While at Northrop Grumman speaking about the nuances of left and right-brain thinking, I saw a friend of mine who is a software engineer. After the presentation, he identified himself as a right-brain, visual-spatial thinker. This friend is also a musician — an excellent guitar player — so I asked how he thought that impacted his abilities as an engineer? He felt his participation in music had helped him develop the patterning, sequencing and innovative abilities that enabled him be so creative.
Creativity is often interpreted as artistic ability, but in reality, creativity is a thought process. Steve Jobs, one of the most creative minds of the twentieth century, once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” Webster’s dictionary defines creativity as “artistic or intellectual inventiveness.” Thinking creatively is the ability to see new solutions to a problem, to connect disparate thoughts and find and apply new ideas. This is a process of divergent thinking which comes naturally to right-brain, visual-spatial thinkers. Visual thinkers are not creative because they are artistic — they’re creative because of the way their brain works.
If creativity doesn’t come from being artistic, where do the arts fit in? The arts are the subjects that help develop the ability to think creatively. The arts have value in and of themselves, but they also play a significant role in developing and supporting the mental processes that undergird creative thinking. The arts match the way the visual-spatial mind is designed, and help nourish and develop the connective capacity needed for creative and innovative thought processes.
But just as creativity is not limited to the arts, being creative is not just about the art kids. Creativity is the domain of a right-brain, visual-spatial mind, and these include our scientists, technology specialists, engineers and mathematicians. These students have minds that are wired to think creatively, and the arts are essential to their development.