my easel, or my painting table. Now is worked, experimented, judged, developed further, corrected, perfected...

In the end, with a little luck, there is the work of art.

Is Creativity Only for Artists?

The phases of creativity can be passed through several times during the creation of a work of art. And not only then. Basically, we go through these phases every time we ask a question, every time we solve a problem. Creativity is a process of problem-solving! It helps us to think new ways, to see new approaches and last but not least it is so good for mental health.

What is it like for you? Which phases of creativity do you experience as particularly intense? Tell me about it.

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About the Author Lea Finke

Lea Finke is an artist with all her soul. In her blog, she talks about inspiration, passion, and encounters with art.

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