Embrace the Beast!


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“The most enriching rewards for creative endeavor are intrinsic; that is, the reward is in the pleasure the creator takes in doing the work itself, and in achieving the result, and not from the pay or the prize.”  – Jane Piirto

Monday Morning is here again and here’s some food for thought to start your day. If you’re creative and you enjoy doing whatever fuels the creativity do it. Don’t worry about how good you are or whether you’ll get rewarded for your work. That is not the point. It’s taken me a long time to realize I am driven to create. Though I’ve tried to suppress this urge and do things that are “more practical” in terms of making a living or creating wealth, I cannot hide from the fact I need to create. So I embrace the beast. I don’t try and tame it, rather I am riding it and enjoying the journey.


Professor Jane Piirto, in her book Creativity for 21st Century Skills covers the motivation to create.

She writes, “The main cause for creativity is that the creative person wants to be creative, in whatever domain he or she is working – whether it be woodworking in the basement, dancing, acting, drawing, singing, doing science, mathematics, inventing, being an entrepreneur, being an athlete, cooking, sewing, building, designing.

“People who are creative must have motivation. Creators intend to be creative, to make—something. People have to want to be creative. Creativity takes a long time and a certain amount of obsession.”

She thinks “Motivation is the only and main personality attribute that all creative people have and need.”

If you relate to this you are part of the tribe, so stop judging yourself so harshly and take comfort in the thought that millions of creative people all over the world are in the same boat. Piirto notes, “Creators must have the talent necessary to create in their area, and have had the environmental influence and support necessary.” 

I’m sure most creatives feel this way. The way to get there is to day by day practice your craft and seek support from those who can relate to what you’re doing. IT DOES NO GOOD AND IT’S TOXIC FOR YOUR SOUL TO SEEK APPROVAL FROM THOSE WHO DON’T GET IT!

“What are the rewards for being creative? Fame is not usually one of them.” Piirto quotes musician Mat Callahan: “I have never found any correlation between money and the effectiveness of the creative process and its results. Do I produce a demand for my creative work… do I produce marketable commodities? Maybe. Do I apply my energies to my creative work, regardless? Certainly. Continuously. Why? Because of the satisfaction I derive from the process itself and the pleasure it brings to others.”

I leave you with that. The results of your mindset, your talent and your work will dictate the outcome. Focus on the work and being the best you can. Embrace the beast, take it for a long ride and enjoy the journey.


Give Up? Now Way!!


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  1. steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.
    “his perseverance with the technique illustrates his single-mindedness”
    synonyms: persistencetenacitydeterminationstaying power, indefatigability, steadfastness, purposefulness;

    The word for the day is Perseverance. Who said this would be easy? It’s not. I’ve talked to enough successful illustrators and artists to know they too have their trials and tribulations.

    What they do have that you may not is the will to continue despite all odds. They know that success, however you see it, is obtained by contsnace and vigil work habits. No matter what the outcome. If you have a goal and you focus and work towards that goal you will get there.

    Here are some great quotes from successful people who know what it’s like to persevere

    Permanence, perseverance and persistence in spite of all obstacles, discouragements and impossibilities: It is this, that in all things distinguishes the strong soul from the weak.

    Thomas Carlyle

    You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.

    Maya Angelou

    Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan Press On! has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.

    Calvin Coolidge

    Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.

    Jacob A. Riis

    It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

    Albert Einstein

    I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult. I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking.

    Og Mandino

    Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.

    Barack Obama

    When you get into a tight place, and everything goes against you till it seems as if you couldn’t hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide’ll turn.

    Harriet Beecher Stowe

Happy Birthday Rosalind Allchin!


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Rosalind is a terrific illustrator and storyteller as her book The Frog Princess can attest to.

The creator of The Frog Princess, a delightful fractured fairy tale, Rosalind Allchin describes herself thus: “I think I’m an illustrator who writes stories. I start off with some kind of visual image, probably of a character. Although I’ve never had any formal art training, I’ve always been interested in the visual arts. When I was in my teens, we used to go family camping in Europe, and visiting the art galleries in Italy was a wonderful introduction. However it’s only relatively recently that I’ve taken up a brush myself.”
Although presently a resident of Ottawa, Ontario, Rosalind was born in West Sussex on the south coast of England on March 26, 1949, the second of four children and the only girl. “We all went to the local primary (elementary) school, and those years I remember as a lovely period in my life, full of painting and reading stories.

In talking about her approach to illustrating, Rosalind says, “I tend to complete each picture before moving to the next one. Sometimes there are perspectives that I can’t work out. For example, the picture on page 14 in which the Frog Princess is jumping down from the royal balcony took me ages. I actually made little sculpture clay heads of the prince, his bodyguard and the queen. Faces look so different from different angles. I’ve learned of the magic of mirrors. Sometimes a drawing just doesn’t look quite right, but it ‘s difficult to see quite where the error lies. But viewing the drawing differently, through a mirror, magically jolts the perceptions and the problem is revealed.”
Picture books, even fractured fairy tales, require research. “Out of interest, I borrowed a lot of library books on costume. Over five hundred years of medieval life, styles changed dramatically, not to mention differences between classes and between countries. I’ve actually mixed periods.”
“I work a lot, but I guess I’m really slow. I go up to my desk every day except one day a week when I pot, a wonderful therapy. I rent space in a studio which is nice because I meet other people. I have a wheel and am hoping in the near future to buy my own kiln. It’s good to have something constructive to do when I’m having problems writing or drawing. I have a lovely attic space where I work. I’m gradually acquiring all sorts of amazing things, like a scanner which will make sending off manuscripts easier. I used to photograph the art or get color copies made which is very expensive.”
“I have four or five stories more or less written up. I find the writing quite hard in terms of creating language that is clear and simple and yet interesting. It’s so easy for it to fall flat. My initial writing tends to be much too long winded, and I am getting better at ruthless cutting. As soon as I’ve got the story idea worked out, I play around dividing it into pages and thinking about the pictures and how I can have a different action or setting on each page. Right from the start really, I’m working the two things together.”

Source: Profile by Dave Jenkinson/Canadian Review of Materials

For More

My Phone Call With A Giant!


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Illustration by Kinuko Y. Craft for an article in Playboy Magazine, December of 1981 or 1982 “Liberty and Justice”

There are very few times in life you get a chance to talk with a giant in your field of endeavor. The other night I got to do just that, I spoke with Kinuko Y. Craft, master illustrator and one of the few females to regularly get published in Playboy magazine during it’s heyday. Her work has also appeared in and on the cover of many magazines and in numerous picture books. Awards for her work are too numerous to name however it bears mentioning that she was voted in the NY Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2008. And this quote by famed writer Ray Bradbury sums it up “Kinuko Craft is a Renaissance woman. By this I mean not that she paints like the Renaissance painters, but that she is an artist for all seasons, for all kinds of subjects, and in all kinds of styles. If you will survey her works, you will find little duplication in form, color or texture. She fits herself to her subject with charming ease and yet leaves herself free to remain herself. There is an air about all of her illustrations of one who is a true connoisseur of art, wide-ranging through all the countries of the world. One cannot help but think how delightful it would be to walk into gallery of her kaleidoscopic talents.”

The other night I was walking my dogs to the park and my phone rang. I picked it up and this girlish voice with a slight accent starts talking, introducing herself as Kinuko Craft. I was dumbfounded. We started our conversation and she told me she’d be happy to give me an interview for the upcoming issue of the Illustrators Journal. We spoke for about 10 minutes while my dogs did their business occasionally staring at me wondering why I wasn’t paying attention to them. How could I explain the joy I was having connecting with one of the illustration goddesses I admired. After a few minutes I told Kinuko I’d love to call her back and that my dogs were getting restless so I should pay attention to them. She laughed and told me how much she loved her dog and she understood.

Later that night I called her back and we had a delightful conversation for an hour and a half. The contents of that talk will appear in the next Journal coming out in April, so please come back and visit us, because we’re gonna start rockin n’ rollin’ with all sorts of great interviews and articles.


Next up…Political cartoonist Mark Stamaty whose work has appeared in too many magazines and publications to count especially his cover art for the Village Voice. We are also expecting original work done for us by Millenial superstar artist Molly Crabtree!

Post &Repeat Post &Repeat Post &Repeat


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I’ve been listening to inspirational and educational info all day. Not about art or illustration but about real estate. Whoa, back up, yes I’m a real estate agent. I actually split my time between art and business. However, and this is important, I am an artist first. The real estate came after my career as an art director/creative director. I first invested in renovating houses, then I got my license because I wanted to have a business that wasn’t age sensitive. I still spend a lot of my time creating as evidence shows above in an illustration I created for Lucy: The Lavender Elephant

Anyways, I’ve been listening to Peter Lorimer of PLG Estates in Los Angeles talking about social media and how it helps drive branding and business. Peter comes from the music business and entered real estate 12 years ago. He is very successful now. So how does this relate to me and you as artists?

It relates because we are all in business whether it’s as an artist or a real estate agent. And social media is a vehicle that anyone can use to generate business leads and brand themselves. The key is what you’re posting and how consistently you post. What you shouldn’t do is expect instant return on your time investment. Hence Post &Repeat, Post &Repeat, Post &Repeat. Tweak along the way, sculpt your message to fit your vision but don’t worry about the outcome right away. If your vision is unique enough and peaks interest business will come.

Now I say this as I’m trying to generate business myself. I’m speaking to you out there but I am also to speaking to myself. We’re relaunching the Illustrators Journal and our art business and will try and improve it each time we approach a story or an article. It’s for us as much as it is for you. Keep up the good work and never, never , never give up the dream. and we won’t either

ART AND ACTIVISM: Time to Speak Up!


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It’s funny how things seem to fall into place for us at the Journal. After a period of dormancy (is that a word?) the election of our new president stirred up emotions in me that I had long since not paid attention to. It started with the campaign season. As my wife and I watched in total disbelief Donald Trump dismantled and destroyed any semblance of normalcy in the primaries. This started an intense daily conversation between Havi (my wife) and me. “He’ll never get elected” “This is a joke” “How can he get away with this?” and so forth. Then came the election and the realization that this was not a joke and we would be living under the administration of a malignant narcissist.

Soon our conversations and talks turned into what can we do? Long story short, the revival of TIJ became very appealing on various levels. I could create new art, we could voice our displeasure thru a new character “Arnold Grump” and finally and most importantly we could cover artists who are giving their voice to their feelings. Hence the video above.

We are reaching out to various artists (some in the video) to be included in the next issue of the TIJ along with others. We will continue to move forward with our eyes on how we can be a voice for artists and their works.

It’s our firm belief that now more than ever artists of all types need to chime in on the state of our country and the world. To fight back against those forces that would quiet us. Even as I write the government is cutting off vital programs for artists and children that would benefit us all as a society. There is precedent for all this and it doesn’t have a happy ending if we don’t stand up and be counted.

So continue to do your work whether it’s a kid lit book about immigration to the US and it’s affect on children or artwork that shows the on the ground consequences of our military action in foreign countries. Make your work have purpose.

Nothing Is New: So Steal If You Want?


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Inspired or Copying?


This is a question I’ve been asking myself since I started creating artwork. Sure it’s ok to use Leonardo or Daumier as an inspiration and use the same setup or lighting as one of their paintings. They are in the public domain and not many are familiar with all famous artists work. But what of contemporary artists copying or being inspired by others. I believe if you change the setting elements and the figures depicted are different enough even in the same pose you should be safe. But, and this is  BIG BUT… If you’re too close to the pose and character depiction you could be seen as copying or infringing on another artist’s copyright.

Ok so that being said, I’ve designed hundred’s of film posters in my career and a few concepts and layouts have been copied albeit it with different stars and elements. None were ever challenged for their legitimacy. 

Picasso said “good artists copy, great artists steal”. Many artists make a superlative living by simply “tweaking” other  artists’ works. That’s what Picasso means – by “copying”.

However, a great artist will drink in all that other  artists have done and  do. They will absorb  it, and learn from it and  use it to stimulate their own creativityThey will “steal it”,which means that just like a robber, they will take possession of it, even though  they know it is not theirs.   And then they will transform it, through the creative alchemy of their  creative process, into something fresh and new, something that belongs to them.

Hints of the original owner, of the source may remain – after  all, nothing in art is completely new  –  but it will be clear  that this is a  unique work, standing on its own.

I say fly close to the sun like “Icarus” if you must,…
but be careful your wings may melt.






Should I Give Up Art?


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Little Lord Fatius derwent pencil drawing

I ran across this posting and stopped. There have been a few times in my life and career that I asked myself this question. The first time I was in grade school and my father told me the only artists he knew were queer and was I queer. I actually had no idea what queer meant but I was sure it wasn’t good in his mind. I told him no I just like to draw and paint.

Off and on for years I doodled on my notebooks, on test papers and took painting classes with my mother. It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I realized I wanted to be an artist. My athletic career had all but vanished from various injuries and I decided I needed to direct my energy towards being an artist regardless of whether my father thought I was “queer” or not!  Over the years off and on I gave up being an artist and became an art director, then a creative director and finally an art department head at a major Hollywood studio. After all I had to eat and take care of my kids. Then in 2006 I decided to pursue illustration and being an artist full-time. Since then I’ve illustrated 30 or so books, illustrated for magazines, licensing and packaging.I created an online daily cartoon and have produced and directed animation for children’s educational series.

And still I have my doubts…I haven’t reached my goal of being the best me I can be. I’m shooting for that hallowed ground that Dr Seuss and Maurice Sendak roam. So I say creating artwork has little to do with supporting yourself financially. It has to do with expressing yourself and meeting your goals artistically. So plow ahead and use your failures to strengthen your shortcomings. And most of all enjoy the process!


Here’s the posting that inspired this soft rant.

Art and Struggle: At what point should an artist ‘give up’?

by Brian Sherwin on 3/5/2013 11:54:30 AM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY, artnet, WorldNetDaily (WND) and Art Fag City. Sherwin graduated from Illinois College (Jacksonville, Illinois) in 2003 — he studied art and psychology extensively. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 22,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author’s views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

I was recently asked the following question: “At what point should an artist ‘give up’?“. The artist who asked the question stressed that he was tired of ‘struggling for nothing’. I asked him to explain what ‘struggling for nothing’ meant — he responded by offering a rant that began with his lack of art awards, and ended with his frustration over his poor sales history. I reminded him that art and struggle walk hand-in-hand… and that the factors he mentioned were not good reasons for ‘giving up’ as an artist.


The artist avoided my response. He continued to explain how he was ‘giving up’ due to lack of recognition. I assume that he expected a ‘pity party’ from me in his honor. He was not aware that I’m a horrible ‘pity party’ host. I handed out all of my tissues years ago… and my smallest violin has gathered dust in a state of disrepair. Point-blank, I refused to validate his perceived failures as reasons to ‘give up’ on his artwork.


In truth, he did not want my honest answer to his question… he wanted me to offer him an ‘out’. He wanted me to agree that it was time for him to ‘give up’ on his artwork — and all the years he had put into exploring art in general. I don’t agree with ‘giving up’. I told him that he was missing the point of creating art in the first place. I told him that he needed to rediscover his passion… the passion he had known long before the art competitions and unsold artwork.


Art and struggle walk hand-in-hand. The technical side of creating art can be frustrating at times (many FineArtViews regulars have shared the technical difficulties they have faced as artists). Furthermore, there are emotional factors to consider depending on the artist and the visual message that he or she explores (some artists open emotional wounds, if you will, as part of their creative process). These struggles — including the struggles involved with marketing art — are not reasons to ‘give up’… they are reasons to press on. Passion holds it all together.


Art and struggle walk hand-in-hand. As implied above, the process of creating art — and developing as an artist — may not always be pleasant. Furthermore, it does not always result in praise. Even when praise is achieved… it is often fleeting. The need for recognition is a sad reason for entering the world of art marketing IF passion is lost in the process. It is OK to desire recognition (seek fame and fortune if you wish)… BUT upholding ones passion for creating and sharing a visual message is far more desirable. I feel that my artist friend should prioritize his needs.


This is what I want to stress: Lack of recognition — be it in the form of failing to win an art prize OR failing to sell a piece — is not a reason to ‘give up’ as an artist. It is not a valid reason for tossing your passion aside. Lack of recognition is a common struggle faced by artists and other creative individuals. Point-blank, my artist friend is not the first artist to face these struggles… nor will he be the last. He needs to stop whining. He needs to toughen up… and get back to work. He won’t receive pity from me… only pressure.


In closing, artists will often find themselves in the position of facing struggles head-on. Art and struggle walk hand-in-hand. Veterans of the art world can no doubt tell you about some of the ‘brick walls’ they have smacked over the decades. That said, most of you WILL keep pushing forward… just as they did. Stating that you are ‘giving up’ because of lack of recognition is nothing more than a petty excuse for having lost your passion. Rediscover your passion. After all, recognition is a trivial need compared to the passion that should be fueling your artwork in the first place.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin

Important Ink and Brush Drawing by Henri Matisse: On Sale


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If I only had the money…Matisse is one of the truly original artists ever and one of the pillars in my art pantheon. Just to gaze at his work and study the movement of his lines and how sure and spontaneous they are is an inspiration.

An important ink and brush drawing by Henri Matisse will be offered in the forthcoming Œuvres sur Papier sale on 23 March in Paris. Considered to be one of the finest examples of the artist’s last works on paper, Visage will appear at auction for the first time, having been in a private collection since its acquisition from the family of the artist in 1976. Drawing was always central to the artist’s oeuvre, and whether working in oil paint, ink or collage, his exploration and representation of form needed very few marks to convey a powerful image. Characterised by calligraphic brushstrokes, the image bears the hallmarks of Matisse’s assured brevity of line. As his daughter Marguerite Duthuit mentions in the certificate of authenticity, this work “…belongs to the group of the very last drawings by Henri Matisse.”

HENRI MATISSE, VISAGE, 1952. ESTIMATE: €800,000—1,200,000. © 2017 SUCCESSION H. MATISSE.

In fact, by the latter half on the 1940s, the artist had largely abandoned painting because of the physical toll it begun to take. During this period, he has taken up residence at the Hôtel Régina in Nice, where he spent long periods bedridden, yet still compelled to make work. He turned his attentions to working with paper using different mediums, and most famously his colourful cut-outs. Many of these pieces were produced with the help of his studio assistants Lydia Delectorskaya and Jacqueline Duhême, who alongside offering practical support, sometimes posed for Matisse – becoming the subject of some of his most iconic portraits.


Visage hung on the walls of the hotel room Matisse called home for several years. This elegant large-scale drawing – thickly brushed in India ink – demonstrates his innate ability to capture the nuances of facial expression with a few strokes.  The viewer’s eye is drawn immediately to the centre of the paper, locked into a confident gaze, accompanied by a wry smile. Visage is a testament to his long-standing fascination with the very act of drawing – stripped back to its purest form.  As the art historian Pierre  Schneider points out, the brush drawings of this period are in fact interchangeable with the paintings of the same name: “which only goes to prove they have the same identity. These large dazzling black and white sheets of paper are Matisse’s last paintings” (Pierre Schneider, Matisse, New York, 1984, pp. 652-654).


A photograph by Lydia Delectorskaya taken in the rooms of the Hôtel Régina in 1952 shows Visage hung high in the top corner of Matisse’s living room, above a frieze of paper cut-outs. On the subject of the 1950s ink and brush portraits, Matisse himself wrote: “These drawings spring up in one piece, made of elements without any apparent link with the analytic thought which preceded them. The multiplicity of feelings expressed in each of them seems impossible to capture so much the speed. ith which they join together is great. I am absolutely convinced that they represent the goal of my curiosity.”


MAIN IMAGE: HENRI MATISSE, VISAGE, 1952. ESTIMATE: €800,000—1,200,000.



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But from a scientific perspective, there is scant evidence to connect these compelling areas. While recent neuroimaging studies have examined the brain regions responsible for dreaming, for example, parallel research on dreams and the brain in the throes of creation is not yet under way.

That said, intriguing new work suggests possible links between dreams and creativity. Aside from indicating that dreams may help ordinary people find creative solutions to everyday problems (see page 48), recent research shows that fantasy-prone people may have higher dream recall than others. It also suggests that dreams themselves–with their idiosyncratic imagery, colorful extrapolations on the same theme and nonjudgmental stance–model at least one aspect of the creative process, the free association that precedes actual creation.

“To be creative, you need a way to let those circuits float free and really be open to alternatives that you would normally overlook,” explains Robert Stickgold, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University who has conducted seminal studies on dreams, sleeping and learning. “Several features of REM sleep predispose the brain to this activity.”

A dream-prone personality?

It may be the case that people who use dreams for creative purposes naturally have greater access to the dream world than others, research suggests. Two streams of literature support this contention: One links specific personality characteristics such as openness, proneness to fantasy and schizotypic tendencies with the penchant to remember and report dreams; the other connects creativity and these same personality variables.

Findings reported in the May issue of Personality and Individual Differences (Vol. 34, No. 7) strengthen the association. In one of the longest and most comprehensive studies on dream recall and personality factors to date, University of Iowa psychologist David Watson, PhD, collected dream-recall reports from 193 undergraduate students every day for three months, as well as data on personality variables, sleep schedules and the students’ alcohol and caffeine intake.

Personality characteristics were by far the most significant factor in dream recall, says Watson. Those prone to absorption, imagination and fantasy were much more likely than others to say they remembered their dreams and to report dreams with vivid imagery, he found. The same group also scored higher than others on the “openness” scale of the five-factor personality inventory. The scale describes those who are open to new experiences and take a rich, complex approach to life–“the ‘art film’ circuit,” as Watson puts it.

Watson, an empiricist, says that he was surprised by the finding. “I actually thought dream recall was going to be related to stress and anxiety, because the literature indicates that the things that disturb sleep tend to promote dream recall,” he says. Instead, his data support the idea that there’s a type of person more likely to tune into their dreams than others, he notes.

A related study in the September Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 85, No. 3) by psychologist Shelley Carson, PhD, a lecturer at Harvard University, found that 182 Harvard undergraduates who scored high on creative achievement tests also tested lower on “latent inhibition,” the ability to filter out internal and external stimuli that aren’t relevant to current goals or survival. The study is the first to directly test the association between creativity and low latent inhibition, which also has been linked to mental disorders such as schizophrenia, schizotypal personality disorder and proneness to psychosis.

The findings suggest that creative people may naturally “take in” more extraneous material than others, including, possibly, their dream material, Carson notes. There may well be biological underpinnings to these tendencies–possibly related to the mesolimbic-dopamine system–which she and others will likely explore in the future, she notes.

Dreaming resembles creativity

There may be a good metaphorical reason that artists are so attached to their dreams. In the broadest sense, dreams mimic a critical stage of creativity: brainstorming the range of possibilities, or what psychoanalysts call free association, says Harvard’s Stickgold.

Neuroimaging studies by neurologist Allen R. Braun, MD, of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, neuropsychologist Mark L. Solms, PhD, of St. Bartholomew’s and the Royal London Hospital, and others show how this might happen. In essence, the brain areas responsible for executive control, logical decision-making and focused attention shut down during dreaming, while sensory and emotional areas come alive. In addition, short-term memory functions are deactivated, so that the emotional content of images remains, but the waking context does not.

At least one study by Stickgold supports the idea. In 1999 research reported in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience(Vol. 11, No. 2), Stickgold and colleagues woke 44 undergraduate students from REM sleep–the deepest stage of sleep most strongly associated with dreaming–and immediately gave them a word-priming task. Subjects were shown a word, and immediately after, another word or cluster of nonsense letters. Subjects were then asked to say if the second item was a word or not.

Previous studies of normally awake subjects showed that when the word pairs were strongly related–as with “wrong” and “right,” for example–subjects could identify the second target word faster than if the words weren’t strongly related–as with “wrong” and “house,” for example. But when they were tested immediately after being awakened from REM sleep, the exact opposite happened. The weaker primes produced faster responses.

“It’s as if the brain is preferentially searching out and activating weak associates, unexpected paths, instead of the obvious, normally strong associates,” Stickgold says.

This unique activity provides both a nice metaphor and a possible explanation for the way artists and other creative people operate: in essence, thinking outside the box, whether consciously or unconsciously, Stickgold comments.

“It is as if the [dreaming] brain has been tuned to a state for finding and testing and thinking about new associations,” Stickgold says. “To paraphrase Robert Frost, the brain takes the path less traveled by, and that makes all the difference.”

Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.