Monday, August 18, 2014

Setting yourself up for Creativity

Perhaps I am just in a John Cleese mood today because over the weekend Mark and I went to see Spamalot at a little dinner theater close by.  The poor guy playing King Arthur experienced a set malfunction and suddenly had an impromptu visit with the musicians in the orchestra pit - much to the surprise of the King ...and the musicians!

But I digress....

John Cleese gave a lecture a couple of years ago for Video Arts about creativity and you can watch the video on You Tube or read a transcript from it here...over the next few days...with my comments sprinkled in (oh goody). :)  Read on!
Photo-Art by Terry Wolfinger found on Fink Magazine
You know, when Video Arts asked me if I'd like to talk about creativity I said "no problem." No problem!
Because telling people how to be creative is easy, it's only being it that's difficult.
I knew it would be particularly easy for me because I've spent the last 25 years watching how various creative people produce their stuff - and being fascinating to see if I could figure out what makes folk, including me, more creative.
What is more, a couple of years ago I got very excited because a friend of mine who runs the psychology department at Sussex University, Brian Bates, showed me some research on creativity done at Berkley in the 70s by a brilliant psychologist called Donald MacKinnon - which seemed to confirm in the most impressively scientific way all the vague observations and intuitions that I'd heard over the years.
The prospect of setting down for quite serious study of creativity for the purpose of tonight's gossip was delightful.
Having spent several weeks on it, I can state categorically that what I have to tell you tonight about how you can all become more creative is a complete waste of time.
So I think it would be much better if I just told jokes instead: you know the lightbulb jokes? You know...
How many Poles does it take to screw in a lightbulb? One to hold the bulb, four to turn the table.
How many folksingers does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer - Five.  One to change the bulb and four to sing about how much better the old one was.
How many socialists does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer - We're not going to change it, we think it works.
How many creative art......
You see, the reason why it is futile for me to talk about creativity is that it simply cannot be explained.  It's like Mozart's music or Van Gogh's painting or Saddam Hussein's propaganda. It is literally inexplicable.
Freud, who analyzed practically everything else, repeatedly denied that psychoanalysis could shed any light whatsoever on the mysteries of creativity.
And Brian Bates wrote to me recently "Most of the best research on creativity was done in the 60s and 70s with a quite dramatic drop off in quantity after then..."
Largely, I suspect because researchers began to feel that they had reached the limits of what science could discover about it.
In fact, the only thing from the research that I could tell you about how to be creative is the sort of childhood that you should have had, which is of limited help to you at this point in your lives.
However there is one negative thing that I can say - and it's "negative" because it is easier to say what creativity isn't.
A bit like the sculptor who when asked how he had sculpted a very fine elephant, explained that he'd taken a big block of marble and then knocked away all the bits that didn't look like an elephant.
Now here's the negative thing: Creativity is not a talent.
It is not a talent, it is a way of operating.
So.  How many actors does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Answer - thousands. Only one to do it but thousands to say "I could have done that."
How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Answer - Don't mind me, I'll just sit here in the dark, nobody cares about me....
How many surgeons....
You see - when I say "a way of operating" what I mean is this: creativity is not an ability that you either have or do not have.
It is, for example - and this may surprise you - absolutely unrelated to IQ.  Provided that you are intelligent above a certain minimal level that is. 
But MacKinnon showed in investigating scientists, architects, engineers, and writers that those regarded by their peers as "most creative" were in no way whatsoever different in IQ from their less creative colleagues.
So in what way were they different?
MacKinnon showed that the most creative had simply acquired a facility for getting themselves into a particular mood - a way of operating - which allowed their natural creativity to function.
In fact, MacKinnon described this particular facility as an ability to play.
Indeed he described the most creative - when in this mood - as being childlike.
For they were able to play with ideas -to explore them - not for any immediate practical purpose but just for enjoyment. Play for its own sake.

Okay.  So I did not sprinkle in comments.  I think it interesting that in last week's posts we were exploring how other artists acquired their own "facilities for getting themselves into a particular mood or way of operating to allow their natural creativity to function."

The longer I work the more I know the importance of this.  I don't always get the luxury of having the time for using my particular "acquired facilities for getting myself into my way of operating" but find that if I have a quiet mind while I am doing the task at hand (whatever that may be) that ideas still come through.

Like yesterday, while listening to music (I was painting the living room walls yesterday) one particular song gave me an idea for one sculpture...which spun off into ideas for two more.  I put down the brush and managed to draw 2 in my sketch book but forgot the third while drawing the two!  (I have to be quick about this sort of thing.)

What things do you do to put your self into a place where you are able to play with your creative ideas?  Why not use the comments section below to share those with the rest of us? (hint-hint).

Tomorrow is more of the Cleese transcript.

'Til then!  I wish you hours of uninterrupted play today :)