Saturday, January 17, 2009

Create what you will!

This is one of my favourite quotes in relation to creativity... it's attributed to George Bernard Shaw. The full quote goes "Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will". It's from the play "Back to Methuselah" a piece which is called a A Metabiological Pentateuch (???) - first published in 1921, an epic 5 cycle philosophical piece not often produced (for obvious reasons). So at this point in the play the Serpent is explaining to Eve how it came to be that Lilith created two beings - Adam and Eve. There is a lovely interchange then about the process of creating, with Eve saying:

EVE: To desire, to imagine, will, to create. That is too long a story, find me one word for it all; you who are so clever with words at words.

SERPENT: In one word, to conceive. That is the word that means both the beginning in the imagination and the end in creation.

Eve then tells the Serpent she will go and tell Adam 'to conceive', at which the Serpent laughs. He explains to Eve that Adam can imagine, he can will, desire and create - all but one thing, his own kind. So in this account women really have it all - the abilities to create and to conceive in all ways, including the most significant to human kind (a pity that first half has been forgotten for so much of human history).

Anyway back to why I like this quote... I think that for me it highlights the idea that while creativity can arise from experimentation and play, then there is an act of will, you have to want to do something, make something, bring it into being. This act of will is an essentially human act. We enjoy creating, we enjoy newness, we enjoy changing things, objects, ideas and our environment to make it more as we would like it to be. The big Csik guy also talks about this kind of idea (that humans are programmed for creativity) but an interesting addition to this is when he identifies that the counterpoint to creativity is 'entrophy'. Whilst we can derive pleasure from creating and doing something new, humans also derive pleasure when we are comfortable, when we can relax and enjoy ourselves by doing nothing ('Flow', 1996 p 109). The urge to relax and veg out can be so strong that this least effort option overpowers the more energetic act of creating... boy did he get that one right!! However ... there's only so much entrophic vegetating most of us can really enjoy in one sitting and then..... if we listen to this other force - this creative calling... we too can bring into being something quite marvellous!

Pondering the process

Okay so Wendy's found out I've heeded her advice without me even telling her - i was keeping quiet about my blogging forays... just seeing where it might lead me. So perhaps time for a bit of personal reflection.

I had one of those nights last night... I had been thinking about one of the current projects I'm involved in, wrestling with some ways to pull together some ideas that just weren't falling into place... then eventually falling asleep ... only to have the muse jolt me awake at 2.45 am. I find that often seems to be when she taps on my shoulder... i've learnt from past experience that I can't ignore her. Try to go back to sleep and it just doesn't happen. The ideas keep appearing, tumbling over each other, sometimes coherent, sometimes not... so then I give in to the mistress, drag myself out of bed and go and write it all down. It's coming together, a symbol, a character, a pre-text that will prompt young people to want to find out about our dramatic past, a theatrical device, a merchandising opportunity all rolled into one... i'm in love with her already! (I won't tell you more just yet, that might come in time - building tension, hook them in). By 3.15 am I'm ready for bed again. Heart still racing, but I'm feeling good. The ideas haven't just exploded from nowhere though... i've been thinking, researching and talking about this project since last sept (four months now), i'm drawing on lots of different things I've read and seen, my own past and lots of cultural references... the profile seems to sit well with some of things I've read about the creative process by people like Gardner, Gruber, Feldman and the big Csik man. The creative process arises from the flow of experience, knowledge, curiosity and the desire to solve a particular problem... I think i'm getting somewhere. You've got to be open to the callings of the muse I find... ignore her, roll over, take drugs to get back to sleep if you like - but often those mad midnight scribblings contain some gems of insight the next day.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Creatives profiles - Eugene & Motown

Every weekend when I sit down to read the papers, I like to look for the stories of creative people that are usually profiled and I like to draw out key ideas and learnings from their stories. As a particular reference I often relate my thinking to concepts about creativity drawn from the work of Csikszentmihalyi , R Keith Sawyer, Vera John-Steiner and the like. These people view creativity as arising from the interaction of individuals and groups within social contexts rather than seeing it as something that is a special talent or ability only possessed by the gifted few (I'll post elsewhere a bit more about these kinds of views of creativity). Here's what I found this weekend.

Eugene Gilfedder is a Brisbane based actor and a bit of a renaissance man (writer, director, musician and so on) who is about to star as Hook in a production of Peter Pan. Eugene is a very talented and experienced actor, and really could be up there with Geoffrey Rush in terms of Australian actors on the international stage. However he has stayed put in Brisbane, created a life and a family and perhaps has not had the recognition he deserves outside of his home state. What I found interesting in this weekend's profile ('Enjoying theatre's Neverland' by Fiona Purdon in etc liftout, Courier Mail, jan 10-11, 2009, p 3) is that now that his children are finished school he is now open to more national and international work. There were a couple of things in this story that interested me... firstly the importance of the 'field' the gatekeepers and audiences who acknowledge and accept someone's creative work - one of the key components Csikszentmihalyi says is important for someone's creative work to be recognised and have impact. The field for Gilfedder's work has not be as wide as it could be to date, whilst he could be as talented as any famous actor around, his work has not been seen by or acknowledged by an international field. Could that now change as he embarks this year on a national tour with an independent production of 'Kursk'.

Also of interest were comments about Gilfedder's motivation and the kind of internal motivation that drives his work, rather than external success and rewards. He says "I've never been focused on the career, the blimbing of ladders, but my focus is on the stuff, the words and productions". Amabile and many others have talked about the importance of internal motivation as important for creativity and engagement and it seems that has been very much the driver for Gilfedder. Finally I was also interested in his comments about relating to the spirit of Peter Pan and how playing different roles keeps him young. In his book 'Creating Minds' Howard Gardner talks about creative people being able to retain the ability to see the world as if through the eyes of a child - retaining a kind of freshness and curiousity about the world. This is something that is evident in Gilfedder's approach to his creative work. I look forward to seeing how he goes in terms of finding a wider 'field' for his work in the years to come.

The Motown article "Can't Stop the Music" (in the Review section of Weekend Austrlian, Jan 10-11, 2009, pp 4-6) was interesting for a range of reasons, especially relating to the importance of the coalescence of opportunity, shifts in the culture and the rise of individuals and groups who had the right skill sets and ideas at the right time. This story marks the 50th anniversary on Jan 12 of the founding of Motown by Berry Gordy Jr in 1959. Gordy worked through disappointments and failure (dropping out of school, failure of first musical venture) to take the risk of borrowing money to found his own label and take their music national. The point I found particularly interesting in this article was the role of critique and reflection - the interactive work of their 'field' - in ensuring that what the label released was of a consistently high quality. Smokey Robinson says "We had Monday morning meetings. All the creative people were in those meetings, the writers, the producers. We would play our stuff for each other, critique each other's stuff and make suggestions on each other's stuff to make it better.... Many of the tracks were sent back and reworked, and reworked, until they became the hits that they became." Creativity isn't just about inspiration and individual expressions of ideas, good creative work benefits from critical reflection and feedback. The trick is to know what to listen to and act on and what to screen out!

A beginning

Finally succumbed and created the blog - like everyone else I have more than enough distractions to keep me away from the things I should be doing. However the thought of having somewhere to post my musings, discoveries, snippets of information and stories has been attracting me for some time ... and so now after Wendy urging me to 'stop putting it off and just do it', I have done so!

This is a space I'd like to use to collect various ideas about creativity, giving in to and following our creative callings. There'll be stories about others, reflections on things I read and see, as well as some thoughts of my own, both from my professional and personal life. I'm not sure where it will go just yet, but here goes!