Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Creativity: nature and man

canada 2012 010 Back home from my travels and wondering how on earth anyone can ever convey the majesty and breadth of the natural undisturbed landscape in their art!   We stayed on an island where the inhabitants have voted against advertising, chain and discount stores; it’s  a land of small farms, cottages and masses of wild flowers. Nothing better!  Flowers taking over the road rather than trash and traffic! We took the ferry to a land of magic: Manitoulin Island, Ontario, Canada

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Whilst away I read several books on creativity.  For the most part these involve the same anecdotes (the amazing discovery of post- it notes and so on) about inventions for profit and somewhat wordy and domesticated discussions of a few psychological experiments here and there.  I don’t really recommend any of the books; however, there are a  few interesting conclusions.  

Time and time again people say to me “oh it must be wonderful to be so talented!”.  It’s a load of rubbish! there may be a few born geniuses out there, but 99.9% of “creative people were not born with any special talents.  And I definitely wasn’t.   I am, however, persistent (as many have complained over the years! in fact, a lot more than have wondered at my talent!) and one of the statements I’ve seen over and over in the books and articles about creativity is that the ability to persist at a task is one of the most important predictors of success.

Risk taking
We need to be able to allow ourselves to fail, and if we really want to make great work then “Fail Big!” If we limit ourselves to the safe and true, to always following the rules, we won’t create anything innovative at all.

Sharing of ideas
I hate the secrecy that now permeates the business world, the science world and the art world.  If we share and build upon each other’s ideas we will create more work, discover more things, find more answers, develop more amazing ideas.  Even quilt shows have now bought into the for profit world’s secrecy requirements. 
This way of thinking has considerably limited scientific discovery too.  Everyone is fighting for a grant so don’t share your data because it might be your only chance at getting a grant for your lab.  And whatever you do, don’t let anyone see the quilt you might enter the next big international quilt show! God forbid – they might make a better one based on the same idea!

The sharing of knowledge (rather than the greedy hoarding that is rampant when profits are paramount) is what moves the frontiers of knowledge forward – no matter the medium.

Constructive criticism
Being told everything you make is wonderful does not help you to grow as an artist.  Nor does it help children in schools to be given all As for even the most shoddy and shallow work.  When I worked at a university, many freshmen were absolutely stunned that they might need to study to gain an A, why…they’d never studied before!   Alas in art work constructive criticism is one of the hardest things to get.  And that’s why I spend some time on it in my real life and virtual workshops.   It is difficult to know if you’re making progress if an external eye is not available for feedback (preferably two!).

Ability to “steal” without risk of a lawsuit
Apparently there are lawyers out there who buy up big groups of patents and then troll through looking for those who may have advertently or inadvertently broken copyright.   Don’t you dare include That Mouse in your quilt!  or even the Bear of very Little BRain.
And yet, many great artists have honed their craft by building on other artist’s work: amongst these being William Shakespeare who began writing his plays using Christopher Marlowe’s techniques and basing his plots on published stories!  Bob Dylan also built his songs upon existing ones.  Neither Bill nor Bob could get away with it today, those trolling lawsuit bringing lawyers would be right down on them!  Borrowing is not very helpful, you  don’t grow that way…but “stealing” i.e. making an idea your own and developing it further and further is a time honoured system.  Somebody once told me that I shouldn’t make black and white quilts because a Famous Teacher used black and white in her teaching examples i.e. that teacher now “owned” that color scheme!!!  What limitations we do put upon ourselves!

A culture that supports rather than represses innovation
Alas many of our current educational practices repress.  I remember being surprised at the amount of facts I was supposed to rote learn (and, moreover, categories of facts!) when I first went to a U.S. university. Facts can be looked up (especially these days), thinking, however, has to be honed.

Furthermore, limiting good education to the well endowed few limits us all.

Time to explore process
We need time to explore processes, instead of just being lectured about them or being pressed to produce something.  We need to play!

A people mix
Research show that when people from different cultures mix together, exciting things happen in all fields; let us not barricade ourselves into our homogenous little groups – heterogeneity rules when it comes to creativity!

So, now I’ve saved you from reading all those books, go off and Make Work!! And, if you have a few minutes, be sure to send in your comments.  A blog without comments is a tomato without salt!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth




very little brain but you knw


Gerrie said...

Wonderful fodder for cogitation thereon!!

Sandy said...

Applause sounding from Sandy in the UK
especially the secret part. It fits in with how I feel about the way different sewing disiplines don't/won't communicate with each other. Imagine what sewing artists could be making if quilters learned from dressmakers or the other way around and add in a bit of needlework or soft furnishing knowledge and design.
thanks for putting thoughts into words so well. you have a gift for that.

I do also agree about the talent part. Sometimes it seems people expect you to apologise for being clever/ using your brain.

Nina Marie said...

wowsy - did you hit on a favorite rant with this post. First of all - I hear all the time - "Ohh I wish I could do that" - LOL - I tell them well I couldn't do it either till I tried and practiced for 20 years. Secondly - I'm overwhelmed by the greediness of quilt artists these days. They act as if their art is totally original and is owned exclusively by them visually as well as monetarily. First of all - nothing is totally original and secondly if you don't want to share your work with the world then don't publish it anywhere. Keep it hanging in your living room with a sign that says - "No Pictures Please". The last straw were designers copyrighting their commercial fabric to the point that you are not allowed to make anything from it that you would sell. The only thing I could say to that is, "Seriously?!?" Please get over yourself.

Elsie Montgomery said...

Dear Elizabeth, this is one of the best posts I've read for a long time. All I can add is AMEN.

Jackie said...

Well said! Show up, do the work, play, risk, keep showing up and doing the work. There is no magic beyond time and effort. The way to have a new idea is to have lots of ideas, try them all! Thank you for the reminders!

Mary Keasler said...

Sending a large dose of salt and perhaps a shake of pepper for those most juicy and delicious words. Ata girl!

Elizabeth said...

I can't even begin to say how much I agree with this post!!!! My pet peeves were easily touched upon!!

I have been disgusted with a couple of fairly famous teachers who would only share what they taught in such and such a course!! I am much more apt to take again and again classes from teachers who share freely. It is my experience that teachers many times learn as much from students as vice versa (having taught dyeing and painting).

My best example of non-sharing was an email I got because of a post I made on the dyeing list. The person asked me a lot about a technique I was using in snow dyeing which I shared freely. As she was from a somewhat snow free state, I offhandedly asked where she got her snow. She wrote back that it was a professional secret and wouldn't tell me. I responded by posting on the dyeing list again every possible place I could think of for getting snow or things that would pass for snow in southern states!!

Elizabeth Barton said...

thanks to everyone for all their great comments. sounds like you all have come across similar things and had similar concerns...
and now I must practice what I preach! off to the studio....and thence to teaching....

Linda Strowbridge said...

This is a great post! And for many reasons. Among those reasons is your emphasis on 'just do the work' and 'take time to play.' I recently discovered one good device for helping me to get better on both of those fronts, namely joining a challenge group. A challenge deadline every other month definitely compels me to work. The fact that the challenges are all very different and far from my normal style, colors, subject matter, etc. has both forced me to think in different ways and prodded me to play and experiment with styles, colors, construction methods, etc. that I don't normally touch. I think it's a great work-play device. Thanks for the wonderful post!

Elizabeth Barton said...

and, of course, one could challenge oneself - for example you could say you have to make 12 small pieces of a specific size embodying something relating to a particular set of stimuli. You could make those stimuli simply words you pull out of a hat! or opening a book and pointing at three different words with closed eyes, or something in the morning's paper...or 12 artists work whose names begin with A, B, C etc!!

MulticoloredPieces said...

Hi, Elizabeth. Bravo for an excellent post. Lately I've been saying to myself "this is the worst thing I've done", at which point I remind myself that it will then be an exciting project. I'd like to add my two cents worth to the discussion. It seems to me that emphasis is being put on process, which is fine, but, I think the best art work (no matter the medium) has the 3 H's. Head, Heart, Hand--a driving idea executed with passion and with fine craftsmanship/technic. So another point on the list could be to pick an idea, issue or problem that you are passionate about (or that you hate) to explore in the medium of your choice.
best from Tunisia,

Nifty Quilts said...

Thank you! I read one of the books, and I'm glad you've given us the "Cliff Notes." I agree with all your points, especially about sharing ideas and honest critique.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful and encouraging post. As a creative community, I think we can all take to heart everything you've brought out in the open here.

I'm just now taking a break from "playing" with fabric and you've inspired me!

Pamela Price Klebaum said...

I'd like to share my experience in the academic science world that leads to a conclusion that is directly counter to the secrecy mindset that is claimed here. I taught for ten years in a Biomedical Research Institute, working with UCLA professors and graduate and undergraduate students as they spent their summers in search of cures and treatments for cancer and other catastrophic diseases. The atmosphere was open, encouraging sharing and open dialogue. In fact, the history of science over the past 30 years speaks to the force of interdisciplinary cooperation, and the evolution of brand new scientific disciplines: in earlier years, biochemistry, and now, neuro-biology,bio-informatics, and a UCLA major that developed in the last few years, bio-physics, among many others. The sciences are replete with examples of cooperation and sharing. Many areas in academia (as well as others) are now highly interdisciplinary. I would like, as well, to note that many many of our best art quilters and process-developers share freely their methods, and they should be saluted. The Jane Dunnewolds and Carol Soderlunds, the Valerie Goodwins and the Terry Jirrard-Dimonds lead the way. These worlds are to be lauded. I think that those who do not share are the exception, not the rule.

Elizabeth Barton said...

thank you for your comments, Pamela - I'm so glad that you have encountered such sharing in both scientific and art fields. I wish it were universal. In my social science field, there was definitely a tendency for people to want to make money for a new "therapy" and they would not divulge techniques - very sad for the patients who might have been helped. My experience was always that individuals would share, but corporations were much more likely to be eyeing the bottom line.

Deb said...

You've done an awesome job of summing up those books! Love the thoughts! Do you mind if I copy those and save on my computer for future reference? I plan on taking your Quilt University class - Working in a Series and looking forward to it! Thanks for sharing!

Elizabeth Barton said...

It's always fine to save my blogs - and to direct others to my blog site!
Look forward to seeing you in the QU class, Deb!! and thank you for the comment.