Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Musings on Creativity

This book I've been reading about creativity continues to be really interesting. After setting up the context in which the experiment is done, the author moves into talking about the creative personality - he cites 10 different pairs of paradoxical personality traits that he found expressed in a large component of his test subjects. From there he talks about the actual nuts and bolts process of creativity - this chapter really rung true for me. The way that Milhaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the creative process is as one that has 5 distinct steps:

  1. Preparation/immersion (essentially this is a gathering/research stage). I find that in my own process I try to keep this ongoing...I don't always have a specific project in mind while doing this, but that I'm always gathering motifs, information about colour, context and line. In recent years it's become apparent that even while (and sometimes ESPECIALLY while) doing other crafts I find the inspiration for something new in my quilting.
  2. Incubation. This is essentially a quiet time. It isn't necessarily a 'doing nothing' time for me, but sometimes it is. (Well, inasmuch as regular life will let me do nothing! I'm always doing customer quilts, but that is part of the daily fare, not always specifically a new creative endeavor).
  3. Insight. This is the 'aha' part - the part that sometimes I think we do the rest for. This is the moment when things seem to come clear on a larger level. This is when the real goal becomes clear.
  4. Evaluation. This is a really important step. Often the project will get thrown out at this point, or only parts of it will be retained, to wait and be incorporated into some later project. A really tough stage, I find that it can wander into self-criticism if I'm not careful.
  5. Elaboration. This is the big time consuming part. This is where all the bugs are worked out and all the actual WORK is done.
These stages, though laid out in a list, are in reality really non-linear. Sometimes the ideas at the insight have to go back through the incubation. Sometimes what has been elaborated upon needs to go through another round of evaluation. There's just no set number of times that any single project can go through the process, or part of the process.

There is one quote in particular that stands out to me out of this portion of the book. The words are those of Nina Holton about her own work - I think that they are relevant to anyone doing creative work, in any field (finance, art, music, counselling, administration):

"Tell anybody you're (sic) are a sculptor and they'll say, "Oh, how exciting, how wonderful." And I tend to say, "What's so wonderful?" I mean, it's like being a mason, or being a carpenter, half the time. But they don't wish to hear that because they really only imagine the first part, the exciting part. But, as Khrushchev once said, that doesn't fry pancakes, you see. That form of an idea does not make a sculpture which stands up. It just sits there. So the next stage, of course, is the hard work. Can you really translate it into a piece of sculpture? Or will it be a wild thing which only seemed exciting while you were sitting in the studio alone? Will it look like something? Can you actually do it physically? Can you, personally, do it physically? What do you have by way of materials? So the second part is a lot of hard work. And sculpture is that, you see. It is the combination of wonderful wild ideas and then a lot of hard work."

Amen to that.


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