The Art of Creativity

Organic Abstract Art of Creativity

©  The Art of Creativity

The Art of Creativity

Oh the allure of reaching into the imagination and pulling out something tangible, useful, and then making it real.

“One evening, contrary to my custom, I drank black coffee and could not sleep. Ideas rose in crowds; I felt them collide until pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions, those which came from the hypergeometric series; I had only to write out the results, which took but a few hours. ~ Henri Poincaré ~

We want more of that in our lives. There’s powerful resonance there, just dreaming about it, let alone even doing it. So how can we get more?

Its easy to see why chasing creativity is such a concern in this 21st century. Feels good, rewarding and useful to others. Of course (cue in sound of distant shoe falling), it is elusive and almost never there when its made the goal for it’s own right. But we can find it.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”. ~ Henry David Thoreau ~

You can’t force a plant to grow, but you can plant seeds. You can cultivate the soil. Then…growth.

So that’s what this blogs all about, how to tease out those little details and routines to cultivate a creative life of wonders. My take on this process is that creativity is one piece in a three piece puzzle of this ultimate human experience, the other two being mastery and flow. But now, creativity, what is it?

What is Creativity

I can think of no other word that has had as an organic, elusive definition. Current favorite among thought leaders: An idea that is novel, good, and useful. Some others:

  • Recombination of novel information and older existing ideas.
  • Pattern recognition and matching.
  • Find new solutions to a problem or new modes of expression.
  • Bringing into existence something new to the individual.
  • Thinking outside the box.

My personal definition is: the bridge between the imagination and the real. Which is really inspired by this statement by Ed Catmull about creativity: “there is a sweet spot between the known and the unknown where originality happens; the key is to be able to linger there without panicking.”

Why? Creativity in Action

Richard Feynman, perhaps one of the most unarguable manifestations of creative genius, after Einstein, in recent years is a great example. If your unfamiliar with him please check him out. Aside from quick wiki read you might also check our Feynman’s own somewhat whimsical autobiography(from quantum physics to how to pick up girls in a bar) or James Gleick’s quite thorough biography (which I leaned on heavily for the following story).

At a time when Feynman was at the top of his game as a scientist and professor Caltech asked him to teach introductory physics course. Something usually handled by Assistant Proffesor’s and Graduate students. Feynman, far from seeing this as beneath him, commenced a one year odyssey which was so successful that his audience was as much faculty and graduate students as it was first year freshman. Note Feynman’s perspective in tackling this, as Gleick writes:

He found that he was working harder than at any time since the atomic bomb project. Teaching was only one of his goals. He realized also that he wished to organize his whole embracing knowledge of physics, to turn it end over end until he could find all the interconnections that were usually, he believed, left as loose ends.

Genius The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick pg 359

At the end of the year Caltech, and other professors for that matter, begged him to do the same thing for physics year two. Stick with the same freshman right on into their sophomore year. The results are the famous Feynman Lectures. The complete reenvisioning of the world of physics through the unique and dynamic viewpoint of Feynman.

To really see why I’ve added this example, check out the popularity of Feynman’s lectures on Amazon and consider: this is a college textbook written (compiled) over 50 years ago! Not in a dusty garage box or in the attic but still selling…

Now another example, closer to home for us visual creatives. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti. I won’t bore you with this well know renaissance artist introduction but cut straight to the story I love to share with people.

The year is 1501 and 26 year old Michelangelo is just returning home to Florence from some years in Rome where he received some small fame for a magnificent statue, the Pieta. But that fame didn’t necessarily transfer to Florence.

The powers that be were finally trying to have a huge 17 foot tall block of marble, that’d been laying around for 25 years, commissioned for sculpting and placement. But Michelangelo had to compete for it. According to Irving Stones Biographical novel “The Agony and the Ecstasy” the other competitors wanted to cut the thing in two. You see someone had already started carving on it, and left this big gouge in the middle. Only Michelangelo, who grew up staring at and dreaming what he could do with this block, saw the solution to leaving it whole. By ingeniously rotating the posture and moving the hips and legs, he solved the problem of the hole. So we have the giant statue of “David”. One of the most famous statues every sculpted.

I chose these two examples because what these men weren’t. The weren’t motivated by extrinsic forces. Glory, money, accolades, power… No doubt they were not completely immune to such influences but what was their driving force?

Feynman spent hours and hours of studying ants that intruded in his cupboard. He extensively and patiently studied their tracking and marking of their environment. How they communicated and passed on information. What systems they used and how he could manipulate those systems. In the end he learned an incredible amount about ants, trained the ants to leave his cupboard alone, and never had to squish one. He was insatiably curious and completely absorbed in his various studies. Intrinsically motivated.

Michelangelo’s father was middle class with Bourgeois ancestry and aspirations. An artist was the same as a laborer in those days. Michelangelo had a long uphill battle to pursue a life as an artist. But he had to make things. He was impelled from within to make things. He was proud having breast feed from a wet nurse who was a marble cutters wife, raised on marble dust milk! His connection to the marble was more powerful than any societal prejudices could dim.

It’s interesting that in studying creativity, they have found that those who state they’re more creative under a deadline, score lower on creativity tests. Creativity is such an inside out process. Too bad for corporate America, that this makes creativity very difficult to commodifiy. But great for us as nurturing the inside, planting the seeds and tilling the soil, makes a creative life so rich and enjoyable.

These are just a few introductory thoughts and be assured we’ll be digging in the details in some posts to come.

Bite down on the Deep Now

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