Drawing on your own practice experiences in any aspect of your life, how does the physical, social, cultural, organisational, virtual, intellectual and psychological environment we inhabit, influence our practices and our creativity in our practices?
As a stimulus I used what I can now see as an enchanting exploration of Japanese culture by Dr James Fox (BBC TV). http://www.creativeacademic.uk/creativehe.html The programme (one of three) provided me with a great illustration of the way in which an artefact can enchant me and I hope other participants.
Russ Law was first to respond by painting a dismal picture of the educational environment he witnesses through his professional, personal and voluntary practices.
“I'm exercised by the contradictory pressures and requirements imposed by successive secretaries of state for education, especially around the curriculum. Schools are held to account, supposedly, for providing a broad, balanced and creative curriculum, while at the same time creativity is obstructed by the time spent by teachers and learners on highly prescriptive and narrow criteria (on which they will be judged), that require teachers to play safe and use every available minute for the core curriculum that is formally assessed. We have token amounts of time allowed for the arts, but these aren't valued enough. The only real creativity we see is that used by teachers to survive the time-consuming bureaucratic demands and relentless pressures they endure.”
From my own interactions with teachers in higher education I know that if you invite a group of educational practitioners to talk about what inhibits their creativity some reference will be made to the bureaucratic and regulatory environment, and the culture of risk avoidance that characterizes university environments. So if this is an important constraining factor in the environment, how do so many practitioners overcome or get round this constraint to practice in ways that enable them to use their creativity to encourage students to learn in creative ways?
But this is the tip of an iceberg. A few years ago I made a study of how the factors and circumstances that enabled and facilitated a group of higher education practitioners to innovate. After interviewing over 20 people who had been involved in the innovation project I constructed a questionnaire and then invited them to complete it. I was shocked at the number of factors and conditions in the work environment influenced them and their practices as they tried to innovate. It shows just how complex the idea of environment is to an educational practitioner who is trying to be creative to change their practice.
Teryl Cartwright provided a really engaging story about the way her practice and creativity was affected by her environment in the context of her pottery class. The video clip she attached helped bring her written description of the environment to life.
I’ve been taking a pottery class this past month and it has been a joy to enter into such a creative space.
When you drive to Shiloh Pottery, you go past small towns and farms and then up the driveway past the chicken house of noisy residents to what looks like a log cabin. The door handle is actually a wooden latch you pull up. You walk into a room of the finished pottery and are greeted by a golden retriever named Bear. The grey and white cat is named Dog. He has another name now but I prefer that one. As you walk into the workspace, the instructor Ken greets you. He’s like Santa with a gruff and whimsical sense of humor and long-standing patience. He sometimes carries a pen in his beard. There are always others there, students or helpers, working or visiting, or as Ken calls it, “playing in the mud.”
To the left of where I usually sit at the wheel is a huge aquarium with two turtles the size of dinner plates. The spigot where I fill the bowl of water is a dragon fountain, spewing hot water instead of fire. The tools which I borrow are along the wall near the chemicals which make the glazes. The mixed glazes are kept in the huge garbage cans with towels thrown on top. The de-aired clay is on a shelf by the work my daughter and I did the previous week as we learn to throw our pots. We cut the clay with wire and weigh it before patting it into balls. If you get air in the clay you knead it out on the table as if you are making bread with a vengeance.
The plate which holds the clay on the wheel is called a bat and the ball of clay is to be slapped to its center after I wet the bat slightly to make the clay stick. If you do that slap right, the thunk does sound like making a hit in baseball.
When the wheel spins and I must center the clay, I’ve been learning how to keep my hands still. It seems like the most counter creative thing you learn. Usually, you think you have to be moving to be creative but while the wheel spins and you center the clay, your hands learn not to fight the clay as much as hold still and surround it. The clay is like a wild animal that needs firmly but caringly trained, much like creativity.
Your knees have to be pressed on either side of the wheel and your elbows sit on your knees, twice the power of The Thinker. After the clay has been centered which is the most important thing (even in creativity centering is everything!), you press into the center with your thumbs to make a space and you use a pin tool to see how thick the bottom of your pot is.
Finally when you get that depth right you overlap your thumbs, making them into a “W” and you use your middle fingers on the inside and outside of the clay to form the sides as evenly as possible by moving them up together at a uniform speed at the three o’clock position with the other fingers alongside them for guidance.
You can bring more clay up from the bottom based on your pressure of your fingers but you have to gradually let go as you get to the top or the clay will form lopsided edges or worse, break. You can’t keep going over and over the edges either, Ken calls that “loving it to death” and it doesn’t fix your mistakes, it often creates new ones.
I think one of the most unrated parts of the creative space though is not the sights but the sounds. It’s been interesting how differently my pots come out and I know some of this is influenced by the variety of music in the background often from the 60s and 70s. Then there are the sounds of the wheel as I press the pedal at different speeds like I’m driving. There are the muted conversations, the voice of the instructor, the blending of the glaze in the trash cans with a power tool that sounds exactly like a kitchen mixer, the water from the dragon, and the thunk of the clay ball hitting the bat, all these little things inspiring me to create pottery.
I sometimes close my eyes as I’m centering the clay and centering myself to listen to being creative and to hear myself being in a creative space. I don’t know what sounds creative to you, but it has been fun to find out here in this new creative space in my life that sounds so different than the small thunkings of a writer typing on a laptop.Teryl CartwrightA2: Thank you +Teryl Cartwright I really enjoyed reading this - and the evocation of th
The same thoughts prompted Sandra Sinfield to comment "I would like our HE classrooms to be more like primary school (where people can stay in and decorate and own a space) - rather than secondary ones (where people are nomadic moving from room to room - propelled by the bell). Or to use a more university descriptor - I wish we could all have more of a Studio style space - so that the room itself started to denote and connote the sort of activities that take place there and the modalities both adopted and inhabited. So that work is displayed - and can be taken up again - and that the very air and light and sounds create that 'making' atmosphere.
When I woke up on day three I found another maker story by Kym Drady
The only creativity I have engaged in recently, other than the #HE Creative meet up, is to do with my hobby, dogs and showing, the creative act is designing my annual Christmas Dogs fancy dress costume and set. Fancy dress has a history in our family, when my son Joe was younger, he used to compete in the summer fair fancy dress competition. The first year he went as a collection road signs and he won, next year he went as a smartie tube, won again, by this point it was highly competitive. The final year was world cup year, and he wanted to go as the world cup, it took my friend and I 3 full weeks (and several bottles of wine) to recreate a costume and make him the world cup, we wowed never again!!!!!
And 10 years on here I was preparing my second charity dog fancy dress, last year we went as the 'Fairy Tail of New York' and won and this year we made 'Dachshund through the snow' I had obviously been racking my brains as to what to do and mid November middle of the night I awake with the idea from nowhere???. We identified a day, I collect all the materials and we set about, bouncing ideas off each other and bit by bit, and gradually the large cardboard box and the craft bits take shape, we had only 1 day, we had no idea where it was going it just evolved bit by bit. I wanted falling snow in the set, and was gutted I could achieve this, snow machines are too big and too powerful for our box scene and fans (tried many and fake snow) wouldn't work. So while the outcome is pleasing, it was disappointing I couldn't recreate the visual set I wanted. We had to satisfice.......in terms of the model we are probably somewhere between novice and expert but not really either. We try things, play about and definitely build on each others ideas changing and modifying as we go along. Our first outing with the costume set is this coming weekend, wish us luck, hoping to raise lots of money. Hi Thanks for sharing your interesting story and creative artefact.
I was struck by many things. The first was the long history of involvement infancy dress making and her successes in competitions which must certainly have put Kym well up the scale of expert practitioner. The second thing that struck me was how she adapted her environment to ceate a ‘maker space’ for herself and friend with materials and presumably tools to make the fancy dresses. The bottle of wine suggested a sociable setting. It sounded as if the idea of what to make came from the associations we make while we are asleep but imagination and reasoning were entangled through the act of making – an interactive, physical and emergent sort of process. I gained a sense that the competition was an important motivational factor. I think the disappointment about not quite achieving what she wanted is often associated with creative acts, and it’s another motivational force that encourages us to try again.
These are just a few thoughts arising from the conversation