Why think about creativity, why think about anything at all?

First, let’s consider, what is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is about asking questions, it is about taking an analytical approach to thinking about what to believe in; it’s about thinking about what you think, what you hear, what you read and what you see. It is a way to illuminate bias, stereotyping, to quantify and qualify ideas and hypotheses. These ideas can be scientific or ideological, mathematical or philosophical, scholarly or everyday; everything benefits from a critical thinking approach. Critical thinking is a tool, a skill that makes us ask questions about the world we know, the culture we live in and existing belief systems. This is all too significant in today’s world of ‘fake news’.

Is critical thinking being negative?

No – in this instance ‘critical’ does not mean to criticise or to find fault with – it means to examine and enquire – it is an analysis, a self-directed enquiry or one’s own or others’ work, ideas, and actions. It’s about thinking clearly and rationally, it is about thinking what to believe, it is about thinking about thinking. This is called metacognition.

Cosmologist and philosopher Carl Sagan, calls it bullshit or baloney detection. In his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the Dark, he writes, about how we can all be lured in to thinking in certain ways through traditions, deceptions and advertising or product endorsements. In the chapter, The Fine art of Baloney Detection he writes his rules for thinking critically. If you read them, don’t forget to question them!

A photograph of Carl Sagan. he is resting his face on his hand and smiling.
Cosmologist and Philosopher Carl Sagan

But what about creativity and critical thinking?

If we want our work to be impactful we will do well to think critically about it, reflect on it, consider it, what worked well, what less so, what feedback did we get and so on. This is beginning to think critically about what we make, what we write and what so what we say. We are questioning and testing our making and our ideas.

This inquisitive approach encourages observation and experimentation, cornerstones for creativity and originality. The artist or illustrator can apply their growing knowledge about form, line, and colour for example. We can examine connotations, in context of history, the politics that surround us, activism and what we want to say. We can combine critical thining with semiotics to explore meaning.

Why is it relevant to creativity and illustration?

Through critical analysis and self-reflection, we can develop our practice, develop our skills – our technical aptitude and artistic imagination, our practical making and theoretical interpretations. Through critical thinking, we set ourselves creative and intellectual standards. Critical thinking sets us free, it is liberating and allows to make free from unpercieved bias and hidden assumptions – it unshakles us.

Through critical thinking, we can examine our society and its beliefs. We can examine these phenomena through the creative work of others, in historical and political contexts, and we can ask if, through our work, we perpetuate cultural ideas that we discover to be untruths.