Friday, May 8, 2009

Exercises in Creativity

By Jean Henry Mead

While I was growing up during the dark ages, if someone said you were creative, they meant you were strange. Or different from the norm, whatever that is. On the other hand, people admired the creativity of artists and writers who dared to be irreverent. They were what author Nancy Slonim Aronie called “tapped by the goddess of artistic sensibilities.”

I’ve always wondered whether writers were born to be writers and telemarketers were born to perversely make phone calls during dinner. We’re all born with innate talents that are creative in their own way. Florists are creative in their arrangements as are plumbers who create unusual designs that hopefully don’t leak. And I’ve always admired the creative talents of wedding cake designers and chefs who garnish their gourmet dishes with sprigs of parsley and mounds of berries and glorious whipped cream.

Aronie says, “Creativity is your soul expressing itself. Creativity is a continuing process. And process and souls expressing themselves have nothing do with selling or reviews or results or commercial success. They have everything to do with taking chances, being honest, letting us experiment with what feels right, letting ourselves make—as Annie Lamott puts it in Bird by Bird—'[lousy] first drafts.' This brainstorming of the gut will nourish your innards.”

Aronie’s creativity exercise is an interesting one. She basically says to allow yourself 30 minutes to decide which ordinary thing you’ll turn into something extraordinary. Then write about it. “What was the experience like for you? How will you remember it? How will you change the channel from ‘what a drag’ to ‘what a joy?’”

Some of the exercises she suggests are:

~Clean the hydrator in the refrigerator.

~Match all the socks in the sock drawer.

~Throw out all the stretched–out underwear that you never wear.

~Organize your videotapes.

~Rip pages from a magazine and make a collage that says ‘I’m creative’.

~Add a plant to your work area.

~Make an exotic mushroom sandwich on toasted country French bread. Serve it on your nicest plate with yellow and orange nasturtium.

~Put a love note under someone’s pillow.

Most of these things fall under the dreaded category of “Housework,” and I can think of better things to do with the little time I have to be creative, although I have to admit that her suggestions are challenging.

Aronie has taught a workshop, telling students that “creativity is maintaining the balance between the heart and the mind, the dedication to the moment and the ability to stand by and surrender and let the stuff flow through.”

I hope that’s what I’ve been doing . . .


Bill Kirton said...

Fascinating thoughts, Jean. Creativity’s such a huge subject that any approach to or definition of it has a good chance to be valid. I accept all Aronie’s comments but it’s your own thoughts on the creativity of florists, plumbers et al that strike a chord with me. Whenever we use words such as soul, refinement, sensibility, inspiration, we’re separating ourselves from the process, becoming observers of and commentators on creativity rather than creators. Aronie seems to want to allow the process to be more all-enveloping, as it should be. Anything that helps us to move away from the dead hand of routine (and from clich├ęs such as ‘the dead hand of routine’) is creative.

For most kids, creativity is like breathing – they can’t help doing it. So before ‘artists’ set themselves up on some elevated plane, they should maybe try some of the housework you mention. It’ll keep them grounded and make them better artists.

One thing – I can’t agree about chefs. I know they create amazing visual experiences on their plates nowadays, but I’d still prefer them to concentrate on flavours. I don’t want a presentation, I want food.

Jean Henry Mead said...

You're right about flavor, Bill, but a plate filled with monocromatic food kills my appetite. I do agree that separating ourselves from the process and standing back to observe and comment rather than create is more like journalism than fiction.

Chester Campbell said...

As humans, one of our basic creative urges is the analysis. We choose to analyze everything about us. And one of the things we find most fascinating to analyze is creativity itself. My basic definition of creativity is making something where there was nothing. When you talk about it in relation to artists and writers and musicians, however, the subject can become quite esoteric in its twists and turns. Simply put, it's a function of the writer's vision, how he or she describes what they see in the world around them, from physical objects to emotions to motivations. It's all, as the cliche goes, grist for the writer's mill. I suppose the mill is where creativity lurks.