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How The Creative Brain Works

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Laguna Beach – one of my favorite walks

I have been working and traveling non-stop since last November. Fortune smiled a big toothy grin this year, for I have seven exhibits of my photography scheduled in museums, galleries and universities this year. Five of them have been between January and March. Shooting, printing, shipping and installing, uninstalling, and doing it all over again have been what I wake up to. March 20th was the opening reception for Secret Lives – Images from Window Peeping and Things We Leave Behind. I have an artist lecture to give on March 29th, then a luscious break until late May. What will I do with my time?

Art is my job. The time between shows may seem like a vacation to a 9 – 5er, and it may look like it when I take a four mile walk in the middle of the day. There is more going on than you may realize. The American Puritan work ethic isn’t the most conducive to creative minds. We are trained to work, work, work, and if we don’t, society considers us lazy. Working constantly without switching gears is not the best method to unlock the brain. R. Keith Sawyer, author of the book Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, says:

In creativity research, we refer to the three Bs—for the bathtub, the bed and the bus—places where ideas have famously and suddenly emerged. When we take time off from working on a problem, we change what we’re doing and our context, and that can activate different areas of our brain. If the answer wasn’t in the part of the brain we were using, it might be in another. If we’re lucky, in the next context we may hear or see something that relates—distantly—to the problem that we had temporarily put aside.

Taking walks releases my mind to explore and solve problems. I’ve had an idea for many months, but a couple of unresolved issues are preventing me from starting the project. I discover answers while on a long walk or floating in a warm bathtub. Something magical happens when my brain is allowed to flow untethered.

The Path Along Aliso Creek

I guess I can say my brainstorming room is a walking path and my studio is a bathtub. I keep a voice recorder or note pad at hand to document all the ideas that bubble to the surface. Some are good, others not. The point is to keep inspiration flowing and act on the ideas that promise to have an impact.

Here’s another section from R. Keith Sawyer’s book:

Take risks, and expect to make lots of mistakes, because creativity is a numbers game. Work hard, and take frequent breaks, but stay with it over time. Do what you love, because creative breakthroughs take years of hard work. Develop a network of colleagues, and schedule time for freewheeling, unstructured discussions. Most of all, forget those romantic myths that creativity is all about being artsy and gifted and not about hard work. They discourage us because we’re waiting for that one full-blown moment of inspiration. And while we’re waiting, we may never start working on what we might someday create.

Who would have thought taking a walk or a bath is actually a workout for the brain? Let’s spread the word. Maybe we will have a healthier, cleaner population with lots of brilliant ideas. The next time someone tells you to “take a hike” say “thanks – I’ll be back with a clever idea”.
It’s 10:00 p.m., and I need a breakthrough. A perfect time to soak in the tub.

About Gina Genis

Hi Friends, I'm a photographer and artist who lives in Washington DC. I have two blogs. The Gina Genis Blog is about art and photography. My new blog, DC Discoveries is dedicated to showing you everything from fashion to art, food to entertainment in all sections of the District. I hope you will take the journey with me. I exhibit my work in museums and galleries across the U.S. I'm included in the permanent collections of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, the Otto G. Richter Library Special Collections Division of the University of Miami, Hard Rock Casino, Orange County Transit District, IBM, and the Sarah and Adam Markman Collection among others. My series "Window Peeping" was included in OsCene 2010 at the Laguna Art Museum, Truman State University, Fellows of Contemporary Art, Biola University, and solo shows at Gallery 825 and Cypress College. The "June Gloom" series was exhibited in a solo show at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The "Kala" series has been exhibited at MPLS Photo Center, Cypress College, and Gallery 825. "Economy Portraits" was created as an Artist In Residence project at the Huntington Beach Art Center, and was awarded "Best Art Show of 2011" by the OC Weekly. I curated Wide Angle View, an exhibit of 16 international, award-winning photo and multi-media journalists at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art to much critical acclaim. Recent reviews of my work have appeared in the Huffington Post, Art Scene, OC Weekly, Orange County Register, New University, Riviera Magazine, Coast Magazine, Huntington Beach Independent, and appeared on CNN, NBC, ABC, and more. I lead the Gina Genis Photo Workshops where I show beginning and intermediate photographers how to jump to the next level with their work. I also teach online photography courses through The Compelling Image.

6 responses »

  1. Love this one on creativity. In lieu of a walk, does shopping count? Just kidding. I have a dog who visits my office daily. I need to make a much more concerted effort to take her out for a walk. It’ll do us both a world of good I’m sure! Thanks for the nudge.

  2. Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing in your feed and I am hoping you write once more very soon!


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