Creativity ultimately represents the act of engaging with existing artifacts to create new artifacts
most often through the combined physical and mental labour of the creator. Vlad Petre Glaveanu
[Vlad Petre Glaveanu, Aalborg University, ‘Rewriting the Language of Creativity: The Five A’s Framework’, Review of General Psychology © 2012 American Psychological Association 2013, Vol. 17, No. 1, 69–81].
30 April 2019 – I recently rediscovered this quote in my notes from a Futurelearn course I did last year and it set me to pondering. As an artist, what ‘existing artifacts’ do I engage with? And how much of that engagement is mental and how much physical?
Glaveanu also said that art doesn’t happen via an organised progression. It is a combination of ‘finding, constructing and solving problems’.
I realised that this is why I love the act of creation. It is always a problem-solving exercise, from where to put the first mark on a canvas to how to composite the text of an artist’s book. It is the challenge that excites me but sometimes I get bogged down in ‘failure’ to resolve it and excitement turns to stress. Then the creative instinct is crushed and the project becomes just something I ‘should’ work on or ‘ought to’ complete. It’s ‘hardening of the oughteries’ again and it’s paralysing! (see my blog ‘Ponderings On Time, November 2018)
I am writing this on holiday in Derbyshire, 150 miles from home, no Wi-Fi, no internet and limited TV, simply time to listen to the song of the birds and take in the grandeur of Creation. We’ve been to this village before. We take holidays somewhere in Britain every year if we possibly can – how else can you escape from housework !
Usually, I would be dreading going home in two days’ time – the packing, the unpacking, the laundry, the house, the garden… But this time, there’s something different going on in my head. I can’t wait to get home! I’m not thinking of any of the above, though they will each need attention at some point. No, I am longing to get back in the studio. The truth is, my studio has stopped being that place where I go to fail. It has become the place I go to make mistakes, learn from them and try again; the place to apply lessons I’ve learned, to practice being an artist, in the hope I might one day be recognised as one, but mostly just to be one! This holiday has been a chance to ponder this photo of my current piece and debate what to do next. I’m excited!
I suppose this change of mind-set has been germinating for a long while but it still took me by surprise when it suddenly burst into bloom. It was coaxed into life by Lupe Cunha’s challenge to work on more than one work at a time. Instead of a place where I either make a print, or make a book, or create a painting, my studio is now the place I work, doing any, or all, of those things, consecutively or simultaneously (well, almost). There are canvases at various stages ready to be worked on, a bookart project which is now a print-making project, too, both laid out and ready to go. I used to go into the studio thinking, ‘I really must do some work’, and then sit down because I didn’t know where to start or what I wanted to do and feared I might mess it up. Now, things are more positive. Not that I don’t mess up but now I know it’s all part of creating something and what I create is individual to me. When I’m out of the studio, I long to be back trying out the next thing.
Returning to Glaveanu, he was trying to provide a framework for psychology researchers to examine the topic of creativity. He called it, ‘The 5 A’s’ – Actor, Action, Artifact, Audience and Affordances.
As an artist, I am the ‘Actor’, or person who acts. Both my personal attributes and my social environment affect who I am and how I think. In my studio, the ‘Action’, which Glaveanu describes as the ‘coordinated psychological and behavioural manifestation’ of the actor, is creating an art-work – the ‘Artifact’. What form the artifact takes is dependent on Audience, who I’m aiming it at – book lover, print collector, dealer, gallery, client or casual buyer but also on me, because it is a ‘manifestation’ of me! ‘Affordances’, a difficult word chosen for alliteration rather than clarity, refers to what materials I have, how much research I’ve done, etc. I’ve found this useful as a way of examining what I’m doing, how and why I do it and what its ultimate purpose might be.
As an ‘Actor’, the work I produce, particularly when I’m painting, certainly reflects who I am and how I’m feeling at the time. When I’m feeling low or stressed, try as I might, I can’t create a happy painting. On those days I can even make yellow look gloomy!
But there’s more to me than mood. There’s also an accumulation of experiences, commitments, opinions, purposes and perceptions. All these feed in to what I produce, consciously or not. They are as much the stuff I’m working with as are the paints, canvases, inks and paper. They produce the ‘psychological and behavioural manifestation’ of me that is given a life of its own as a painting, print or bookwork. So, amongst those ‘Affordances’, all these rather abstract aspects of me must find a place.
Mental and physical, psychology and behaviour, can never be separated. Even the Automatists acknowledged that their work reflected something going on in their heads, however subconsciously or externally influenced. So, next time you look at a painting, don’t just observe the colours and shapes. Ask a few questions. What do the brush strokes tell me about how the painter was feeling? What mood does the choice of colour palette suggest? How much thought has gone into the composition, colour choices, subject matter? Does this artist know what s/he wants to say? Do I understand what s/he wants to say? Umberto Eco, in his book, ‘The Open Work’, (1989), wrote that a work of art is open to a limitless range of possible readings, each one of which gives it a new vitality dependent on the taste, perspective or perception of the viewer. So don’t expect to come up with a definitive answer for any of those questions! When I go to an exhibition of work by an acknowledged ‘master’, I keep just 2 questions in mind: 1. They say this is great art. Do I agree? And 2. They say this is wonderful. Why don’t I like it? These questions help me look more deeply into what I am seeing and what I can learn from it. What do I, or do I not, want to emulate?
I hope my ramblings have made sense. For me, this particular pondering session has provided a structure to keep my practice moving forward, ‘through an interrelation of finding, constructing and solving problems.’ In other words, I have recognised a need for more thought and ‘research’ before I begin. Not that I want to become less intuitive but that I want the intuition to be more firmly based. ‘Intuition’ is a sorely misconstrued word anyhow. In my experience, thoughts don’t come from nowhere. Somewhere, somehow a seed was planted. Experiences and pondering nurtured it. The miracle is the flowering, which may happen soon or much, much later, so much later that the seed is entirely forgotten.
So, for intuition to have a firm foundation, I need to have fed it with thoughts about composition, intention, colour choices and voice. By voice I mean more than what I want to say. Musically, it might be called ‘intonation’, the expression given to the written score by the performer. For a more silent art form, its voice is its mood plus its message plus the artist’s feelings at the time of production. It could even, as Eco said, include the feelings of the viewer at the time of viewing. Building this foundation may take days or even weeks. Then the day comes to put paint to canvas and the image begins to take shape. Properly incubated intuition produces satisfying fruition!