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Why being creative is good for you

“When we are small we are happy painting and creating because we are emotionally free,” Vargas tells BBC Culture. “With a few lines, children tell so many stories.” When he works with adults, he finds meditation helps them to “connect to a higher energy. Close your eyes, breathe, all the information you need is there”.

For others, being creative is like brushing our teeth, a daily necessity. Writing in Light the Dark: Writers on Creativity, Inspiration and the Artistic Process (edited by Joe Fassler), novelist Mark Haddon says that it is like “coming to terms with borderline pathological obsession, an activity I simply have to do to feel human”.  While Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, wrote that, for her, creativity and writing is about “being open… to new ideas, other frameworks, and dates I don’t understand at first”. 

When she turned 60, in 2012, she spent a week on a remote island, and was mesmerised by the world underwater. “I even saw sharks! The ocean became a play land and I thought – how could I miss this enormous world? [It] was a metaphor for how in life, in work, there can be huge openings you don’t even anticipate.”

Creativity is many things. It is making connections, with yourself or a great other “universal source”, connections that create new ideas; it is embracing fear and the inner critic; it is staying open-minded. But if Walter Isaacson’s hunch is correct, creative cleverness is nothing without an inquiring mind. Isaacson, author of a 2017 biography of Leonardo da Vinci that was based on more than 7,000 pages of the artist’s workbooks, was asked by National Geographic what made Leonardo a genius. He identified the Italian Polymath’s broad skillset  –  as artist, architect, engineer, and theatrical producer – as vital to his incredible achievements.

But his standout quality, he says, was his curiosity. “Being curious about everything… It’s how he pushed himself and taught himself to be a genius.” He concludes: “We will never emulate Einstein’s mathematical ability. But we can all try to learn from, and copy, Leonardo’s curiosity.”

The Listening Path: The Creative Art of Attention by Julia Cameron is published by Souvenir Press/ Profile.

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