Sunday, November 02, 2014

The Creative Mind

Artists often get asked where their inspirations come from. I think what people actually want to know, those who don't feel like they have a creative bone in their bodies, is how an artist's mind works. Artists have a difficult time explaining this, or at least I do, because they can't imagine that everyone's mind doesn't work the way theirs do, and because so much of the creative process seems to come out of nowhere. But according to a study of 91 exceptional innovators (as cited in the book Powers of Two by Joshua Wolf Shenk), creative people depend on flexibility to an unusual degree, and their personalities show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. Creative people simply embrace contradictory extremes whereas everyone else learns to develop one or the other (the example given was one might grow up cultivating the aggressive competitive side while disdaining or repressing the nurturing cooperative side). I liken this to people who see everything as black and white while others of us can't be that hard-lined, seeing many shades of grey to every subject. No wonder I have so much trouble filling out those multiple choice question surveys - I literally can't choose one answer over another at times. Creative minds really do work differently. This quotation from Alfonso Montuori says it best:

"Creative people alternate order and disorder, simplicity and complexity, sanity and craziness in an ongoing process."

Me to a "T".

As for those ideas that seem to come out of nowhere (and I've mentioned many times when that has happened to me), another section of Powers of Two noted that in interview after interview, creative people recounted that in their "aha" moments, an image or a line or an idea presents itself, coming not from the "I" but as though from a distant source. "The Muses" are often given credit, but the author sees this as the person unwittingly having a dialogue with his or herself; but he also notes that these "out of nowhere" moments are generally trusted more, given more credence or said to produce more superior results than ideas that are consciously created. Creative people seem to have a difficult time taking credit for their best work. Yes, yes yes, it's me again.

Not long ago, I had one of these "out of nowhere" moments that often happens on my walks and that might be a good example of how my mind sometimes works when an idea is sparked. My mind wanders a great deal on my walks, as do my eyes. I'm not looking for anything in particular but every now and then, my eye will stop on something that strikes me as unusual. This particular day, it was this group of tall birches standing at the edge of a wooded area at the back end of a recently cleared lot. I'd walked by this spot dozens of times and I'm sure had seen these trees before, but that day my mind decided to note that it is actually a little unusual to see a close grouping of this mature tree. So I paused to take it in.

My eye traveled from the tight spacing at ground level up into the branches far above the ground, where the trunks began to go their own way, bending this way and that, and putting some space between each other. Suddenly the term "community" popped into my head (out of nowhere - yes). Now why did I think that? Well, this image reminded me of what true community is - I tight-knit group with certain commonalities but whose individual members also have differences and varied interests. There's support but not a demand for uniformity, it grows together but also grows apart. Would anyone else get that if I captured this scene in fabric? Would the title of "Community" be enough to get the idea across? After reading Powers of Two, I'm not totally sure that it would say that to most people. They might be wondering how in the heck my mind was working to come up with that. But other artists or creative types - they might get it. They might see beyond the obvious to the symbolism that presented itself to me on that one day. Or the image might say something different to them. But they would surely see more than trees if given a moment of contemplation.

Does any of this ring true for you? How does your mind work?


Sherrie Spangler said...

What an insightful post! I totally agree with the observations, and I love your "community" of trees.

Olga Norris said...

Interesting post. I think that it doesn't matter if the viewer does not get what the artist meant in their work - what matters is if they themselves find something in the work that speaks to them. If they also understand what the artist was trying to communicate, that is a bonus on both sides, I think.

Love that multistem birch!

Wil said...

I get the title. Now you only have to make the quilt :-)

Lucia Sasaki said...

Hi Sheila!
Thanks for these lovely pictures, for your reflection about creativitiy and for bibliographic reference.
When I read your post I thought about connection of ideas and metaphor. And seeking a creative life, too. Things doesn't happen by accident, they happen because we seek them. I believe in this. And I think that your birches are a beautiful metaphor for community.
Thanks for sharing your reflections, they enrich my day!

The Idaho Beauty said...

Thanks everyone for finding this post of interest and adding to these musings.

Lucia, you have hit upon the proper term here, metaphor. (And English isn't even your native tongue!) I had not connected the idea that things happen because we seek them, but I have often experienced that once something is on my radar, I suddenly see it or things about it everywhere. When an idea is important to you, I suppose it is natural to see it reflected around you if only in metaphors. What kind of community was I subconsciously thinking about that day?

Olga,you speak the truth. The artist must put out what is in her heart regardless of whether anyone else sees in the piece what she sees. It does no good to have to hit the viewer over the head to make her get it. Other interpretations are always valid as well as walking away with none. One of my first experiences with a viewer seeing something totally different in one of my quilts was as I lurked near it at an exhibit. It had a printed lightning bolt panel in the center - black,red,white - and I'd surrounded that with snail trail blocks in red and black. I'd recently moved to Wisconsin where the storms were so much more severe and often generating after dark and this is what "Out of the Night" portrayed to me - thunderstorms and swirling winds. And yet, a woman stood staring at it for so long that I had to engage her in conversation. She said she was going through menopause and the quilt said "hot flashes" to her!

Wil and Sherrie, you're convincing me I SHOULD take this idea and run with it! I actually have another long-languishing idea for a different set of intertwined birches that said "Agony and Ecstasy" to me. Wasn't sure I could pull that off either, but I'm a lot further along in my creative journey now. Perhaps it's time...

Michele Matucheski said...

I get it, Sheila. After living in a housing Coop in Madison for more than 7 years, I totally get Community. I even met my husband at that Coop. And there are other communities, too, of course -- neighborhoods, virtual communities, art groups, book groups, church communities, on and on ...

Your image also makes me think of an old Marillion lyric "Divided we stand; Together we rise," meaning we can go further and do more together than apart. Like Scotland deciding to stay in the UK! Like Creatives coming together to help each other out.

I totally agree with Olga above. It matters what you had in mind when you created the piece, but it also matters what someone else sees in it, too -- things the creator might never have thought of. Hot Flashes ARE hormonal storms and if that's what that lady was experiecning at the time, that's what informed her understanding of the piece. I learned that in a poetry class long ago. The teacher was from South Africa; the poem was about a tree that was in need of trimming, and growing INTO a house. He came from South Africa where kids were forced to be schooled in their own languages, which effectively shut off their chances to engage with the outside world. At the same time in the US, Multi-culturalism was a big thing, and we'd seen so many people loose their ethnic identities in order to fit in. Is South Africa, that ethnic identity was forced upon them. In both cases, I think there can be a happy medium. Anyway, the students were saying let the tree grow where it wants to--let it grow wild--even if it's growing into the house. Even if it's forcing an eye shut ... and the teacher was saying, trim off that tree limb. After all these years, I still remember that exchange--our interpretations were informed by everything WE brought to the table--kind of a gestalt way of interpreting poetry/art. And what a surprise that someone else can find meaning in your work--even if they bring out things you never thought of!

Happy Thanksgiving, My Friend!

MulticoloredPieces said...

Hmmm, yes, good post, Sheila. The idea that creative people integrate the extremes into their lives is compelling--made me stop and think. I suppose it allows us to "see" differently. I also like your metaphor for "community".
best, nadia