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TEDxUGA: Creativity is more than a state of mind

Kristen B. Morales

March 20, 2015

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One artist is prolific, producing dozens of pieces a year. Another spends months or even years on one piece.

Is one more creative than another?

This is the question addressed by College of Education graduate student Leon Tsao, who speaks March 27 as part of TEDxUGA. Tsao is one of two speakers from the College contributing to the day of thought-provoking talks, and will discuss the difference between eastern and western perceptions of creativity.

"In the west, there's an emphasis on creativity being about producing more and more things. In the east, the concept of creativity does not involve novelty; it's not about coming up with something new," said Tsao. "The idea is, it comes from nature, and if you follow nature, then you're creative."

Tsao, a graduate student in educational psychology with an emphasis on gifted and creative education, said growing up in New Jersey he experienced these two philosophical differences. But it don't mean western artists can't embrace eastern ideals. In fact, Tsao points out, modern artists often create with an eastern philosophy in mind. And even well-known artists, like Picasso, can work within an eastern philosophy of creativity.

"He would make an image of a bull, and make another drawing that is even simpler. And then he makes another drawing that is even simpler," said Tsao. "The idea is that he catches the essence of the bull. It takes energy, it takes creativity, to think of something that is simple."

That said, having more and more doesn't always translate to more creativity. In fact, the act of mass production can end up being mindless. These opposing ideas of creativity trickle down into schools and into everyday lives, affecting how we view others' work.

"In the east, when they produce calligraphy, there's a lot of emphasis on the meditative act—what your breath is like, what your brushstrokes are like when you're producing the artwork, what kind of energy you're producing," said Tsao.

Many modern poets draw upon this idea, focusing on simple, pared-down prose. This kind of writing—or, really, any simplified, process-focused method of producing something, also helps the artist have a clear, healthy mind.

That's another way Tsao connects with creativity. He's quick to ask what your passions are, and wants to help you find a path that satisfies your own creativity, no matter what drives it.

As he transitions out of graduate school and finishes his thesis, Tsao is focusing on ways to enhance this cleaner, healthier way of thinking among young adults. Along with creative projects involving poetry, Tsao enjoys working with people to help them realize their creative potential.

"I'm very focused on psychological health, and what I want to teach in school is how people can be healthy," he said. "And I want to be a good advisor, too. I want to hear people's stories and make their dreams come true."

Note: Tickets for TEDxUGA 2015 are sold out, but the event will be streaming live. Visit the TEDxUGA website for details on how to watch.