While it’s all too easy to get caught up in the daily stressors of life, stressors which can block one’s creativity, the nonprofit TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is “devoted to curiosity, reason, wonder, and the pursuit of knowledge,” can also be counted on for TED Talks that inspire creativity.
Here are four TED Talks with writers, illustrators, radio hosts, visual artists, and documentarians sharing their stories of creating art and how to unlock and nourish that creativity. These are the best TED Talks on creativity you’ll find, and they’re sure to make you approach art, and the world, in a different manner.
When The World is Burning, Is Art a Waste of Time? – R. Alan Brooks
Brooks has asked himself the same question for years: “When the world seems like it’s burning, is art really worth it?”
Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, R. Alan Brooks witnessed a political climate where white supremacy was all too accepted and common. Growing up with the dream of becoming a comic book artist, Brooks was discouraged by loved ones who believed there were more important things in life than art.
Having grown up in a world where boys like Emmett Till were murdered based simply on the accusation of a white person, Brooks’ parents came from a place of concern. Rather than having him make a name for himself and stand out, they felt he’d be safer if he stayed quiet and small.
Brooks grew up and decided to run an insurance agency but closed it a few years in after realizing he would be happier creating art. He wanted to use his graphic novel writing to address social issues he cared about and to inspire change.
At times, Brooks struggled with the idea that he was spending his time pursuing art while his friends took to the streets to march. However, during his travels to Berlin, Prague, Budapest, and Melksham, he saw that art could reach people worldwide and realized that artists could bring about change by using their craft to make a statement.
Brooks then realized that the change he had learned about was partly due to artists using their craft to make a statement. If Nazis and dictators destroyed books and paintings, it must mean that art scares people abusing their power.
He notes that Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s work inspired Gandhi, and Gandhi’s work inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Brooks asks how the civil rights movement in America would’ve been different if not for Tolstoy writing The Kingdom of God Is Within You.
Brooks returned from his travels and decided to write about police brutality, sexism, and racism, using his voice and art to inspire change. The graphic novel he was working on became The Burning Metronome, a supernatural murder mystery that gives individuals the choice to be kind or cruel.
His book was a success, and he witnessed how his art could make a difference. At a book signing, a police officer told Brooks that The Burning Metronome made him reconsider how he performed his job.
Brooks encourages his audience to inspire change through art. He says, “So I say to you now, if there’s any art you want to create if there’s something in your heart, if you have something to say, we need you now. Your art can be activism. It can inspire people and change the world. If you’re afraid, that’s OK. Just don’t let it stop you. Go make art and scare a dictator. Is art worth it? Hell yeah.”
4 Lessons in Creativity – Julie Burstein
With insights into the artistic experiences of filmmaker Mira Nair, writer Richard Ford, sculptor Richard Serra, and photographer Joel Meyerowitz, radio host Julie Burstein discusses creativity and what inspires it.
When writing her own book about creativity, Burstein realized she had to let go and immerse herself in other artists’ stories. And the stories brought her to the conclusion that creativity can and does grow out of everyday experiences.
She found that creativity and art often stem from life’s difficulties and letdowns, saying, “So experience and challenge and limitations are all things we need to embrace for creativity to flourish.”
We shouldn’t let our limitations control whether or not we create. Even if you feel like you can’t do something, leaning into that feeling can help you find your own voice.
Unfortunately, our limitations and experiences can lead to unforgiving circumstances; Burstein says, “In order to create, we have to stand in that space between what we see in the world and what we hope for, looking squarely at rejection, at heartbreak, at war, at death.”
Burstein goes on to say that writer and educator Parker Palmer calls that space “the tragic gap,” adding it’s tragic “not because it’s sad, but because it’s inevitable, and my friend Dick Nodel likes to say, ‘You can hold that tension like a violin string and make something beautiful.’”
Burstein holds that creativity is essential. Whether you’re a scientist, teacher, parent, or entrepreneur, we all have similar experiences, challenges, and losses — something beautifully creative can come out of it.
The Timeless, Ancient Language of Art – Wangechi Mutu
Kenyan visual artist Wangechi Mutu believes in the power of art.
After going deep into the Sahara desert to see prehistoric art, Mutu’s beliefs in art and creativity were affirmed. Mutu said, “Art is that ancient language that we’ve been using for longer than written text. We’ve left messages for each other using art. Messages that travel across the expanse of time and culture, reminding us where we come from.”
Art and creativity are not always just for fun. It stands as a reminder of the strife ancestors experienced. Art is timeless and limitless.
Mutu has sculpted women, showing how “the female body is a powerful sight onto which culture expresses its feelings of worthiness, of desire or distaste, of divinity or decrepitude, of belonging or loss.”
Art is, then, a representation of society, culture, and the times.
Growing up in Kenya in the 1970s, Mutu saw an authoritarian government that began to restrict freedom of expression. Preachers, artists, teachers, and journalists went missing, as the expression of art was too daring.
After feeling the invisibility of the Kenyan people, Mutu wanted to escape. And she did, “through her [my] mind, by creating art and imagining places I could go where I could communicate freely and fearlessly.”
Mutu then made a disorienting move to New York, where she made collages and paintings out of photos from books and magazines. She said, “It was my way of creating order and grace, a way to remember who and where I’d come from. Mending and healing in order to triumph.”
In discussing her own art, Mutu described her journey in sculpting various versions of women as “what allowed her [me] to move forward. It’s what gave me permission to re-examine my home and my family and my country from a distance. It’s making art that continues to remind me what freedom I was so desperately seeking.”
Art is the freest form of expression, and it is natural to us.
Mutu believes, “Our bodies once carried all of our art. Our bodies are our oldest museums.” She said, “Each of them a portrait of the resilience and the diversity of African women formed from these particles of mother continent.”
Art will lead us to where we want and need to be. And it will create spaces where artists can express themselves however they like. What is a better way to honor yourself and your history than to create art?
3 Stories of Pakistani Resilience, Told in Film – Jawad Sharif
Pakistani documentarian Jawad Sharif has always had a rebellious nature inside of him. Growing up in a conservative country, he wondered, “How can my country have such a richness of people and culture and yet so much darkness?”
This darkness inspired him to make documentaries, sharing the stories of communities that didn’t fit into the standard narrative of Pakistan.
Sharif shares three stories about resilience. Of Hassan Sadpara, the first Pakistani who scaled six 8,000-meter peaks, of Faqueer Zulfiqar, the only musician in Pakistan who plays borirndo, and of Sarah GIll, Pakistan’s first transgender doctor.
Sharif sees them as everyday heroes and is inspired by their stories. He strives to give a voice to them and any others who think and create outside of the norm.
The use of documentary is important to Sharif, saying, “Documentary is a space for debate, a space for dialogue, a means to challenge the darkness of this society. And there is so much darkness around us. Our internal fire and spark is the only way to eradicate it. And that is my power to continue.”
Have any of these stories sparked the urge to create in you?