How To Be Creative

A speech delivered by Mariapaola McGurk at the unveiling of the Reseurgence Art Murals at Henley Business School on the 23rd of May 2019.

When I was a full-time painter, painting commercial buildings, casinos and residential homes many people would come and watch me paint out of interest. I would be up and down scaffolding, in an overall covered in paint and using my hand as a palette mixing colours and painting. The most common comment I got from viewers was: ‘I can’t even draw a stick man!’. Repeatedly people would make this comment, second only to: ‘I wish I could have so much fun when I worked.’

Mariapaola in her UJ FADA studio

These comments really frustrated me! The reason they frustrated me was that the amount of work, studies and commitment that I had gone through to get to that level in painting was undermined. The assumption that to be a painter was purely based on talent and creativity could not be further from the truth. Being a painter is not being creative! Being a painter is learning the skill of painting. Most painters have studied this skill or been apprentices for years. In my case I did both, I studied Visual Arts and then worked for a small art company.

At this company I painted 8am – 5pm, often working overtime to finish a project. My first job at the company was to paint clouds. Yes! That was my job! I painted metres and metres of clouds onto large boards that were to be installed as celling panels. Hours and hours of repeating the same thing, day after day painting white clouds on shaded blue backgrounds. For almost 10 years I painted full time, and in the evenings, I often studied anatomy for artists, learning how muscles and bones influence the structure of a body. Now please explain to me – where does creativity or talent come into thisR

You see – creativity is not being an artist and the assumption that all artists are creative is often not true. I know many artists who are narrow minded in their thinking, conservative in their approach and predictable in their outcome. They have learnt elements of a skill and can be acknowledged for that, but they have not shown elements of creativity.
Most people assume that the output is creativity – They say they are not creative because when they think of creativity they think of their favourite actor, or a top musician or a great artist and because they do not have that output they assume that they are not creative.

Being a full time painter was not always fun and there were days that I hated my job and was deeply bored. How many Tuscan landscapes and trompe-l’oeil or Renaissance reproductions can one person do, while clients assume that this is the epitemy of creativity – never realising that I have painted ten similar jobs in the last year! When I painted those images, I was showing a high level of skill but the images, the concept and the process that the original artist went through to derive that image I did not go through.

I remember painting a Bellini Mural. Giovanni Bellini was a very famous Renaissance artist. The artwork had 16 figures and a donkey. It was the entrance hall to this mansion in Bedfordview. The mural was about 4 metres in length and the artwork intimidated me! I painted at that site for over a month analysing every element of the artwork. The artwork is titled ‘Feast of The Gods’ and was one of Bellini’s last major works, completed in 1514. The painting shows the attempted rape of Lotis during a festival in honour of Liber. Priapus tried to rape her while she slept but she was awoken by a donkey and Liber managed to run away. Priapus was left standing there in complete embarrassment because the donkey and woken up all the other guests that had fallen asleep.

Reproduction of Bellini Feast of The Gods
Giovanni Bellini – Feast of the Gods

The work was very unusual for Bellini as he usually painted religious scenes and this work was a mythological story. The painting had an interesting composition with the main characters almost squashed in the right-hand corner and most of the painting taken up by the sleeping guests and donkey. Although a commission, Bellini had to use his creativity to decipher what images he would be working with, what the value of that story was to him and how he would go about presenting the composition. This then moved over to his incredible skill with portraying people using oil painting.

Now back to me – reproducing this artwork. The content had no relevance to me or my understanding of the world. The style of painting was hundreds of years old. The meaning was lost, and I had no say or control over key points such as composition, colour use, facial expressions, etc. I was copying a printed image of the famous artwork.
Bellini used creativity. I used skill. Although the intention was to have the same output, the process to get to that output was world’s apart between myself and Bellini.

Creativity does not lie in the output – creativity lies in the process. It is not a set task that you can achieve but an approach to how you live, why you live and what you want from this life.

Creativity is an individual journey and if you want to become creative you need to remove the barriers. Creativity is unjudgmental, analysing, doodling, experimentation, failure, critical thinking and – above all else – allowing yourself and your ideas, to have a space in this world.


Creativity is a tool that everyone has. That does not mean everyone is going to play music like Hugh Masekela because you do not have that skill, experience or commitment that he had, but it is a tool that will have an impact on your life, your work and the value you place on being alive.

It is a tool that is utelised for innovation, for the arts, for development of new strategies in business but it is not a tool that can be demanded of.
It is rebellious and free.
If you want your team to be more creative – invest in their confidence, make them realise that their ideas matter and their mark in the world can have an impact on the world.

12 Artists were chosen out of 80 applicants to paint the pillars of Henley. They were all given one theme – RESURGENCE. These pillars stand as a visual reminder of how unique each individual really is. If you had 100 artists, you would have 100 interpretations of the theme. Each artist comes from their context, their history and their interpretation of the world – and that leads to their creativity. Whenever you walk in this courtyard what you should realise is the value of embracing your own ideas. The value of failure. The value of giving yourself the space and permission to tap into your creativity like all these artists have done.

Couryard of Henley Africa
Mariapaola McGurk surrounded by Henley organisers, TCC staff, friend and Resurgence artist

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