Saturday, October 1, 2016

Creativity

 
Summer solstice

  You know how people come up to you at an art show and say "oh you're so lucky, you're so creative"? ( Luck? !!!).   As in: you were lucky you were born with good eyesight, where I have strabismus...
Then they tell you that they're not creative, sometimes sadly but sometimes almost proudly! How could one expect them to be creative when they weren't born with it?

And the truth is, they're right...they're not creative.  Why not?  because they're not creating anything - they're not trying to come up with new ideas, original images, make art, or landscapes or even great puddings.  But...do they have the potential to be creative?  Probably they do....though the amount of potential one has can, of course, vary.

These days cognitive psychologists have discovered  that measuring  "creativity"  only by output i.e. what one has created is not necessarily a very good way to research this slippery concept.  A much better clearer way is to think about one's potential for being able to create, how to define and use that.   The scientists should be measuring potential and not performance.

Spires
I went to a very interesting talk last week given by Dr Mark Runco one of the world's leading researchers in this field...sought after by a lot of big companies (yes the advertising agencies Of course and all those companies wanting to sell you things, but also agencies like the CIA - the dark side of creativity!). 

He said there were a number of key findings about creativity. For example, some of the recent findings suggest that the potential for creativity is not located in one particular area - all this right brain/left brain stuff is incredibly over simplistic.  When they put jazz musicians and a key board through an MRI machine they found that when they were asked to creatively improvise upon a simple melody, the whole brain lit up, and particularly the prefrontal cortex.  When you are being creative you are not using one particular part of the brain but rather networks across  the whole brain.  Which makes a whole lot more sense.

Intuition does work...but only if you have the "knowledge beneath the surface".  People simply don't know all that they know!!  So a famous artist can tell you that they're working totally intuitively as if  that requires no former knowledge but rather just the desire and courage to work with the particular medium at random because that's how it feels to them.  They could be completely unaware that they are basing their decisions upon a lot of knowledge and experience. There have been lots of experiments demonstrating this.

One of the most interesting things he  said was  that problem finding was more important than problem solving.  If you know what the problem is, you can solve it....but without that knowledge you just flounder around.  This is why it's important to be able to look critically at what you're doing and see just where things are going wrong.  Whether you're selling shoes, or creating an art quilt.
-->

Csikszentmihaly had grad students in art, go into a studio where he had loaded up a big table with potential still life objects. They were instructed to paint a still life, told to take their time, and he would video them.  He used a stop watch to measure how long  it took them to start painting.
Some took 2 minutes then started painting, other spent ages playing with the objects. The time before they started working was correlated with the quality of their art work, the better artists took longer before they started painting!!!!
…he called this process problem discovery
The difficult part was finding the problem - what you do before you solve the problem is more important that the actual solving.  There are important processes at work…
He felt that the quality of the definition of the problem determined the quality of the solution.

Another area that the scientists have studied is that of significant age changes in creativity.  Little children seem to have loads of potential and come up with lots of ideas...let's try this, let's try that...until around 4th grade and then either brain maturation, or schooling or both begin to make them want to follow "the rules".   This is apparent world wide. Inevitable? Necessary? we don't know.

 Furthermore, although creativity is life-long, look at Georgia O-Keefe, Picasso, Monet, Matisse etc.
It's been observed that for adults aged  around 50-60s  flexibility or variation changes…
and flexibility is one of the key dimensions of creativity…how many ideas we produce, how original and how varied they are.
In late adulthood there is much more preference for routine and habit, doing things the way we always have, and there is a drop in the production of diverse ideas, a loss of flexibility.
-->
But the loss of flexibility is not inevitable.  One can be motivated to make the effort to change one's attitude.
Runco has observed an “old age style”  which is simply that the individual changes the way they do things throughout their life…e.g. Picasso’s periods, you can see it in many creative artists…and it's a way to make the creativity last…change the way you do things…
Even though they were successful doing what they were doing they changed , and started to do something else…
Creative people follow what’s inside and relegate the extrinsic rewards to a  lower level. You might be externally rewarded for making the same successful thing that everyone knows and loves, but the creative person eschews that path.  They can and do change the way they do things…
You can grow more connections between your neurons…even though you usually see less neurons with age…the brain is most efficient around age 29…. this whole area is being much more researched now and they are more optimistic, that the nervous system can continue to develop and change.
The problem of rigidity as you grow older can be addressed by consciously deciding to do things differently, variation and diversity are good.    So there's some hope for us!

Well there was a whole lot more, but I don't want to hold you up from going out there and changing things!!!  After a nice cuppa tea of course.....
If you have been, thanks for reading.....    Elizabeth

11 comments:

Margaret said...

The point about rigidity with age: I am 64. I never thought I was artistic till my fifties; in the past 15+ years I have picked up that baton and run with it -- with a good deal of help. At first I stuck to "pretty" -- and in truth, I enjoy creating landscapes that people would like to have in their homes or to give as gifts. However, recently I've developed the courage to create an installation that is a "statement" work...In my forties I'd never have had the chutzpah to do this. It has taken time, personal trauma, and the encouragement of my teachers and peers to move in that direction. The old dog has, indeed, learned some new tricks!

flspirit said...

I'm unsure about aging & rigidity, probably because before my 60s I had too many other responsibilities. With 18 years more years than Margaret, my creativity is blossoming. There is time to do what I choose without considering others. What show up has my attention, at least for a while. As for quality... that's debatable. However, I'm generally happy with outcomes.
I find this video quite inspiring - why we need a why! Learned years ago to ignore whys as wasted energy. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=michael%20jr%20know%20your%20why

Leslie said...

Discovering the problem .... That makes soooooo much sense. Thanks for sharing Elizabeth!

Leigh Wheeler said...

That "you're so creative. I'm just not creative at all. I could never do that" comment is a personal pet peeve of mine. It is completely dismissive of all the time, hard work, practice and effort I've put in to learning and improving.

I didn't fall out of bed and land on a masterpiece. I've spent 47 years messing about with whatever came to hand to paint/sew/stitch/twist/knit/crochet/glue/etc. By now, I have a big "toolbox" of techniques and experience. And there's always more to learn.

For that type of comment, I blame the media with the incessant message that 'you can do it in an hour' and Martha Stewart and her perfect everything at the end of a half hour show. It implies that everyone should be able to do it perfectly. It keeps people from playing in the glue or swishing the watercolors around to see what they do. People are given the message that they should be able to paint a lovely watercolor immediately. Or carve the perfect pumpkin face. Then when it doesn't happen, they blame a "lack of creativity".

Have you read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers? His theory is that if you commit 10,000 hours to "deliberate practice" you can become world class in your chosen field. It's a fascinating book. It talks about how being "good" at something is partly about the availability of activity, encouragement, and then practice. If you try something, and someone tells you that you're good at it, you'll probably like it a lot more than if no one said anything or said something negative. If you like something, you'll spend more time practicing it. If you practice, you get better. If you have a coach, you improve faster with more direction, and it becomes a feedback loop of practice, like, praise, repeat. Of course, the activity had to be available in the first place. And why art should be in our schools. But that's another topic.

Also, does being "age" old equate to being "mentally" old? As flspirit says, now there is time to discover, to experiment, to learn and to develop. So if a person is doing that, they aren't in a 'rut' cycle, no matter how old they are.

Of course, at some point, one may not be able to continue to branch out into other areas with the effectiveness that one may desire to achieve. My grandfather (at nearly 80) decided that he probably did not have time to thoroughly learn pottery glazes so as to be able to manipulate colors at the sophisticated level that he wanted. So he used techniques he was more familiar with. He was already a woodcarver, water color painter, drawer with pen and ink & pencil, as well as an oil painter and a woodworker. Then he learned to sculpt in porcelain. So while he chose not to expand, I'm not sure that one could say he was in a 'rut' or was inflexible.

Sunnie said...

When people make that "I'm not creative" comment, I point out that they have chosen their clothing and managed to get wherever we are...creativity is not "just for artists" it is for everything all day long.

Melanie McNeil said...

I believe a key driver of creativity is curiosity. Curiosity is the desire to learn something or know something, in essence asking the questions that creativity can answer. Those people who deem themselves as not creative may not be, and I'll bet most of them also are not very curious. They don't seek out the next piece of information, they don't ponder how things are connected, and they aren't willing to try things just to see what will happen. Beyond childhood, I'm not sure that is driven by age. Maybe they are content in ways that creative people are not. ?? Maybe...

Elizabeth Barton said...

Great Comments...thank you everyone..
yes I've read Gladwell's book - which is actually about research that other people did - not him personally. Currently they feel that while 10g hours would make you competent a study of top performers showed that they actually have put in a LOT more hours than that over their lifetimes...
I too was calculating - starting now - how long would it take me at, say, 3 hours a day to become really good at something!!!
Re the drop off in creativity in later years, it's something they've observed in many studies...and, of course, like many things, there is, I'm sure, great variation. And, also...we all hope, NOT inevitable!!
and yes, curiosity is one of a number of characteristics that are part of the potential for being a creative person. And like you, I'm often stunned by how incurious so many people are....and just think about how curious most little kids are...and we lose that.

Sandy said...

I often say a very similar thing to what Sunnie says about the clothing when people say they are not creative. But the ones who seem to want you to apologise for actually using your brain, discovering things which lead to other things and being creative are the ones that make me cross! As you say, some are proud to be non-creative as if that lets them off the hook of trying.
But then you look at what other things they are good at...such as Maths. Creative with numbers I will never be and I could envy them! But I just get them to do the Maths stuff for me so I can carry on being creative. (insert evil laugh here!)
Sandy in the UK

Elizabeth Barton said...

oh yes, Sandy, you're so right! There are times when it's very useful to appear without knowledge...or actually be without knowledge...
Of course human beings wouldn't have got where they are (for good or for ill) without being creative.

Pamela Price Klebaum said...

Much research has strongly challenged Gladwell's thesis. See the recent article on this at http://www.businessinsider.com/10000-hour-rule-practice-talent-genetics-2016-9

Leigh Wheeler said...

While I agree that "10G hours of deliberate practice" is an over-simplification, it is an extremely useful analogy to counteract the "you're-so-creative-I-can't-ever-do-that" crowd. Most have never tried anything, and want to make excuses for it, at the same time dismissing the practice of others.

I actually have Peak on my bookshelf. Have to read that next.