Recap Creativity and Neuroscience Workshop: Film Screening Why Are We Creative?

For this month’s edition of our Creativity and Neuroscience meetup at >top in Schillerkiez, we had a film screening of Hermann Vaske’s thought-provoking film “Why are we Creative?”

For nigh on 90 minutes, the director took us on a travel through time and space (30 years all over the globe) to hear directly from the horses’ mouths “Why are you creative”- or words to that effect.

The catch was these aren’t any old horses, but rather the finest or at least the most well-known horses in the world. From Stephen Hawking to Marina Abramovic, Björk to the Dalai Lama each prestigious being had but a few seconds to share insights into their creativity.


Before the film began, everyone was given a piece of paper to answer privately why they are creative. These were used later for material to discuss. We even had a few on display, an idea which was inspired by the exhibition from the film.


Director Hermann Vaske in front of the exhibition of the same name showcasing the answers in print of some of the respondents.

About 30 people joined for the screening and the follow-up discussion. The discussion started with our regular social element; the “speed meeting”. However, as well as the usual prompts of “who are you?” and “what brings you to the blend of neuroscience and art?”, everyone was encouraged to speak about their answer to the question posed in the film.


After a few rounds of speaking one-on-one or in small groups, we rejoined to get feedback on the film and consequent thoughts.

In general, the film was well received and provided much food for thought. The premise of the film is a collection of answers to the name in the title. The question is a difficult one because it can be taken many ways, although it is perhaps telling which way you choose to answer the question. Some celebrities answered “how did you become creative?”, others “what are you creative for?”.

The reception was not without reservations. One critique of the film we discussed was the perpetuated exclusivity in portraying only a particular group of successful creatives (white males) while omitting not-so minorities who struggle to get seen or heard in their fields. This was concluded to be both a reflection of the director and of society we live in, and who they still consider to be worthy of success and fame.

So, why are we creative? And can neuroscience tell us anything about the drive to be creative?

Cognitive neuroscientists have been attempting to understand the neural mechanisms behind creative insights for years. The 3 main methods used by cognitive neuroscientists to study creativity are fMRI, EEG, and PET (Sawyer, 2011) (there will be an article on the creative methods used by neuroscientists in the following weeks as a recap of our June meetup). However when it comes to writing a hypothesis, there are probably as many definitions of creativity and ways to be creative as there are creative people.

Supposedly, there are four basic types of creativity, each one controlled by separate neural circuits as reviewed in a paper by Sawyer (2011). These neural circuits are proposed to terminate in the prefrontal cortex, as creativity is a conscious process and the prefrontal cortex holds the output of working memory.  (The prefrontal cortex is an evolutionarily young portion of our brain, used for higher-order processes.)

“A basic assumption of the framework is that neural circuits that process specific information to yield noncreative combinations of that information are the same neural circuits that generate creative or novel combinations of that information,” writes Sawyer. So we all have the capacity right? Well, there have been studies that show differences in creative ability.

One way we can view “how people are creative” is by assessing the way they search for solutions to problems from their semantic memory (knowledge and facts) (Kennet & Austerweil, 2016). According to Baird et al (2012), differences in memory structures facilitates mind wandering to associate distant connections which are consequently assessed for their appropriateness (Christoff, 2013; Sawyer, 2011). This can lead to novel insight and combinations. It is known as a bottom-up approach in the creative process and can differentiate between low and high creative-types (Kenett, Anaki, & Faust, 2014) -whatever those are.

This leads us nicely to the topic of next month’s meetup on the 20th of November at <top, Schillerpromenade 4, 6-9pm, where Joana Seabra will give us an insight into the artistic processes of artists and non-artists by EEG. After this, we will have our “speed-meeting” social and a hands-on workshop of some creative techniques to represent anatomy!

Why do you think we are creative? Or why are you creative? Leave a comment in the reply section for further discussion!



Christoff, K. (2013). Thinking. In The Oxford handbook of cognitive neuroscience.

Dietrich, A. (2004). The cognitive neuroscience of creativity. Psychonomic bulletin & review11(6), 1011-1026.

Kenett, Y. N., & Austerweil, J. L. (2016). Examining Search Processes in Low and High Creative Individuals with Random Walks. In CogSci (Vol. 8, pp. 313-318).

Sawyer, K. (2011). The cognitive neuroscience of creativity: A critical review. Creativity research journal23(2), 137-154.

Creativity and Neuroscience Workshop: Film Screening Why Are We Creative?


Join us for the October edition of our meetup and workshop on Creativity and Neuroscience. This time we will be screening WHY ARE WE CREATIVE?.

on Wednesday, October, 23rd
6 – 9pm
>top, Schillerpromenade 4, 12049 Berlin-Neukölln

For over 30 years director Hermann Vaske filmed the world’s most intriguing artists and thinkers posing the question: “Why are you creative?”
Why are we creative? Is it in our blood? Do we do it to make ourselves immortal? Is it a reckless compulsion? Or do we simply do it to make a buck?
The answers Vaske received are as varied and intriguing as his respondents. WHY ARE WE CREATIVE? is a vibrant celebration of what makes us most human, most fulfilled.

(German & English with dual German/English Subtitles)

Duration: 84 Minutes

Following, you will be able to meet-and-greet, get to know and connect with likeminded individuals to build and establish our community around and between art and science.

EDGE is a non-profit organization so the event is free and donations to cover the rent of the location, and create future events are very much appreciated! (Also no registration necessary). Suggested donation: 5-10 Euros.

About >top:
An association for the Promotion of Cultural Practice, >top has been operating in Berlin since June 2002. Our members are artists, researchers and activists, whose activities range from individual research to curating project space to international collaboration. Our infrastructure supports projects that pursue an interdisciplinary approach, support international exchange or deal with non-commercial attitudes. This includes, but is not limited to, a project space, a biolab, and a web server.

Recap: Art Therapy and the Psyche

In our Creativity and Neuroscience Workshop: Art Therapy and the Psyche, we explored as a group the budding field of art therapy as a perspective on art and psychiatry.

Dr. Michelle Ann Meredyth Stewart held a talk on the topic, which launched a lively discussion, and was followed by exercises exploring different techniques currently used and their effects on our cognition.

img_9802-1.jpgWatercolour painting explored as a therapeutic tool 

Our experiment on the differences between making art in two different formats (arranging a collage and watercolour painting) and playing chess involved two datasets: self-measured heart rate (no conclusive effect) and self-reported relaxation level (art had a significant effect on increasing relaxation, while chess either decreased relaxation or had no effect)*

* please note that ‘significant’ is used here as a subjective term – we didn’t do any statistical analysis and just spoke about our feelings


Dr. Meredyth Stewart’s presentation provided an informative overview of the history and current state of art therapy, and sparked interesting perspectives on the field, and the implications it involves for our understanding of art.

IMG_9796Dr. Michelle Ann Meredyth Stewart presenting an overview of art therapy

For instance, in recent years, the use of art therapy for stroke rehabilitiation has been increasingly explored in the context of painting and the involved motor control of upper limbs. (For an early example, see Morris et al. Trials 2014, 15:380,


While this seems not unique to art, and could be an effect of any motor activity, Dr. Meredyth Stewart pointed out an important aspect:


Art, particularly in our contemporary setting in which anyone can create an image with new techniques and little training


Suprisingly, even arranging images into a collage has a therapeutic effect. By inference, does this make an assortment of postcards on a table art?


What is it about making art that is essential to the process, and the psychological effect that it has?


Perhaps the modernist perspective, that anything can be art, has a neurobiological basis. It is not the physical act that defines art, but the conceptual act, as evidenced by the therapeutic effect of barely-physical art making, such as writing your own name and thinking about it.

Dr. Meredyth was “thrilled with how well the discussion took off with lively participation by all the people who attended. There was great enthusiasm for the fusion of art and science, and everyone contributed to the group activities. As well there was lively interaction between individuals and a determination to continue the discussion process. Having an interactive setup and informal location really helped to break the ice.”


Thank you all who came, and we look forward to seeing you soon at:

23/10/2019 @ Top Project Space, Schillerpalais 4:
Creativity and Neuroscience: Film Screening Why Are We Creative?


References/ further reading:

von Spreti, Martius & Steger KunstTherapie: Wirkung – Handwerk – Praxis
Eva Madelung: Kunsttherapien: Neue Wege zur Lebensgestaltung
Marianne Markert: Der Regenstab verzaubert…
Karl Heinz Menzen: Grundlagen der Kunsttherapie
Jörg Rinnisland: Bilder aus der Zwischenzeit
Triup & Kersten: Praxis der Kunsttherapie
Eva-Mees Christeller: Kunsttherapie in der Praxis

Creativity and Neuroscience Workshop: Art Therapy and the Psyche


Next Monday, 9th September, from 18:00 – 21:00

join us again at >top in Schillerpromenade 4, Neukölln,

where we welcome you to learn about, discuss, and experience the application and research into art creation as psychological therapy tool. Dr. Michelle Meredyth-Stewart will present how art-making is used in diagnosis and therapy, and lead us through some exercises and experiments for a personal relation to the practice.

The creative act is in a feedback loop of doing and experiencing. In the plastic brain, this has effects of reshaping habits, restructuring thought, and even recovering damage. Observing the process creates recursive insight into both the art and the self. In a workshop format, we will explore what exactly it is about ‘making art’ that induces these effects, and how they might be accessible to us individually and philosophically.

Exercises are focused on alternative ways to generate art without strong needs for technique, and an experiment on the effect of actions on physiological markers of stress.

How does making art give insight into our individual and social experience?
How does our brain’s reactions to making art affect our definition of art?

Snacks and Drinks available, as well as art supplies.

Bring your own paper and colours if you have them.

See you soon!

Cover Image: Sara Simula, Layers of Reality, detail photo taken by Nailya Bikmurzina

2019 Exhibition Recap

4 days of exhibition in 2 locations, works from 17 artists and groups displayed, more than 100 attendees, 50 pizzas, and (more than) the required 7 signatures to found an e.V. (eingetragener Verein)!

We are thrilled over how this year’s summer exhibition went, and take it as strong encouragement to do more and bigger in the future! 2020 exhibition will follow our ambitions to grow, and we plan to expand in other regular directions as a club and community.

Join us anytime, as an active member, organiser, supporter, or sponsor! Just email

In the meantime, here are some photographic impressions taken by Nailya Bikmurzina:

EDGE @ CCO 25-26/7/2019

EDGE @ Heizkraftwerk Steglitz 27-28/7/2019

Many thanks to our sponsors, artists, organisers, and attendees! More to come, looking to the future!