In Love and Soaring, lighted by laser.
Photo by Lee Gass.
Methods of Creation?
In responding to
my story about making sculpture,
Thoughts on the Creative Process, Renee
pointed to something important to many of us.
Referring to her own work, she expressed
interest in “methods of creation”, and
imagined applying them in
I “get” wanting
methods of creation, and when
my imagination deserts me on occasion
I fervently wish for them. Unfortunately,
I don’t think there can be such a thing
as a method of creation in any
field, and didn’t mean to
imply so in my story.
Students asked me
for 40 years to tell them how
to be creative.
I owe it to Renee and others
to clarify this critical point, referring
specifically to artistic creativity.
What I mean by creation
is the genesis of ideas. Light bulbs going on.
The dawning of possibilities that don’t exist for us
until we imagine them into being. Creation is the
dawning, not the development or execution
of ideas. It is the slim distant glimmer
of possibility, and not in any
sense the full blown
It doesn’t matter
here whether new ideas are
new only to those who have them
or to everyone. If they are new to
those who imagine them,
having them was
does it matter whether
ideas are important, practical, plausible,
or any of those things. What matters
here is having them.
that happen? What does
it even mean to ‘have’ an idea?
Can we have better ones more of
the time? How are having
and expressing ideas
I can’t answer
those questions in a few
paragraphs. I’ve been trying
to answer them all my life and
still can’t answer them
very well, even to
But if you
agree that the questions
are important, hang in here,
read more, and maybe some
light bulbs will go on.
Maybe, if you
scientist/partner/parent, and if
you care enough about these things,
you will have ideas about your own
creativity. How it works and how
it might work more effectively.
A story I
told about sculpting in
Thoughts on the Creative Process
helps me understand how it works for
me. It began with a decision to wade
in the Yalakom River for rocks.
I wasn’t looking for
particular kinds or sizes or shapes
of rocks, though that and every other drainage
is full of them. I was looking for rocks that
were interesting, whatever that
meant to me then.
on rocks by the thousand,
each showing me what it was
in some way and me noticing nearly
none of them. From one blink of
my eye to the next, one of
them leaped into my
My arm plunged
knee deep in cold flowing water,
picked up a rock, shook off some water,
and a few seconds’ snippet of wading
in a river led into a series
the river holding that rock,still
dripping water back into the river, the
river still flowing past, something shifted and
I “saw” a mathematical idea “in” the
I still don’t know
with no warning, I was
wondering how interesting it could
be to play with the notion of
Recursion in sculpting.
That reveals when
and a little of what happened, but
doesn’t help me know what creativity is
or understand how I have ideas, let
alone how anyone else in the
world could do it.
I don’t think
anyone knows. I’m no closer
to the answer than when I was a
kid. What was my method of creation
in the Yalakom? I don’t think I had
one. A picture popped into my
mind and I ‘had‘ an idea.
We hear those kinds
of things and say them ourselves
all the time. We just declare them, usually
with fuzzy notions at best of what we
mean. Not only does saying them
not say anything useful about
how ideas happen, but it
If my muse
leaves me for a while and I
whine that ideas won’t come, I’ve run
dry, am fresh out, or can’t make it happen
anymore, that is similarly misleading.
And just when I most wish for
methods, they are the
last of what I
What do I need?
In the Yalakom
case with Recursion, a big part
of it was that my kids and I went camping
in the mountains, didn’t retreat from the weather,
and enjoyed ourselves for all it was worth in the
rain. I needed that and it was huge. Those
choices set the stage for creation, but
they didn’t and couldn’t make
it happen. Nothing
It sounds silly to
say it like this, but if I had
a method at all on the Yalakom, it
was to be as alive as I could be, experience
the river, the rocks, and my kids and really
feel being there. That seems more like
being open to possibility than
Be here now.
In education and psychology,
to experience experience is called meta-
cognition, cognition of cognition, or awareness
of awareness, and in my view as an educator it
is the single most important factor in the evolution
of students of any age into self actualizing,
independent, life-long learners. And
I think it reveals much about
the birth of ideas.
A friend once
gave me a hat saying
Go Into Your Studio & Make
Stuff, and the sculptor Ivan Mestrovic
said the only way to be an artist is to
work. I think that applies to every
thing else we do in life, and
not just sculpting.
Go into the
river and look for rocks.
Go into the studio and make
stuff. Don’t try to have ideas. That’s
not how it works. They come by
themselves if we let them, but
we can’t know what they
are in advance.
In art, science,
and other disciplines, the
key to creativity is to make stuff,
not to “be creative”. Doing it with mind
open leads to doing it differently,
which is creative. Go to your
studio, table, kitchen,
or lab and make
Make it as well as
you can, attend to how you
make it, imagine making it
better, and do it again.
In the movie
A Beautiful Mind, troubled
Nobel Prize winning mathematician
John Nash was stuck in a non-creative
quagmire of perfectionism at the beginning
of his career. He was preoccupied with
finding perfect new ideas, or being
creative, and unwilling simply
to make stuff (do math).
in a flash. Nash’s obsession
with perfection yielded for a moment,
and a simple insight occurred to him that
changed many views of the world, in many
fields, about many kinds of situations.
Go into your studio and make stuff.
Two images of In Love and Soaring.
In The Notion
of Creativity I tell the Yala-
kom River Story from another angle
and expand on it with reference to the idea
of recursion. What is it Going to Be? and Work
on the Ugliest Part! ask the same question and offer
the same answer in terms of sculpting. In terms
of creativity, The Case of Gerhard Herzberg and
The Case of Michael Ondaatje apply it in science
and literature. For science and education,
It’s Not Just a Matter of Technique
and Walking on Water are
See videos of
In Love and Soaring
rotating in laser light.
First published in the Vancouver Observer.
Edited February 2021