Boredom and creativity

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 27 Jul 2021

Before you rush to fill every moment of your child's summer with activities, we would encourage you to reflect on the value of boredom.

A behavioral science study from 2013 found that: "Boredom is a discrete functional emotion, and serves to encourage people to seek new goals and experiences. Boredom provides a valuable adaptive function by signaling it is time to pursue a new goal."

A wealth of research has reached similar conclusions. A 2019 study argued that boredom prompts people to seek new states and experiences, even if those experiences may be negative (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29578745/).

Boredom is a useful state, cultivated by many highly accomplished individuals.

"When I'm ironing, that's when I do most of my work," said American choreographer George Balanchine (1904-83). He preferred to do his own laundry, making it an essential part of his morning routine.

The recipient of the Legion d'honneur and the Presidential Medal of Freedom also gathered his thoughts by rising before 6am with a pot of tea, and reading or playing Russian solitaire before calling his long-time assistant at around 7.30am for the day's schedule.

Most weekdays would see him taking the five-minute walk from his apartment to New York's Lincoln Center, where he had an office with the State Theater.

He usually taught a class at 11am before spending most of the afternoon in rehearsals. Two hours of work might yield only two minutes of finished ballet, but Balanchine never lacked inspiration.

Nevertheless, factored into this incredibly tight schedule is the space to be bored.

Laundry had a function: to let the mind wander and embrace creativity.

Fellow New Yorker Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003) did a full day in his studio every day until his death at the age of 99. Apart from the telephone, the American caricaturist maintained an isolated life.

Each night when he wasn't at home having dinner with friends, he drove himself to the theater district using his own system to make preliminary sketches in the dark, which he would transform into finished works the following day.

His second wife claimed that the artist even worked in his sleep.

Difficult creative problems tended to keep him awake, but when he did finally succumb, he would find the solution in his dream. He would then rise at first light, rushing to his study while trying to hold on to his nocturnal solution.

In this case, boredom was cultivated by exclusion of stimulation and a rigorous routine, allowing the artist to reliably solve the problem.

Again, science supports anecdotes, and a 2012 study argued the case for boredom as a method to stimulate attention (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26168505/).

Not only is boredom a fact of life, it may be an intermittently beneficial state to encourage in children.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us: enquiry@brightentestprep.edu.hk



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