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  • Ally Castle

5 things that 2016 taught us about creativity

It’s been quite a year. But, good or bad (unlikely to be indifferent), there are always lessons to learn.

Here’s five important things that 2016 has shown us loud and clear about creativity. And, by extension, humanity.

1. The creative expression of a few individuals can unite huge numbers of us

From David Bowie in January to Carrie Fisher in December, the artistic talent of those we lost this year reminded us just how much they meant to us. Whatever their personal stories or choices and whatever the circumstances of their deaths, these celebrities from the fields of art and culture will have a lasting legacy for those of us who ‘knew’ them in their hay day, and very likely to others who didn’t. I’ll be honest, I didn’t get the Prince thing. I was more affected by the loss of Victoria Wood. And George Michael? I felt that. So I downloaded his greatest hits and have been enjoying the artistry and skill in a different light. Somehow, I don’t take it for granted now. And I know I wasn’t alone. In a world that feels increasingly divided, creativity - and the grief at the loss of creative figureheads - can unite us.

2. Never underestimate the power of the simple and the positive

Whatever your politics, this was a great year for storytellers and rhetoric-makers who were able to keep things simple and upbeat.Take Donald and Nigel.Dongel, if you will.They are nothing if not direct communicators, with clear messages of hope and change.Whether they can deliver on them, of course, remains to be seen.Meanwhile their opponents dared to point out the nuance and balance, and in the case of the EU referendum, the somewhat pedestrian mantra of ‘safer, stronger and better off’ was dissected and put back together as the much more catchy ‘Project Fear’.The status quo always struggles, we know that.But it can also over-complicates, as if it knows too much.When faced with difficult choices, people love –need, even – a straightforward yet inspiring narrative.This year, the slogans of ‘make America great again’ and ‘take our country back’ won out (just).But 8 years ago it was three words of ‘yes we can’ that got Obama into office.Whatever side of the political spectrum, whatever the idea you are trying to convey: simple and positive is best.And semantics matters.

3. Creativity allows us the human need to put real life on pause

In a year of Brexit, Trump, Aleppo and Zika, when ambassadors are shot at point blank range, men drive lorries into crowds of people celebrating festivals and dictators carry out H-bomb tests, it would have been easy to get more than a little depressed and afraid. But as humans we can’t cope with all this tragedy and threat, especially now that technology streams it into our pockets on a minute-by-minute basis. It’s not that we ignore it or try to permanently escape it. But instead, we bathe, albeit briefly, in the creativity of others to lifts us out of that reality. We enter new worlds.

Over 11.8m of us met together in the glitter-strewn ballroom of Strictly Come Dancing, and 14m of us joined together in the hallowed Bake Off tent to watch three strangers bake some nice picnic food. Meanwhile 1.4m people bought a play script about a certain bespectacled wizard, we spent a collective £52.1m on seeing the prequel of some sci-fi film that was cobbled together 40 years ago in a galaxy far, far away, and more than 3m of us have paid to hear a songstress from Tottenham tell overly-haunting melodic tales of heartbreak, regret and resilience. Surely one person can’t have so much pain, especially one who became a millionaire aged 19?

We need the creativity of us to teach us, change us and challenge us, yes. But we also need it to free us from our difficult or mundane realities for a bit. Which is a reminder that even the most off-the-wall, nothing-to-do-with-the-real-world creativity can have purpose and significance for the very fact that it is so out there.

4. Natural beauty captivates

From the stunning footage of leopards silently stalking domesticated pigs in urban Mumbai, to close-ups of ninja jungle frogs protecting their young from evil, spawn-sucking wasps, Planet Earth II opened up new and unforgettable visual images this year. Meanwhile, Tim Peake sent back stunning pictures of the earth from above and got himself a very nice coffee table book out of it, thank you very much. Not only that, but the #nomakeup movement showed no signs of abating. Alicia Keys claimed she wasn’t going to take a one-off selfie, but instead adopt the natural look as a whole lifestyle and American Eagle’s Aerie lingerie line made a radical announcement that they would no longer retouch models in their ad campaigns. They saw a sales increase of 32% in the first quarter of 2016.

We are creatures who love aesthetics. And we appreciate real, unfiltered beauty. Why? Because it is authentic, it’s instinctively trustworthy, and we recognise both its familiarity and its uniqueness at the same time. Our ideas, whether in the form of art, content or products, could do well to borrow from this. Especially in a post-truth world.

5. Never underestimate the human capacity to create and innovate

Self-tying shoe laces, levitating light bulbs, Alzheimer-friendly tableware to “bring back the joy of sharing a meal together”. All this and so much more was brought to us as new in 2016. And that’s just in the world of product innovation.

Mix in the creative endeavors of the Turner Prize entrants, the Mercury Music prize nominees, the poetry slammers, the choreographers, the play writers, the problem solvers, the communicators, the YouTubers, and the app-makers. And then there’s the everyday tweeters, teachers, dreamers and makers.

Professionals or amateurs, we’re all at it. As I've written before, It’s what makes us human. Whatever the circumstances, however dire the predictions, we are still creating. Perhaps in 2016 more than ever. We are nothing if not resilient and optimistic. That should bode well for 2017 as well.

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