Cognition and Emotions in the Creative Process

By Gnezda, Nicole M. | Art Education, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Cognition and Emotions in the Creative Process


Gnezda, Nicole M., Art Education


Art teachers are most successful when they teach the whole child, with an awareness of the student inside as well as the work that is being produced outside. Therefore, when teaching our students about their own creativity and that of artists they study, it is helpful to understand complex neurological and emotional operations that are active during creative processes. In this article I will explain these operations in order to help art teachers more fully understand what happens inside their students as they create, and I will suggest ways teachers can effectively foster their students' creativity.

The Experience of Creativity

Creativity is a cogmtive-emotional-manipulative experience that is accessible to all people. Creativity is cognitive because it is about innovating and developing ideas and occurs via specialized mental processes. It is emotional because emotions are integral (Clark, 1992) and "loom large" (Roe, 1963, p. 172) in the creative process. Self- reports and empirical research about creativity show a rather predictable sequence of emotional sensations that tend to occur as the process evolves. Creativity is manipulative because idea development happens not only internally but also through interaction with a medium as an idea is being implemented.

Why individuals differ in the quantity of creative output and the ease with which they engage in creative processes is unclear. One school of thought is that creativity is a natural human ability but is suppressed in most people by social mores and educational practices. Highly creative people are the exceptions who resist socialization pressures (Epstein, 2009). Other scholars believe that some people are gifted with higher levels of creative ability (Haier & Jung, 2008; Martindale & Hasenfus, 1978; Mednick, 1962; Torrence, 1961). Self-reports of creative experiences, brain scans, and comparisons between highly creative and less creative people have begun to reveal that specialized cognitive functions and a spectrum of emotions are associated with creative work.

Creativity and Cognitive Functions

Research suggests that creative thinking involves mental work that is different in style and brain activity than that used during other modes of thinking, such as logic or analysis (Heilman, 2005). While creative processes utilize a variety of neural areas and brain functions, the aspects of creative thinking that result in innovation may derive from work in particular neurological areas and through variations in neurological arousal.

There is indication of a connection between novelty of ideas and right hemisphere processing (Haier & Jung, 2008; Heilman, 2005; Andersen 8t Milbrandt, 2005). Holistic/global perspectives, understanding and producing metaphors, identifying relationships between pieces of information, experiencing and expressing emotions, and perhaps even controlling arousal levels are characteristic of both creative thinking and the right hemisphere's specialized style of cognitive functioning (Heilman, 2005).

Association - making connections between disparate ideas - is often cited as the primary mental operation of creative thinking (Andersen 8c Milbrandt, 2005; Heilman, 2005; Koestler, 1976; Rothenberger Hausman, 1976; Mednick, 1962). Findings from brain-mapping studies support this, showing high activation in brains' associative cortices during creative ideation (Andreasen, 2009; Haier 8c Jung, 2008; Heilman, 2005). Instead of focusing on a single subject, creative thinkers seem to unconsciously contemplate many pieces of information and trains of thought at the same time. Researchers believe that thought patterns scatter to search a wide scope of ideas and then coalesce into relationships between what might otherwise have remained unrelated concepts. These combinations of thoughts form new and unusual ideas.

Effects of right-hemisphere, multi-directional, associative thinking are many and may manifest as traits common to highly creative people. …

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