Suppose you are searching for a new approach to a pesky but important creative problem. You’re casting about for any sort of hint, or even the whisper of a hint, as to what you might do.
Scrounging about on the internet one morning you come across an unfamiliar but somehow arresting abstract line-drawing. Intently looking at the strange drawing, and not even sure of what the image means, you suddenly decide to copy it. With pencil in hand, you set to work, looking up and back at the unfamiliar drawing again and again, trying your best to faithfully and accurately reproduce the image on the sketching paper in front of you.
Would this intense copying exercise help you with your creative problem? Or would it, instead, get in the way, obstructing you from making any creative headway? Could copying an unfamiliar drawing help your own subsequent creative generation? Or might it, instead, dampen your creative insight and expressiveness?
Tackling just this question, two researchers at the University of Tokyo recently found that copying an unfamiliar art work significantly enhanced the subsequent independent creative drawing of participants.