5 TED talks to spark your creativity

Above: Blue Pheasants, artwork from the Vintage Chinoiserie series.

Sometimes I think there’s a TED talk for everything. Seriously! If you’re not already familiar with TED talks, they are curated events where people are invited to talk about “Ideas worth spreading.” It started off as a conference on Monterey, California focused on Technology, Education, Design. Now, TED talks are held all over the world covering every topic imaginable.*

Here I’ve collected 5 TED talks that will spark your creativity. If you really want to pursue your creative dreams, you probably have lots of reasons why you’re not doing it. Well, all these talks are about how you can put aside your excuses and start creating. The only person stopping you is you.

So indulge in just a few more minutes of procrastination by watching these videos – and then hopefully you’ll be inspired enough to launch right into your creative project!

Janet Echelman, Sculptor: Taking imagination seriously (9 minutes)

I’m a big believer that when it comes to creativity, there should be no excuses. Reasons, sure, but never excuses. Artist Janet Echelman was rejected from seven art schools, but didn’t let that stop her. She went on to work as a painter for ten years. On a scholarship to India, she found that her paints had been lost. Again, she wasn’t daunted, but started to work with fishing nets. Now she makes incredible and massive sculptures using this ancient craft.


Takeaway: Don’t have your favourite notebook? Draw on a receipt. Can’t find your 4B pencil? Use a permanent marker instead. Your materials don’t define you. Work with what you have and you will always be able to work.

Alexa Meade, Painter: Your body is my canvas (7 minutes)

Creativity is about finding magic in the mundane. For Alexa Meade, that was shadows. She was fascinated by the shapes that shadows make and how they change over the day. She wanted to capture them in a new way, something more than just a photograph. So after graduating with a degree in political science, she ditched a Washington career and instead taught herself how to paint. She focused on space and light and let her imagination follow.

Now, Alexa is constantly experimenting with form. What happens if you paint a person in a bath full of milk? When things go wrong or unexpected results happen, she works with them.


Takeaway: Creativity is a journey. Don’t fight with perfection. Sometimes going with the flow or working with flaws will create works of breathtaking beauty. Always look beyond the shadows.

Tim Urban, Blogger: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator (14 minutes)

Tim Urban is the author and illustrator of the hilarious (and insightful) blog Wait But Why. This talk isn’t so much about creativity, but it’s about how we use procrastination to stop us living the creative life we want.

A few years ago, Tim wrote a post called Why Procrastinators Procrastinate. Tim says that procrastinators are governed by an Instant Gratification Monkey which sends them on YouTube binges instead of working on projects. Sound familiar? After he published the post, he received thousands of emails from people who felt that procrastination was a genuine life-changing problem for them.

This got him thinking about long-term procrastination. If you’re trying to be more creative, there is no deadline. You can keep putting it off forever. “Long-term procrastination,” Tim says. “Has made them feel like a spectator, at times, in their own lives. The frustration is not that they couldn’t achieve their dreams; it’s that they weren’t even able to start chasing them.”


So ask yourself – what’s really stopping you from kickstarting your creativity? Maybe your answer is fear, or imposter syndrome, or lack of inspiration, or a lack of time. Are these real reasons? Or are they the excuses of a master procrastinator? 

Takeaway: Don’t waste your time procrastinating when you could be creating!

Julie Burstein, Radio host: 4 lessons in creativity (17 minutes)

Julie Burstein talks to creative people a lot for her radio shows and books. Here she offers a distillation of all that knowledge in four lessons.

The first of these is to be open. There are amazing experiences all around you. I would add to that and say – don’t limit yourself. Every time you place a limitation – an “I won’t” or an “I can’t” – you are stifling creativity. I’m not talking about creative limitations, which Julie talks about too – things like trying to write a poem without using the letter ‘E’, for example. That’s fun and can open up possibilities. I mean negative limitations like, “I can’t call myself an artist, I just paint a bit” or “I want to be taken seriously so I can’t create anything humorous.” 

Julie also talks about the importance of embracing challenges and working with your real limitations (not your self-imposed ones). The difficulties in your life and your creative process help to define you. Don’t hide from those challenges and don’t be ashamed of them.


Finally, understand that loss is a part of creativity too. Artworks won’t turn out the way you expected. Beauty can be found in heartbreak. A broken object can be turned into something extraordinary. 

Takeaway: When you are open, you can face challenges, limitations and loss with creativity. Pick up the pieces, start again, and create something new.

Young-Ha Kim, author: Be an artist, right now (16 minutes) TEDx talk

I couldn’t resist finishing with this one. Go on! Be an artist right now! As Young-Ha Kim says, you probably have a hundred reasons why you’re not being one. “We don’t know why we should be artists, but we have many reasons why we can’t be.”

There are so many amazing quotes in this talk. All kids are producing art all the time, sometimes which only their parents can tolerate. But it doesn’t matter, they just keep making it. All play is art. All questions are creative explorations. 

As we become adults, we start to feel restrictions. “If you continue to act like an artist as you get older, you’ll increasingly feel pressure — people will question your actions and ask you to act properly.” So how can you, as a creative person, ignore those people? How can you stop your inner artist from suffering from jealousy or impotency? And how do you silence the nagging devil that tells you that you can’t?


The answer is easy. “Right this minute, we can turn off the TV, log off the Internet, get up and start to do something.”

That’s it. Just start. Do something. So what are you waiting for? Go and be an artist right now!

Takeaway: Just do it!

*An official TED talk is one that’s part of the conference held twice a year by the non-profit organisation TED. This organisation empowers many community organisations around the world to hold their own local events, these are known as TEDx talks. 


By Valerie Khoo

August 6th, 2019
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