Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What is Creativity? - 5

I listened to a TED radio talk this morning, an amalgamation of TED talks that expanded on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. At the top of his need pyramid is self-actualization, for which they used bits of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi's talk about "flow" - what Maslow called a "peak experience."

Both men describe the experience as losing one's sense of time and place, one's very sense of existence, in the pursuit of creation. Or of perfection.

In order to understand flow, Csíkszentmihályi first studied creative people - artists and scientists - then moved on to athletes and other peak performers, and then to assembly line workers and more ordinary occupations. He believes that thousands of hours of practice are necessary before anyone can experience flow.

I've not found this to be true. I've had beginning students who experienced flow. A decade or so ago, I called it "baring their souls" because that's how it felt to me, as an observer. They were visually transformed - they glowed. I lost any critical capacity as a teacher, was caught up in the moment myself. I have a beginning student now who has experienced flow three times. Each time he's amazed, talks about "losing a sense of time," about "losing myself in the music."

So what is flow? Is it the physiological sensation of creativity?

To be continued.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What is Creativity? - 4

I read this quote from Martha Graham last week: "There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest . . ."

Multi-Tony-winner Gwen Verdon said, in an interview, that she could remember only one performance in which everything went right.

A colleague of the opera singer and recitalist Elisabeth Schumann told me that Schumann said she'd had two perfect performances in her long career. She added that that was the best one could hope for.

Some of the great truths in life are paradoxes, and this is one of them. Creators are always trying to achieve perfection, knowing that they will almost certainly fail. How creators differ from others is in their thinking of failure as a challenge, not an impediment.

I knew a Ph.D. in chemistry who found he couldn't bear the life of a chemist, in which his days were filled with one failed experiment after another. He went into the IT field, where he could figure out how to make things work then and there. Not that they worked perfectly, but well enough to do the job while he thought about new ways to improve the technology.

To achieve perfection can be inimical to art. If a painting were perfect, what could one say about it? My own definition of great art is that it can be re-interpreted over and over, that one can find new meaning whenever one revisits a painting or rereads a book or hears a Chopin etude again. I never teach a song or aria without finding something new in it. I Anna Karenina for the second time a few years ago, and it was a completely different book than the one I'd first read. And how come I had to wait until midlife to discover how funny Jane Austen is?

So, is creativity a drive? Unlike the hunger drive, when does creativity result in satisfaction?

To be continued.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What Is Creativity? - 3

I've been thinking all week about the "why" of creativity. Then this morning the April issue of Writing and Wellness arrived in my inbox this morning with the question, "Why do we write?" and no answer.

Is creativity an inherent drive, like hunger? Unlike hunger, creativity isn't necessary for individual survival.

Is creativity connected to our pursuit of happiness? Pleasure vs. pain?

When I was writing my first book, Clues to American Dance (Starrhill Press, 1993), I spent an entire day trying to convey, in words, the essence of Eliot Feld's ballet, "Ion." I finally created a sentence that did it. I danced around my study, couldn't wait for my partner to come home so I could read it to him. I was euphoric. When my manuscript came back from the editor, she had written, in red ink, "What does this mean?" next to my perfect sentence. In my son Tim's current ad campaign for GE, "Invention Donkey," a character has an idea for an invention, but then says, "That's hard work. Can't someone else do it?" Every performer experiences fear before walking on stage and moments of panic during the performance when someone flubs a line, the telephone doesn't ring, the trapdoor doesn't open.

Humiliation, hard work, fear. Not a prescription for happiness.

So what is creativity?

To be continued.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What Is Creativity - 2

I'm currently reading The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain, by the neurologist, Alice W. Flaherty (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). In Chapter 6, "Why We Write: The Limbic System," Flaherty discusses several possible reasons for writing and gives a good bit of attention to "self-expression."

If I were given the question, "Is self-expression the reason we write, or are creative?" I would probably check all the boxes - Yes, No, and Maybe.

I've worked and taught in three arts areas - singing, performance, and writing - and I've been a founder of, or a consultant to, several start-up businesses. Self-expression has never been the instigator of any of my projects. Problem-solving, however, was often the prod to creativity.

Here, for example, is how I spent the 1st part of my morning: I received an email from a woman several states away who has been asked to record a CD for a company that has a successful niche market in related items. She never intended to sing professionally when she studied voice with me years ago, she only wanted to sing well enough to join her church choir. She hasn't a clue how to go about making a CD.

As I was going through my files for the names of a couple of recording studios in her state, she called. By the time our phone conversation ended, I had given her the name of an excellent recording studio near me in North Carolina, and we've made tentative plans for her to come here for coaching and recording. She had been thinking about moving farther south anyway, and had talked to a realtor about putting her house on the market in about 4 weeks. The Carolinas had been on her mind recently and, as we talked, she remembered that she had a contact who wanted to start a new venture in South Carolina that would solve some of the problems with her current employment.

All these plans will, of course, require a lot of phone calls and internet searches before we get to the creation of the end product. It's even possible that the CD will never get made. But the impetus to begin the process was not a need or drive for self-expression. She had never thought of recording her voice until someone heard her sing and suggested the project.

It was the problem, "How do I make a CD?" that led one woman to creatively think about completely changing her life.

To be continued.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

What is Creativity?

Attempts to define creativity, predictably, have begun with attempts at some sort of measurement. "Let's count the number of ideas produced by a group under the following control conditions, either singly or in combination: number of participants, activity of participants, temperature of the room, ethnic, age, gender, and hierarchical diversity, etc., etc."

Ideas are, of course, only ideas. Unless they lead to a new product, a new business strategy, a new ad campaign, nothing has been created.

"So let's measure the success of the new products created by the group in terms of number of sales, net revenue, longevity in the market, etc."

But then we'd have to account for a number of external variables, ranging from the weather to interest rates, none of which have anything to do with the creativity we're trying to measure.

And what about writers, who work alone? Do we measure their creativity by how long it takes them to write a book? By how many books they sell? Are we able to compare one writer's creativity with another's? Say, David Sedaris's creativity with William Shakespeare's?

Creativity is sort of like the sky. We know that it exists, so we've given it a name. But we don't know how to define it. What properties does it have? What limitations? Where does it originate?

To be continued.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Negative Emotions

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the disconnect in our thinking about emotions - on the one hand, we're coming to believe that emotional intelligence is an important business skill; on the other hand, displaying emotions in a business situation is a negative. Translation: We should become adept at reading the emotions of others, but also adept at hiding our own emotions from others.

Here's another anomaly: anger and fear are usually labeled "negative emotions." Organized religions call for their suppression, at the same time they are encouraging their followers to fear whatever gods they worship. Because those same gods will be wrathful if their laws and rules are not obeyed. Translation: We don't have the right to be angry, anger is the purview of the gods. We don't have the right to fear anything or anyone except our gods.

Balderdash. (A great word, with lots of the same consonants as b.s., yet usable anywhere.) We're born with the ability to feel and express anger. (What? You've never seen a baby's red, howling face?) We're born with the ability to feel and express fear. (You don't think children should be taught to stay away from fire?)

Both anger and fear are positive for our well-being, for our very lives. They are protective in nature, not negative. They're impossible to eliminate. If we're not allowed to recognize them, they'll just hang around, causing mayhem in our muscles and nervous systems.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sharing With, Not Giving To an Audience.

My client with the interesting questions had a couple of new ones yesterday:

Q: Music has given me moments of ecstasy all life. Throughout my career I've tried to give others those ecstatic experiences, but I don't think it's working. Why not?

A: Your emotional biography is different from any other person's, so you can't "give" anyone else your moment of ecstasy. Example: In the audience for Othello is a man who believes his wife is having an affair. Sitting behind him is a man who believes he was unfairly passed over for a promotion. That man's wife is having an affair and is worried her husband has found out. All three people will have an intense emotional response, but each response will be different.

If you share your emotional experience of music with your audience - share with, not give to - what you are giving them is the opportunity to have their own personal emotional responses. Not yours, theirs.

The qualifier here is that the actor, the musician, the promoter of an ad campaign, the politician must be sharing an authentic emotional experience of their own in order to activate authentic experiences in their audiences. Example: Medea, a play filled with horror from beginning to end, can evoke an audience's laughter if it is not acted and directed authentically.