I was looking for a way to initiate a discussion of the creative process with a university class of artists, writers and business majors. I wanted something colorful and fun. After playing with the idea, I bought a red funnel, the biggest I could find, at Ace Hardware and a large polka-dot pitcher at Costco.
The discussion began with a question. How do we form our perceptions? We listed the sources: our experiences and environment – shaded by our background, education and feelings. Shaded by our individual intuition and insights. Information funnels into us and the process begins. (I held up the funnel.)
The next question was, What happens with this raw data? We receive and blend it with existing information already in our brains. Notions may collide, change or expand. We make connections, the obvious and the not so obvious. We make use of memory associations. (I took the glass pitcher – aka brain – and held it beneath the funnel. Then I shook the pitcher and made a swirling motion with it.) Although science allows us to see inside the brain, the creative process remains unique in each of us. Interpretations of what we see, think or conclude begin to emerge. Perhaps like a flood or a steady flow. Perhaps only a trickle. We pour this blend of the world as we see it into what we are creating: a painting, a short story, a poem, a novel, a three dimensional project, a problem to be solved. (I removed the funnel, tipped the pitcher and poured.) The visuals, designed for fun, a few chuckles and smiles, and maybe a few groans, helped move the discussion along.
Our sensors are gathering material all the time, consciously and unconsciously; things we read, see, hear, taste, touch, experience and feel emotionally. It helps to keep our sensors open by staying “in the moment.” As the information mixes in our minds, something clicks, and we have an idea. This click may occur slowly or be immediate.
At times, as we create, we find ourselves “in the zone” or “in flow” with our idea. We become fully immersed in what we are creating and work at peak performance. We’re oblivious to the outside world, oblivious to time. A truly delicious feeling. Other times we may have to slog along and persevere. That four letter word work comes into play. Finally, our inner critic has to be silenced. The ugly little character who comes to perch on our shoulder has to be knocked away.
Sources for ideas are limitless, if we are open. We discussed the creative sources the students had experienced and added more. We worked with some established pieces. Case in point: Edward Hopper’s painting Solitude, shown on the screen, gave birth to a poem of the same name by poet Susan Beem, published in the literary journal Ekphrasis -Spring/Summer 2010. I read the poem as students followed on their copies.
Recently, I discovered a “Creativity Workout” in a book by Neuroscientist Nancy Andreasen entitled The Creating Brain: The Neuroscience of Genius. She suggests the following to build our creative muscles:
1. Explore an unfamiliar area of knowledge.
2. Spend time each day thinking.
3. Practice the art of paying attention.
4. Tap your imagination by imagining something different from the status quo. e.g., A new object. What would be its use? What would it look like? e.g., A new world. What would you do there? What would it be like?
Item two resonated with me. Walking on a treadmill. A morning or evening walk around the neighborhood. A perfect time … to spend time … just thinking.