Recently, I rented a movie about the painter Jackson Pollock. Ed Harris directs and stars in this masterful rendering of both the pain and genius of the postwar artist’s life and work. Upon viewing Pollock’s deceptively simple paintings for the first time, many have exclaimed: “That’s art?!! My three year old could do that!”
As the movie unfolds, we witness how creative work that might be dismissed as “unsophisticated” is actually the product of a deeply complex process. A powerful scene, in which the artist accidentally knocks over a can of paint, dramatizes Pollock’s discovery of his trademark painting technique known as “drip.” It is his reaction to the mishap that defines him as a creator.
Faced with a similar situation, most of us would probably reproach ourselves while scurrying to clean up the annoying mess as quickly as possible. In contrast, Pollock stares in deep fascination at the intricate patterns formed by rivers of paint flowing onto the floor. It is precisely this ability to see the extraordinary within the ordinary—to be inspired by the unexpected and welcome it as an ally in the creative process—that is the hallmark of all creators. No one but a creative thinker could have made the conceptual leap from an accidental spill of paint to the invention of a whole new way of painting.
In another virtuoso scene, Harris depicts the depth of concentration that creators must sustain in order to move their work forward. It is marvelous to watch Harris accurately portray the kinetic intimacy of Pollack’s creative process. As the artist leaps furiously around the canvas, we witness a visceral connection between the creator and the work that is palpable. In a spontaneous, intuitive unfolding, the creator discovers what to do next by disconnecting from the world and tuning in to his deeper self.
Most people believe creativity has something to do with extraordinary ability, but talent alone does not drive the creative process. Contrary to popular myth, creativity is not a gift bestowed on a select and fortunate few. While it is true that some of us are more talented than others, we each possess the potential to think creatively: to open our minds; to become more flexible in our responses; and to see problems not merely as annoying inconveniences—but as mystical gateways into possibilities we have never before considered.