9 Nov 2015
“One of the problems with being a bubbling source of creativity — it’s like I’m bubbling in a laboratory, and if you don’t put a cap on it, at one point it will, like, break the glass. If I can hone that… then I have, like, nuclear power, like a superhero, like Cyclops when he puts his glasses on.” – Kanye West, 2009
If there are three things in this world that are equal in complexity and have the ability to divide and baffle humans, they are creativity, the brain, and Kanye West.
While the self-proclaimed ‘most impactful artist of our generation’, has no doubts when it comes to labelling himself as a creative genius, just what is it that sparks creativity and what role does our brain play?
The left/right brain scuffle
Let’s talk about the ‘right brain is creative, sensual, passionate and left brain is rational, analytical and organised’ argument.
It’s completely false. A myth. It has been busted. Can we please move on now?
Creativity: it’s a whole-of-brain thing
The brain is an enigmatic, complex lump of an organ, and it must be getting pretty fed up with us saying things like “urgh, that brain only ever uses 10 per cent of its capacity”.
Your brain is keeping you alive AND coming up with all of “your” brilliant ideas. I assure you, 100 per cent of that mush is being used. EVEN WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPING, YOU SLACKER!
Similarly, the creative process is a complex set of circumstances that has been hard to define. But one thing we do know is that the entire creative process, from that spark of an idea through to the ‘eureka moment’, involves a myriad of interacting processes and emotions. No part of the brain gets left behind.
Thought the union of the Kimye empires was clever? Amateurs.
The definitive scientific smackdown for the left/right brain argument is the ultimate networking event going on in your brain every time you get those metaphorical creative juices flowing to solve a tricky problem.
The Executive Attention Network (the over achiever)
The brain calls on the outer regions of the prefrontal cortex and areas toward the back of the parietal lobe for tasks that involve focussed attention like concentrating on a lecture. This puts a heavy demand on your working memory.
The Imagination Network (the dreamer)
This network involves areas deep inside the prefrontal cortex, temporal lobe and a few parts of the parietal cortex. This clever dude calls on our memories and experiences and pairs them with the current circumstances to imagine how things might go down in a variety of circumstances.
The Salience Network (the all ‘rounder)
This guy is the ultimate relay runner, sprinting between both external events and internal streams of consciousness and passing the baton to whatever piece of info is most helpful to solve the problem at hand.
The brain knows how to werk, yo!
Creativity and all that jazz
Studies attempting to understand our brains have shown that creativity ramps up when our Executive Attention Network chills a tad and lets our Imagination Network do its thing.
In one study jazz musicians and rappers were asked to drop a bit of improv inside an MRI machine, monitoring their brain activity. In this case their Imagination Network hit the D Floor and busted out some seriously sweet moves, however, when they performed learned musical sequences requiring less creativity, such as scales, their Executive Attention Network took over.
Professor Rex Jung from the Mind Research Network, an expert in creativity and intelligence, believes we don’t necessarily have to be intelligent to be creative. This is an area of contention in neuroscience. While there is some literature linking the two, Professor Jung believes it’s a question of genetics. In an interview with the American Psychological Association he says that intelligence appears to be under tight genetic control. The intelligent brain looks different, it’s pumped up with bigger, thicker white matter and the wires are more insulated to make information travel faster, something not necessarily seen in a creative brain. He believes true genius, an over-used term, lies in having a rare combination of both intelligence and creativity, which brings us to the most contentious issue of all: is Kanye West a creative genius or just a dude who says a lot of really confusing things, with a knack for annoying the masses and being a bit of a jerk?
H8er Gon’ H8
Jack Williams, a journo and member of Mensa, an elite society for those in the top 2 per cent of the population’s IQ, told Nautilus that he believes many of his Mensan peers aren’t geniuses, just really, really smart. A true genius is an innovator who pushes boundaries. If the Imma Let You Finish incident at MTV’s VMA awards in 2009 has taught us anything, it’s that Kanye not only pushes boundaries, but doesn’t appear to even know they exist. Unfortunately for Yeezy, humility is another trait historically credited to many geniuses, something he doesn’t have much (any) of.
The internet has many opinions on The World According to Kanye, and no one believes Kanye’s genius more than Kanye. Love it, or hate it, his music is credited as being innovative within his genre. Even Lou Reed says so.
While this may be an argument for the ages which never gets settled, one thing’s for sure; Yeezy’s Imagination Network is more than likely off the hizzle.