Imitation, Inspiration, and Creation: Cognitive Process of Creative Drawing by Copying Others' Artworks

Cognitive Science 41 (7):1804-1837 (2017)
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Abstract

To investigate the cognitive processes underlying creative inspiration, we tested the extent to which viewing or copying prior examples impacted creative output in art. In Experiment 1, undergraduates made drawings under three conditions: copying an artist's drawing, then producing an original drawing; producing an original drawing without having seen another's work; and copying another artist's work, then reproducing that artist's style independently. We discovered that through copying unfamiliar abstract drawings, participants were able to produce creative drawings qualitatively different from the model drawings. Process analyses suggested that participants' cognitive constraints became relaxed, and new perspectives were formed from copying another's artwork. Experiment 2 showed that exposure to styles of artwork considered unfamiliar facilitated creativity in drawing, while styles considered familiar did not do so. Experiment 3 showed that both copying and thoroughly viewing artwork executed using an unfamiliar style facilitated creativity in drawing, whereas merely thinking about alternative styles of artistic representation did not do so. These experiments revealed that deep encounters with unfamiliar artworks—whether through copying or prolonged observation—change people's cognitive representations of the act of drawing to produce novel artwork.

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