Saturday, 25 August 2018

Some Thoughts on Creativity

While browsing Youtube the other day, I stumbled across a first-class video on the subject of creativity. It was a talk presented by Tina Seelig, of Stanford University’s School of Engineering. The talk, entitled “Six Characteristics of Truly Creative People,” was primarily directed at companies and organisations but could equally well be applied to individuals. She has written a book on the subject, in which she came up with an intriguing diagram which she calls the “Innovation Engine” – a sort of Moebius strip of interlocking characteristics, all of which are essential if one is to be truly creative.

The aspects on the inner part are all things found within ourselves – imagination, attitude and knowledge. To feed our imagination (which is the basis of all creativity), we need the right attitude, and we need knowledge to formulate our ideas and put them into practice. On the outer part are aspects impinging on us from outside of ourselves – our culture, habitat and resources. We are all influenced by the culture in which we grew up, and the environment which surrounds us can either fire our creative imagination or put it to death. Resources are so much more than money – they include all the things we have, and sometimes it’s really good not to have much money, because one is forced to use the limited resources at one’s disposal. In the video, she got some of her students to create something from their rubbish bins, and they came up with some surprising results. Could we, as artists and crafters, do likewise? I know I have often used rubbish, such as chicken packaging, in my art, and I like to challenge myself with the question, “Could I make art out of this?” – whatever it is, and my hubby usually answers with a resounding “No!” which I immediately take as a challenge to prove him wrong!

All the characteristics on the Innovation Engine are important, and depend on each other. It is arranged so that parallel items are related, for example Culture and Attitude. Relating Habitat and Imagination, Tina Seelig showed a typical kindergarten environment, with a very fluid layout – brightly coloured moveable furniture, with easy access to all sorts of colourful and stimulating equipment. Moving on to your average school, there were desks in rows, and this progressed to the regimented cubicles that so many people are forced to work in for their employment. Contrasted with this were the work environments of Google and other innovative companies, with all sorts of fun and stimulating surroundings, and comfortable furniture laid out in such a way as to encourage people to sit and chat and brainstorm together. Such companies encourage their employees to take time out and rest – take a nap, and the ideas will come! So often good ideas come to us in dreams. In this way, one’s habitat can fire one’s imagination rather than crippling it.

This sort of thing got me thinking about our education system in general. I’ve thought about this a great deal in recent years, especially after I started Zentangle, which is a drawing method that I originally liked to describe as “drawing for people who can’t draw” – until I thought about it a bit, and re-phrased it “Drawing for people who think they can’t draw.” All pre-school children draw. They all dance and sing, however “badly,” according to educated adult standards! Little children are naturally creative, and have well-developed imaginations. As soon as they start school beyond nursery and kindergarten, the system begins to develop the left brain, which is involved with reasoning and logic, and facts. Right-brain activities such as music and the arts are generally looked down upon and not considered such valuable skills because it’s the “Three Rs” that enable people to pass exams and get jobs. The emphasis is always on getting qualifications – bits of paper that say that you know how to come up with the “right” answers. Music and art are fine for hobbies, but “get a real job.” In these days of limited financial resources, a lot of music in schools is now extra-curricular with teachers not being on the payroll but self-employed, and schools in impoverished areas often have very little musical education at all and no facilities – I saw a horrifying programme on TV a few years ago where the poor music teacher in one inner-city school had no musical instruments for the children except yogurt pots that they could bash with sticks. OK, she was thrown back on her resources and had to make do in as creative a way as she could (one of the points Tina was making in her talk) but it was a graphic example of the lack of importance that the powers that be, in our culture, put on creative imagination. A young orchestral conductor went in and provided instruments, and opened up a whole new world for those children, some of whom had never even heard classical music before.

If we don’t educate the whole person, where are the future ideas going to come from, that enrich the lives of us all? We NEED creative people in industry, science, medicine, and every profession. Apart from that, education is supposed to be about producing fully-rounded individuals who can make the best of themselves and live fulfilled lives for the benefit of themselves and others. How else are our communities and the wider nation supposed to improve themselves if people are not encouraged to have the skills that come from a creative imagination?

Tina says we are often far too limited in our solutions to problems, and our education system encourages this by training us to find “the right answer,” when it would be far more creative to pose the questions in a different way, so that there is no one single “right answer” but many ways to answer the question, in a way that encourages us to use our creative imagination.

I love this “thinking outside the box” approach. In my art, I like to experiment with different materials just to see what happens. Not always having the “right” equipment or materials to achieve the results I want, I have to improvise. This is often a lot more fun than just opening a pack of this, or a tube of that, or the exact colour from the complete range – having to work a bit harder at it, one is learning all the time, and gaining far more satisfaction in the long run. Another example of this is thinking beyond the normal art suppliers who usually charge a high price for their products, and looking elsewhere – I use decorating and DIY materials and often raid the cake decorating aisles for equipment. I also use a lot of tools that I inherited from Dad, which were more to do with his interests than mine, but all so useful!

Cooking can be a bit like this too. Where is the satisfaction in simply slavishly following a recipe, and perhaps not even attempting a recipe in the first place because one hasn’t got all the exact ingredients? Substituting these for what one actually does have, one can end up with new and exciting flavours. I use tools and implements for the “wrong” purpose too – one of my favourite kitchen tools is a butter curler. I never curl butter, but it’s brilliant for scraping seeds from melons and squashes. My strawberry huller is in constant use for cutting out the ends of kiwi fruits, and I use my grapefruit knife for removing the flesh from melons. Taking risks is half the fun in all creative endeavours, and often leads to exciting and unexpected results.

Making mistakes. Failure. Doing it wrong. These words are so limiting, and encourage people to give up, and also make us fearful to try anything new. Instead, Tina says we should look on the failures as part of the learning process, to add what doesn’t work to our arsenal of knowledge and experience, and to build on them. I have often made what I initially thought was “a right mess” but before throwing it in the bin in disgust, have made myself think about it in a different way, and build on it, and in the end, have been much more pleased with the result than I would have been, had it “worked” in the first place.

I think truly creative people are rule-breakers, rebels. I know I’m a rebel. I have my own ideas about how to do things, and don’t like people telling me what to do!! Perhaps this is why I am constantly glad that I never had the opportunity to go to art school. I remember I had a friend when I was young, who had recently come out of art school. She was always a rebel and a highly creative person, and she had had to fight hard in order to be allowed to follow her chosen specialty at college – embroidery. In those days, this was looked down upon as the pursuit of little old ladies and not “proper art.” (I am glad that attitudes have changed since then!) I remember thinking at the time that so much that was coming out of art colleges in those days was very “samey” and had a very distinctive style which I called “1960s Art College” (which I personally didn’t like), and how hard it must be for the students to retain any creative individuality if they were forced into the college’s mould. My friend, being a rebel, and capable of being pretty stroppy especially when challenged, came out with her individuality intact! I was always very impressed with that.

Of course I am not against formal art education, and I know that things have improved a lot in recent years (see my post on the high standard now achieved at my old school). There is much to be gained by being taught how to develop and organise one’s work, and basic skills on which to build one’s own creativity – I do sometimes regret not having had this advantage, but I do believe it’s left me freer to follow my own inner guiding and inspiration. Anyway, there’s always Youtube – if you want to know how to do anything, it’s on Youtube!!

All this has got me thinking about my Dad. He was a superlative amateur musician, highly skilled at all the wind instruments (with the exception of the clarinet and the recorder) and he was also no mean keyboard player. He told me that when he was still at school, he had to make a decision about his future career, and it was a sharp tussle between music and medicine. What finally decided him was that if he became a professional doctor and an amateur musician, he would be left alone to lead a happy and fulfilled life, but if he became a professional musician and an amateur doctor, he was likely to get locked up! On a more serious note, he said that if he had chosen music as a career, he would have had to limit himself to one instrument, and would probably have spent his life in the ranks of an orchestra, being forced to play only what was on offer. As it was, he could pick and choose, and although he played in orchestras all his life, he could also indulge his passion for chamber music, and he had so much fun with all the social aspects of this, making musical friends wherever he went, and being in constant demand for his talents. He had so many creative interests outside of work, including his clocks and engineering skills. He went through various phases in his life where one interest or another occupied his time, and looking back, I can see a lot of him in myself, although I do not aspire to his level of genius! We have both moved on from one thing to another, learning all the way, and being excited to learn new things and gain fulfilment from new achievements. Some people may say these crazes and phases lead to a rather undisciplined way of life, as it often heaps up ever more UFOs (UnFinished Objects) but you have to go where the creative flow leads you! Mum never understood this, and when I was a child, she often used to say, “Don’t start anything new until you’ve finished what you are doing.” This can rob you of a lot of joy if the spark has gone out. The spark can come back though – after a number of years, the bug for knitting and crochet has come back, and I’m picking up some pretty ancient UFOs and getting satisfaction from finishing them at last. (This is one reason why I’m such a hoarder. People say “If you haven’t used it for two years, you won’t use it. Chuck it out.” If I throw anything out, you can guarantee that next week, I’ll want to start using it again, even if I haven’t looked at it for twenty years!! Confession time: some of my UFOs are over 30 years old.)

One thing Tina emphasised in the video was the importance of paying attention. I am always telling my hubby that he doesn’t notice things! When we are out and about in the countryside, there are so many miraculous little things, and if you keep your eyes open, you can spot them, and marvel at them. Just looking at ordinary things, and seeing strange juxtapositions of objects, can make one see the funny side – Dad and I were always doing this when we were out together – both seeing something in a funny way at the same time and laughing, with no need for explanations, for example a lorry emblazoned with the legend, “The Chard Meat Company,” or a house with an estate agent’s board outside saying “Sold by Force.” These things spark the imagination and one conjures up all sorts of bizarre images! There is so much fun to be had out of the most mundane things in life, if one just keeps one’s eyes open.

Training oneself to do this, the skill transfers to other areas of one’s life, enabling one to think outside the box and find solutions that might not otherwise come to mind. It also undermines a natural tendency to perfectionism which can be so limiting.

I have been thinking a lot about the Innovation Engine over the past few days, and how I can use it to develop my own personal creativity, thinking about how the various influences impinge on my own life, and how I can use them.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! They are much appreciated. Spammers, please be aware that I read and moderate ALL comments, and yours will be deleted before publication, so please don't bother!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...