Creative Seas

Scott Cooper has challenged us to be more rational about our art. And being a rational sort of fellow, I’m on board. Lets kick our superstitions to the curb and dispense with the lazy thinking. Where it can be had, rational clarity is what we should be after. Mythologizing is only good for clueless wishful thinking, blatant navel gazing, and hopeless fantasizing. Wipe that rose colored ick from our glasses.

Things often have the outward surface appearance of simplicity. Until we look at them a bit more closely. Without our habitual lenses. Without the bias we may not even be aware of. We learn to talk about our world in a particular way, and some things are open to question but other things never are. Why else does superstition live in so many hearts, and why is it called out in so many others? Its not because we are continuously doing science with words…. Are we expecting science?

What follows is a meditation on creativity. The way its used in everyday conversation. Its also a word everyone from potters to nuclear physicists use. But are we really all that clear on what we are talking about…?

I’ve heard the next thoughts expressed often enough, but in what (if any) sense are these statements true?

“I’m not creative”
“Sam is more creative than Joan”
“You can’t teach creativity”
“This will teach you to be more creative”

Why, or why not? Consider that we can also say (please skip ahead once you get my point….):

Ignorance creates confusion.
Stubbornness creates problems.
Resistance creates friction.
Anger and jealousy create bad vibes.
Noncompliance creates headaches for the city inspectors.
New laws create loop-holes for would be cheaters.
Poorly digested food creates gas.
Opening a new store creates jobs.
Falling asleep at the wheel creates accidents.
Not following the instruction manual creates problems.
Waggling my fingers in front of a lamp creates shadow puppets on the wall.
The late afternoon sun through the leaves creates patterns that look like faces.
The glow of dusk creates a sense of mystery.
Stepping in soft muddy earth creates footprints.
A continuously curving line eventually connects back to itself and creates a circle.
Three straight lines joined end to end create a triangle.
Two sticks crossing perpendicularly create a ‘plus’ sign.
Two stick rubbed together create friction.
Friction creates heat.
Sufficient heat along with combustible material and enough oxygen creates fire.
Some potters use wood burning kilns to create their finished pieces.
Wildfires create an enormous amount of damage every year.
All the right ingredients cooked the right way helps create a fabulous meal.
Words used correctly with adequate punctuation and good grammar create sentences.
Soft music and candle light help create a romantic atmosphere.
Dressing well for an interview creates a favorable impression.
Watching a horror film creates a sense of dread.
Big name actors and a Hollywood budget often create blockbuster films.
Specific configurations of electrons, protons, and neutrons create specific atoms.
Combining various atoms creates chemical compounds.
A lax attitude creates a false sense of security.
Indie films often create better art.
The Big Bang created time and space.
Robert Ludlum created the character of Jason Bourne.
Doug Liman’s direction helped create the screen version of Jason Bourne.
Matt Damon’s portrayal created the film character of Jason Bourne.
Some ancient Mesopotamian created the wheel.
Today’s advanced technology creates wheels that are superior to previous ones.
Evolution created the human species.
Bob and Jane created the fertilized egg that eventually became their son Jacob.
Bob’s new promotion helped create a sense of security convincing them to start a family.
Dave’s retirement created the opening for Bob’s promotion.
Dave’s drinking problem created the need for him to retire.
Dave’s casual attitude and addictive personality helped create his problem with booze.
Dave’s fascination with art helped to create his easy going personality.
So, in a sense, Dave’s fascination with art helped to create Bob and Jane’s son Jacob.
The unfolding of change creates something new with every passing moment.
Agitation creates changes.
Tranquility helps to create peacefulness.
Placid emotions help to create calm thoughts.
An uneventful life often creates boredom.
Ignorance creates bliss.

Is creativity one thing? Or does it merely look that way because we use just the one word to cover all of its various forms? Is even ‘human creativity’ all the same thing? How many kinds of creativity are there? Is there one underlying characteristic that unites them all? Is it a process? The same process? A mental process? Physical? A technique? Is it even possible to come up with a shared definition? Or are there overlapping themes that some forms of creativity share while others do not?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t use the word, only that its use isn’t always very clear. Or consistent. Or very enlightening outside of individual cases…. The word itself is kind of vague. Just what fuzzy thinking are we smuggling in when we use it thoughtlessly? Can we seriously hope to do anything like a decent science when our terms are so nebulous and ill-defined? (And I’m not saying that we can’t be smart, or that we shouldn’t try. There are many ways we can be smart, and many parts of our anatomy that direct the ways we can be smart. Ze Frank thinks his butt should get a PhD….)

So, in what sense are these creative activities doing the same thing: A painter creating a painting, painting with fingers, painting with a brush, a potter creating a pot, creating a mud pie, a musician creating music, playing the same song over and over again, playing it in a new way, with new instruments, a composer creating a composition, borrowing themes from other works, a writer creating a story, revising it and editing, letting ideas gestate, acting on them, being inspired, getting bored, a plumber creating a seal, creating a leak, an architect creating a floor plan, a carpenter building a house, a child creating a drawing, a child singing a song, a child holding a dialog between Ken and Barbie dolls, a child playing with toys in a sandbox, two adults having a conversation?

Is it always about innovation? Even when it gives rise to something new, is creativity always intentionally new? A mere side effect in some cases? Never been done before? From a God’s eye point of view? To our knowledge? From what we can remember (Is it more creative if we forget we’ve done it before?)? Is it always something unique? Sometimes one of many? A long line of iterations? Is it how we did it that marks things as creative? How? A state of mind? A state of being? Objective? Subjective? Our brain’s neurochemistry? Whether we were paying attention or not? That we did exactly this on purpose? Accidents and serendipity? Responsibility or innocence? Victim or instigator?

Try this on for size: Is Painting more creative than sculpture? Sculpture more creative than music? Music more creative than poetry? Poetry more creative than architecture? Architecture more creative than literature? Is a wheel thrown bowl more creative than a hand built pitcher? Is a sonnet more creative than a poem? A novel more than a short story? How do we compare these things? What is our basis for measurement? Length? Duration? Size? Can we compare intent? Does it always matter for what was achieved? Was Johann Sebastian Bach more creative than Martin Luther King?

And if we cook up arguments to assert one side or the other, does that mean other people can’t do it differently, with as much justification and rationality? Some people might point to volume of work. Some people might point to a qualitative assessment. Some people might point to underlying neurochemistry. But isn’t this simply a demonstration of what kinds of arguments are persuasive to the people involved? Why do artist often think the most important questions and solutions are art related? Why do economists think the most important questions and solutions are economic? Why do politicians think the most important questions and solutions are political? Is it any wonder that the person standing at the trunk sees one thing, at the tail another, and at a leg something again different? When we cast down other people’s idolatries in the name of rational indignation, is our sincerity on any firmer ground? If we think we are being skeptical of other people’s superstitions, are we being skeptical enough of our own? Are there no sacred cows hidden in our closets? Mythical beasts that vanish in the pure light of day? Or that get all sorts of complicated and fuzzy when we look a bit closer?

Do diversity and contradiction intimidate us? Perhaps rational clarity sometimes means that the answers (if any) are confusing and contradictory. Not so simple at all…. Not at all as neat and tidy as science usually pretends to outsiders. If all these things are creativity that doesn’t necessarily mean its all “the same thing”. Does it?

So how do YOU know creativity? Discuss….

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Beauty, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, metacognition, Pottery, Teaching, Wittgenstein. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Creative Seas

  1. linda says:

    SO good. Creativity is a transcendent, like “truth”, “love” maybe even “time”. I believe you could insert at least those, there may be more, and create (;-)) some existential rumblings. In fact, this spectrum for discussion is so conceptually broad, it’s hard to find an entry point. Creative myths were probably the first our very early ancestors articulated. It’s an action verb. It moves, lives, breathes, it’s grand. AND, and you can go shopping for it at the local Michael’s Art Supply shop.

    I look forward to reading the responses to your post, Carter. Thank you, great post as per usual and thought provoking, which is the best way to start the day ;-))

    • Thanks Linda!

      So true!

      And thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am always humbled when see that my postings are part of a wider discussion (Sometimes it seems like its all happening only inside my own cranium….).

  2. Scott Cooper says:

    I like how this entry was posted in Metacognition and Wittgenstein. So subtle that I almost missed it!

    • It amazes me how much my thinking turns to Wittgenstein when I am trying to be truly and honestly rational (i.e. not rational merely in the sense only of the picture we get from physics, mathematics, or institutional logic, but of ALL the ways that humans think things through). If there is one thinker who has had a handle on exposing delusions it is LW. How much more ambitious can you get than the project of exposing traditional Philosophy as a house of cards! Talk about not sparing sacred cows!

      Unfortunately its been well over 20 years since I first started thinking about Wittgenstein and I am as liable now to fall into the temptations of lazy thinking as I was then. Looking for clarity (in all its awkward and confusing glory) is hard work! But fortunately true clarity is rarely ever needed. We get by being lazy and sleepy. The patient survives quite fine without it (in most cases). Its only when we need a cure that clarity becomes an issue. And the question is, are we always ready to swallow the whole medicine? True clarity can be a bitter pill when we already think we know what its supposed to taste like. And mostly it seems we hardly even know where to look for it……

      Which is why Dr Cooper’s patented “wake up call” is part of my daily dosage! When you find a physician who has his hands on the right bottle you book your appointments early and often!

      Thanks Dr C!

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