How To Teach Yourself To Be More Creative

If you can’t afford to pay the high tuition of elite art schools, you’re not alone. You might just have to hack your creativity. If you’re already an artist, but want to sharpen your creative insight, this might be for you. Or if you’re new to this world and your creative instincts don’t come naturally, this is definitely for you.

No need to fake it, until you make it. Hack it, until you make it.

This is what to do when you find yourself in the first day of a creative setting, surrounded by people who all seem more creative than you. Whether it’s in a classroom or in a workplace, the impostor syndrome is a very real issue that many people deal with. However, you’re probably not the only one with that same feeling. From celebrities to public workers, there are times when people feel like a fraud.

Instead of wallowing in self-doubt, ask yourself one question: what did everyone else do to make them more creative than you? Sure, they may or may not be more creative or more talented than you, but that’s your perception. The answers you may come up with are that they went to a better school than you did, they had more practice or they saw and experienced more than you did. It’s this last answer that you should focus on.

If you live in a large city that has an abundance of cultural institutions, this will be very easy. Here are four things you can start doing right now to teach yourself to be more creative:

Urban Light at Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art Photo by

No Dogmas Allowed

The first thing you need to do is resist dogmatic thinking. If you think you know what art is, you probably don’t know what art is. Fashion, architecture, technology, painting, woodworking, colouring, singing, dancing and many other activities are classified as art. Even those activities by themselves can be deconstructed into smaller art forms. Without an open mind, you will miss opportunities to learn and engage. When it comes to art, your world view isn’t as grounded as you think, and that’s fine.

When I began studying architecture, I had an architecture=buildings dogma, until a vanguard professor who seemed to live in the future and at the nexus of industries, shed light on the many areas architecture affects. The course explored the relationship between media, communications and architecture. The professor spent more time talking about the The Matrix and X-Box, than colonnades and floor plans. The course was like the publication you’re reading right now, packed into a 15-week semester. It destroyed my dogma and opened my mind as to what architecture can be, which isn’t always a building. It ended up being my favourite course at university and was one of the most formative moments in my life.

Canadian Centre for Architecture

Speed Reading Design Exchange

Reading publications like this exposes you to different ideas from disparate arts. Today, there is a large selection of publications, both online and in print, where you can immerse yourself in the world of many professions. Want to learn what good visual communications looks like? Try Communication Arts. Interested in fashion? Check out Business of Fashion.  Yearn for long-form, architectural criticism? Look at Architectural Review. Clicking through online is much easier, but I would suggest flipping through print magazines since you won’t be overwhelmed nor distracted.

Once a month, I would go to major bookstores, and spend about an hour flipping through magazines in the design section. If something caught my attention, I would read a bit of the article or make a note in my phone to see more online. After a while, you will get a feel for what works in your profession and how to understand a work of art just by studying it.

The Old Van Alen bookstore in New York Photo by archdaily

Watch The Video Before You Read The Book

If you’re like me, you like to buy books more than borrow them. Sometimes I enjoy going to the library, but when you own a book, you can place it on your shelf and refer back to it when you please. However, new books can be very expensive.

During my monthly bookstore trips, I would also search through new books. Any books about design, media, entertainment, politics, pop culture, racial inequality or economics interested me. I always found connections between these topics and art, which helped my inspiration, at school or at work.

If I found a book that seemed interesting, I would make a note to search for a video of the author talking about the book. Authors give lots of substantive lectures about their books, and the videos make it easier for me to qualify a book, before buying it. Even if I decide that the book isn’t worth buying, I at least learned a substantial amount of information from the videos.

Be A Tourist In Your Own Town

Yes, real Parisians should go to the Eiffel Tower. To learn, not just for fun.

Just walk around your city with a camera and take photos of things and moments that you find interesting. You might not realise it, but your city is a massive art studio. Also, you can attend conferences, exhibitions, door open events, public lectures – anything and everything to broaden your horizons. Universities have extensive lecture schedules with visiting professionals speaking and taking questions on many topics. Depending on where you live, there may be more of these events than you have time to visit.

For me, events like Nuit Blanche, exhibitions, public lectures and talks taught me a lot. I still go to these events as an observer, and remember when it was all new to me. I marvel at how far I have come, and just by going to events in your town, you will too.

Nuit Blanche Montreal 2012

Beautiful Light 4 Letter Word Machine3 at Nuit Blanche Toronto 2009 Photo by blogto.comHow To Synthesise What You Learn

I’ve just suggested four ways you can teach yourself to be more creative. These ideas are a great way to get started, but they are also ways to stay creative. Most of them cost a small amount of money or are free. Why indebt yourself just to learn about art, when you can make learning from your city a habit. You always want to be aware of the trends, shifts, concepts and overall conversation in your profession. One thing you should keep in mind is that there is no one way to be creative. Every person has their own way to find what inspires them to create the art they make and enjoy.

Maybe those people next to you aren’t better than you are.

What is certain, is that they are not like you. So take advantage of that and run with it

Words: Phil Roberts

2 Responses to “How To Teach Yourself To Be More Creative”

  1. Diana says:

    Whatever next . How to become a Doctor. Do a first aid course , watch a few videos on youtube , observe road traffic accidents , watch hospital drams on TV.

    What you are suggesting in this article is how to appreciate creativity through other peoples eyes and be able to talk about it confidently . You cannot become a creative professional by doing this . A design / art education develops your own perspectives and teaches you how to frame the right questions . If you do not understand this then you were not paying attention.

  2. Phil Roberts says:

    Thanks for your comment Diana!

    How to become a doctor is an extreme example. I understand that you’re exaggerating to make a point, but I believe that you know that’s not what I meant.

    I wasn’t suggesting that formal education is useless. Formal education is very important. However, we can both agree that not everyone can afford to go to such institutions, especially the elite ones. Also, we can both agree that there are some students in those institutions, some of them may be readers to this site, who sometimes feel like they don’t belong there. Some may feel out of place or not talented enough. Some get discouraged, intimidated, insecure when they see the work of their colleagues and think “I could never do that”. People have insecurities in design school, even if they are paying attention.

    This article wasn’t meant to tell people not to go to school. That would be a reckless suggestion. This article was to encourage students, young artists, and non-creatives taking up creative courses in their spare time. People can take up art later in life too. This article was merely to encourage people to appreciate the creativity of others and to not despair. With an open mind, the more you see, observe, practice, and travel, the more it will help your creativity.

    This article relates to this one too:

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