You are probably familiar with the ‘light bulb’ moment in films and TV, where the character (usually the protagonist) comes up with this great idea that hails them as a genius. You probably saw it coming because before that scene there was a short, say 30 seconds to a minute montage of them ‘thinking’ of ideas. Who doesn’t love a good montage?
However, these depictions of ‘genius’, and a word synonymous with ‘genius’, ‘creativity’ do not paint the reality of the ideation that can torment and/or resuscitate the so-called ‘genius’ in question. Sawyer (2012) sums up this convention flawlessly “The Western cultural model holds that creativity is a burst of inspiration from a lone genius” (p. 387). I believe that this model is detrimental to the emotional and mental lives of western society since it only accounts for one type of creative practitioner. In doing so, it limits the possibility that anyone can be creative, and I believe the impact of this belief can hinder an individual's way of life. The act of being creative or being entertained by someone's creativity is fun and exciting, it “gives life authenticity and spontaneity” (Runco, 2014, p. 110).
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (2014) work on motivation and creativity is an integral component to the understanding of creativity and its processes. In particular, his idea and research into ‘flow’; an experience that concurs with “a good life” and is “characterised by complete absorption in what one does” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014, p. 239). It is important to mentally note Csikszentmihalyi’s ideas (because they are amazing), but it is also important to consider why he decided to research creativity in the first place. The process of creativity can vary from person to person, and research into idea generation techniques conclude that “creativity research has been conducted for almost a century and yet new findings are still being reported” (2009, p.9). However, what all this research into idea generation can tell us is that there is no right or wrong way to be creative. The Western cultural model strips confidence and courage from individuals who do not see the ‘light bulb’ at the end of the tunnel. Actually, it makes more sense for me to use a road rather than a tunnel in light of Robert Frost’s poem ‘Road Not Taken’.
In light of all this new found information I’m going to attempt to analyse my own creative process. I’m hoping this will give me a better understanding of:
How I practice creativity
What inspires me
My relationship to my discipline
By better understanding these aspects of my creative process I will be able to take steps to improve the process. What better way to examine my creative process than through a creative activity; the making of a self-portrait. While undertaking the task I made mental and physical notes on the above aspects of the creative process. I want this activity to not just be creative and fun, but informative. Through a combination of justifying my motivations and later reflecting on these motivations, I will hopefully better understand how the crazy in my mind works.
Please feel free to watch and listen to my self-portrait.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have no set hard and fast methods for my creativity. Musical ideas come to me in the car, in the shower, sitting on the toilet, at 2am lying in bed half awake. All the ideas that I’ve ever forced out, have kind of been shit. However, I have found that when I supply myself with an abundance of tools and more importantly I set aside time to channel my creative ‘flow’, something good usually pops out. Congdon (2019) writes on the importance of setting aside time to be creative, and for allowing your mind to catch a breath, absorb and synthesise ideas and knowledge.
For my self-portrait I decided to incorporate pieces of film I took of myself working in solitude and chop them into a scene from Paterson (2016), a film about finding art in everyday life. I decided to do this because the film fueled my reasons behind my own creative process. Research on creativity often highlights the importance of acquiring knowledge in order to expand further on your own ideas (Leski et al. 2015; Congdon, 2019). I have found that I tend to rely on divergent thinking when absorbing art (films, fictional novels, music, etc), and convergent thinking when trying to justify the reasons behind my choices. Divergent thinking provides “many potential answers”, while convergent thinking provides “a single right answer” (Sawyer, 2012, p. 46). My convergent thinking tends to rely on information stored from academic, non-fictional, and philosophical literature. It’s this convergent thinking that decides when a divergent thinking answer wins the race, or rather is cool enough to be a part of the project.
However, I could not have done any of this if I hadn’t prioritized time to be creative. When I first tried to create my self-portrait I didn’t go to my computer and open up Ableton right away. I sat there for a bit in complete silence and just thought. Then I left the idea and did something else because I knew that I had to wait for the seed to sprout. Tips on being creative often point out the necessity in understanding that sometimes you need to unlearn, backtrack, think outside the box, think in the box, take risks, and most importantly, you need to embrace the uncertainty and have faith in the inevitable spark (Congdon, 2012; Leski, et al. 2015). In the moment that I tried to conceive an idea for my self-portrait I came up with nothing. Instead I tried to think of other creative processes that I admired in other fictional and non-fictional creative practitioners. I let it go and just waited, and the next day I came up with something.
I find that if I’m stuck, I’ll re-read some poetry or a few pages of a book, or re-watch a scene from a film I’m already familiar with. I think that sometimes when you start reading a new book, watching a new film, listening to a new piece of music, there is so much for your brain to take in and it’s easy to get distracted. My lecturers in music studies at university encouraged me to listen to musical pieces more than a few times, analyse and even transcribe some of it. My lecturers in film studies encouraged me to re-watch films and analyse camera angles in relation to the content of the narrative. A piece of art can provide you with so many possibilities, so many new answers. My musical influence Esperanza Spalding once said in an interview:
“I mean I’m thirty-three… This will all probably - I’ll change my mind in ten years” (Beuttler, 2019, p.241).
Although she is discussing her philosophies on various subjects such as music, culture, and creativity, the fact remains that this artist understands the potential for change. As we educate ourselves and have different experiences, our perception of the world changes. For example, when I was a child I loved the movie Shrek because of the talking donkey. However, after recently watching it again, I love it for the love story… I still love it for the talking donkey.
I re-watched the film Paterson because I remembered how beautiful it was in portraying the potential for art to be found in everyday life. I watched it with my family and they were confused by it;
Is something going to happen soon?
Do you reckon the dog is gonna get kidnapped?
What do you reckon the wife’s deal is?
What’s the deal with the twins?
The film didn’t include actions shots, the pace was purposefully slow and I loved every minute of it. I re-watched scenes to remind me of the poetry that the protagonist was writing throughout the film, but found a scene that perfectly encapsulated how I feel and think about the creative process. The line that the Japanese man says after handing the main protagonist an empty book is:
“Sometimes empty page, presents most possibilities.”
I find inspiration in what has already affected me in the past. I find that this genuine feeling can often be trusted in directing me toward what could possibly inspire and encourage my own artistic endeavours.
Relationship To My Discipline
“For the jazz musician proved to be a restless soul, at one moment fostering the tradition, at another shattering it, mindless of the pieces” (Gioia, 2011, p.186)
As a jazz student I have always enjoyed the potential that jazz offers to take risks due to it being improvisatory in nature. In my recent studies of critical listening for the audio professional I have benefited from learning about how the audio engineer can manipulate sound and thus the listening experience. For my audio/visual self-portrait I attempted to improvise with various mixing tools such as delay, overdrive, panning, and more to change the quality of the various sound sources. All the sounds besides the sound effects of a pen writing and the flicking through of a book are made up of snippets from a track in my last EP. I decided to do this because I not only wanted to expand my creative potential within the field of audio engineering, but I also wanted to work within uniquely set limitations. Similar to the way a jazz composer writes the harmony and/or groove that limits the soloist to a specific set of note choices.
This Creative Practitioner Needs To Go Read and Write Something
This creative activity helped me understand my creative process and is ultimately helping to shape the way I identify my style as a creative practitioner. I am looking forward to further exploring the way in which genuinity and authenticity exist in the art making and consuming process as I highly value these components. Through a combination of acquiring academic knowledge and reflection, I feel I’ll be better equipped to extend my creative potential.
Bailey, P. B., Jones, R. B., Herring, R. S. (2009). Idea generation techniques among creative professionals. Proceedings of the 42nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.
Beuttler, W. (2019). Make it new: Reshaping jazz in the 21st century. Amherst. Lever Press.
Congdon, L. (2019). Find your artistic voice: The essential guide to working your creative magic. Chronicle Books LLC.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Flow and the foundations of positive psychology: The collected works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Springer Netherlands.
Frost, R. (n.d). The road not taken. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken
Gioia, T. (2011). The history of Jazz (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press Inc.
Jarmusch, J. (Director). (2016). Paterson [Film]. K5 International. Le Pacte. Animal Kingdom. Inkjet Productions.
Leski, K., Maeda, J., Antonelli, J. (2015). The storm of creativity. MIT Press.
Runco, A. M. (2014). Creativity: Theories and themes: Research, development, and practice. Elsevier Science & Technology.
Sawyer, R. K. (2012). Explaining creativity: The science of human innovation. Oxford University Press USA - OSO.