When I was an aspiring artist, I would seek out the works of women artists at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s galleries. There were some in the Modern wing but none that I could find from other time periods. I mentioned my disappointment to one of my female art history professors who recommended I read Linda Nochlin’s article, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”
I had a hunch as to the reason for the dearth, though Nochlin’s article was pivotal in my understanding of the widely accepted notion that—no matter what institutional structures and social injustices exist—an artist’s creativity is the catalyst for his (I do mean “his”) individual achievement, which affords him the individual agency to rise. Referred to as the golden-nugget theory of genius theory, some people still believe it is the primary arbiter of the great creative thinker within social and institutional structures, whether in the arts, sciences, tech, or business.
“On this basis, women’s lack of major achievement in art may be formulated as a syllogism: If women had the golden nugget of artistic genius then it would reveal itself. But it has never revealed itself. Q.E.D.* Women do not have the golden nugget of artistic genius.”
Nochlin wrote this in 1971. It’s high time we all admit that the attributes of the creative genius model do not defy all circumstances. There are other notions that need dispelling, too. Often great art or ideas are the product of people’s industriousness and education and not eruptions of inspiration.
When we’ve made so much progress in understanding both the creative process as well as social injustices and hegemony, why bring this up now? Because you, my university students, my clients–all of you–can learn to unlock your creativity. Here’s a start.
Dr. Kariko and Dr. Drew Weissman laid the foundation for the successful mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. “Dr. Kariko’s ideas about mRNA were definitely unorthodox.” She persisted up against the Star Chamber’s conventional wisdom. mRNA research likely will transform how scientists think about vaccines and other medicines.
In 1965, choreographer Twyla Tharp made a decision to omit music for “Tank Dive,” her first publicly performed work. Tharp didn’t use any music in her pieces over the next five years. Tharp broke with and defied convention over and over again; she is a maverick.
Use your personal experience as well as your expertise:
In her book, Sex, Race, and Robots: How to Be Human in the Age of AI, highly accomplished roboticist, entrepreneur and educator Ayanna Howard, PhD, draws not only on her cutting-edge research but also on her own experience as one of the few Black women in the field of robotics navigating bias, to help us see the perils of bias in thinking machines that reflect the bias of their creators.
Tap into your identity.
People who have multiple social identities often have distinct knowledge associated with them. And to the extent an individual is comfortable integrating multiple identities, their knowledge sets can combine productively. For example, you might be a woman and an attorney. Or you might be a woman and Latina. Think of Gloria Estefan.
With Miami Sound Machine, Gloria Estefan helped bring the sound of their native Cuba to the American mainstream, and projects like We’re All Mexican have led the way in celebrating the contributions of Latinx people to U.S. culture.
If you believed that creativity is innate–that it is an inborn golden nugget of genius, I hope this made you think again. It is time to swear off myths, investigate cause and effect, embrace your potential, originality and identity, and unlock your own creativity.
This guest post was authored by Robin Landa
Robin Landa is a distinguished professor at Kean University and a globally recognized ideation expert. She is a well-known “creativity guru” and a best-selling author of books on creativity, design, and advertising. Her latest must-read is The New Art of Ideas: Unlock Your Creative Potential. She has won numerous awards and The Carnegie Foundation counts her among the “Great Teachers of Our Time.”
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