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Are There Stages of the Creative Process?

Given the elusive nature of the creative muse, it might seem silly to consider whether there are stages of the creative process. After all, it’s cool to romanticize art as this mysterious sort of amorphous entity that descends upon the creatively inclined. 

But who’s being silly now?

Yes, every artist interacts with, processes, and produces creativity in his or her own unique way. Even so, there is a generally accepted ‘model’ of the creative process that helps us comprehend the many benefits, processes, and expressions of creativity. 

So What Are the Stages of the Creative Process?

It’s rather difficult to come up with a universal definition of creativity. But Albert Einstein once said, “Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.” Arts educators are thrilled when their students can grasp this idea.

By familiarizing students with the stages of the creative process, the students feel free to take the necessary time and space to explore what makes them tick and, more importantly, what doesn’t. They are, in essence, given permission to dive deep into the caverns of the imagination.

So here is how the creative process GENERALLY unfolds:

1. Preparation – Getting the Ducks in a Row

This is the genesis of your creative venture. During the early stages of inception, your mind may be aswirl with all sorts of ideas. Or it may be laser-focused on a conceived notion of what you wish to achieve. Neither one is right nor wrong. But one is right for you.

When the creative stirring shows up as a vague vortex of images, words, or subjects, then this is the time to foster it. Go to exhibitions, watch films or documentaries, check out books or magazines that relate to some of the ideas. Feed off the inspiration. You’re just throwing everything at the wall at this point and seeing what sticks.

On the other hand, if you have a more concrete goal in mind, you can begin documenting what will be required to move forward. For example, if you’re writing an original play, where would you like to see it performed? Who will be your players? How much to do you know about the era in which it’s set? You don’t need to go into full research mode or start setting auditions. You’re just clearing space for these possibilities. 

2. Incubation – Letting Ideas Simmer

This second stage can be tough because now you need to step back a bit. It’s important to take advantage of this stage because otherwise, you may go headlong into an idea that hasn’t been fleshed out or had the proper inspiration that will make it shine.

The incubation stage is a time to relax. Step away from the logistics of the project and engage in things you like to do. This could be doing yoga, taking a walk, grabbing a drink with friends, spinning madly like a whirling dervish in the town square, or anything really. 

As ideas pop into your head, you can certainly jot them down. But then once they’re out of your head and on paper, free yourself from them. Like seeds, they’ll either take hold and sprout, or they won’t.

3. Illumination: The A-Ha Moment

What’s confusing about this third step is that it looks like it should really be the first. This is the stage of insight where you’re suddenly able to connect the metaphorical dots. Your a-ha moment will appear to be divinely received by those around you. In reality, you know you’re been sitting with this for days, weeks, months, or possibly longer. 

This a-ha moment might be a gut punch that takes you by surprise. It may come while you’re making dinner or whirling around madly in stage two. But it could just as easily be a quiet whisper that’s been pushing you all along until you were finally inspired. 

Whatever the case, your subconscious is ready to take center stage. During the illumination stage, it will come to the forefront and signal to you that you’re ready to move to step four. 

Unfortunately, stage four is no walk in the park. 

4. Evaluation: Is It Worthwhile?

It is in stage four that you feel completely committed to your artistic venture. It’s also the time to ask some crucial questions: 

Has your project already been done? If so, how will you make it different? Will you enjoy the process and be challenged? Why does this project matter to you?  

When you can truly answer these questions honestly, you may come to the startling conclusion that your idea isn’t vital. It may not even be sustainable. And that sucks. Ernest Hemingway once wrote about the editing process as ‘killing your babies.’ You may need to scrap some or even all of the components you love.

It helps during this time to really sit with the above questions. Then collect honest feedback from trusted friends and family members about the direction you’re taking. Ask them to be brutally honest. 

If you need to step away from the project, try to see it not as a failure to achieve your opus, but rather as a learning experience. And a stepping stone. 

5. Elaboration: Making It Happen

If your idea survived the scrutiny, stage five is when you physically put it into play. Sounds like this should be the easiest of the stages. It’s not.

For most creative folks, it’s not a matter of sitting down at the easel, pottery wheel, laptop, instrument, etc., and producing the perfect piece. Yeah, that can happen. 

Typically though, this stage involves hours of brainstorming and experimentation to figure out how to get started and then what works once you do. So while this sounds like it should be the most exciting stage, it can also breed discouragement and even paralysis. Artists need to continually remind themselves that it can be an arduous journey of angst, sweat, and tears to arrive at the joy of the finished piece. 

But it’s a journey that’s well worth it. 

Embrace the Creative Process!

We hope you now have a better understanding of the stages of the creative process. There’s more to them than many realize.

At our arts-integrated middle school and high school, we’re well-versed in the creative process. If you think your child would thrive in this environment, contact us today.

And for more educational and entertaining articles about the arts, education, and arts integration, keep checking back with our blog! 


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