Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011
If I haven't mentioned this before, I'll take a moment to mention it now: I'm currently taking a graduate course on creative problem solving (which I talked about Friday) for my master's degree. If you don't know what creative problem solving is, I highly recommend taking a moment to peruse the Wikipedia entry. It's a fascinating subject!
Even more fascinating than the subject of the course itself are the assignments and projects I have to complete! Before the end of the semester, I have to 1.) create an invention, 2.) practice a new creative skill, 3.) fill an "idea" notebook, and 4.) complete a creative scavenger hunt. That's one heck of a creative portfolio in less than four months! Cool, right? Who knew one could get so excited about homework?
I'm excited about all the projects, but my creative eye is presently fixated on that scavenger hunt assignment. The idea behind the hunt is to gather photographic evidence of seven creative "items" from two different environments. Participants should visit one stereotypically "creative" environment (e.g. an art museum, a fair ground, an art festival, etc.) and one unexpectedly creative and/or stereotypically un-creative environment (e.g. a warehouse, a mattress store, a mega-mall, etc.). In each of these environments, participants should photograph samples of creativity as per the checklist. Once samples of each creative "item" have been found, the information should be presented in an interesting and creative way (e.g. a photo essay, a slide show, a music video, etc.).
Wanna play along?
Of course you do!
Here's what my professor wants us to find:
1. A person going about something run-of-the-mill in a creative way
2. Three examples of creative flexibility (e.g. how many different ways something can be used)
3. Lookin' for Art in all the wrong places (e.g. art in unusual settings)
4. Personification and conversation (e.g. give an object human qualities and make it talk!)
5. Unique and original problem-solving
6. Quoth the Poet (e.g. something Shakespeare would find pen-worthy)
7. Quoth the Diva (e.g. something one would find in an R&B or Country song)
The final project isn't due until the end of the semester, but I've already started snapping shots. This is, by the way, a fantastic idea for brainstorming and inspiration. Why? Because it is an exercise in looking at old things from new perspectives and getting great ideas from the good ideas of others. If you've found yourself in a creative rut lately, this might be just the shovel you need to dig yourself out.
Come on! Let's go scavenge ourselves up some inspiration. (And maybe an "A" on that assignment?)
What would you add to your own personal creative scavenger hunt? Any additions?
Friday, September 23, 2011
Although my usual schedule for this blog is a Monday-Wednesday posting, I just had to share this fabulous example of creative problem solving with all of you.
It's no secret that I'm a lover of the scientific family Corvidae (the group containing ravens, crows, and magpies). They're an incredibly intelligent group of birds with the ability to make tools, to mimic a vast array of sounds, and to recognize themselves in mirrors (self awareness!). They are also, in my humble opinion, the definitive creative problem solvers of the class Aves.
For those of you not familiar with this concept, creative problem solving is a process whereby a problem is solved using innovation rather than well-established solutions. Examples of such problem solving are (1) using a paperclip as a replacement for a broken zipper pull, (2) hiding vegetable purees in the meal of a finicky eater, (3) almost any situation involving duct tape. Think MacGyver, people.
We humans engage in creative problem solving on a pretty regular basis (but perhaps not as often as we should). We're used to finding alternative means to get something we want. Want to hear something amazing? Crows, magpies, and jays can do the same thing!
Just look at this video:
Now, these birds have been trained. But, there are plenty of examples of corvids doing similarly incredible things in the wild. Some crows in Japan, for example, have been caught dropping walnuts into busy intersections so that heavy cars can do the cracking for them!
Don't be outdone by a bird!
What kinds of problems have you solved creatively?
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
People are scared to get down and get creative.
Monday, September 19, 2011
- Do you consider yourself to be a creative person?Yes I do consider myself to be a creative person. I believe creativity calls for a very active imagination. I have always been blessed with a great imagination. Growing up in a little village with almost no children my age, I was left to find my own world of imaginary people and things. It was a wonderful childhood filled with books and nature and real nutty characters. Even as a small child, I was constantly trying to decorate my mother’s house (much to her horror). I built tree houses and tiny gardens for fairies. My father and my Uncle (who lived with us) were great story tellers, and I loved to listen to them. Those early days of my life furnished me with more stories than I can ever write.
- You’re an experienced writer and a member of a writing group. Do you find that feedback from a creative community helps the writing process?I have found writing groups extremely helpful. They understand your problems and they toughen you up if you are lucky enough to have really good criticism. You think all of those beautiful words you have strung together should be enshrined on a plaque somewhere only to have your writing group tell you they are pretentious and boring. It bursts your bubble, but it is good advice.
- What is your creative process like?I write with a pen and notebook. It's hard for me to write on my computer. I am not a good typist and it slows me down. If it’s a poem, I start with a first line and sort of outline the whole thing, and then work it out. It becomes a puzzle to solve. If it’s a short story, I start with an idea and figure out how I want it to begin and end. It takes longer for the central part. I want the story to have its own sound. Like music, it has to please the ear.
- How do you deal with/overcome creativity blocks or obstacles?Twenty five years ago, my writing muse moved in with me and filled my head with words. Ideas flowed effortlessly and I wrote and wrote. Then, just as mysteriously, my muse moved out, leaving broken ideas and bits of stories to dry up in the corners of my mind like dust. It's back again, but old and slow and forgetful and not a bit trustworthy. I think going back to a writing group that gave a class in writing helped me to start writing again. Actually, creativity never left me. It just took other forms for a while.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Lady scribblers! Gentleman scrawlers! Lend me your eyes and ears, for September is a most happenin' month indeed in the writerly realm. No, calm yourselves, the heart-stoppingly hectic, panicky-apoplectic moment of National Novel Writing Month has not yet reached us. You can put that one off until November. However, this first month in Fall has at least two prominent events to offer those inclined to sling a few words.
The first event of interest is Emily Suess's Writer's Week. Suess provides 50 truly oddball writing prompts for the daring contest entrant to finish in a creative way. There is no word limit or genre constraint. The contestant must post his or her piece to a public platform (e.g. some manner of blog) and (this is crucial) link the entry with an “official entry” button. Prizes are lavish, exciting, and hover tantalizingly just beyond our reach. This girl may just have to climb aboard that bandwagon.
The second noteworthy event is Round Seven of NPR's 3-Minute Fiction Competition. The stories for this competition must be 600 words or fewer (and thus able to be read in under three minutes). This round's challenge is about “arriving and leaving,” which means that the stories must contain a character who arrives in town and a character leaving town. The deadline for this competition is Sunday, September 25th at 11:59pm E.T. Prizes are: 1.) being exposed in public and 2.) an hour-long critique session. Yikes! Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to enter. But, man. What happened to coupons and trivial cash prizes? These prizes are both useful and terrifying.
Now, would you look at that? You now have two things to spur you on your creative way! Competition is a great motivator.
Now. Go on. Get after it!
Monday, September 12, 2011
Or perhaps it would help to read about an inspiring young woman and her amazing creative work?
Great! You're in luck! I'm thrilled to bring you another interview of a most creative individual. A few weeks back, I asked smart-girl (and librarian fashion icon), Ally Nevarez, if I could ask her a few questions about her creative process as a book-maker and paper-creator. Ally's photos of her work keep this dilettante's artistic sensibilities afloat. Hopefully, they'll inspire you, too!
Name: Ally Nevarez
Location: Seabrook TX
Occupation: Student and Proprietor of The Violet Hour Press.
Primary Modes of Creative Output: Book making, paper making, and letterpress printing
Self-Description: I am a letterpress printer and paper maker working under the imprint The Violet Hour Press. I have an MFA in the Book Arts from the University of Alabama, where I focused on handmade paper. My work is influenced by my love of pop culture, my Mexican-American heritage, and a love for the printed word.
1.) Do you consider yourself to be a creative person? What is your personal description of creativity and/or What are the characteristics of a creative person?
I do consider myself a creative person. Creativity is subjective, but for me it means that you can take an idea or a concept and make it a reality. If you look hard enough, you can find creativity in the most mundane things. Every building, car, greeting card, garden, and book started as an idea in somebody’s head. One of the most important characteristics of creative people is their ability to be resourceful. You don’t need a state-of-the-art facility to make something incredible. Creative people exhibit perseverance, improvisational skills, and an ability to think outside of the toolbox.
2.) You're in the (slightly unusual) business of making (awesome) paper arts. What initially attracted you to this mode of creative output?
Everything in the MFA in the Book Arts Program that I had learned up to my second semester relied very much on precision and cleanliness—perfect black letters, smudge-free prints, accurate spacing between words. When I pulled my first sheet of paper, it changed my life. Every single sheet, no matter how thin or thick or uneven, was beautiful. It gave me an opportunity to be messy and experiment with a variety of colors and fibers. What I’ve learned to appreciate is the added dimension that handmade paper can give to a project. Every sheet has a story, and has the ability to enhance the finished product.
3.) What is the coolest creative project you've worked on in your particular field? What made it so awesome?
The coolest thing I’ve ever done was work on a broadside for Neil Gaiman. I used Twitter to give him updates on the project as we went through the paper-making and the letterpress printing. When he came to the Bama Theatre to speak he invited me backstage to his dressing room, chatted with me, and signed each and every one of the copies. He even tweeted a picture of himself, my collaborator and myself with the broadside!
4.) Are creative blocks an issue for you? If so, how do you deal with/overcome creativity blocks or obstacles?
Sadly, creative blocks are an issue for me as an artist. Most commonly, these blocks stem from having a big idea about something but not being able to make decisions about things like color or size. As a result, I’ve become a devotee of the egg timer. I set the kitchen timer for a certain amount of time and then force myself to work through those issues in that allotted span. For example, if I can’t decide on the size of a book I’ll set the timer for 45 minutes and use that time to fold paper to various sizes and make mock-ups. Usually I don’t need the entire 45 minutes to figure out what I need to do to realize my vision, but the blinders help me focus. It works.
5.) What are your most vital creative tools? What makes these tools so essential?
People are the most valuable tool in my arsenal. Learning new things, getting feedback, and being inspired are so essential in art. I don’t know what I’d do without my friends and colleagues as guides through my creative journey.
6.) What is a recent moment of victory in your creative life?
Finishing my thesis “REPRESENT” was a treasured victory of mine. It was a book I had worked on for over a year, and the content was drawn from experience. It was an interactive book project constructed using all handmade paper, and it was a big draw for the Alabama Art Kitchen. People from all over Tuscaloosa came to the opening to receive a free book and put it together using ephemera I had printed. Making book arts accessible to the community is one of my goals, and that project was a vital part of realizing that goal.
7.) What do you think counts as a creative success for you? and/or What do you hope to achieve creatively?
Creating books that people in the community can relate to is success for me as an artist. I hope to show people outside of the art community that the physical book is a thriving, meaningful art form. In the future I hope that my work speaks to people from all avenues of life. Art can be technically beautiful, but viewers need to be able to relate in order for it to have an impact.
And there you have her, in all her bookish glory, Ms. Ally Nevarez of The Violet Hour Press. How incredible is it that she worked with Neil Gaiman? Go give this girl some love on Facebook.
What about you? What do you hope to achieve creatively?
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
I'm in the throes of reading Creativity is Forever by Gary A Davis, a text book on creativity with a wicked sense of humor and a penchant for tables and charts. And, oh, I do love tables and charts. But, more important than Davis's deliciously chart-y and table-y presentations of ideas are the actual ideas in themselves. Creativity, in all honesty, is quite a complex subject and rather an elusive beast to study (e.g. it's the veritable Bigfoot of the psychological world). Davis, however, does a very nice job of rounding up and laying out most of the information we have about creativity to date (at least up until 2004, that is). The sheer amount of information on the subject is brain scrambling. After reading a few hundred definitions of the word “creativity,” one's mind begins to reel in true “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” Gertrude Steinian fashion. “Oh!” one cries mentally, “Things just are what they are! Creativity just is what it is. Stop trying to define it!”
But, of course, this can't be an acceptable answer. At least not to those committed to writing books (or blogs) on the subject. Because despite just being a rose, the flower can still be dissected into its parts. What makes it a rose? The petals? The thorns? The aroma? Hmmm...
In Chapter Three, Davis captures one, shining facet on the polyhedral definition of creativity by postulating that creativity is, simply put, the combination of ideas. He notes that many creative inventions can be easily broken down into their original parts (the Snuggie comes to mind). And, of course, many highly respected (and not-so-highly respected) creative accomplishments are, at their root, a simple combination of ideas. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, for example, was the result of an ingenious cultural and linguistic scavenger hunt. Similarly, the contemporary bestselling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is quite obviously nothing more than a juxtaposition of two seemingly unrelated concepts.
Right. Maybe this guy is on to something.
So, today, let's get to combining some quality ideas! No matter your mode of creativity, try to brainstorm many, varied, and unusual combinations of ideas to use in your practice. Make a list. Write them down. Whip them all up into stiff peaks!
What are the strangest combinations you can come up with?The funniest images? The most seemingly discordant phrases? I bet they're all brilliant.
Bonus: Another prime example of Creativity As Combination of Ideas. Need proof of these guys' social capital? Take a look at Rolling Stone Magazine.
Monday, September 5, 2011
If you're remotely interested in the subject of creativity and haven't read Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide to Better Ideas by James L. Adams, I would highly recommend that you hop to it! Personally, I find this book highly informative as a writer, a visual artist, and a problem-solver. If you'd like to improve your creative abilities (even if you're not interested in creativity as a subject), then this book could prove a valuable tool. The author is incredibly persuasive in his holistic approach to making your own creativity better, faster, and stronger. He even has this adamant numerophobic thinking about purchasing a book on mathematical word problems and revisiting basic algebra.
In chapter six of his work, Adams attempts to smash one's creative inhibitions to proverbial smithereens by presenting the reader with his or her deficiencies in a variety of alternate problem-solving “languages” (e.g. verbal, mathematical, visual, sensory, etc.). By demonstrating weaknesses and fears in these languages, Adams reveals the chinks in one's creative armor. If one cannot visualize a bunch of grapes accurately, then one will have difficulty reproducing a bunch of grapes in the form of a line drawing. If one cannot accurately conceptualize the way a glass of red wine tastes and feels in one's mouth, then one will have difficulty writing about drinking red wine in a realistic and artistic way.
Now, I can conceptualize the way things smell and taste and look all day long. As a child, I used to practice “pretend eating” (strangely?) whereby I would fantasize about eating specific things (e.g. a hot dog or an ice cream cone) and concentrate until I could accurately reproduce the experience in my imagination. Eventually, I got really good at it. I can conjure up a doughnut right here, right now: the taste, the smell, the look, the shadows it casts. Sensory thinking is, effectively, covered. However, I am quite weak in the language of mathematical thought. Why? Simply put: because I'm afraid of it! Imaginary doughnuts are not particularly scary. Square roots? Parabolas? They induce shudders.
As a rule, I don't enjoy feeling inept or unintelligent. Mathematics and its loyal, academic disciples have (almost) always made me feel inferior. Thus, fearful of finding myself mathematically stupid, I chronically avoided thinking mathematically at all costs, which (of course) left me devoid of basic math skills. These days, I suffer for my sins both domestically (checkbook) and creatively (art). Why creatively? Because, as Adams so eloquently puts it, mathematics is aesthetics. Drawing is geometry. Animation is calculus. Music is abstract algebra.
Of course, one doesn't necessarily need to be a mathematician to create elegant, inspiring artwork, but having another mode of thought at one's disposal certainly doesn't hurt anything.
What is your weakest Thought Language? How about your strongest? Can you accurately visualize eating an apple (e.g. its taste, feel, smell)? Can you accurately visualize the bathroom in your childhood home (e.g. the feel of the tile, the frame of the mirror, the smell of the soap)?
Test your sensory conceptualization. Give some guided imagery exercises a try.