creating possibilities to be creative

"I'm not arty" or "I don't do art" are often comments I hear when working in the art studio with young adults training to become teachers or with those I work with in coaching.  The emotion for some that surrounds doing art or making art seems to ignite powerful feelings of fear and worry. I often wonder what happened for this to emerge. For me art, or creativity, is about expression, imagination, and there being no one answers. The later is what excites me as I can create overtime, in the moment and be with my thinking as an idea emerges and develops.

I began to think about the Arts, but more explicitly creativity. What is it about the word 'creativity' that scares some and motivates others? Why is the very act of creativity associated to just the Arts?

Creativity is an act in itself where one can produce something new. It could be a product, a solution, an art work, a book, or a piece of writing. It is something of value to you or others. Creativity can be a combination of different ideas stimulated by one or more things. Essentially it is the coming up of ideas.

Creativity is the union of ideas which were previously thought to be unrelated and it is one’s ability to combine these ideas in a unique way or to make useful associations among ideas that is in itself being creative.

Often what were hear is that creativity is 'thinking outside the box' or the capacity one has to be able to combine ideas to create a new idea or product. As Psychology Today suggests, 'even those of us not in explicitly creative fields must come up with new ideas and insights in order to move ahead’. Another way to think about creativity is by asking the question: how can we shake up our thinking patterns? 

Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi in the 1960s researched the idea of flow when he became fascinated by artists who would essentially get lost in their work. Some may experience flow as that feeling when you are immersed in something you are doing. When time gets away from you and you feel like you are at one with what it is you are working on. Basically when everything is coming together for you and you are in the moment, no distractions, no problems, and so no blockers. It just feels great.

'Flow- the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at a great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.' – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

In thinking about creativity,  Csíkszentmihályi's work identifies the following ten factors as accompanying an experience of flow:

1. Establishing clear goals and expectations so these are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities. Additionally, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
2. Concentrating on the creation of time and place to allow for engagement in the activity to allow opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it.
3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
5. There really is no such things as a mistake - mistakes are okay, learn from your mistakes and immerse oneself in the opportunity for direct and immediate feedback.
6. Challenge oneself but don’t extend too far in that you won’t succeed - balance between ability level and challenge of the activity is crucial for the flow channel (see visual diagram).
7. A sense of personal awareness and control over the situation or activity.
8. You love what you do and find the activity rewarding thus feels making it feel effortless.
9. Awareness of bodily needs – take care of oneself and don’t allow for burn out point to be reached.
10. Awareness and absorption of the activity - focus and narrow the awareness down to the activity itself.

For many of us creativity is innate and just needs to be activated. If we actually thought about it there are many tasks we carry our each day that are, well, creative! When working with students in the art studio the best way I encourage them to activate their creativity is to give people permission to make mistakes, to try new things, to break free of convention, and most importantly to remember there really is no way of doing things. I do scaffold this and give supporting guidelines so their creative brains have a focus and a chance to feel and experience flow over time.

In creating possibilities to be creative I also make sure I:

  • Set clear goals to add direction and structure to the task.
  • Instill confidence in my students to make sure they know they are capable and can challenge themselves with a healthy balance between the perceived challenges of the task  and his or her own perceived skills.
  • Give feedback and assist in negotiating any changing demands to support adjustment to his or her performance to maintain the flow state.
  • Support exposure to new ideas.
  • Create a community of learners who are supportive and open minded to explore from his/her reference points.

What do you do to be creative? How do you see creativity as a part of your learning? How do you support others to be creative in their approach to goals, tasks, problems or products? When have you experienced flow?