Culture TEDTalks

10 talks about the beauty — and difficulty — of being creative

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Radio host Julie Burstein has found the perfect analogy for creativity—raku pottery. A Japanese art form in which molded clay is heated for 15 minutes and then dropped in sawdust which bursts into flames, what makes this pottery so beautiful is its imperfections and cracks.

Burstein interviewed hundred of artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers for her book, Spark: How Creativity Works, and heard many of them describe their process in similar terms — that the best parts of their work came from embracing challenges, misfortunes and the things they simply couldn’t control. As Burstein explains in this talk given at TED2012, “I realized that creativity grows out of everyday experiences more often than you would think.”

In this talk, Burstein identifies four lessons that creative people should embrace:

  1. Pay attention to the world around you, and be open to experiences that might change you.
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  2. Realize that the best work often comes out of the life experiences that are most difficult.
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  3. Get comfortable with the fact that pushing up against a limitation can actually help you find your voice.
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  4. Don’t be afraid to explore loss — be it rejection, heartbreak or death — because making beauty out of these things is so powerful.

To hear how Burstein learned these lessons from filmmaker Mira Nair, writer Richard Ford, sculptor Richard Serra and photographer Joel Meyerowitz, listen to her wonderful talk. And after the jump, nine more talks on the nature of creativity.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius
Author Elizabeth Gilbert is confused by how our culture regards writers and other artists—as people on the brink who are too easily undone by their talent. In this talk from TED2009, Gilbert reframes how we think about creativity—that rather than there being “geniuses” among us, that all of us have a bit of genius within us.

David Kelley: How to build your creative confidence
David Kelley of IDEO fully agrees with Elizabeth Gilbert. In this talk from TED2012, he shares why he believes it is problematic to think of society as split into the creatives and the technical-minded. Here, he shares how people who think of themselves as the latter can build up their creative muscles, as we all have them — whether we know it or not.

Isaac Mizrahi on fashion and creativity
Where does Isaac Mizrahi get ideas? From pretty much everywhere. In this talk from TED2008, Mizrahi shares how his creative process heeds him to pay attention to tarot card readers and to the unique coloration of film, as well as to hop out of cabs and follow people who strike him as interesting on the streets of New York City.

Amy Tan: Where does creativity hide
Amy Tan became a writer because she found herself fascinated with one question: why do things happen the way they happen? In this talk from TED2008, Tan shares why it is so appealing to be the creator of her own universes — the one responsible for pulling strings and creating meaning.

Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from
When people tell the story of an invention, they usually describe a “eureka” moment. But author Steven Johnson wonders if that might be a fallacy. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2010, Johnson looks at how breakthroughs are slow to build and usually happen in dialogue with other thinkers of the time.

Janet Echelman: Taking imagination seriously
Artist Janet Echelman is known for creating enormous, undulating sculptures out of fishnets. So how did she come up with this unconventional form? In this talk from TED2011, Echelman explains that she found her voice when her paints went missing on a trip to a fishing village in India, and she was forced to work in a new medium.

Kirby Ferguson: Embrace the remix
In this talk from TEDGlobal 2012, Kirby Ferguson unleashes a bold idea: that maybe creative types shouldn’t be so concerned with originality. As Ferguson sees it, creativity is all about copying, transforming and remixing things that already exist. In Ferguson’s eye, everything is a remix.

Malcolm McLaren: Authentic creativity vs. karaoke culture
The manager of the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren helped shape the counterculture of the late ‘70s and ‘80s. In his final speech before passing away in 2010, McLaren shares his fears about what he calls “karaoke culture,” where success is about mimicry rather than emotional honesty. Because as McLaren sees it, no one should be shielded from the messy, difficult struggle of creating something new.

Tim Brown: Tales of creativity and play
What is the difference between being a designer and just playing around? Not as much as most people think, says Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO. At Serious Play 2008, Brown shares how building a successful firm was as easy as giving employees a place to experiment without fear of being judged — just like kids do on a daily basis.