Increasingly I have come to see creativity as a process for connecting things that are not normally connected and giving them meanings that are significant to the creator. In this way new ideas or things are brought into existence that have value to the creator – but not necessarily anyone else. While this week's #creativeHE conversation has been unfolding, I have been writing the first draft of a chapter for a book ‘Learning as a Creative and Developmental Process in Higher Education: A Therapeutic Arts approach and its wider application’ edited by Clive Holmwood and Judie Taylor . At the same time I have started clearing part of my garden that has become seriously overgrown. Two different contexts for thinking and working brought together in time and connected in my mind through the #creativeHE conversation which always causes me to set some time aside to think about creativity and respond to the ideas and stories of other participants.
I began working on my garden for the pragmatic reason that I need to repair the fence. It is broken in several places and heavily overgrown so my first task is to clear the brambles and shrubs that festoon it. But as I cleared it I began to see the value of cutting the tangled trees back and reclaiming my garden on a much bigger scale. So I carried on, and as I hacked and chopped and sawed the original garden reappeared – the spaces I cleared allowed me to see and appreciate my garden better I have increased its aesthetic appeal and opened some new perspectives. Of course I didn't create this garden. The designer was the person who built my home and laid the garden more than 40 years ago. As I cleared the vegetation I realised I was merely maintaining the original creation. But did begin to have ideas on how I might, at some point, add some value to his creation by tinkering with some parts of it.
As I worked I created great piles of tree branches which I had now decided were no longer needed in my garden. I had reduced their value to rubbish. Now rubbish, and how we recycle and make use of stuff we have thrown away, was one of the themes of our #creativeHE conversation. During this discussion I discovered that Michael Thompson had developed a theory about rubbish that links to creativity. Thompson divides everything we have made into three categories: transient (“here today, gone tomorrow”), durable (“a joy forever”) and rubbish. After you buy something, its value declines until it reaches zero and becomes rubbish. Often we throw this away (unless like me you can't bear to do it believing it will have some use for someone one day).
As I worked on my chapter I came across some ideas from John Dewey’s ‘Art as Experience’. He talks about creativity emerging through the interaction of people with their environment
‘For Dewey, what brings action and creativity together is human experience, defined precisely by the interaction between a person and their environment and intrinsically related to human activity in and with the world. Action starts with an impulsion and is directed toward fulfilment. In order for action to constitute experience though, obstacles or constraints are needed. Faced with these challenges, the person experiences emotion and gains awareness (of self, of the aim, and path of action). Most importantly, action is structured as a continuous cycle of “doing” (actions directed at the environment) and “undergoing” (taking in the reaction of the environment). Undergoing always precedes doing and, at the same time, is continued by it. It is through these interconnected processes that action can be taken forward and become a “full” experience’ (Glaveaneu et al 2013:2-3).
I thought of my impulse to tackle my garden and how the impulse became sustained action as I redefined my task and begin to see the effects of my labours as new spaces emerged from beneath the entangled shrubs and weeds which fed my sense of fulfilment. I certainly experienced emotion as I encountered and overcame obstacles, often suffering from cuts as the brambles scratched me, and as I walked back to gain a bigger perspective on my modest achievement and I also felt a sense of undergoing, the sense any gardener would feel as they engaged with a task that yielded results.
There is no doubt in my mind that the gardener who created my garden created a ‘work of art’ which has aesthetic value to me and everyone who experiences it. It is a constant source of pleasure for me and my family and a constant source of inspiration – I take many photographs and make sketches and paintings from time to time. I also enjoy thinking in my garden as I spend hours cutting the grass or just walking and sitting in it. There is no doubt in my mind that the gardener who created this landscape was an artist. He created a landscape from a field.
‘Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run. Whether they are trying to solve a major scientific mystery or simply produce a high-quality product or service, everyday progress—even a small win—can make all the difference in how they feel and perform.’
‘The Power of Small Wins’ Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer https://hbr.org/2011/05/the-power-of-small-wins
The Progress Principle http://progressprinciple.com/books/single/the_progress_principle
Feelings of positivity, which I’m now sure came from my work in the garden, helped me complete the first draft of the chapter I was writing. It had been a bit of a struggle at first but the discipline of writing every day for 3 or 4 hours, combined with exercising in the garden helped me complete the task.
At the end of the week and feeling positive about the progress I had made in the garden and in my writing I decided to create an artefact that I could claim I had brought into existence through my experience of being in my garden. I looked around for inspiration and thinking of ‘rubbish theory’ and the piles of I logs and branches lying around I constructed a log pile by the broken gate in the adjacent woods. It didn’t require much skill, just a bit of effort to carry and place the wood and to decide which pieces to put on and which to leave off. Aesthetically I enjoyed the look and functionally it provided a new habitat for bugs – far more useful than burning the rubbish. After a while I tinkered with the pile of wood and added some moss covered logs on one side but left the other side unclad. I loved the green and the way the late afternoon sun enhanced vividness of the colours. It reminded me of Hockney's woodland paintings
had encountered some new ideas/theories and revisited ideas I already used. I had been able to place some of these ideas into a new context (my garden project) and appreciate how they could be applied to quite a mundane task. And this consolidated my feeling that I had progressed my understandings while achieving things I cared about.
#creativeHE conversations always provide opportunities for new relationships and doing new things. In the December conversation I made friends with John Rae and since then we have been developing an idea for a future conversation on the theme of ‘Exploring Creativity through Making’ which we are going to facilitate in early March. We will invite participants to make artefacts in response to any life situation. These artefacts might be artworks, crafts, something from the digital world, or indeed anything that the maker would like to share their substance and meanings. It struck me that I had been doing this very thing quite spontaneously as the week progressed. My artefact, a pile of wood that visually appealed to me, grew out of my efforts in a natural way and I gave this the meaning of an artefact, embedded in the context and circumstances in which it was created.
Dewey J (1934) Art as Experience
Thompson M (1979 & 2017) Rubbish Theory: The Creation and Destruction of Value