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What Picasso Taught Me About Creativity

Picasso wasn’t just one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. He wasn’t just a celebrity with a personal life to put a rock star to shame. And he wasn’t just a multi-millionaire who owned his own castle. He was also a model for creative types looking to build their own successful careers. This is what the Spanish master can teach us all about creativity:

1. Make the Right Friends

Picasso was lucky enough to be born into an artistic family. His father was a painter, a professor of art and the curator of a local museum. He might not have picked his Dad, but his friends he chose himself. They included the surrealist writer André Breton, the journalist and poet Max Jacob, with whom he shared an apartment in Paris, and the painter Henri Matisse.

We tend to think of creativity as happening alone, the result of unexpected and uncontrollable inspiration. Often though, that inspiration comes from rubbing shoulders and sharing conversations with other creative types who explain what they’re working on and describe how they see the world. There was a reason that Paris was a magnet for creative types at the beginning of the twentieth century. Working alongside other creatives, perhaps in coworking spaces, and networking online with designers, artists, illustrators and writers might not be the same as sipping absinthe in Montmartre but it might just provide a similar burst of original thoughts and a sense of heightened competition.

2. Build a Clear Brand

Picasso’s development is usually divided into distinct periods, with his earliest Blue Period running from 1901 to 1904. Said to be inspired by the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas (although there’s some dispute about that), Picasso turned to melancholic subjects and a blue-grey palette.

The period didn’t last long but it did help to give Picasso a clear brand. His work was distinctive, in contrast to the more modernist works that he had produced earlier, allowing buyers and dealers to know what to expect and where to sell it. By the time the Blue Period ended — and Picasso had moved on to a brighter Rose Period — he was already the favorite of collectors Leo and Gertrude Stein who became his patrons.

Creativity can come in many forms, and creative types can express themselves in many ways. But focusing on one theme — at least for a while — can help to clarify who you are, how you work and what you offer. Designer Chuck Anderson, for example, might be versatile but companies approach him for his psychedelic colors  and light patterns.

3. Reinvent Yourself

After the dourness of Picasso’s Blue Period, his Rose Period, with its lighter colors and harlequin symbols, should have been something of a surprise. It was over by 1906 but covered the time when the artist was conducting an affair with his young model, Fernande Olivier.

It also marked a significant change in his style. It’s unlikely that Picasso was thinking about branding or that he realized he was creating a career pattern that would be copied by the likes of David Bowie, Madonna and Lady Gaga, but in reversing the style he had already used and for which he had become known, he showed that he was more than a one-trick pony and demonstrated that his creative ideas and skills were worth watching — even by people whose favorite color isn’t blue. Branding yourself with a single idea can be helpful, but don’t be afraid to break out with a completely new identity and look before it gets old.

4. Find Unusual Sources of Inspiration

Picasso is best known as the founder of Cubism, with his Les Demoiselles D’Avignon regarded as the first Cubist work. Picasso himself described his shift in style not as inspiration but a “revelation” that struck him while looking at African art at a museum of ethnography.

That source of inspiration didn’t come out of nowhere. As the French were expanding into Africa, the country was experiencing an interest in the continent and its culture, but the idea that works that would then have been considered primitive had something to say to Europe’s creative classes was still novel.

Today, cultures are more connected and there’s little that isn’t available with a mouseclick. But it is still possible to look towards the unfamiliar, the neglected and the forgotten in an attempt to breathe new life into your styles. If the nineteenth century can turn Goths into steampunks, what could other historical periods do for your look?

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Try Something New

In 1949, Picasso took part in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s 3rd Sculpture International. For an artist best known for his painting, Picasso’s willingness to branch into sculpture (and he even extended his range to pottery) could have been something of a risk. It certainly demanded plenty of confidence. But it also allowed him to reach new markets, to take on new challenges and see what else he can do.

He might have failed, and bold experimentation is easier to do when your name is established and you’re keen to keep it fresh, but there is something to be said for website designers being willing to turn to print, and illustrators picking up a camera. The result might not always be great successes but the attempts could spark a whole bunch of new ideas.

6. Create a Catchy Name

Picasso was a great artist with plenty of talent. He had an ability to create distinctive works, a willingness to change  his styles, an eye for surprising sources of inspiration, and the courage to try new things. All of those habits and qualities are worth emulating for any creative worker.

But he also had a catchy one-word moniker. If he had kept to his original birth name of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, he might not have got so far or been so easy to remember if he had. It was a lesson learned by graffiti artist Banksy, and while you might not want to chop yourself down to a single name, you should have an easily identifiable brand.

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