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Creativity and Critical thinking

Why think about creativity, why think about anything at all?

First, let’s consider, what is critical thinking?

Critical thinking is about asking questions, it is about taking an analytical approach to thinking about what to believe in; it’s about thinking about what you think, what you hear, what you read and what you see. It is a way to illuminate bias, stereotyping, to quantify and qualify ideas and hypotheses. These ideas can be scientific or ideological, mathematical or philosophical, scholarly or everyday; everything benefits from a critical thinking approach. Critical thinking is a tool, a skill that makes us ask questions about the world we know, the culture we live in and existing belief systems. This is all too significant in today’s world of ‘fake news’.

Is critical thinking being negative?

No – in this instance ‘critical’ does not mean to criticise or to find fault with – it means to examine and enquire – it is an analysis, a self-directed enquiry or one’s own or others’ work, ideas, and actions. It’s about thinking clearly and rationally, it is about thinking what to believe, it is about thinking about thinking. This is called metacognition.

Cosmologist and philosopher Carl Sagan, calls it bullshit or baloney detection. In his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a candle in the Dark, he writes, about how we can all be lured in to thinking in certain ways through traditions, deceptions and advertising or product endorsements. In the chapter, The Fine art of Baloney Detection he writes his rules for thinking critically. If you read them, don’t forget to question them!
A photograph of Carl Sagan. he is resting his face on his hand and smiling.
Cosmologist and Philosopher Carl Sagan

But what about creativity and critical thinking?

If we want our work to be impactful we will do well to think critically about it, reflect on it, consider it, what worked well, what less so, what feedback did we get and so on. This is beginning to think critically about what we make, what we write and what so what we say. We are questioning and testing our making and our ideas.

This inquisitive approach encourages observation and experimentation, cornerstones for creativity and originality. The artist or illustrator can apply their growing knowledge about form, line, and colour for example. We can examine connotations, in context of history, the politics that surround us, activism and what we want to say. We can combine critical thining with semiotics to explore meaning.

Why is it relevant to creativity and illustration?

Through critical analysis and self-reflection, we can develop our practice, develop our skills – our technical aptitude and artistic imagination, our practical making and theoretical interpretations. Through critical thinking, we set ourselves creative and intellectual standards. Critical thinking sets us free, it is liberating and allows to make free from unpercieved bias and hidden assumptions – it unshakles us.

Through critical thinking, we can examine our society and its beliefs. We can examine these phenomena through the creative work of others, in historical and political contexts, and we can ask if, through our work, we perpetuate cultural ideas that we discover to be untruths.

Speaking up is hard to do

Do you have something to say but you don’t know how to say it or where to start? If you write or draw then you already have all the skills you need – you just need to find your voice, because speaking up can be hard to do.

Firstly, it is important to recognise that illustration is a form of speech; we can use it to talk about issues and ideas and reach a broad audience. Illustration uses elements of communication, like writing, to convey ideas about the world we live in.

I began to think about this after hearing a talk, “How to speak up for yourself” by social psychologist Adam Galinsky. He says that speaking up can be risky – we have all felt that unease – and sometimes speaking up has gone very badly wrong.

He says we can be punished if we speak up; we might be ridiculed or ostracised.

For an illustrator, speaking up can raise concerns about our work or message being ridiculed or dismissed. We can fear being labelled or risk categorising ourselves out of commissioned work. However, I believe that drawing and illustration can be significant tools for speaking up. Drawing is a result of observation, I see injustice and want to do something about it. Therefore, as part of my activism, as part of my speaking up, I can draw what I see.

Galinsky has some advice. He is a negotiations researcher but I listened with the ear of an animal advocate and illustrator. He says we need three things in place before we reduce the risks of speaking up. Firstly, we need to find our moral convictions, recognise them and know what it is that we want to speak up for, and why. Then, we need to be in a position of expertise; this may be as revered professional but being passionate about a topic is enough to have the expertise to speak up.

Use evidence to demonstrate your expertise, especially if you are speaking out about ideas that challenge the mainstream. Finally, we need social support; we need allies.

For me, that passion, that expertise is animal advocacy, illustration and the two combined; one as part of the other.

But who are my allies? They may be illustrators, artists, but they, you, are most likely to be animal advocates, vegans, anyone interested in animal rights and the intersectionality of those rights with other rights.


The artist is ultimately responsible to the animal

– Steve Baker


Further reading




Baker Steve., (n.d.) Representing Animals, What does becoming-animal look like? In: Rothwels, N., (ed) (2001) Representing Animals Theories of contemporary culture, Volume 26. Bloomington, Indiana University Press p.67

Galinsky, A., (2016) How to speak up for yourself [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 March 2019]

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