A friend posted the link below to a lecture given by John Cleese on creativity:
This is one of the very best discusssions I have seen on what is scientifically understood about the mysterious process of coming up with original solutions or ideas. It is also one of the most practical - John Cleese is an astonishly brilliant guy, and evidently not just because of the Ministry of Silly Walks.
One of the key insights from this lecture that really rang true to me was the idea that creativity is a process of bringing together ideas or frames of reference such that a new meaning or solution is produced. Seen this way, a huge portion of our actions are somewhat creative. For example, simply drinking a glass of water from a glass you have never seen before involves taking the learned action of drinking a glass of water and applying it to the new situation with a new glass. The link in this case is easy but the fact remains that a connection was made within the new context. Of course, this is not what we usually call creative - but it seems that the difference between the glass of water and an unexpected insight that we would usually think of as true creativity is really a matter of degree: in the latter the parts that are brought together for the solution are conceptually further apart and not usually seen together.
This leads me to another resource that I was recently told about, The Creativity Web by Charles Cave that has an excellent section on Synectics:
Synectics is defined on the site as :
The term Synectics from the Greek word synectikos which means "bringing forth together" or "bringing different things into unified connection."
Max Ernst is quoted as saying that :
"Creativity is the marvellous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition"
As well as the discussion of syenctics and other relevant quotes, this website has an excellent list of "trigger questions" that are highly relevant to the artist:
The rest of the site is worth a look too.
Returning to the lecture by John Cleese, I found the distinction of an "open" mental state to the "closed" mental state particularly useful. Cleese describes the "open" state as one in which the mind is able to comfortably play with ideas and problems, and is allowed to make any connection, in the hope that a workable solution could be around the corner. In contrast, the "closed" mental state is about getting stuff done - often associated with a feeling of tension or mild anxiety, where working through in a linear way as efficiently as possible is desirable. As he points out, to be creative, we need to be able to get into both states - the open state in order to come up with new ideas, and the closed state while following through and bringing the idea into existence. Managing the two states seems to me one of the central problems for any creative pursuit.