Is being artistic genetic?

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In my humble career as a visual artist and colorist, I continually hear the reluctant statement from others longing to pursue some form of art, “But I am not creative like you.” That statement begs the question, is being creative-artistic genetic, or is it a learned discipline just any other activity?

A lot has been said about creativity sighting the neuron pathways in the brain that make an artistic temperament, explaining logical vs. intuitive approaches, left brain, right brain and so on…. All of that seems to be true, it makes sense and would reinforce the genetic component. However, I personally observe that attitude and social influence seems to have more impact on the artistic process than any genetic proclivity.  So it seems to me that…

…self confidence and the willingness to loose control allows one to give over to the creative process.

I believe that being creative-artistic does not mean that the end result is a sale-able piece of work but instead is an inspired process that may or may not produce and end result.  Using my own family as an example, I come from a long line of artists that produced many end results. Some of us were trained to be professional artists, others just dove in like myself. Some of the resulting work was acclaimed, some of it so-so but some of it was invisible being simply the artistic-creative process played out in everyday life.

If “good” art is measured by it’s end result, then some of us would not have been considered talented but all of us would be considered creative as that process poured over into all aspects of life. As my predecessors did, I grew up observing that free-form thinking leads to intuitive decision-making which sparks original creativity. Society supported that for me growing up in the unrestricted 1960’s and 70’s while I watched my parents battle their own urges caught between their formative 1950‘s Beatnik years and their perceived need to be “in control & fit” in suburbia rendering them barely comfortable where they fit and creativity was often stifled. Some of their struggles imprinted me resulting in often times my own repressed creativity.

My maternal Victorian great-Grandmother Nellie. She painted small water-color still-life’s. They were good. Who knows if she would have done more but the Victorian society dictated that women confine their artistic talents to parlor entertainment. Nellie Randolph_0002

My paternal great-grandmother Zena. She was a model and daringly modeled men’s clothes! Sadly she died at a very early age so I never knew her.  I always wonder…Zena

My free-spirited maternal grandfather Albert (AJ) Randolph in the roaring 1920s. Navy man, adventurer and finally self-employed artist. He was a sign painter, sculptor and photographer. His parents were entrepreneurs so given his formative years of thinking outside the box and the “roaring” part of the 1920’s it makes sense that he would feel more freedom to pursue creative and artistic endeavours.Nellie Randolph

My maternal grandmother Bernice LeMoine Randolph also was a water-colorist. There is very little of her painted work left to show but she also expressed creativity through massive colorful gardens sculpted carefully with hard scape.Bernice Randolph

AJ and Bernice’s children were also artists.

My mother Flora Jane worked for the US navy doing illustrations and air-brush retouch work (pre-Photoshop). She liked to tell how she worked right next to the men that would become the first Walt Disney artists. When she left the navy she had a glamorous career retouching print ads for the San Francisco Union Square department stores like Sacks. She gave it up to become a mother and suburban housewife but later returned to it as well as pursuing chinese brush and oil painting.  During her absence from making finished art, she filled our home with loads of boot-strappy creative touches; decoratively painted furniture & artistic arrangements of found objects with out-of-the-box color schemes.Flora Jane 1945 Navy

FJ’s sister, my aunt Nell, had perhaps the most successful & prolific art career of anyone in our family. Internationally known and making art everyday of her life, she choose a bohemian unencumbered lifestyle which I believe helped her have the freedom to express herself completely. My sister Nina maintains a website of Nell’s work with some limited-addition prints still available for sale.Nells-web-pic-259x300BasketFlowers1

FJ’s husband Bob, my father, also worked in the arts. He was a professional photographer, a print maker and lithographer. When he was doing this work, it was all done by hand without the aid of a computer using one’s own eye for judging artistic balance. His father was rather repressing and stern so maybe this was some of his hesitation when I was growing up. But maybe something was observed from his seemingly creative mother Zena that allowed him to pursue some arts.Young Bob Gorman

And the next generation down – my sister, myself and my cousin John – all have expressed ourselves creatively. John (observing his mother Nell’s lifestyle) was a graphic artist, fine artist, musician, chef and oozed creativity. My sister is a photographer, cartoonist, gardener and fabulous cook and of course there is me. And my children are jewelers, painters, musicians, writers, poets and highly intuitive as I have tried to provide them with an upbringing that encouraged their urges.

Certainly being creative-artistic has to do with self-expression and the confidence to do so.

So, is being artistic genetic? Or is it environmental? What do you think?

If you are interested in exercising your creativity, you might find my upcoming workshop interesting as I will address the process of getting into your creativity.

Additional resources:

Beth Frede at Creative Revelations coaches people on how to express themselves.

A new book which I hope to read soon…“The Confidence Code” by Claire Shipman and Katty Kay.

8 responses to Is being artistic genetic?

  1. donnaanddiablo

    I think every person has the ability to express herself in some form or fashion–through music, dance, fine art, writing, etc. I believe that some are born with an inherent predisposition to excel, but anyone can create–I’m challenged when asked to draw a stick figure, but I created some yummy cookies this weekend! 🙂 I think you’re absolutely right, Jane, it’s just a matter of having the courage to let go and let it flow…. 🙂 Thank you for sharing *your* creative roots–you’re certainly carrying on the family lineage in high style, my dear. xox

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    • janebalshaw Post Author

      No kidding you are an artist Karen!! WOW…that bathroom! Seems like everyone is weighing in on genetics…thanks for commenting.

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  2. Walter Weibrecht

    Hi Jane!

    I just read your piece on whether being artistic is genetic or not. To my mind you make a strong case for it being genetic. You cite all of those creative family members. Maybe the genetic trait you all inherited is risk taking,

    open mindedness and things like that. It is really the old “nature vs. nurture” debate. Having taken two psych courses in college I feel fully qualified to weigh in on this. If I had taken a whole bunch of psych courses I would probably feel much less sure of myself. So take this with a grain of salt. I feel that both nature and nurture play important roles in determining who we are. At the extremes, however, I think nature wins out. You can influence people greatly, but I don’t think you can take a “nice person” and turn them into a monster without taking really drastic steps which most of us have never experienced. In raising Thomas, I was always enthusiastic about nature and especially the myriad forms of plant life we would encounter in places like the Rockies or at the sea shore, etc., etc. He appreciates natural beauty to some extent, probably because I exposed him to so much of it, but he has not interest whatsoever in botany, just doesn’t care. On the other hand, he has a natural interest in math and was all eyes and ears when I did our taxes. He made out his own tax return when he was making money at his part time job in high school and he now has a BS in accounting. He doesn’t particularly appreciate form or color and strenuously fought all of our attempts to expose him to painting, sculpture, etc. even though he was surrounded by all of that growing up.

    So, yes, I think we have certain strengths (and weaknesses) and genetic predispositions, but the connections may not all be ultra obvious. Nurture can do a lot, but you have to have something to work with I guess is the way I would put it. Exactly what that “something” is can be harder to define.

    Keep those gray cells humming…….

    Walter

    ________________________________

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    • janebalshaw Post Author

      Here is an interesting thought Walter… can one be creative while doing math? I know that numbers are numbers but there are so many ways of calculating. Because I am a visual person, I “see” mathematical relationships and often times come to a calculated answer in an orthodox manner. The result is the same but the method is different. Creative? Jane

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  3. Irene Johmson

    Really interesting Jane – it’s like reading a good novel.   Love, Irene

    Like

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