Thoughts On Creativity

Everywhere one looks one can see any number of articles published about creativity.  There are endless seminars and workshops that propose to teach creativity.  Even Universities have pushed new courses designed specifically to teach creativity.  Psychologists have tried to define and measure this quality that some individuals seem to express quite easily while others suffer through its lack.  Free lance writers have made attempts to show us just how those famous artists and writers express their creative side and the keys to their creative processes.  Business schools have churned out studies and marketing people create seminars for the unlearned in the art of creativity.  Some individuals have tried to link creativity with with sound decision making abilities.  Still, the search goes on.

I have been watching Soap, the television series, which was created by Susan Harris and most of the writing was done by her.  For me, I loved the old Laugh-In television program and wanted to be a writer for that show.  I would have given anything for a chance to write comedy even though I was still in the service at that time.  Saturday Night Live never came close to achieving the greatness of Laugh-In which also have the good luck to have had a cast ideally suited for their roles.  But I must admit that Soap tops them all.  Laugh-In had running gags in every show and across the shows, But Soap was a running gag from its first episode to its last and the characters were running gags within the episode as was the announcer, very Gary Owen like.  Harris took on the social debates of the day and handled them without the usual moral preachiness one finds on liberal biased show such as Archie Bunker.  I am in awe of the creativeness Harris shows and yet I doubt she could tell you how she does it.  She had once stated that it seemed to her any fool could write soap opera and that she did with that particular series.  But comedy is a gift.  Any fool can write drama.  But comedy requires that sense of creativity that looks at the world as if it were askew.  It is very difficult to be funny, ask most people to do a standup routine and they faint.  In drama we know that tragedy strikes and is part of the human condition.  A child dies or becomes dreadfully ill or disabled.  A couple divorces after a significant time period and all the hurt feelings come to the fore.  One is fired or fails to get that promotion because one has been stabbed in the back by a boss or coworker.  These are everyday events and happen with all too much frequency.

But comedy is always spur of the moment.  It requires a mind that is alive and supple enough to change perspectives at a moments notice.  Some comedy or humor is accidental.  Art Linkletter had a day time show in which one segment had several children sitting and being asked questions by Linkletter.  Granted, many of the questions were loaded, such as: “What did your mommy tell you not to say?”  Children under the age of eight will give answers they think should be given and of course most of the time they don’t know they are being funny until the audience laughs.  Anyone who has had children in the house knows how children can say the “darndest things”, as Linkletter would put it.  But creative comedy is a different matter.  The more interesting point is that it takes everyday experiences and tragedies and shows the humor in them.  The simplest way is through exaggeration.  Blow a simple failure out of proportion.  Show the irony of some set of actions or occurrences that we take so seriously are really positions where others are laughing at us not for the failures but for the formality of our thinking.  I love irony for it shows the perverseness of life, it points out our lack of humor at times when that sense is most needed.  This was a reoccurring theme in the short stories of O’Henry.  A python snake kills and eats a lion cub, the mother tracks down the snake and attacks it.  The snake regurgitates the cub and the mother has her cub back and the snake goes hungry.  The irony is that the cub is dead, showing that even Nature has a sense of irony.  There is a reason why theater was represented with the mask of humor and sadness.  And even in comedy there is sadness.

Another way to look at creativity is through science.Up until the middle ages science was usually confined to cause and effect.  That is, one could see a direct connection between the effect and the immediate cause.  Hold a rock in your hand and let it drop, it happens every time.  Put some water into a glass and hold it between sunlight and a white sheet of paper and a rainbow appears, every time.  But let a round rock roll down a hill and what is its speed, that is distance traveled per unit of time?  Ah, naw that is a bit more difficult to see.  Hold a rock in one hand and a feather in the other.  Now release both at the same time.  Did they both strike the ground at the same time, and if not, why?  Cause and effect are not so clearly linked.  The basic physics class starts with motion and not without reason.  It is the easiest to “see”.  Electricity is not something one “sees” directly.  I can watch a ball roll down a ramp but I can’t watch electrons flow through or around is the better description, a copper wire.  Electricity is something one “sees from around the corner”.  Copernicus described this type of scientific discovery process and wrote to a few scientist of his time.  Roger Bacon came out with his own manual of scientific experimentation, but he had read Copernicus and one can find that idea in his opus.  Edison did not discover the light bulb nor invent it, contrary to all of your grade school teachings.  The arc light had been around for a couple of decades and had even been through some improvements.  But the arc light had two major problems.  The first was that it was far too bright to be used in the home.  The second is that the electric power it consumed created a very large amount of heat.  The electric light filament had been invented but unfortunately it burned up quite quickly.  Then the thinking was that if we put some filament in a sealed glass container it might last longer.  Edison tried 4000 different types of filaments until he hit upon a carbon infused cotton thread.  Once in the sealed container with the air drawn out, the resistance of the carbon was enough to give off a light without generating too much heat and would last a good many hours before burning up.  This is a discovery that show the difference between “looking around the corner” and perseverance.

Then what about art, how does one create art?  Art is visual and music is sound.  Both are perspectives.  Before modern art and modern music (in the classical sense), there were rules that governed the various periods.  Before the idea of perspective was applied to drawing and painting, most art was flat, much like a child draws.  Indeed, learning how to draw with perspective is something that is learned, something I remember another kid in my fourth grade class showing me the technique.  Over time I came to master it and in mechanical drawing class that ability came in very handy.  Computers with CAD applications may be great for production but the old pencil and paper way teaches the subject far better because one needs to learn to see three dimensional shapes in the mind.  Art was and still is a craft in that one learns from hands on experience.  In the old days if one wanted to be an artist, a painter in oils or pastels or drawing, one would apprentice to a known artist and learn form the master as well as from experience.  Of course one created art that would sell, usually to a patron.  Only later did art dealers come into play as the upper middle class and the middle class could afford to buy art.  But for a few artis, they chaffed against what they believed was the tyranny of the art salon and the market.  As the rule breakers prospered, so the artistic value of art switch from the buyer to the seller.  The artist claimed to know what was good art and what was bad.  The buyer was left to a choice, either agree that he didn’t know good art or take the artist’s word for it.  What we term classical music has gone through the same stages.  Yet the modern atonal compositions are only popular with those who wish to be known as experts in music appreciation.  The modern composer can’t sell his CDs to the average listener.  But what the hell, is rap any better?

In the cases of art and music it comes down to perspectives.  Throughout the world art and music take so many different forms and many are drawn towards particular forms, mostly through familiarity.  Creativity is the result of necessity, pure and simple.  And it is necessity that gives opportunity for creativity.  Creative thought does not occur in a vacuum as many who peddle their seminars would have you believe.  Creativity cannot be learned in a seminar or laboratory.  Creativity is a hands on experience.  Even if it is an intellectual endeavor it is still hands on, one learns by being creative.  Sounds like one had clapping.  A master wood carver once said that when he picked up up a piece of wood he examined the grain and the size and shape of the piece.  That told him what figure was in the wood waiting to emerge as he removed the excess wood chip by chip.  His ability to perceive enabled him to “see” what was there.  Perception comes with practice.  Try holding an image of a cube in your mind. Now rotate that cube and give each of its eight sides a different color.  Practice that until it become natural, common as any exercise you might do.  Go to the paint store and get folders of all the different colors.  Then look at each blotch and try to perceive the primary colors in each.  There are so many different exercises one can do to learn how to change one’s perceptions in life.  Play acting is one way, or trying to tell a common story from the point of view of its different participants.  I know people who take decorator magazines and cut out their favorite furniture, items of architecture, and what not.  Then they paste these items on a large piece of cardboard trying to create the perfect room or house.  But please, don’t waste your money on some idiot trying to sell you his seminar.  You will not be anymore creative coming out than when you went in.


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