What is Creativity

What Is Creativity? – Understanding Imaginative Problem Solving

Creativity: Do you know what the meaning of this word is? Most people would respond with the simplest answer, being that it is something you create, such as art or music. However, is this the complete creativity definition? When delving into the subject, you will discover that this only covers the tip of the iceberg, and when you have to define creativity, there is a lot more involved. So, we are going to try and unravel the complex question, “What is creativity?”



Developing a Creativity Definition

You can define creativity by saying it is about rising above the conventional way of thinking, to improve and create unique approaches to ideas. Creativity can be seen as an ability; you can either have a natural ability to perform, or you can learn and improve on what you have, as everybody has something they can tap into.

There are also many facets to creativity, and it can be subjective as many might measure creativity differently and include things like imagination, gratification, the value of an idea, differences in the creative process, and how original the idea is.

Creativity Psychology Definition

The idea of creativity today means thinking out of the box, understanding there might be limits to what you can do, trying to overcome these, and improving on the results. Creativity involves more than just thinking things up, it is taking those ideas and developing them. For example, if it is an item you wish to make, then you have to imagine, design, and build it, or if it is a new concept or idea, you should be able to test it out and prove that it works.

The way we think of or define creativity today is something that has only recently come into being. This is because, in past cultures, any ideas were seen more as discoveries or reproductions of what already existed.

Creativity as we know it today only started evolving during the early parts of the 20th century when the focus was placed on the individual and the different types of personalities, which has since developed over the years.



Creativity and the Brain

With the development of science and technology, today you can visually see what happens in the brain. When it comes to creativity and any other skill, both mental and physical, all originate in the brain. When learning a skill, it is the neurons going off in a particular part of the brain, until what you are learning becomes second nature.

Creativity is a skill that rises above the more traditional ways of thought and new or unique ideas are formed.

Creativity Definition in Painting

Sometimes, this process is easier for some than others and it all depends on how the brain forms connections or a network in the brain. When these networks are highly active, the more creative you can be. Some of these networks have been identified and are as follows.

  • Executive attention: This helps the brain to focus and disregard other distractions and to control responses. Mainly situated in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
  • Imagination network: The place where you daydream and imagine scenarios and ideas. This network can involve the prefrontal cortex and areas of the parietal lobe.
  • Salience network: Regions in the brain that is responsible for deciding which stimuli should be taken note of. For example, if you see something familiar and you form an appropriate response.

When all the networks are firing effectively, you could have an epiphany or a seemingly unexpected creative moment. A famous example is Archimedes in his bathtub, who coined the term “eureka”. However, this does not happen randomly and out of nowhere; there are thought processes in motion.

  • Convergent thinking: This is where you use a variety of different information and look for a single solution to the problem. For example, puzzles or multiple-choice questions, where you have one solution, but you need to sift through information to get to the correct answer.
  • Divergent thinking: This involves coming up with multiple ideas for a solution. For example, how many applications can you think of for a specific object? Some ideas can be conventional, while others are more original, which closely links this process to creative thinking as well as problem-solving.

When looking at a creativity psychology definition, does it mean that those who are more creative are also more intelligent? There has been a lot of research on the matter, but this subject is still relatively new, and the complete answer to this question is still pending.

However, some research has indicated a few links between intelligence as well as creativity. You can say that intelligence can be categorized as a type of creativity, but you can also say that creativity is a type of intelligence.

Creativity Definition Activity

These two aspects of the human mind can both overlap and have a lot of things in common. They both process information, which is then formulated into a solution. Intelligence can easily be measured, while creativity is more difficult to define and measure. Generally, those that have high intelligence are more creative.

Also, those that are highly creative, can have high intelligence. However, even though there is research in favor of both ideas, it is not absolute and there is no definitive research that proves either case.

Creativity and intelligence are more parts of the same process, and the skills tend to overlap, but they are not dependent on one another. So, technically, you can be either of these or both. As you can already see, creativity is a complex topic. Research has discovered that it can include several thought processes. Besides what we have already discussed, research has indicated that more processes go into creativity, including the following.

Thought ProcessesDescription
Cognitive FlexibilityThinking of multiple concepts at the same time, or you can effortlessly shift between two different ideas.
Abstract ThinkingUnderstanding and thinking about complex concepts, which are real but are not linked to concrete things, people, or objects. For example, the idea of freedom or humor.
PlanningThinking and organizing ideas and activities to achieve a certain goal.
Working MemoryShort-term retention, processing, and management of information.

In the end, coming up with a creativity definition is difficult as it is such a complex subject that involves multiple brain processes, which use different parts of the brain. So, creativity cannot be limited to a single part of the brain.

For example, scientists believed creativity was generated by the right side of the brain, or the right hemisphere. However, recent discoveries point to more areas involved than a single section or half of the brain.


Various Sections of the Brain Involved in Creativity

There are various sections of the brain that play a part in the creative process. These include the hippocampus, frontal cortex, basal ganglia, and white matter of the brain. White matter is what connects the different brain structures. So, if the connections between the brain structures work more efficiently, the more effective the brain can process information. This could mean better, faster, and more creative ideas.

  • Hippocampus: This is a part of the brain responsible for learning and memory, which involves storing and retrieving these memories. By retrieving various memories and experiences you may have had, you can use your imagination and use these memories to create new and different ideas.
  • Frontal cortex: This structure has been seen as playing a central role in creativity, as we depend on it for various functions related to creative thinking. For example, short-term memory
  • Basal ganglia: This can be found deep within the brain and is responsible for processing how to do tasks. Many times, these tasks will seem automatic, for example, riding a bike. When developing and practicing, creative tasks can become easier.

There has been some research into the various functions of different parts of the brain, especially in those who have difficulty or who have sustained an injury. Scientists can then measure the differences between a normal brain versus a damaged brain. For example, research has discovered a direct association between creative thinking and the hippocampus.

Where participants who had some form of damage to the area, showed they had lower scores when given a test that measures divergent thinking. Specifically, the Torrance Test of Creativity, which evaluates the potential for creativity.

Brain Areas that Define Creativity Distributed functional brain network associated with divergent thinking; Roger E. Beaty, Mathias Benedek, Scott Barry Kaufman, and Paul J. Silvia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Today, we also have access to things like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans or EEG (electroencephalogram) images. The MRI creates a detailed image of the brain, while the EEG tests the electrical activity within the brain. Using these tools, scientists can study the brain more effectively. Studies done this way have shown that for participants who had these scans done while performing creative tasks, scientists can observe where in the brain the activity is processed.

From these tests, it can be determined that creativity originated from more than one section of the brain but requires a network of processes from different parts of the brain, depending on the task at hand.



Is Creativity Important?

Some people say that they are simply not creative, and in many cases in schools, the creative subjects are placed below other subjects deemed more important. So, why should we look closer at creativity? We all want to be good at something, and this requires a lot of time and dedication to develop new skills. But we all cannot be everything at once, so why should you consider spending a bit more time developing your creativity?

In this day and age of development and technology, there is always a place for unique thinking to help grow business ideas.

Creativity Definition in Fashion Design

Many companies and businesses appreciate creative qualities and are searching for those who can apply lateral thinking. A survey that was done by IBM showed that creativity is seen as the main quality needed for a successful business.

Various other surveys also show how creativity can be important. Even though the surveys might not be scientific and are more opinions of individuals, they are still something that should be taken into account. If you combine it with scientific research, this just proves that creativity plays an important role in everyday life.

A creative person is someone who can come up with good, original ideas, and can bring them into reality, something any business can successfully utilize.


Benefits of Creativity

The studies concerning creativity might only be beginning, and there is a lot still to learn and discover about the brain. However, there have been quite a few discoveries concerning the benefits of creativity, even though how it all works is still in process.

Creativity Psychology Definition Example


Being Creative Can Help to Stabilize Emotions

 Many therapies involve creative tasks such as art, dance, and music. These activities and creative activities can help those who suffer from mental disorders like depression, anxiety, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Working through difficult emotions can be done through various creative outlets.


Creating Is Stimulating

When you are in the process of creating something, not only are you more relaxed, but it can also be energizing and stimulating, as well as help you to focus. Your attention is on the current task, and there is some excitement about what the outcome will be.

Creative Definition in Pottery


Stress Relief

This is one of the more apparent advantages of focusing on creative activities or tasks. When participating in a creative task, you bring more awareness to the here and now, while momentarily putting aside thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow. This helps to reduce stress and can bring about a feeling of calm and accomplishment.

If you are doing something you enjoy, you are also freer in the creative process, without deadlines and other stressors that could hold you back.


Creativity Can Help to Improve Empathy

It has been proven that certain forms of creativity can help to improve a person’s feelings of empathy. By viewing other people’s art and forms of creativity, it can develop a certain understanding of others, their culture, and their situations.

Define Creativity of the Brain


Creativity Improves Brain Plasticity

Brain plasticity is the ability of the brain to modify or change the activity in response to whatever stimuli and then reorganize the connections. For example, in the way we form a new habit. Being creative can help to stimulate the various connections in the brain.

This is said to help improve the way we live. 


The Basic Stages of Creativity

You might have come across someone that says that they do not possess any creativity, however, all of us possess a certain degree of creativity. The only main difference is how you display your creativity. For some, it might be in art or music, while others use their creativity in work or simply in the way they look at the world.

Whatever the case, creativity ultimately originates from the way we think.

Activities That Define Creativity

Since creativity is such a complex subject, there are various methods people can use during the creative process. However, there are a few stages that are common, and which were first expressed by a social psychologist, Graham Wallas. He made known these stages in a book in the early 20th century called, The Art of Thought. Below is a short description of these five stages.

Stages Of CreativityStages of Creativity NamesDescription
1Preparation StageIn most cases, an idea does not come from anything; you need to generate ideas, do some research, and draw on past experiences to come up with more original ideas.
2Incubation StageOnce you have your idea, you should step back and view what you have done. You can even work on another project or do something else altogether.
3Illumination StageOnce you allow your thoughts to freely move, it could trigger a “light bulb” moment, when all the information comes together to form a solution.
4Evaluation StageThis is where you take your new idea and scrutinize it, weighing the pros and cons and other relevant information. Does the solution support your original idea? You might have to go back a come up with other ideas, or it could be the right way you want to go.
5Verification StageThis is where most of the hard work is put in, where you have to create the object or design or prove your idea. This final stage is where you finalize the idea and make it a reality.



Ways to Improve Creativity

Is there a way to become more creative? Some people have a natural talent for certain things, but even they can benefit from improving their skills. So, yes you can always improve on creativity, and it is a useful skill that anybody can learn, no matter where you are in life.

Creativity definition: is being able to come up with unique ideas that can help solve problems, aid in better communication, or simply entertain. If you want to improve your creative abilities, there are a few things you can do.


Set Goals

For anything to work, you need to commit yourself to the process, and setting goals is a way to do this. Do not put off what you want to do, decide to do it, and set yourself a time for developing new skills. As with all things, to get good at something, you need to practice.

You also need to know everything about whatever you are interested in. As you learn and understand a subject, it will become easier and better for you to come up with more novel and unique ideas.


Be a Risk Taker

To advance in certain areas, there is always a certain amount of risk involved. For example, sharing a painting in a class might be daunting, but the positive critique will make you a better painter in the future. You might not succeed every time, but nothing is wasted as you also learn from your mistakes. So, next time you try, it may be even better than you anticipated.

What is Creativity in Art


Build Confidence

When it comes to a lack of confidence, this can be something that is quite debilitating and stops you from doing what you want. Insecurity is something that can stifle creativity, so try to work on building your confidence by rewarding yourself or being less critical of your work.

Try to avoid negative thoughts, even if you do not do well, to begin with, see it as a learning curve, and move on.


Brainstorm Ideas

Brainstorming is used in schools and is a way to help develop creativity. Again, the main thing is to let go of any negative thoughts and criticism, and to write down any ideas. The point is to come up with a lot of ideas in as little time as possible.

Creativity Definition

You can then look at all the ideas and improve on them, and so work your way to a possible solution. This is a great method for problem-solving and utilizing creative thinking skills. There are other methods or techniques you can try.

  • Mind maps: This as well as flow charts are a great way to help connect ideas and it is an original way to find answers to challenging questions.
  • Six thinking hats technique: This is a way to incorporate the various ways people think to come up with the best solution. For example, there are six colored hats each connected to a different thinking process to help form a solution more cohesively as a group.
  • Thought experiments: Creating hypothetical situations where you have to think through the consequences of an idea or theory.


Keep a Journal

An effective way to help with the creative process is to keep a journal. Whenever you have an idea, make sure to write it down, even if it is not relevant to your current project. This is a great way to keep track of ideas and also look back on what you have already achieved, and maybe come up with more possible ideas.

This can also be a way to challenge yourself in the future, to continually grow from what you have done in the past. Make sure you try new things, instead of falling back on old ideas and using the same solution all the time.


Go Out and Find Inspiration

Going out to find inspiration can be just what you need to come up with new ideas. You can visit a museum, travel, listen to music, and read a book you would not normally choose. Engage in activities you would not normally do, to get out of your comfort zone and experience new things. You should also love and enjoy what you are doing because this is the best way to boost creativity. If you love something, then it is easier to do, and you will commit to it without having problems or making excuses.

What is Creativity in Design


Ask Others for Their Input

Take your ideas and bounce them off others and get their input and advice. You do not have to be alone in the process, while others might have the answer to your problem. Learning from others can only help to improve your creative abilities and outcomes.

Asking for help should not be seen as a weakness, as everyone has their own knowledge base and experience, it can only help. A fresh perspective might just be what is needed.


Unwind and Relax

Sometimes, things can get overwhelming and nothing is coming to mind. This might be a good time to simply stop what you are doing and do something else. Go and run, walk, or simply relax and read a book. Your mind needs to relax as well, and in so doing, the answer you were looking for might just appear.

Creativity Definition in Reading


In the end, creativity is something we all possess, it is just a matter of how we express it. Creativity is a skill that helps you to better understand the world we live in and to take make observations, use and compare them with existing knowledge, and then form new ideas and applications others have not thought of. It is proof of how wonderful and complex our minds are.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Creativity?

The creativity psychology definition describes it as an ability to produce original and unique thoughts, ideas, and possibilities, to help solve problems, aid in communication, and can also be a form of entertainment.


Can You Describe Creativity as a Skill?

Some individuals seem to have a natural-born talent; however, creativity is a skill that can be developed. Creativity starts with the basis of knowledge and learning and then can be enhanced by practicing the way you think. Being creative can mean experimenting, imagining, exploring, and questioning things around us.


Are There More Creative People Than Others?

As mentioned, some people have a natural talent for performing certain tasks, but everybody can be creative – it just takes a little more practice and dedication to develop creativity. A lot more research must still be done in this field.


Cite this Article

Isabella, Meyer, “What Is Creativity? – Understanding Imaginative Problem Solving.” Art in Context. May 16, 2022. URL: https://artincontext.org/what-is-creativity/

Meyer, I. (2022, 16 May). What Is Creativity? – Understanding Imaginative Problem Solving. Art in Context. https://artincontext.org/what-is-creativity/

Meyer, Isabella. “What Is Creativity? – Understanding Imaginative Problem Solving.” Art in Context, May 16, 2022. https://artincontext.org/what-is-creativity/.

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