Thoughts on the ‘progression of expression’ – aspects of creativity

In a recent conversation I said some interesting things:

I spoke of what I called the ‘progression of expression’.  I first used this point of view as I watched how artists worked when I was younger.  Both me, my brother, and a friend of mine were involved in art so I saw a lot of this.  Later I would find that this point of view also worked in many other forms of expressions, including things like learning and knowledge, intelligence, hobbies, crafts, interpretations of the world, etc.

I should point out that these progressions refers to various forms of creativity.  In other words, the expression I speak of is through creativity.  I generally define creativity as “making something out of nothing”.  My observation, though, is that this is far more rare than it seems . . . “making something out of nothing” isn’t as easy as it sounds.


This progression makes something like a spectrum:

  1. A “copyist” orientation
  2. A style-based orientation
  3. A personal/style orientation
  4. A personal orientation
  5. A creative orientation

1 – A “copyist” orientation

A “copyist” is someone who primarily copies or duplicates existing things.  In this way, they “stand on the shoulders” of other people.  In many cases, all they are doing is “duplicating” something that already exists.  In some respects, its nothing more than imitation.

My observation is that most of what people do is “copy” things.  Many people mistake it for creativity and often consider it “new”, even though its a copy.  A lot of art, knowledge, and so-called intelligence is of this form, believe it or not.

This form, though it appears creative, actually has little creativity involved with it.

2 –  A style-based orientation

Something that is style-based means that any creativity is based on an established style or way of doing something.  In this way, any creativity is based on applying that style, it is under the “control” or dictated by the style.  In this way, all they are doing is something like an “applied style”.  An artist may draw, for example, in the “Marvel style” or “Disney style”, a psychologist may be a “Freudian” or “behaviorist”, etc.

Interestingly, a lot of education is nothing but learning a “style of thinking”.  Once this style is learned or “copied” in ones mind, one uses it as a basis of interpretation.  A medical doctor, for example, will learn to interpret symptoms according to the style the style established by the medical school or hospital, and so on.  Most education, learning, or knowledge is nothing but a form of style one adopts. 

3 – A personal/style orientation

In this orientation people tend to mix an established style with their own personal qualities.  Style is used but its used as a form or medium of personal expression.  In many ways, the person takes a style and “tweaks” it to give it a “personal stamp”.  Typically, it still has qualities of the style but its a little “different”.  This, really, is where creativity starts to truly appear as there are qualities coming from the person.

4 – A personal orientation

In this orientation people create things on a personal basis, reflecting personal tendencies, inclinations, and abilities.  Because its more personal it tends to be unique and “uncommon”.  Because of this, it tends to reflect themselves and may or may not be “appealing” to other people.  As a result, a lot of personal creativity tends to go by unnoticed. 

There seems to be two forms of the personal orientation:

  1. It originates from a style but the personal element as if “usurps” the style making it more personal and unique.
  2. It originates from within the person.

The end result of it all is that it creates a purely personal style.  Accordingly, it is a personal form of expression of the person.

5 – A creative orientation

In this orientation a person purely creates “out of nowhere”.  There is no copying, imitating, and no style.  In some cases, there isn’t any personal style.  In fact, there seems to be two forms:

  1. It comes from within the person, reflecting personal qualities.  This would be like a Van Gogh painting what they felt inside in the form they wanted, for example.
  2. It comes from without the person, often reflecting a condition, reality, or way of life.  This would be like a person in a primitive tribe who paints pictures on a stone wall reflecting spirits or beings that effect his tribe.

To me, to truly be creative means that it originates from without the person, that it is beyond the person.  When a person is this way, I call it “inspiration”.

Its not uncommon that a person often discovers things in this orientation.  This shows its “creative” quality, as things are made or “come out”.  This is creativity in its purist form.  Its not just “made” its “discovered”.

This form tends to be sporadic and occasional.  In other words, it is not something that remains constant.  A person may, for example, be creative for a period of time and then it stops.  Another person may do something creative one day then do something creative the next week.  And another person may not be creative at all.  It seems, to me, that creativity is a reflection of character.  You cannot learn it.  Learning how to do things, though, may develop it and bring it out.  Despite this, it still cannot be learned . . . “if its not in a person then it does not come out”.

This form is not something that you can will to happen . . . “it comes when it comes”.  Many people, who have a streak of creativity, often fall into despair when it fades and they cannot will it to happen again, though they may try again and again.  This can cause particular problems if a person makes a living off of their creativity.  In fact, making a living off of creativity poses particular problems . . . it can’t really be relied upon to be there all the time.  Many people have suffered as a result of this.


These progressions are like a spectrum, with “copyist” on one end and the creative orientation on the other.  Each end of the spectrum reflects unique qualities that are usually opposed to each other:

  • The “copyist” orientation creates familiarity.  The creative orientation is unfamiliar.
  • The “copyist” orientation creates sameness.  The creative orientation causes variety.
  • The “copyist” orientation creates security.  The creative orientation often causes apprehension.
  • The “copyist” orientation tends to be accepted.  The creative orientation tends to not be not accepted.
  • The “copyist” orientation tends to be easy.  The creative orientation tends to be hard.
  • The “copyist” orientation tends to be common.  The creative orientation tends to be uncommon.
  • The “copyist” orientation tends to be social-based.  The creative orientation tends to be personal.

In these ways, we see that the “copyist” style tends to be accepted and has the support of society.  The creative orientation tends to be unique and is not necessarily accepted by society.  What this shows is that what is often called creativity is really nothing but doing things in a socially accepted way.  In other words, a lot of creativity is not creativity at all.

It also shows some interesting aspects of creativity:

  • It is unfamiliar
  • It is not necessarily accepted
  • It is personal
  • It is hard to achieve and establish

In other words, creativity is not the dramatic, impactful, and fancy thing its often portrayed to be.  Its also not as impactful as you’d think.  In fact, my observation is that creativity is often ignored and not acknowledged.  In addition, it is often shunned, suppressed, or prevented from happening.


I call American society the “imitative society”.  This more or less says that we are becoming nothing but a bunch of “copyists” in this society.  In other words, there is a lack of creativity here.  In my opinion, the prevalence of education, schooling, media, internet, books, etc. is probably largely at fault for the decrease in the creative orientation and an increase in the “copyist” mentality.  Even as I talk to people I can see that all most people do is “copy”, imitate, and do what is popular or accepted.  I see an absence of creative tendencies and mentality nowadays.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Education, learning, and over education, Imitation and the problems it creates, Inspiration, free association, and intuition, Life in general, Psychology and psychoanalysis and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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