The Creative Gene: Some People Are Born (And Raised) To Be Artists

by Dan Scotti

For about as long as you can remember, the idea of a desk job has made you cringe.

Sure, working a nine to five, with your own cubicle, and a water cooler to make small talk at, sounds “secure” – at least that’s what you’ve been told – but that’s simply not how you operate.

You believe life should imitate art, not whichever job provides for the safest retirement plan. You have a vision -- a strong one -- you’d like to show the world; you don't want to push someone else's agenda..

And it’s not because you’re incapable of following directions, either, it’s just you’d rather paint outside the lines of the status quo.

You’re a creative, whatever that even means. You chase inspiration like a shot of cheap vodka, and once you find it, it seems to intoxicate you, just the same.

While your friends might think you became this way, over time – from listening to an excess of Bob Dylan vinyls, or Bob Ross painting tutorials – you know that’s not the case.

You didn’t wake up one morning feeling any more “creative” than you did the day before.

As far as you’re concerned, you’ve been this way since birth and, in the light of some new research, you might be right.

According to David Cox of The Guardian, “Everyone can learn to be creative to some degree, but new research has revealed that the extent to which we're born creative may be greater than previously thought.”

In other words, there’s now evidence that “creativity” is a quality that can be passed down from one generation to the next, in line with the concepts of trait inheritance.

This is a slightly different view on creativity than we had previously been told, through the research of Kenneth Heilman, two years prior.

Heilman, as described in Cox’s article, previously suggested there is one specific feature of the brain that is shared among most “creative” people – specifically artists, musicians and, yes, even writers: a smaller corpus callosum, which “may augment their creativity by allowing each side of their brain to develop its own specialisation.”

Cox, on the other hand, feels that this is an oversimplification of what manifests itself as “creativity,” and in his opinion, the answer lies in our genetic codes.

Expanding on the topic, Szabolcs Keri of the National Institute of Psychiatry and Addictions in Budapest, proposed that, “creativity is not only about divergent thinking but also generating endless associations.”

By brain “connectivity,” Keri is referring to the ability of different parts of the brain to communicate with one another, and this plays an important role in the “originality, fluency and flexibility,” of one’s thought processing.

According to Cox, the connectivity of creative thinkers’ minds is far more widespread throughout the brain, and it is typically left in the hands of genetics to predetermine the development of the brain’s framework.

In such a way, “these genes reduce inhibition of emotions and memory, meaning that more information reaches the level of consciousness.” This is why certain people are seemingly able to express themselves better, and in ways different than, those less inclined toward creativity.

A separate study, published in PLoS ONE a year earlier, provided reason to believe that there might actually be one specific set of genes responsible for many creative tendencies.

The experiment, conducted by researchers from the University of Helsinki, set out to find a possible link between musical-creativity and the human genome.

What they found was a special “cluster” of genes associated strongly with creativity in music and, moreover, this cluster of genes belongs known to play a large factor in creating new brain connections – which is in consonance with Cox’s theory of brain-connectivity regulating creativity.

Shifting gears, it is also important to consider the case made by mental disorders, with regard to creativity and genetics.

According to Cox, and the research of Swedish scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm over the past half-century, whereas certain types of severe mental disorders are known to stunt cognition and creativity – such as schizophrenia – bipolar disorder is typically found in people more inclined toward creative tasks.

“It is totally in accordance with life histories of famous people like Churchill, Beethoven and Hemingway who have all shown bipolar-like patterns,” Szabolcs Keri notes. “In bipolar mania, you have an excessive fast and divergent thinking, increased self-esteem, and never-ending energy and motivation, often to create.”

The important thing to consider here, however, is that the relatives of these patients with neuropsychiatric disorders ALSO tended to be more creative.

Cox explains that, although these relatives may not have been handed the illness, genetically, they may very well have been handed the “underlying gene mechanisms” responsible for their creativity.

Ultimately, creativity is a difficult term to qualify. If you consider your parents to be creative and are now left wondering why you’re not – think again. You might just be living a lifestyle that doesn’t promote creativity or any of your innovative-impulses.

I believe creativity is found in everyone, and probably is passed down from our parents, however, it is up to each and every one of us – individually – to find ways of letting it shine through.

Take the Buckleys, for instance. Tim Buckley, one of my favorite musicians, was – for lack of better phrasing – a completely off-the-wall thinker. I mean, you talk about creativity, this guy had it in bunches.

Before he passed away, at the age of 28, he left behind two sons. Of those two sons, only one went on to became a musician – Jeff, and he was equally as creative and brilliant as Tim was.

What I find particularly interesting, however, is that Jeff was only 9 when his father passed. With regard to creative innovation, and musical thought, I doubt Jeff could've learned all that much from his father – at least directly – at such a young age.

I'm not so sure there's any deal of science that could present a stronger case for creativity, as a hereditary trait, than Tim and Jeff Buckley.