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

Your dreams can come true

I found this piece of paper while clearing out my parents’ home. I had written it more than thirty years ago. I had no money, we barely had enough to eat and no proper clothes and I lived in one bedroom with my parents and sisters in India.  This was an excerpt from Thornton Wilder’s, The Bridge of San Luis Rey.

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This was the best selling novella by Thornton Wilder, published in 1927 that won the Pulitzer Prize. It recounts a fictional event when an Inca rope bridge collapses between Cusco and Lima, Peru; and takes down five people with it.  A friar who witnesses the tragedy reflects on why these people were there on that day and time on that bridge; and whether their fates were connected in some way, and seeks a cosmic answer to the question of why each had to die in that way at that spot and time.

The same year that I copied this paragraph was the year I took up Buddhism and by strange chance, was asked to design a mural which was then later inaugurated by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.  Four years later, competing against thousands of applicants, I won a scholarship to do my post graduate degree at UK’s prestigious Cambridge University.  This year I was able to go to Peru and see the Inca bridge at Machu Picchu. It wasn’t the same bridge but for me it was the bridge between my young teenage hopes and dreams and where I have got to.

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I often think that life is really connected- there are events and things happening that you may think are unconnected but years later, you will see a pattern.  That scrap of paper was my connection, my bridge to the past which inspired me to take an action to visit a place where I thought I’d never go. It is never too late to dream and somehow life will turn out to make that dream come true.

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.

 

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.

The winter of our lives

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This weekend I have been helping a neighbour design an ‘Order of service’ booklet for her husband who died suddenly.  She is quite distraught and as a result, unnaturally disorganised.  She gave me a pile of photographs and three pages that she wanted typed into the booklet.  Sitting down with her, we went over the photos and writing, editing out things that need not be there.  I also found a suitable printing service that could do the printing at short notice.  I have never done anything like this before- normally these things are done by the funeral service but she had left it too late.  But I am grateful she asked me because it helped me to find a new perspective on life.

The thing that struck me while laying out the pages that someone will be doing this for me too someday.  What would they put in that booklet about me?  What if I could do that now?  After all no one knows when they could die.  So I after having finished her booklet, I am now trying to put together something for myself.  How do I want to remembered?  As a creative person, as non conformist, as a mother, as a friend, daughter, etc.? What music would I like to be played?  What special photos would I use and who would be in those photos?  It has been said that the best way of getting our creative selves out of procrastination and into production is to imagine our own funeral or write our obituary.  I come to realise that the best way to set our life goals might be to make our own ‘Order of service’ booklet.  No one needs to see it- it is there for your eyes only.  As a goal setter, it may be a sombre; but yet the clarity and the simplicity it provides is truly creative. Try it!

Children, creativity and rules

Many books have been written about creativity and how it helps us.  But how is creativity fostered from an early age?  Children need boundaries and rules when they are little.  But after a certain age, they need to know more about values than rules.  What age would that be?  Each child is different but there is way to tell when they are ready to learn about the difference between rules and values.  That happens when you find them breaking rules too often- usually around the age of six.  That’s because they are actually asking to understand values that are behind the rules.  They internalise values more than a list of rules.  This understanding also results in the child being more creative because they can empower themselves to make up their own rules related to the values or principles.

Recently my son was being bullied which resulted in his coat being torn.  He was afraid of telling me or the teachers because he didn’t want to be ostracised from his group of friends.  When I found out, instead of being angry or telling him that he should have reported it, we had a discussion about bullying and why it is bad for everyone, including the bully.  He now understands how he will deal with it in the future.  We agreed that this is to be done progressively and according to the situation.  This may mean he ignores it if the bullying behaviour is small (or a just a ‘friendly tease’); if it is not, he tells the other child to stop, or he gets his friends together to help him with the situation and then finally if it does not stop, to get the teacher to intervene.  I am not there in the school with him but as long as he remembers the principle that ‘bullying is bad for everyone’, then he can deal with it by making his own rules and boundaries of what is acceptable to him.

The more rules there are at home, the more the risk they will be broken and followed by disappointment, anger and even retribution.  According to a study in a book, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant, children who scored in the top 5% in creativity tended to come from households with, on average, less than one rule. The families of kids who were less creative typically had six rules.  The parents who talked to their children about principles leaving them to make up their own rules, found that the children were able to internalise that principle very well and find their own way around the world, instead of the parent ‘micro-managing’ them.  ‘Instead of enforcing them, [creative] parents got their children to endorse the rules themselves because they helped to generate them’, according to Grant. I had parents who loved us but always tended to help us out while dealing with problems.  It is only now that I am learning about the world and dealing with the difficulties it presents.  So now I am determined not to do everything for my children, because I love them.