Thoughts on some aspects of art – creativity, imitation, and other things – going beyond art

Here’s a thought I had:

Many years ago, in the 1980’s, I used to draw a lot and was very interested in art.  I was also around a lot of people who was involved with art.  Over time, there began to be a great questioning of art not only by me but by others.  Some of the reasons that caused this include:

  • There became a question of what, exactly, is “good art”.  I had many conversations with people about it.  The debate over “good art” often had a quality, and seriousness, of a debate over whose religion is right.  I began me to wonder about it.
  • We often went to art competitions and couldn’t believe who would win.  I had many conversations about this.  I began to feel that an art competition is ridiculous as there are too many points of view about art to say who wins.  My observation is that most winners of art competitions win because they can “imitate the style the judges like the best”.
  • When I was going to college, I often carpooled with a friend who was studying art.  I often went into the art area and looked at peoples art.  I also discussed art with people.  I began to have this notion that art schooling actually destroyed many peoples artistic ability.  This started me to question art even more.

This questioning of art was  something many of us did.  It started many debates and thoughts about it.  For me, I began to wonder about the nature of art and what art really was.  This put me onto another path than most people, it seems.  Most people looked at art as something that’s supposed to please them (that is, the preoccupation and obsession of whether its good or bad).  I seem to see something more in art.  I didn’t see art as just an art form, such as “painting” or “sculpture”, but a display of some deeper ability and awareness.  Art is one way this came out.  

I tend to believe that this point of view was based on my own experience drawing.  It seemed that there was something “more” behind doing art . . . there was a joy in creation . . . it satisfied some deep inner primal need.  I could never determine what this inner need was and no one seemed to inquire about it.  The concern was primarily over whether it looked good or bad.  To be frank, as I look at it now, the obsession of having to make the drawing “look good” is one reason why I quit drawing.  I couldn’t stand the endless nitpicking about it.  I often felt that this preoccupation and obsession of whether a drawing is good or not actually destroyed art.

As time went on an image began to form in my head about some aspects of art.  It went something like this:


It became clear that  art can be looked at from two viewpoints:

  1. From the point of view of the artist where creation is important
  2. From the point of view of the observer where if it looks good or bad is important

Oddly enough, I found the artists point of view rare, even among artists!  Most everything, at least that I saw, was viewed from the perspective of the observer.  This seems to be because of things like these:

  • An observers desire to be pleased by art.  I often consider the joy of looking at art, for some people, is an “observers artistic expression”.  Or, to put it another way, the joy of looking at art is a form of expressing artistic qualities for people who don’t do art.  In that way, looking at art, and enjoying it, can be considered an “art form” in itself, an “artistic expression without doing art”.  This is why I think its good to appreciate art and develop this sense.
  • The social aspects of art.  This refers to how art somehow sets a person in society in some way.  This is usually done for some benefit of some form, such as money.  This is the most prevalent form that I saw and still see.

This later social aspect, I found, plays a large role in art.  Basically, it all revolves around social acceptance and the benefits this brings . . .


It became clear that most art is not really creative but, rather, an imitation of “accepted styles”.  When a person learns art, or goes to art school, they are not learning how to be creative but, rather, how to imitate a style that society accepts.  Its not uncommon that many people in art, including myself, would experiment with different accepted styles of art in order to find the one which one has the greatest knack doing.  Once that was found, the tendency is to stick with that style.  By staying with that accepted style, and becoming good at it, we would be viewed as “good artists” not only by others but also by our self.  We would think we were all good but, in reality, we took the path of least resistance and with minimal creativity:  we found an accepted style that people like and which we had a knack at doing and imitated it.  Really, we really aren’t artists . . . we’re imitators of style!

What this seems to show is that learning art, or going to art school, actually tends to suppress creativity for most people . . . but it makes good imitators of style.  Art school, really, does not teach creativity but styles of art.

My observation, though, is that imitation is what most people want in art.  They want the acceptance an “approved” art style gives.  There’s a number of reasons why acceptance is important:

  • Approval from people and society
  • To make one feel that one is good and get the satisfaction that offers
  • For some form of prestige
  • To somehow get in or remain in some power structure, such as a position
  • For money and profit

So we see that a person tends to gain something with imitating accepted styles.

Creativity, on the other hand, is something that tends to happen spontaneously and is often new.  In that way, it hasn’t time to be “accepted”.  This shows that creativity, by its nature, tends to not be noticed because it is simply too “new” to be accepted.  This means that most creativity goes by unnoticed and unacknowledged.  As a result of this, there is not a lot of gain in just being creative.  

This shows that acceptance, and not creativity, plays a major role in art.


All this reveals that creativity and imitation play a big part in art.  The role they play, of course, is different.  In fact, I tend to see these as polarities of a spectrum that goes something like this:


To me, these extremes are opposing polarities and contradict each other.  This shows that art is not just “learning how to paint” but involves a more complex association between two different and opposing qualities.  Because of this, there are different ways art appears and manifests itself.


The Creative tends to have qualities such as:

  • It “appears naturally”
  • It often comes spontaneously
  • It does not necessarily follow an established style 
  • Is usually is not learned
  • It tends to be more personal in orientation
  • It is generally new

To me, the Creative tends to be more mysterious, primal, and satisfies an inner need.  In that way, it as if reaches deeper into ones psyche.  Because of this it has a mysterious unknown quality about it.  It can be almost religious-like in quality and I do believe that the Creative does touch upon the religious side of our nature.   Its probably not surprising that a person who displays the Creative tends to be religious in character, or so it seems to me.


Imitation tends to have qualities such as:

  • A person follows a style or technique that is already existing
  • It is usually a socially “accepted” and “approved” style
  • It is generally learned
  • It tends to be social in orientation

Being social in orientation, Imitation tends to be more shallow than the Creative, at least in my opinion.  It doesn’t quite hit deep into ones psyche.  But, by being social, Imitation can unite people and be a source of identity as well as express the character of a people.  This, probably, is one of the most powerful aspects of the imitation quality.

The Three Groups of the Spectrum

One could, for simplicity’s sake, say that there are three groups in the spectrum:

  1. The Creative group.  This consists of people who are primarily creative with little imitation.
  2. The Creative/Imitative group. These are the people in the middle of the spectrum.  This consists of people who display a mixture of both.
  3. The Imitative group.  This consists of people who are primarily imitative.

My observation is that most people are in the Imitative group.  There seems to be a number of reasons why, such as:

  • It is the easiest path
  • It guarantee’s societies approval
  • Being social, there is more support

It seems that the closer we move toward the Creative the less and less people we see.  This seems to be because of things like:

  • It is harder
  • There needs to be a personal drive . . . it takes more commitment
  • There is no social approval and support, a person is on their own

Basically, the Creative seems to require a more individualistic character than is seen in the Imitative group.  This means, more or less, that to be Creative a person must find personal satisfaction in what they do, regardless of what other people and society says.  


Very few people are strictly imitative in art . . . there’s always some degree of creativity.  Its the extent that is the issue.  Many people are primarily imitative in art and the bulk of their creativity is in the application of imitation.  That is to say, they learn a style and apply it to varying situations.  This can appear a couple of ways:

  • They learn an existing accepted style and imitate in different situations.  For example, they learn the “Marvel style” of drawing super heroes and use it as a basis to draw super heroes and other characters.
  • They discover a “personal style” and replicate it over and over again.  Many artists will do this.  Typically, their “personal style” is derived from an existing and accepted style.  When they are developing their “personal style” they often display great creativity in its creation.  But once they have developed their “personal style” they replicate it over and over again and tend to lose their creativity as a result.

These tend to be somewhat easy to do and with effective results.  As a result, it is very prevalent.  I’d say that most of the art I have seen in art competitions are of the former group with some in the later group.

he application of imitation is very common in the Imitative group.


Its not uncommon that imitation can become a “framework” or guide for the Creative.  In this way, the creative and imitative as if blend together and help each other out.  For example, a person learns a style and imitates it.  As they imitate the style the Creative comes out through it.  In this way, imitation becomes a platform or springboard for the Creative.  Some people need imitation to help bring the Creative out.  Without it, their creative side would never come out.  With other people, the Imitative accentuates the Creative and gives it means to grow and flourish even more.

In my opinion, this creates the best art because it has a blending of the imitation of an accepted style plus the newness of creativity.  It is often not easy to achieve this though.  Some people have a knack at it.  Other people have to be continually working at it.  Some people achieve it only occasionally.

Using imitation as a guide for the Creative is often a defining trait of the Creative/Imitative group.


I often think that the turmoil of many artists is because they are trying to “force creativity”.  There are a number of reasons why, such as:

  • They are trying to force creativity for the benefit of acceptance and its benefit (approval, money, etc.).
  • Some people feel the deeper sense of creativity in their art and can’t stand to see it disappear so they are always trying to force it.
  • The need to be creative is part of the learning process and being an artist so they try to force it to happen.
  • There is a dilemma in that creativity doesn’t necessarily take the form of accepted styles or ways, which is the way most people want it.  As a result, the Creative is not appearing the way they want it to.  Its like trying to force a round peg through a square hole.
  • There just isn’t any creativity anymore.
  • They don’t know how to be creative.

I often think that some people get so much pleasure from creativity that they as if depend on it.  As a result, they fear losing it or feel that they can no longer achieve it.  This often happens, I think, after a particularly strong “successful period” of great creativity.  It can cause great despair, depression, and anguish.  It seems, to me, that when a person starts to “force creativity” one has lost hold of creativity.  

The “End Result Dilemma”

It seems that there is a common dilemma in creativity in that, particularly after one is successful, there is a tendency to emphasize what is created.  This becomes the focus of ones intentions and thoughts.  In so doing, there is a tendency to forget the Creative quality, the source of creativity.  The result is that a person keeps looking for the end result of creativity thinking that it will cause creativity, but it doesn’t work.  This causes great frustration and anguish in creativity.  I often call this the “end result dilemma” as the emphasis is on the end result of creativity, not creativity itself.  This more or less means that creativity is found in seeking the Creative quality, not the end result.  This means you must look toward the source . . .


One of the big questions I asked is:  since creativity is new, is not accepted, and not reflective of a style how does one determine what creative is?  We cannot use the same standards as seen with the imitative styles as its not imitating anything.  In other words, the Creative has no precedent or nothing to measure it with.  How, then, do we determine the Creative?

In the fewest words I’d say that the Creative means “it came from out of nowhere and works in some way”.  To go in more detail I’d say that the Creative has qualities such as:

  • It has a newness or originality.  This means that it is not imitative.
  • It is often unexpected.  It often appears “out of the blue”.
  • It is often entails no planning.  A person does not think of what they are going to do.
  • It has practical use and fulfills some purpose.  A lot of creativity is functional in orientation.  Because of this, it tends to be looked at simplistically.
  • It causes a personal satisfaction.
  • It fulfills a need.  I tend to think it fulfills a deep primal need.
  • Its is often prompted by a “pressure” of some sort.  There is often a need, condition, or situation that prompts it.  In other words, something causes the Creative to happen.
  • It is not necessarily “leisurely” or pleasant.  That is to say, it is not necessarily associated with “pleasant images”, scenery, flowers, etc. nor motivated by it.
  • It entails an innate ability.  A person typically either “has it or not”.  In many cases, it cannot be learned.
  • There is usually a degree of imitation and learning but not a whole lot.  This is basically the imitation as guide described above.
  • There is a process of “drawing out”.  A person must have some means to make it appear.  If they don’t then it as if “stagnates” inside of them.
  • It goes beyond specific art fields.  That is to say, it doesn’t always appear as drawing, painting, sculpture, and so on.
  • It is sporadic and uncontrollable.  The more imitative art is the more it can be replicated and controlled, which is one of the powers of imitation.  The creative, on the other hand, “comes when it comes” and can’t be controlled.

Sometimes, it can be miraculous or amazing but, generally, it isn’t.  In fact, my personal feelings is that most of the Creative appears in various aspects and ways in everyday life and does not entail an art form, such as painting, sculpture, etc.  What ends up happening is that the Creative in everyday life is then as if “projected” onto a specific art form.  Because of this, most of the Creative actually goes by unnoticed.  Its as if a process takes place from Creative to art:

  1. Everyday life develops the Creative tendency
  2. There develops a need to express the Creative
  3. This is “projected” onto a specific art form
  4. Art is created

This means that the Creative is actually very broad encompassing the whole of everyday life.  Only aspects of it are expressed and “projected” into an art form.   Imitation, on the other hand, is narrow, limited to style and accepted ways.  In this way, it shows that there is an inherent condition where the more imitative art becomes the more narrow or limited the Creative becomes.  Looking at it the other way, the more Creativity there is the less it is associated with an art form.  This shows an interesting quality about art, that the Creative goes beyond any art form.  It as if art transitions from art to “non-art”.  This, I always felt, is one of the qualities that gives mystery and depth to art.


If art goes into “non-art” then what makes the “non-art” akin to art?  It shows that “art” can be used as an expression that describes a particular quality in life, not necessarily an art form.  What is this general “artistic quality”?

To me, I associate this “artistic quality” as having traits such as:

  • A harmony where things work together
  • It gives meaning
  • It serves some purpose
  • It satisfies some inner need
  • It reaches to the depths of ones psyche
  • It “draws out” hidden inner qualities

I tend to view “art” as a quality one has, an attitude, a point of view, a stance.  In this way, “art” can be a perspective on life.  That is to say, one can look at life “artistically”.  Some examples of how “art” appears in life include:

  • Religion
  • Belief
  • Mythology
  • Culture
  • How one conceives how the world works
  • How a person solves problems and dilemma’s
  • The attitudes one has for life, people, events, and conditions
  • How one perceives ones self

These, too, are artistic expressions but of a different sort.  Any one of these can entail as much ability and skill and “art” as any great sculpture or painting, if not more.

Copyright by Mike Michelsen

This entry was posted in Art, artistic expression, and things related with it, Education, learning, and over education, Imitation, imitative illnesses, and such, Inspiration, free association, and intuition and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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