Society (informed by neuroscience) has often associated creativity as a “right brain” activity. Artists, musicians, and other creatives are commonly thought to be right brained people, with engineers, scientists, and other detail oriented or analytical people assumed to be in the left-brain camp.
Wikipedia tells us:
“The truth is that both hemispheres work together on both logical and creative thinking. However, even though the two hemispheres work together, there is some hemispheric specialization. Usually, the right side of the brain dominates the functions to do with creativity, spatial awareness, appreciation of music etc. whereas the left side of the brain dominates analytical, language-based and logical functions.”
So, if both sides of our brain work together, can everyone be creative – even if they are dominated by their left brain?
Back when I was young and thinking about college, I knew that I needed to choose between being creative (as a potential music major) or being practical (as a computer science major). I ended up choosing the technical path. At the time, I saw this as a binary choice of one over the other.
However, after working in an IT career for more than 40 years, and over the last 18 years as an active artist, I see the world a bit differently.
I discovered early that I could have a technical career but still have creative outlets. Initially this was music, but later it became drawing, then watercolor, and then at the age of 50, I discovered glass.
At one point early in adulthood, after taking my first drawing class, I read a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which was meant to help left-brained people unlock their inner artist. This helped me realize I could tackle an activity with both sides of my head simultaneously.
In my IT work, I focused mostly on software design and project management… two traditional “left brain” activities. However, I found software design to be inherently creative. I was designing a behavior in a computer system that had to respect function, but also form. Beyond working correctly, good computers system should be easy to use and pleasing to look at. But for software developers, there’s an additional emphasis on writing software that is “elegant”… meaning software that is well designed, easy to understand by other developers, easy to modify as business needs change, etc.
If I hadn’t picked IT as a career, I probably would have chosen to be an architect… another field that seems to require a balance of functional/engineering correctness, with architectural beauty and a touch of artistic talent.
So for some time my interests have been somewhere between left and right brain – or perhaps more correctly, as a combination of both. Perhaps I’m able to switch back and forth more easily than some. I don’t think I’m the most visually creative person, and much of my work uses reference photos taken by other photographers. On the other hand, I have developed new and unique processes and techniques that have built on and expanded on what other glass artists have accomplished, to create new ways of working with enamel, glass, optics, and heat.
Beyond this, I have found that my background in business and engineering have helped me in the “business side” of my art practice… I’m organized, I can keep track of revenue, expenses, and inventory. And I can organize my techniques in a way that makes it easier for others to learn them. So I think that I’m often shifting back and forth between being creative, and being analytical and detail oriented.
I suspect that we all have both left brain and right brain activities, but at times might have difficulty shifting between them, or combining them. There are visual artists I know who create stunning, absolutely beautiful work but who struggle with the mundane activities of their business, or who maybe ignore their business altogether. So I’ve learned to recognize that my gift, if I can call it that, lies not so much in my ability to create art, but in my ability to manage the processes and share what I do with others.
But, back to the premise of this article, I no longer try to view the world as left or right brained. I’ve met many software developers who are also musicians, or painters who also run non-artistic businesses. One very good crossover example is Dr. Steve Immerman, a Wisconsin surgeon who also creates detailed and beautiful glasswork. He is well known for his strip cut bowls (where you see his surgical skills at work) but he often punctuates his work with free-flowing sections that defy planning or control. Check him out at http://immermanglass.com!
And many glass companies that we work with every day (manufacturers, distributors, and retailers) were started by artists who wanted to help other artists. Gil Reynolds (the owner of Fuse Master for many years) is also a fine artist and a great musician.
There are so many more examples of this. Dan Schwoerer, Ray Ahlgren, and Boyce Lundstrom were art school graduates who started Bullseye Glass. Nancy Weisser is a gifted artist in her own right, but also owns and operates Weisser Glass Studio. The list is long!
I believe that while much of what we do is determined by the wiring in our brains, there is still room for growth throughout our life. Just as we can go to the gym to train our muscles to work in new or better ways, we can train our brains to grow and develop. We can learn and grow creatively, organizationally, and in the ability to shift between the two.
- Who do you know that embodies both artistic expression and attention to detail, or possibly great business sense?
- What can we learn from those who seem to balance multiple skill sets?
- Is your left brain or right brain more dominant, and how can you allow your two hemispheres to work together?