Full text research essays

Research Essay Full Text:

“Arguments for a Homogenous Understanding of the Creative Process”



It is a truth universally acknowledged that humans do not choose to create unless they enjoy the process (Bronowski, 1985, p 245). This essay will argue that despite differences between the disciplines of art, design, and media, the fundamental process of creativity is a unifying factor that creates strong links between these areas. It is beyond the scope of this essay to address every theory regarding the creative process; therefore, this essay will limit itself to the traditionally-recognised creative process, focussing in particular on the incubation stage. Three points will be made in this essay: first, that the traditional theory of a four-stage creative process identifies a general unifying process within the creative industries disciplines of art, design, and media, although the process may vary. Secondly, this essay argues that despite differences between these disciplines, the unifying process of creativity has allowed strong links between these different areas. Finally, by offering specific examples from within the media discipline, this essay argues that in spite of creating in different genres, creative people share the incubation stage of the process.

Point 1: The four-stage theory identifies a general unifying process of creativity common to the disciplines of art, design, and media, despite variations in the process.

The traditional creative process described by Wallas (1945) (“four-stage process”) identifies four stages common to most creative disciplines(Davis, 2004, 121-124; CreativeIntensive, 2007): preparation in exploring and clarifying a field or concept; incubation, a fringe consciousness or unconscious activity related to the idea; illumination or the moment of discovery; and the verification of the result. The disciplines of art (meaning visual arts), design (including graphic design, fashion, and architecture), and media (IT and film industries), all demonstrate a form of the four-stage process.

Variations on the four-stage process do not affect its ultimate validity for the disciplines of art, design, and media. Designers have been described by the Markus-Maver model as having a creative process of analysis, synthesis, and appraisal, that loops back to re-analysis and re-synthesis before the final product is created and presented (Lawson, 2005, 36-7). Accordingly, designers return to the preparation phase (and perhaps preliminary verification) repeatedly throughout their creative process. Some designers follow the design-by-drawing method (Lawson, 2005, 26), and spend more time in the preparation and development phase; others follow the build-first method (Lawson, 2005, 18-20) and begin with a very simple end in mind, so that less preparation is necessary. Even improvisational artists consider preparation necessary, if only in the form of experimentation in the studio before making a public work or performance (Sawyer, 2000). For example, Picasso, an improvisational artist, performed a large number of preparatory sketches and smaller paintings before beginning “Guernica” (PBS Org, 1999). The same is true for media creatives: four stages experienced by an IT (media) team conform to a brand of the traditional process. These stages – idea generation, development, finalisation/closure, and evaluation (Nemiro, 2002, 75) – are not mutually exclusive, and activities in each stage often overlap and reoccur in various stages (Nemiro, 2002, 75). Where, as here, a creative process involves recursion between the four stages, the same process is nonetheless taking place.

Some models claim to argue against a homogenous creative process by classifying creativity according to motivation – whether a creative work is an expected response to external demand or a contributory and proactive response to an internal drive (Unsworth, 2001, 289-297). This primarily affects the verification stage. Expected creative products, such as those found in design and media, are requisitioned and verified in order to meet a specific need, whereas proactive or unexpected creative products, primarily found in the art discipline, – must be “sold” to external evaluators (Unsworth, 2001, 289-297). In art, genre can similarly affect verification. In classical figurative painting, the final product confirms the original mental image, while in abstract expressionism, the final product can be something quite different to that expected (Guillemin, 2010, 61). This arguably changes the end product, but not the creative process used to reach that end product.

Point 2: Despite their differences, artists, designers, and media creatives all demonstrate aspects of the unifying process of creativity, creating strong links between these disciplines.

Different tools are used in all disciplines. Artists have their paintbrushes, canvasses, chisels, or even found materials; designers have a drawing board, a computer, or even a ream of fabric; and media creatives have cameras and computers. However, this does not change the fundamental process itself. For example, architect Frank Gehry emphasises that old-fashioned designers such as him, who work with physical models, and the newer generation, who work primarily on the computer, both spend a significant amount of time in the preparation stage for creating a site model, striving to understand the client’s needs (Gagnon et al, 2011, 56).

Furthermore, different skills are used within each discipline. Architects, interior designers, and product designers require higher visual senses, and need to be able to draw well; engineering architects need higher numeracy skills without the same need for drawing skills (Lawson, 2005, 33), but they still typically go through the same kind of process in creative problem-solving.

One example of the strong links created between disciplines by the similar creative process is the growing overlap of disciplines in the job market (Jacobsen and Sondergaard, 2010, 80). An employer may hire a graphic designer and expect them to also do the job of a media website developer (Haukka, 2010, 22).

A seemingly opposite link created by the similarity of process is collaboration. All disciplines involve collaboration or social interaction at some point, whether as part of the verification of the product, or during the creation process itself (Florida, 2002, 22). Collaboration between disciplines is most easily demonstrated in the industry of film and media, which requires the collaboration of almost every creative industries discipline. For example, Alice In Wonderland involved not only actors, but also graphic artists, model-makers, fashion designers, composers, and screenwriters (Gagnon et al, 2011, 54-5). Remaining within the media discipline, photographers are often able to collaborate with their subjects on a project (Gagnon et al, 2011, 44). On a smaller scale, the character creation process in Kung Fu Panda 2 began with collaborative brainstorming; an idea was taken to the character designer; their sketches were then delivered to the production design team, who turned 2D hand sketches and photographs into 3D computer graphics, which were then animated by the animation team (Gagnon et al, 2011, 51). Collaboration is made easier for media creatives and designers by the internet (Nemiro, 2002), more so than for artists, who often require physical objects and spaces in order to produce, even collaboratively (Drake, 2003, 518, 519, 521). However, even artists can be collaborative when utilising new technologies such as computer art software (Fourmentraux, 2006, 45).

Point 3: Within the discipline of media, different examples share the key stage of incubation in the four-stage creative process.

Finally, this essay will examine three different examples of directors within the media industry. Although these directors work in different genres, and their personal backgrounds and work ethics may differ, each of them evidences the incubation stage as being key to their creative process.

Federico Fellini produced films between the 1940s and 1990s, most of these films being arthouse dramas. Fellini stated that for him, inspiration was always dependent on incubation periods, in order to make direct contact between the unconscious and rational mind (Stubbs, 2002, 120). He worked on multiple projects at once, so that while he was focussed on one idea, he was constantly aware of ideas coming that related to other projects. Fellini is often quoted as saying that many of his best ideas came to him while he was dreaming or daydreaming. In this way, Fellini confirms the mass of empirical research supporting the incubation theory that creative production and problem-solving can benefit from interruptions (Sio and Rudowicz, 2007, 308), rest breaks (Sio and Rudowicz, 2007, 307), or even periods of deliberate avoidance (Olton and Johnson, 1976, 617; Cai et al, 2009, 10131).

Tim Burton, most famous for the fantasies Alice In Wonderland and The Corpse Bride, stated of his own process (Gagnon et al, 2011, 55), “I don’t sit down and try to draw a character. I attempt to reserve some time each day for myself to sit and do nothing – stare off into space or doodle or whatever – just be in my own head.” Not only does he personally value this part of his process, but he has found that moments of illumination will sometimes come as a direct result. In this way, Burton is an example of a creative individual who utilises incubation as a strategy in their personal creative process (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, 58).

Jennifer Yuh Nelson, famous for her story direction in Kung Fu Panda and being director of Kung Fu Panda 2, speaks of the creation of an animated film as “a marathon” (Gagnon et al, 2011, 51), during which significant delays are expected as inherent in the process of production (Katzenberg, 2011). Kung Fu Panda 2 was a three-year process, from brainstorming and character development through to animation production and final polishing. This meant that there were inevitable periods where as director, Nelson was focussing on managing her teams of people (at times, 300 to 400 people) rather than on creating anything herself. This is an example of incubation experienced as an unwilling blockage (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996, 74; Isaksen, 1997, 38).

It is clear from these three examples that differences in genre do not affect the involvement of the key stage of incubation in the common creative process.


This essay has proven that: first, that a common four-stage process applies to the creative industries disciplines of art, design, and media. Secondly, in spite of differences between the disciplines, strong links are created by this unifying process of creativity. Finally, the incubation stage can be witnessed specifically within the discipline of media as being a key stage of the creative process.



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2.    Cai, Denise; Mednick, Sarnoff; Harrison, Elizabeth; Kanady, Jennifer; Mednick, Sara. 2009. “REM, not incubation, improves creativity by priming associative networks.” PNAS 106 (25): 10130-10134. June 23, 2009. Accessed May 20, 2011. http://www.pnas.org/content/106/25/10130.short

3.    CreativeIntensive. 2007. Wallas’ Four Stages of the Creative Process – 50 Team.Accessed May 10, 2011.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1Vzi_3Feag. Video.

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25.VanGundy, A. 1988. Techniques of structured problem solving. 2nd ed. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

One thought on “Full text research essays

  1. Pingback: Incubation: Creativity never sleeps… or does it? | TJ Withers-Ryan

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