Increasing creativity through mindless drawing

When I was sketching in Venice in 2017, a small crowd gathered around me, watching.  As the crowd grew in size, there was even a person directing people.  At first, I felt very conscious of the people staring at me and then as I suffer from fear of crowds, I started feeling fearful. In an age when people use their smartphones to take selfies and photos, it must seem very archaic and time wasting to sketch.  But recently I discovered that it also helps others to watch people sketching.  There is a South Korean artist, Kim Jung Gi, who draws fantasy art and many people pay to spend hours watching him. It is said to be therapeutic, and induces a feeling of stillness and calm in the viewers.

There is another way that ‘mindless’ drawing can help- this is with increasing creativity.   Just like sleeping on problems and dreams can help with solving problems, using drawing (especially organic shapes) can help with problem solving and increasing creativity.  The Nobel Laureate, polymath, poet, musician, painter and author corrected his texts by doodling over mistakes.  His wooden seal with his initials is also of an organic shape.

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Even when feeling tired, I have found that doodling and drawing can be done when reading is too difficult.  These drawings are no practical use but to me, they are part of my creative self.  I’ve given myself two different rewards each day- when the weather is bad, I draw, and when the weather is good, I go out and take photos.  Sometimes I draw without my glasses and sometimes I use both hands (I’m right handed). It’s always good for me to see what I create and how well I feel after that.

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Organic shapes just joined together
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Who is she? Why is she smiling?Why are her eyes closed shut? I don’t know- she came out of my head after a busy and tiring day. Maybe I’d like to be her!ption
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One of the good weather days when I photographed this spectacular sunset

A poem about mornings

I read recently about people who write ‘morning journals’ to capture their streams of consciousness after waking up. I didn’t realise what a powerful tool it is to capture your ideas, inspirations and aspirations. I used to think that if I checked the morning news, it might give me some idea on what to concentrate on for the rest of the day. But that is reactive thinking.  Morning journals and thoughts which help me to prioritise not only my day but also a way of future planning, are a much best way.  As I am not a morning person, here is a poem that I read each morning to inspire myself.  It is not written by a new age guru or the latest ‘Tim Ferriss’, this was written in 5th Century AD-

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

Learn from others

There is a view about creativity about a lone artist, struggling in his or her attic, to create an original work.  But in reality, creativity is never a lone effort- there are always at least two people in it. One is yourself and the other is the person who inspires you.  Originality comes from being nudged by past creativity- it is like a fire that is lit by the match of another’s idea.

‘The imagination will not perform until it has been flooded by a vast torrent of reading’, Petronius Arbiter, 66AD

‘A student unacquainted with the attempts of former adventurers is always apt to overrate his own abilities, to mistake the most trifling excursions for discoveries of moment, and every coast new to him for a new-found country. If by chance he passes beyond his usual limits, he congratulates his own arrival at those regions which they who have steered a better course have long left behind them. The productions of such minds are seldom distinguished by an air of originality: they are anticipated in their happiest efforts; and if they are found to differ in anything from their predecessors, it is only in irregular sallies and trifling conceits. The more extensive therefore your acquaintance is with the works of those who have excelled the more extensive will be your powers of invention; and what may appear still more like a paradox, the more original will be your conceptions.’ Joshua Reynolds, from a speech at the Royal Academy, December 11, 1769.

 

The Autotelic personality

A few days ago, I attended an event where a very well known British journalist, broadcaster and political aide was speaking. He is a polished and entertaining speaker. He illustrated his talk with anecdotes and stories from various high profile people ranging from Diego Maradona to Barack Obama, many of whom he had interviewed for his bestselling book about winning. It was as to be expected- a very successful event.

However, for me the unexpected star of that evening was the person, Gert, who organised the evening. The story of how this came about is also bizarre- it seems that  Gert had been holidaying at a French ski resort when he came across this famous personality. Gert invited him to do a lecture. Upon return to the UK, Gert wrote to him but the broadcaster told him that he had never been to the ski resort in his life and worst of all, had never met him either. Not the person to give up, Gert thought that he had perhaps been forgotten but he persisted. However, the man was adamant. In the end, they both agreed that Gert had met a look-alike but to his credit, the broadcaster agreed to speak despite the mistake.  So what did I learn from Gert and that evening?

First, a lesson about networking: that Gert had used an opportunity to make contact with someone and even though, this person turned out to be not someone he had thought to be, he still was able to create a connection. Your next business opportunity is more likely to come from a loose or weak connection (one of the many people you met at the recent event or at a ski resort) than from Jo/Joe in your office.

Second, lesson about persistence: Gert’s polite, humorous and optimistic way of being persistent was important factor. If either of them had lost their cool, it would have been an embarrassingly different story. So if you are going to be persistent, then use humour, politeness and humility- and know when to back off. Persistence is a game played on the edge of the card- if you’ve shown your trump card and that’s not worked, then it is time to leave. But with two seasoned networkers who respect each other, then like this evening showed, it can be a win-win situation for all.

Third, a lesson about creating something bigger: Gert didn’t just use that opportunity for himself but used it to bring the speaker to a wider audience. That included not just his own colleagues but also invitees such as me who had never had any interaction with him before. There is an expression in Buddhism called ‘Jigyo keta’ which roughly translates from Japanese as ‘benefiting oneself and benefiting others’. Any action that benefits you as well as others is a great success, a win-win event. Such successes also make you happier than ones just for your self only.

Gert is a typical example of an autotelic personality. The word ‘autotelic’ comes from the Greek words Auto, meaning ‘self’ and telos, meaning ‘goal’. Autotelic activity is about having a purpose in and not apart from itself. Applied to personality types, autotelic person is someone who does things for their own sake, rather than in order to achieve an external marker of success. The autotelic personality is a yin yang person- a combination of receptive qualities such as openness and flexibility; as well as active qualities such as engagement and persistence. To succeed in today’s world of chaos and complexity, it is essential to have an autotelic personality. In the cast of characters for that evening- the speaker, Gert and everyone who was involved, even the doppelganger- had autotelic personalities, otherwise the evening wouldn’t have succeeded!

what happens to our work when we die?

The short answer: Nothing much.Santa.jpg

The long answer:

Recently I attended the memorial service of an architect.  While it was sad that she wasn’t with us, it was wonderful to find out about her life outside the profession.  It seems she was a well loved mother, grandmother and neighbour.  She was constantly doing creative and ‘crazy things’ in the home and with her family- those are what made her so special.  Very little was said about her professional work.  It has been said, ‘No one on his deathbed ever said, I wish I had spent more time on my business’ and as we age, perhaps our external world becomes less important than our internal world.  We are all creative beings and until the day we die, we are always creating.  If we are not creating external works like writing, painting, photography or design, we are creating things inside our head. My father who suffers from dementia is constantly creating wonderful fantasies in his head all the time. Once I used to rush to ‘correct’ him but now I go along with his stories, it is so much more fun.

We constantly devalue our lives inside the home while we value the life lived outside.  Our feelings, achievements and success are all linked to external things.  Social media also has enhanced this tendency for external validation with ‘likes’, ‘followers’ and other symbols. But way back in 1935, pioneering artist, author, illustrator, and translator Wanda Gág wrote ‘Gone Is Gone: or the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework’. The man who thinks he does more or better work than his wife, swaps places with her and then gradually realises the value of house work.  I remember this story so well as a teenager when I came across it and thanks to a friend who reminded me of this book again, I have started to value my life inside my home and also inside my body.  I have started valuing things I do in the community where I live, the conversations I have with my children and family, with friends and neighbours.

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While David Shrigley’s ‘Memorial’, a gigantic stone slab featuring items from a grocery list such as paper towels, bananas, tampons, etc. erected in New Yorks’s Central Park, might be a step too far to celebrate the mundane, it does highlight the lack of attention to our everyday in a subtly clever way.  Last week, I also met with an Australian designer and as we talked, we discovered we had much more in common that we thought.  It wasn’t about work- our lines of work were very different- but the sharing of our personal lives and things we did.  After all, our creativity is unique, but our humanity is common.  That is what lives on after we die. Santa’s memorial involved not only the usual food and speeches but also a disco just ‘because that’s the way she would have wanted it’.  Wonderful- many thanks to Santa for sharing her life with us, even in death.

Creative soiree One 2016

After many requests to restart the creative soiree sessions I had organised last year, we finally had one yesterday. What a gathering- architects, documentary film makers, theatre artists, fine artists from six different countries or ethnicities (one from Homs, Syria). Some people had brought with them works of art and books that inspired them (Living out Loud by Keri Smith, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; and Harnessing your creativity by Twyla Tharp). People of different backgrounds and age range from 70s to 30s added to the diversity. Naturally, I asked whether the artists of 1960-70s were of as high calibre as contemporary creatives of today or whether we are seeing the very frightening times of permanent loss of creativity. Hence follows a very short summary of the four hour event.

The interview with Marwa Al- Sabouni, conducted via Skype started us off on the question of value of architecture. Does architecture allow us to be frivolous or is it generous? Is it a technical or a social art? Marwa, is a 34-year-old architect and mother of two, who lives in Homs where she was born, amidst some of the most vicious fighting that the Syrian civil war has seen. With her architect husband, she has opened a bookshop after their practice was shut in the conflict. Remarkably, amongst all this chaos and danger, she has written a book about her life with a preface by Roger Scruton. For someone living day to day (as she described), the charmingly calm and articulate Marwa, made it clear that she thinks that architecture must contribute to society. Unlike fine art, architecture has a purpose beyond beauty and though it must be beautiful; architecture must also help to solve the problems that the world faces. The genius is not separate from society.

Another aspect that came up was the concept of waiting for the inspiration, or waiting for the muse. Instead of waiting, as the writer Elizabeth Gilbert has described one must meet the muse every day by showing up for work. Luck is about preparation or being ready to meet luck. To be prepared one must work every day, flex the creative muscles everyday- that is meeting the muse everyday, to show up for work. To capture one remarkable idea, one must prepare many. The pop artist, Prince, who died recently, came up as an inspiration- apparently there is a vault full of his work. He worked everyday and created many songs, not all of which saw the light of day. But the important thing was the creative practice in which he participated every day.

But it is not easy, given internal or external difficulties. But such difficulties also present opportunities and hone our creativity. Marwa’s external problems make it difficult but not impossible. David, a fine artist, who was a contemporary of David Hockney at the Royal College of Arts in the 1960s and taught art there and at Central St Martins, is colour blind. He described how as a child, when he drew a yellow cow, was told off by his art teacher, ‘Cows are not yellow!’ He persevered thanks to a supportive family. An enlightened teacher gave him his first commission, aged 12- to draw French gothic cathedrals. David brought in his black and white digital art- a new media in which he has now ventured in his seventies. Creativity evolves constantly. I was reminded of Hockney’s digital art made on his iPhone. What makes us less creative is fear. We need to believe we are fully creative, right now, wherever we are.

So in a way, creativity is about discovering yourself. As someone remarked, to be human is to be creative. But as a consequence of being creative, one will invariably fail as one tries different things. But as one only hears about successes, not failures, one imagines that the creative person got it right the first time. But in schools and further education, we are not taught the value of failure or even risk taking. We like safety, it seems, so it appears that our work has lost some of the edginess or even exploration. Ideas that are not used, bother us as they sit in the back of our minds as time passes. Artists, architects and other creative people took many risks in the 1960s and 1970s which saw the flowering of ideas. However, the world now presents many new problems- all of which need resourceful, innovative and creative solutions. So lets get out of our safety mode and experiment as much as we can. Creativity is not dying out, it is only transforming- that was our conclusion.

 

creativity from rubbish

Creativity comes from all sorts of places and things that inspire or make connections.  David, my friend, who has a problem in his hips, was visiting a friend when he spotted a back frame of a ‘Thonet‘ chair, waiting to be put into the rubbish dump.  A trainee furniture designer had been making it for practice and had left it behind.  David asked his friend if he could take it and she said yes.  On the way back home, as the crowded train swayed back and forth it , he realised that he could put his weight on that frame and it supported him.  He also realised that when a bus braked, it was good to put it at the side so that it steadied him.  So he put some plastic feet on the two ends and there it was, a sexy curved support instead of the awful grey walking frames used.  If he didn’t need it, then he could put it on his shoulders, so it is easily portable.  Here is David showing the different ways he uses the chair back.

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For me, the main lesson here is that you can have a problem but you need to put it in the back burner of your mind.  Then slowly and unexpectedly, you will find a solution in your own ‘Eureka’ moment.   Archimedes shouted”Eureka! Eureka!”and ran out naked in excitement after he noticed that the water level in his bath rose and he made the connection that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged.  Friedrich Kekulé’s theory on the structure of benzene, which proved to be correct, was apparently influenced by the image of a snake eating its own tail.  Einstein also arrived at his theory of relativity when he was watching a train move as he sat in another.  There are many more examples of such moments- from artists, scientists to inventors and engineers- who have made connections to arrive at solutions.  Where 2+2=5 or more!

The other thing I noticed was that it is the creative mind that notices and makes the connections. When David walked in, I was the first person to notice his innovative walking frame.  No one else commented or looked at it.  David said that on the street, it takes a certain kind of person, to come up to him and ask him about it.  So I guess, if you have noticed something creative in another person, then it is most likely you have the same creativity yourself.

Brain power

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This is a sketch I made of my son aged 4.  The drawing was made using my left hand- I am right handed.  Apart from the facial features, all the other lines were drawn continuously without lifting the pen.

Using your less dominant hand and drawing in a different style boosts your creativity. It also lets you look at the world differently.  All the ‘mistakes’ in the drawing lend it a special touch and bring a portrait to life, as seen by another side of your brain.

About wrongs

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Last week I attended the wrong burial. Nearly.

The couple with whom I was getting a lift after the Church service said they were sure about where the burial of my neighbour was taking place. There was only one cemetery in that area, they said and they knew where it was. I put my trust in them, never wanting to check any other thing. We followed the GPS into an industrial estate and came upon this cemetery. There was a burial taking place, for sure, but not of my neighbour. Several google searches and calls later, after being stuck behind rubbish collection and pallet trucks, caught in a traffic jam- it seemed rather surreal when we actually arrived at the right cemetery and managed to catch the last moments of the burial.

GPS, the Internet, our superiors, God, friends and family- we put our trust in many things because we want to be right the first time. How many people admit they were or could be wrong? I have a colleague who told me, ‘I am always right, you know.’ We speak of knowing about the past- the wisdom of hindsight, ‘I always knew that, I could tell, that was meant to happen, I told you so’, etc. We also put ourselves in others’ shoes, ‘If I were you, I do that.’ We like to fill in details for others too. As Alain de Botton says, ‘Our brains are primed to take tiny visual hints and construct entire figures from them – and we do the same when it comes to character. We are – much more than we give ourselves credit for – inveterate artists of elaboration.’ But the fact is that you are not me. Now British Supreme Court has conceded that the law based on foresight (and judged by hindsight) which has led people to be convicted of murder even if they did not inflict the fatal blow has been wrongly interpreted for more than 30 years. The joint enterprise law has been used to convict people on the assumption that others ‘can’ foresee violent acts by others.

I remember being hit by a teacher (in the days of corporal punishment) for saying I did not know the hymn I was supposed to sing for Christmas celebrations at school. Ever since that time, I have treasured anyone who says, ‘I don’t know’. Because that simple statement says many things apart from ignorance- it says of humility, courage and a desire to learn. Magicians take this human desire to be right and make it into a form of craft that tells you that perhaps you are not. Couple of weeks ago, I was at a event with a magician, who managed to bend a coin which was inside my palm. Incredibly that coin had been signed with an indelible pen and so it couldn’t have been just substituted. Yet I know that isn’t the entire truth but I will never know. I now carry that coin with me all the time as a reminder that perhaps we are not always right, perhaps we don’t understand or see many things. A little reminder that we can be wrong.  And that being wrong has led to more creativity and inventions than we realise.  As Thomas Edison was to say, ‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.’

Self choice and goals

The urge to be different may not be the highest or the profoundest element of the artist’s equipment but it is rarely lacking together’- E.H.Gombrich.

 Self- concordant goals are those we pursue out of deep personal conviction or a self generated interest. These goals according to research from Kennon Sheldon and Andrew Elliot are integrated with the self because they come from ‘self-choice’. Externally directed goals give us stress and depression while self directed ones are those that give us joy and ease. Self chosen goals also stem from the need to express one’s creativity and spirit rather than compete or simply do the job. Research in this area indicates that there is a qualitative difference between the meaning we derive from extrinsic goods, such as social status and salary, and the meaning we derive from intrinsic goods, such as personal growth and a sense of connection to others. Our choices can be a mixture of both self directed and externally directed goals as long as the self-directed goal directs the external manifestation of it. The creative person’s problem perhaps is not that of generating creativity but of continuously letting that internal voice direct the external aims of financial sustainability, fame and expansion, instead of the other way round.