Creative Arts and the Art of Creativity

Amazing how much past learning, reading and conversation is coming to mind and  informing this post.  Thinking of a title for the post I considered Creative Arts or the Art of Creativity. Almost immediately, Uri Alon’s TEDtalk, and his use of the phrase “Yes, and …” popped into my mind. Nope, can’t be or, must be and. Hence the blog post title —  Creative Arts and the Art of Creativity. Both are valuable and important, and I don’t want to suggest anything different in my title.

Will Burns wrote an article entitled Should Education Focus Less on the Creative Arts, More on the Art of Creativity? I loved his conversation with his son about creativity.

Just this morning I asked my son who just graduated high school to name the most creative person in his class and why he thought so. He thought about it and said, “I think it would be Cassidy Davis (changed name) because she is incredibly good at drawing people’s faces.” My son seemed to equate “creativity” with a talent. But, interestingly, he went on to say, “Yeah, she does these drawings of people but then puts them into these scenes that are totally trippy and surreal.” (Will Burns, Forbes, August 7, 2017 @ 01:26 PM)

Burns exclaimed “Now that is creativity.”

I chuckled when I read that. I agree, that does sound creative. Cassidy moved beyond her talent to produce “good drawings” and interjected some creativity — placing the expertly drawn faces in fantastical scenes, created in her imagination and translated onto the page through her fingers.

Considering the definition of creativity, and whether or not something was creative, brings me back to the many awesome conversations with Karl during and after my MA Creative Thinking work at UCLan.

What exactly is creativity? Is it the same as talent? Is it connected to talent? Can we teach it? How? (And, a zillion other questions.) For now, the important conversation centers on the definition of creativity.

Creativity is new and useful or appropriate. So yes, when I read Burn’s son’s description I thought “Wow, that sounds creative, and quite cool.” But, if Cassidy’s drawings were not appropriate to the task at hand, they would not be creative. Talented and unique, perhaps, but not creative. Interesting, right?

I thought of this the other day as I did some plein air painting in the Adirondacks.

After hiking in, I settled myself, and my watercolors, on rocks in the river. I love this spot on the Ausable River, and I wanted to enjoy the river, the air and the moment. My artistic/creative goal was to capture the movement and spirit of the water, while incorporating a bit of the color mixing I had done at home.

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As I sat — breathing and thinking in this great space — I was splashed repeatedly by the river as it flowed by me. Through those splashes, I felt the river asking for my attention, gently nudging me to capture its essence by actually using it in my painting.

I put aside my waterbrush and began gathering water from the river. Slowly, splashes, drips, and then rivers of water, formed on my paper. Grabbing my brush, I wet my paints with the river water. The many colors of nature began to form on the page as the paints moved through the water. Sometimes they glided past one another without mixing, and other times they crashed into one another, swirling into ribbons and pools of new colors.

It was a fascinating and enjoyable process. I noticed the many things I could, and could not control in the process. Much like I must do when walking on the river, I accepted and relaxed – respecting the power but not fearing it.

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I am not sure anyone would consider me a great watercolor talent after seeing this painting. I am growing in my knowledge, skill, understanding and talent. But, a great talent? Not yet.

But, is it creative? Yes — it is a new idea that is appropriate to my task and goal.

I wasn’t sure I had achieved the essence of the river until I tried to photograph the painting. It looked best when it sat amidst the rocks. Just like the water around it, it gathered strength, grace, beauty and meaning from the rocks.

Back to one of my original questions. Is creativity the same as talent? No.

Is it then, completely different, completely removed from creativity? Again, no.

Thesaurus.com includes ability as a synonym for talent. They define it as “natural or acquired power” in something.

I am, for the first time, having this insight about talent and creativity. Perhaps talent and creativity are related just the way talent and playing the piano, talent and doing math, or talent and fencing are related. As my skills grow, my talent grows. As my understanding grows, my talent grows. As I practice, try, fail, learn, succeed — my talent grows. The talent can be in relationship to a plethora of different things — including creativity.

And, as my creativity grows – as a thinker in general, or in a specific arena – my talent, so to speak, always grows. Think of jazz musicians, scientists developing life saving drugs, mathematicians proposing or solving incredible problems, poets writing exquisite poems — their talent feeds their creativity, which in turn feeds their talent! It is a beautiful feedback loop.

Neither talent nor creativity are fixed abilities. We all have the ability to be talented and creative. Some may be more innately talented or creative, and levels of talent and creativity vary.  But, and this is an incredibly important thing for everyone — perhaps especially, parents, teachers and young people — to hear, with learning and practice, everyone can grow in talent and creativity.

This leads me back to Mr. Burn’s article Should Education Focus Less on the Creative Arts, More on the Art of Creativity?  and back to my “Yes, and …” from the beginning of this post. I love Burn’s thoughts in his article about the importance of creativity, and of a teacher with an MA Creative Thinking to help others navigate. However, I lean towards Uri Alon’s idea — Yes, and.

Yes, creative arts, AND, yes, ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY the art of creativity.

I think, perhaps, Mr. Burn’s would agree with that statement. But, that’s for another post!

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Hiking Art – Part 2 – Using the Wind

14114866_1464197210263831_6637948970428154399_oOur final hiking day in NY included a jaunt into the Ausable River across from Copperas Pond, and then a rather lovely hike to Cobble Lookout. I found a nice seat – lightly shaded, good view – and broke out the paints and paper. Much like other days, the wind was gloriously present.

I’d done art with my Kindergarteners were we supplied the breath to move the paint around the page. Inspired by that, I decided to see if I could let the rushing wind move my paint.

Much like the leaf painting, it was more difficult than I imagined. The wind was gusting at times, but seemed unable to combat the inertia in the domes of watercolor that sat on my page. I was surprised!

I tried more water in the paint, but the small domes still seemed impervious to the wind. Very interesting!

I thought it was a combination of inertia, and the small surface area of the paint. Even though the wind seemed very powerful on my skin, it didn’t push strongly on the drops of water and paint.

So, I stopped trying to control how the wind impacted the paint and paper. I did my best to give the wind full rein. I placed the watery paint onto the page, and lifted the page into the wind. Thankfully, my grasp was firm, because the wind whipped the page about like a kite! The wind won the inertia war (if that is what it truly was) and the paint moved about the page – small bits splashing onto my hands and legs.

I quickly ran out of water in my brush reservoir – as clearly I was using the brush in a much different way than anticipated! I filled it with water from my water bottle, but ended up spilling more than I got in the pen. Providentially, the water fell into a perfectly formed indentation on the rock where I sat. A natural water holder! I was able to wash my brush, and get enough water to make the paint wet and moveable.

Using that indentation in the rock really added to my experience.

  • It made me feel more immersed in, and connected to, nature.
  • It opened my eyes and mind to the possibilities that surround me – sometimes within reach – that may go unnoticed.
  • It encouraged me to embrace “what is.” There was some very fine gravel at the bottom of the indentation which transferred to my paper. The first time it happened, I gasped! Then I remembered something I had read, or heard, about Jackson Pollock. Bits of things sometimes ended up as parts of his work. That made me chuckle and helped me breathe as I thought “Oh! No worries! It’s just like Jackson Pollock!”

After letting the wind do quite a bit of work. I sat with the piece and watched it as it dried. I looked out at the view and noticed the grey rock, the green trees and the blue sky. I decided to fill in the unpainted areas with grey, green and blue – in that order – as I saw them sitting there.

When I got home I set about finishing this piece. I wanted to add some sort of detail, and words. I had been thinking of using parts of a John Muir quote that had been in my mind for days.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir)

I loved how much the painting reminded me of a map, or the view you might see from the summit of a mountain. I hesitated about adding the words, fearing I might wreck the work I had already done.

But, I decided they had to be added! I love that quote. It blesses me each time I recall it when I am out in nature. It increases my breath and my ease. Plus the wind’s freshness had actually created the painting! How could I not acknowledge it?

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” Climb mountains … peace flows … like sunshine …winds blow freshness and storms energy … cares drop off like autumn leaves.” (John Muir, as per me)

 

 

Hiking Art

I bought a travel watercolor set to have with me in my pack on my hikes this week. It’s a nice Sakura Pocket Field Sketch Box. I got it in an awesome little bookstore on the main drag of Lake Placid that has an amazingly nice art section! It was an impulse buy on a rainy day walk into town.

I’m not a trained painter so I looked for creative ways to translate the nature and inspiration I experienced on our hikes, using  watercolors.

We did a short hike out to Moose Pond. It’s a beautiful spot to sit, breathe, pray, eat, and relax. The water inspired me that day. I thought about wetting the entire page with pond water, but wasn’t sure what I would do next. So, I did nothing! I sat, looked, and just experienced the place. I noticed irises growing between the cracks in a rock on the water’s edge. That sparked an idea! If I used one of the leaves to put the pond water on the page, I might be able to mirror the feeling of the water – movement, sunlight, colors, and flow.

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Baxter Mountain was our next hike. The wind at the top was sensational. It was my inspiration that day. But, how to show it?

The sound and force of the wind is hard to miss. It almost constantly moves the leaves and  actually changes the way tree branches grow. I love the sound and force of the wind, and the shaking of the leaves was a visual cue, so I knew I wanted to capture that … somehow.

It’s remarkable how awe inspiring, and moving (pun intended lol) the wind is to me. I absolutely love it. So, instead of of painting, I found several spots to sit, do yoga, eat, pray, and just let the wind buffet me. I collected a few leaves before we hit the trail off the summit, stuffing them in my pack to use when I got home.

Here’s my first leaf inspired piece.

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It took form as I worked. I wasn’t happy with it at first. But, I ignored my displeasure with the product, and kept going, enjoying the process. As I did, ideas came to me. I remembered a bubble art project I did with my Kindergarteners, and let that direct me.

I really like the abstract nature of the finished piece. And, I love the accessibilty and transferability of the method! I’m contemplating how to incorporate it into my class this year. It has nice potential as an art-science integration.

Rain has interrupted my hikes but not my art. Today I worked on getting watercolor paint to adhere to the leaves I gathered yesterday. My plan was to make leaf prints.

This is much harder than it seems. Close your eyes and imagine rain hitting the leaves. What does it do? Yup, it beads up! So guess what the watercolor paint does … beads up! Ugh! But, with a bit of stubborn persistence – wearing down the leaf it seemed, and getting the paint to the right consistency – it worked. The paint stuck to the water resistant leaf!

I am super happy with the result. The colors remind me of the leaves, sky and sun. The one in the middle is that one brilliantly colored red leaf we always come upon on our hikes. The black is the large rocks that encourage thousands of nature-filled step ups and downs on our hikes, as well as the small stones that sometime weigh down my pack. Next time I may put the black around the entire edge. We’ll see. It’s a process, and I’m loving it!

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Speaking of process, clearly my process involves mess! It never feels like mess while I’m working. It feels like (and is) immersion, beauty, intentness and art!

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But, yeah, my process is messy, and I’m good with that!

 

 

 

 

Hiking boot canvases

I found a pair of Asolo hiking boots. Loved the fit, but the color? Not so much … red. I was conflicted. A good feeling boot is hard to pass up, but whew, red? Definitely not my thing.

I walked around the store for a good long time trying to decide what I’d do. Then It hit me – tangle them! If that worked, they would rock! The black sharpie would soften the red, and the tangles would create a functional piece of art.

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It worked! (Don’t you think?) Turns out they were a fantastic canvas for tangling.

hiking shoes 2 Now I can’t imagine hiking in anything else.

I am the rockin’, creative, hiking girl in the fabulous, one-of-a kind boots.