on the creative experience
The experience of artmaking: body, self and word as ontological
Phenomenology, hermeneutics and metaphor
Relevant theories on the creative experience
Crossing over from memory and experience
A phenomenology of my consciousness: processes
of perception and introspection as they relate to my studio practice
My engagement as a creator
untitled work from Interior
Experience, april 2005
Acrylic on canvas
122 x 160 cm
Once, at a seminar that
I attended, an emerging artist was asked to lecture on her recent work.
As she spoke to us about the different steps that had led to her findings,
she started to cry. This artist was not unhappy, rather she seemed to be
expressing some deep state of release. I was fascinated by the spontaneous
behaviour. It was as if she had touched upon some kind of truth akin to
what I had read of catharsis in psychotherapy. As she spoke, I began to
think about how I – or any other artist – came to amass a body
of work through very different circumstances.
I know that creativity
is relative to resourcefulness, cleverness and invention. Rather than considering
creativity as a quality attributed to things that have a potential, I see
creativity as a particularly human faculty of functioning that implies
movement, interaction and agency. Like the will, reason and memory, creativity
is one of the powers of the mind. Its manifestation varies from one individual
to another since it is related to sensitivity, defined through one's own
awareness of the changing conditions inside and outside the organism. My
art-making process involves a process where I create through the idea of
body sensations, images of my inner experience.
In this chapter, I will
relate the nature of creative thinking as understood through ideas in the
literature concerning creativity and with insight from my studio practice.
I will begin by outlining
some general perspectives on creativity that have been put forth through
studies in the behavioural sciences. It has been difficult to categorise
creativity because conscious experience does not occur in discrete stages.
Some researchers have concluded that the only means by which we can come
to an understanding of creativity is through the language of the process.
The creative personality
has been investigated through quantitative and qualitative methods. Creativity
is a kind of intelligence but devising a means to gather quantitative data
on it has been elusive. The creative personality does appear to be different
but personality by its very nature cannot be precisely defined.
Some interesting research
has emerged from the cognitive sciences. By comparing the philosophical
and behavioural aspects of conscious experience with the study of cognitive
structures (metaphor, perception, representation and language) scientists
through the use of information technologies and neurological studies are
providing some insight on the thinking process involved in creation.
It is thought that the
creative process progresses through a series of distinct stages (Wallas,
1926). The initial idea is selected during a preparation stage. The
incubation stage allows the idea to germinate or lie dormant for a while.
In the illumination stage, the idea emerges and a verification stage allows
for the elucidation of the creative thought. I think that the stages of
creativity overlap. An idea will present itself to my consciousness in
an intuitive manner and then I will follow through on it and eventually
develop a sketch or some kind of aesthetic work. It is actually difficult
for me to divide this experience into stages.
Paul Guilford (1967) made a distinction between convergent and divergent
production in creativity. Convergent thinking applies linear means to
deal with an idea. Generally, there is a direct logical answer to an
inquiry. In my mind, the notion of convergent thinking refers to the
things that I rely on, such as the proven phenomena with which I construct
my self-in-the-world. In the quotidian I am not conscious of my application
of divergent thought. I remain in a practical world, where, like most
people, I have a little kit of preconceived expressions such as "Let's
not complain about the sun because we will be freezing in January!" to
fit into conversations to use in my daily interactions.
Where I actually sit down
and brainstorm is when I apply myself to working or to studying, and especially
as I am creating. Divergent thinking may produce multiple and seemingly
unrelated responses that ultimately lead to novel conclusions. Everyone
has a time when they use divergent means to consider, for example, how
to invest in a certain way or how to plan an event. I consider it divergent
production when I am working in the studio trying to express something
that I don't even know that I'm feeling. It seems especially divergent
when I find out a couple of years after I completed a work that it somehow
defined a hidden aspect of myself. Freud (1965,
c.1932) used the term preconscious, which he defined as "latent unconscious
that can easily become conscious" (Lecture xxxi). All my symbolism comes
from the preconscious, and so I have to trust my senses and intuition.
Everything that I feel comes in as I work and I eventually paint it regardless
of what I know from my learning or of the art world. I take notes or sketch
what comes forth in the temporal present and ask the questions later. This,
to me, is the nature of divergent production.
Psychologist Jacob Getzels
noticed that originality is highly related to problem finding and discovery
orientation. He adds that creative problem solving could be linked to the
heightened sensitivity of creative people (Taylor & Getzels,
1975, 15). I tend to define originality through authenticity. The body's
senses are what generate thinking first and foremost. In my experience,
a one-of-a-kind object or an idea that qualifies as original comes from
implicit experience. It is through an awareness of my body in the present
that my memory and experience are active through my senses. Getzels adds
that creativity does not come in sudden bursts of inspiration but rather
through a persistent drive. The creative process finds original and unconventional
solutions through the discovery of unexpected links between bits of information.
The creative product subsequently generates creative activity and new creative
findings can lead to new problems.
Artist and educator Kenneth
Beittel (1972) felt that the new idea stems from a broad range of
possibilities, including a superior intelligence, working with novel
phenomena or reacting to a mixture of external cues. The role of the
preconscious is particularly evident in the incubation and verification
stages where the reasons why an artist chooses a creative path are simply
unknown (62). Creative thinking is at the top of the hierarchy of problem
solving. It is most difficult when a problem has been identified independently
of its resolution. Beittel suggests that solution finding is done through
a "blind search" that requires a long-term tolerance of ambiguity. Intuition
and ideas come from the preconscious alternating with consciousness.
The artist is involved in a process of selection and critical evaluation
while art making. There is no precise knowledge on the way artists choose
a path while developing a work of art. The outcome of a specific creative
process is seen only through the work of art. Creative thinking occurs
before language and its symbolic products come from intuition (62-65).
In the creative process
an idea does not necessarily fall out of the blue but to me it sometimes
feels like it does. My mind keeps working while I go on about my life but
all the while I feel like the problem or idea about something persists
in the back of my head. This is my preconscious working it out. Somehow,
all of a sudden, a result comes and it makes sense. I can write it down
or intellectualise it in whatever way I wish. I suspect that Beittel was
able to live that experience through his own work and know it through his
In the social sciences,
a perceived need for procedural objectivity and veridicality in empirical
research has often led to the avoidance of difficult or unmeasurable subjects
1998). Inquiry into the creative process, however, cannot proceed from
the outside through procedural tests or ethnography. It requires an objective
dialogue stated from within the experience of the primary creative producer.
Beittel's research tends to correlate with more recent literature on the
creative process based on studies into consciousness (Damasio) and the
cognitive sciences (Lakoff, Gabora). It is precisely because Beittel was
an artist that he was able to describe the creative process.
Csikszentmihalyi (1999) used the term flow, which he defined
as a total state of involvement in an activity that completely engrosses
an individual in deep concentration. It is an experience that is so enjoyable
that it becomes autotelic. Creative activities, music, sports, games
and religious rituals are typical sources for this kind of experience.
Csikszentmihalyi began with the Aristotelian principle that happiness
is the basis of all desire and the only intrinsic goal that people seek
for its own sake (821). In the course of human development, an association
was made between challenge and pleasure. The desire for increased pleasure
led to the state of flow, which is dependent on increasing skill
and challenge (Csikszentmihalyi,
above left: Notebook page
above right: Detail from The Ends of the Earth,
2003, Oil on panel, 20 x 20 cm
In my studio the kind
of satisfaction that I usually get is intellectual in that I can finally
join my ideas with materials through my skills. Occasionally things begin
to materialise as my ideas are manifested in my work. I gain self-awareness
as I am working. I am able to make connections – not necessarily
on the spot with my brush in hand but as I am in the process of working
out a large piece. As I see my work progress, I discover things about myself.
My ideas begin to gravitate toward new work. These are wonderful moments
but they happen rarely.
I understand Csikszentmihalyi's flow as
what occurs when someone gains control after struggling with something
technical or with new materials. At a certain point a barrier is crossed
and it suddenly becomes easy and spellbinding. The novelty of making an
aesthetic object somehow introduces pleasure. Flow is a useful model
in, for example, art therapy. Flow allows for the communication
of a lived traumatic experience through an image or an artefact. Creation
as an abstraction of language affords the subject an opening through which
expression of repressed feelings can be made communicable. The professional
artist, however, through formal training, has most likely assimilated the
tools to manifest primary relationships through art objects. There might
still be a good feeling when the paint is right or when things work out;
however, from my view the flow experience is less evident.
Cognition and education
Gardner (1983) prefers a holistic approach in assessing human intelligence
where all aspects of the mind are equally valued. Individuals seek different
things in life and Gardner categorises some of those things into what he
calls intelligences, as a means to manage the diversity of human attributes.
Humans possess a mixture of behaviours and he provides a framework. He
outlines seven distinct intelligences, including: Linguistic Intelligence
present in writers, Logical-mathematical Intelligence that reflects abilities
found in scientists, Spatial Intelligence or the ability to form a mental
model of a spatial world and to be able to manoeuvre and operate using
that model, Musical Intelligence or the ability to understand and create
music, Body Kinaesthetic Intelligence, the ability to use one's body in
a skilled way, Interpersonal Intelligence, which consists of aptitudes
for dealing with other people, and Intrapersonal Intelligence, which he
describes as the ability to form an accurate verbal model of oneself to
be used effectively in life. Creative people use the same cognitive processes,
as do scientists or mathematicians. What differs is the manner in which
the artist will use these faculties. According to Gardner an artist will
use them more efficiently and in a more flexible manner, and for the purpose
of reaching a more ambitious and riskier goal (Gardner,
My inquiry into the creative
process is grounded in my art practice and its objects. Recent discussions
about the creative process tend to emphasise the importance of an art practice,
where art making can be considered as instrumental research into creativity.
Best (2000) holds that research into creativity must occur in the
language of the process. He emphasises that no matter how erudite thinking about something
might be, it is no substitute for actually thinking in the language
of creation (4). The discourse embodied within the aesthetic image is
described in terms of the relationship of language and temporality in
a dissertation by Graciela
Hollm (1989). Beyond its basic function for communication, language
is a means of revealing truth through intersubjective discourse. In art,
subject and object are intertwined in a two-fold structure that expresses
both the time of creation and the symbolic imagery that is constructed
by experience (347). Hollm feels that aesthetic truth arises from an
ontological condition, through which the artist autonomously and wilfully
conceives an existential body of work.
In research, I often come
across descriptions of hands-on work methods; similar to those found in
recipe books and home-building manuals (for example, Finkelstein;
1994). In filmed interviews (for example, Picasso,
1997), significant artists are generally asked about the application
and choice of their materials. But creativity is not really about the work
in the studio. It is more like when you are observing something extraordinary
in nature. You go out and you find a strange flower in your garden and
you don't know what it is but you don't really research it. You kind of
look at it every day to see how it's doing and it opens up slowly and it
turns into a different shape. It becomes more and more interesting to look
at until it finally wilts and you are through with it. Looking at an artist's
career is a little bit like that. There is as much of an element of surprise
in there, I believe, for the artist as for the viewer. When you look at
art, you relate to it as if it was a natural process but when you ask the
artist about it the discussion becomes very intellectual. From the artist's
viewpoint, it is half intellectual and half natural, all at once. Csikszentmihalyi (1996)
described creative people in terms of contradictory extremes, exhibiting "antithetical
traits that are integrated with each other in a dialectical tension." The
artist will tell you how she felt and how this and how that but at the
same time she might be thinking about other artists who are working somewhere
else in the world doing similar things or she could be relating her work
to historical tradition, all the while wondering about her progress as
she is doing the interview. There is a natural part in the art-making process
like that, and there is a part that belongs to the intellect. Artists who
actually make significant contributions to contemporary culture are very
well-educated and must be well-versed in their discipline, so even within
the interview process the artist may be involved in fresh moments of self-awareness.
above left: Detail from The
Ends of the earth, 2003, Oil on panel, 20 x 20 cm
above right: Detail of source image
If I am involved in research
into the aesthetic process, then I should also be involved in such a process
myself. It is by living the experience that I can most accurately identify
authenticity but for it to be useful in an inquiry about the creative process
it must be situated in a rigorous phenomenological study from within subjective
practice. Studio work is where I began my personal and academic research,
where I received my training and where I formulate my methods. In the studio,
I also go to a place in my mind where I am in reflection. I contemplate
memories that may be brought to the surface by my subject matter, things
that I have read about or perhaps discussions that I have had. As much
as the creative process is best described through its product, the artwork,
the expressive object itself cannot provide a written record of the nature
of the phenomenon. Dewey (1934)
makes a distinction between empiricism, which states meaning, and expression
that embodies meaning within the object or situation ( 84). In the context
of my dissertation on creativity, the only truly objective thing that I
am doing is making art. In art making, unpredictability and chaos generate
results that are as significant for qualitative inquiry as those obtained
through skills and planning (Regent,
Artist and educator Graeme
Sullivan (2005) reminds us that the institutions and disciplines
that talk about the creative process must have a perspective that is
grounded in the theories and practices of art (220). I think that the
emphasis should be on the practice itself. Criticism, art history and
philosophy can explain the components of art that have been resolved.
The existence of an art theory means that a particular aesthetic question
has been defined and so it is distanced from the present where art is
being made now.
Sullivan states that the
artistic process is the way humans negotiate meaning (65). He says that
art making is often coupled with science as a method of inquiry and that
the new technologies encourage the removal of disciplinary divisions (181).
He adds that the visual arts generate a unique form of knowledge that is
no less insightful than that provided through any other research discipline.
Australian artist Barbara
Regent (2002) provides an analytical synthesis of the literature of the
creative process and offers an approach towards the comprehensive understanding
of this process in the context of her art practice. Citing several sources
in her literature review, she concludes that the creative process varies
in detail from one individual to another simply because people are different.
She feels that artists must be implicated in the explanation of the creative
process since they do provide a direct frame of reference for creativity
research (5). Her basic premise is that the reflective element of the artistic
creative process precedes all other discourse. I tend to believe that this
is where research into creativity starts.
I feel most of my brain when I'm creative. It keeps trying
and trying to do something right and if it can't do it I just start again.
I'm not very creative when I do math, I'm just thinking, but in piano I do
about the same thing as in drawing (Mikelle, 11 years old).
In a broad study on the
creative personality, Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi and Jacob Getzels (1976) described artistic people
as withdrawn, introspective and independent. Although creative personalities
are rarely controlled by social norms, they excel societally at cognitive
tasks such as restructuring old problems or discovering new ones. Creative
individuals have an ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make
do with whatever is at hand to reach their objectives. Csikszentmihalyi (1996)
has surmised that the most distinguishing characteristic of a creative
personality is its complexity.
It is fairly clear that
behavioural, temperamental, emotional and mental attributes are unique
to the individual. I think that creative personality is categorised because
artists are often misunderstood. In public functions, during exhibitions,
artists smile, or laugh, or politely accept the attention that their art
works generate but then they return to their studios and work. I feel that
I have a very quiet, normal, perhaps even ultra-normal life. I don't set
out to break rules or create dissonance. I simply wish to be left to work
Gabora (2006) thinks that creativity is a human capacity that stemmed
from the development of a model of the world in humans during the Middle
to Upper Palaeolithic period. This worldview came about through the use
of concepts in a flexible and context-sensitive manner. With creativity,
humans could spontaneously shift between analytic and associative modes
of thought, which could allow for planning and multiple solutions to
problems. Meaning, in the complex human sense, does not occur through
natural selection. How does a newborn develop such capacities except
through what she describes as a cultural analogy to the origin of life,
which occurs when the first creative thought is generated from an individual's
brain? She suggests that as an adaptation for human survival, and in
order to understand anything, there must first be a fully assimilated
conceptual framework (Gabora,
1997, 9). Neurologist
Semir Zeki (2001), who investigates the methods by which the brain
forms abstractions as a central problem in neurobiology, feels that the
artist uses creative methods similar to the physiological processes that
are now under study, but in a much more complex manner in that the abstraction
itself mutates as the artist is conceiving it (52).
Fig. 29. Mal
caché, 2006 from Interior Experience,
acrylic on canvas, 121 x 152 cm
"Being an artist is linked to my personality but much more so to my perception
of the world."
I know that my brain is
continually challenged when I am being sensitive to my external environment,
or reading diverse material, or writing down my ideas. My studio work chronicles
daily efforts to understand myself as a creator. I know that I am an artist
and that I am trying to create at the highest possible level. In my art
practice, I am fascinated by the things that I supposed were dormant in
me, or I apply my skills or explore my shortcomings. Invariably my paintings
appear as pictures of me from an ontological perspective. Committed musicians,
dancers, writers, sculptors or painters possess inherently unique approaches
to their art practice that reflect their individual personalities. I think
the most distinguishing aspect of a creative personality is that it does
not fit into defined parameters.
Being an artist is linked
to my personality but much more so to my perception of the world. I am
very sensitive to my feelings. As a child, I would go outside and feel
the wind on me and it would make my emotions rise. The first time that
I sat on a swing, I was breathless. I spend a great deal of time trying
to capture the mental images in my mind's eye, attentive to what my thinking
is giving me in terms of the outcome of everything that goes into my consciousness.
This includes all information that I perceive from the outside, in the
moment, as it comes. An idea is always being worked out in the back of
my head because the mind, awake or asleep, is at work constantly making
abstractions. I know this because the underlying physiological structures
of feeling are not dependent on consciousness, but are rather intermediaries
between our biological self and our construction of knowing (Damasio,
has worked on the issue of how creative thought is physiologically possible.
She explains that in a state of defocused attention or heightened sensitivity
to detail that is present in the creative personality, stimulus properties
that are less significant to an immediate goal are encoded in memory. Since
more features of stimuli are involved in the process of storing to and
evoking from memory, more physical memory is involved and implicated in
the encoding of an instant of experience. As more memory is activated,
more memory locations are made available and become active in the encoding
and preparation for the next instant. This stream of thought tends to more
thoroughly assimilate a worldview at the same time as it delays an immediate
interpretation of stimuli, and there is a higher probability that a thought
will lead to a somewhat unrelated thought within a short period of time.
Gabora refers to this cognitive state where the memory network plays a
greater role in conscious experience as conceptual fluidity. Creativity
is associated with both high conceptual fluidity and an inherent capacity
for extraordinary control within an individual, but she cites that it has
also been linked to "psychoticism" (one of the three personality traits,
along with extraversion and neuroticism, from psychologist Hans Eysenck's
1976 model of personality). She states that creative people appear to be
simultaneously labile and changeable and yet can be controlled, predictable
and stable. In creative individuals, the perceptual standards that make
up a normal perspective of the world are more deeply penetrated and efficiently
traversed. There is some support for this hypothesis from a recent study
into "latent inhibition", a cognitive inhibitory mechanism that refers
to the varying capacity of the brain to screen irrelevant stimuli in all
mammalian species. Creative people do appear to be more open to incoming
stimuli from their environment. In humans, reduced latent inhibition has
been associated with psychosis; however, when combined with high intelligence
and exceptional flexibility in thought, it can be manifested in creative
Carson and Higgins, 2003).
Research has shown that
creative people are often exposed to suffering and pain because of their
vulnerability and sensitivity (Csikszentmihalyi,
1996). Working alone creating prototypes leaves the artistic personality
open to criticism. At the highest levels of creative achievement, the generation
of novelty is not the main issue. Deep interest and involvement in obscure
subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule. Divergent thinking
is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person
may feel isolated and misunderstood (Csikszentmihalyi).
that creative people combine playfulness and discipline with its antithesis,
a quality of doggedness, endurance and perseverance. Artists may appear
to be as crazy as loons but when it comes to their art practice, they are
disciplined to the extreme. Creative personalities alternate between imagination
and fantasy but are rooted in reality (39). They seem uninterested in the
world around them as they are working out their ideas on the inside. When
it is time to try out an idea in the real world, I get very serious. Will
people understand the metaphorical symbolism that I put together in my
I think that artists are
constantly working. I look for something and at a certain point it comes
out through sketches and finally in a painting. When I am looking for an
idea, I seem more receptive, like a catcher crouching with an open mitt,
waiting for the unexpected. It might be a curve or it might come right
across the plate, so I'm just paying attention. In the studio or at home
I might be listening to someone interesting on the radio, doing laundry
or reading a book, but the moment something responds to that open gap,
I am immediately focused. Ideas only seem to come instantly.
There is nothing physical
and very few behavioural cues that would allow me to identify a creative
personality. Csikszentmihalyi (1996) says that creative people have a great
deal of physical energy. They work long hours with great concentration
but also have an ability to moderate themselves while projecting an aura
of freshness and enthusiasm (38). I have been acquainted with creative
personalities who complain a great deal about how hard they work and how
many long hours they put in. They go around with a cynical disposition
but they are nevertheless artists. Michelangelo (1475-1564) is reputed
to have said, "If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't
seem so wonderful at all." As artists, we perhaps have a tendency to express
our experience in a different manner, when formally interviewed, as opposed
to the more intimate circumstance of conversation among peers. Andy Warhol
(1928-1987) would often give the public impression that he was more of
a bizarre impresario than an artist, while at night he would produce his
immense body of work. In my experience, artists don't generally hang out.
Artists wake up early; they go to bed late or they are up at night. They
are not there in the "art milieu", unless, of course, they are obliged
to be there as a part of their work. But in that case, it is work.
Creative people tend to
be naive, not in the sense of credulousness but rather in the sense of
spontaneity, ingeniousness and freedom from the contrived (Csikszentmihalyi,
1996). Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels (1976) surmised that this attribute
is necessary for the inductive nature of problem finding in artistic creativity
(44). Na´vet╚ not only feeds a creative drive but also shields it from
practical realities. Na´vet╚ is present in my personality in the sense
that I don't close doors, even if I have committed myself to a belief.
I prefer to leave a bit of room for reinterpretation. I think that na´vet╚ is
part of the construction of authenticity and is implicit to creation. Heidegger (1977)
suggests that it is necessary to identify intuitive as a quality distinct
The idea of an "originary" and "intuitive" grasp
and explication of phenomena must be opposed to the na´vet╚ of an accidental, "immediate" and
unreflective "beholding" (85).
Only a person living the
experience can really distinguish spontaneous from intuitive and this can
only be done with considerable effort. I would say that intuition is linked
to lived experience and memory. It keys into authenticity, which I hold
to be the originality in a work of art. I think that na´vet╚ in the artist
differs from the spontaneity of a child in that it incorporates the application
of knowledge and ability.
When looking for links
between visual aptitude and creativity, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi (1976)
noted a reversal of sex-typed behaviour. When gender behaviour tests are
given to young people, creative and talented girls appeared to be more
dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys seemed more sensitive
and less aggressive than their male peers (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). A psychologically
androgynous person, in effect, doubles his or her repertoire of responses.
The creative personality
escapes gender role stereotyping. Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi (1976) refer
to studies that maintain that female artists don't readily identify with
traditional female roles. They possess a strong need for achievement and
are dominant. Male artists generally appear to be not as physically aggressive
as average males and are inclined to demonstrate a predictable routine.
Attributes that have been observed as highly gender-specific to the average
male and female population seem to be skewed in creative personalities
Culture is a societal
construction linked to historical tradition and geographical location.
Csikszentmihalyi (1996) states that it is impossible to be creative without
having first internalized an area of culture. He states that creative people
are both rebellious and conservative. I don't see the creative personality
as particularly rebellious, rather I would describe the attribute as having
an aversion to being controlled by an external influence. Independence
of thought is necessary for creation, but at the same time, there is no
desire for control outside of an object or situation of expression. I exercise
control on myself, but I have no aspirations to political or societal ambitions.
Art develops unique and
important mental skills such as the understanding and creation of metaphor,
awareness of subtleties as well as non-linear thinking. Creativity is well
respected when it is seen in a work of art; otherwise, it seems to be shunned
inside the pragmatic culture that we have constructed. Certain questions
about anything–human behaviour, rituals or philosophical issues that
might have seemed resolved to the rest of society at any given moment in
history—remain somehow problematic to the artist. These ideas are
challenged and meaning is embodied within artworks. Is this a unique cleverness
or is it the same kind of thinking that mathematicians do? My work engages
all of my intellectual capacities. It reflects implicit self-awareness
and a kind of original knowledge necessary for its evolution. All of this
must be translated aesthetically into art. I certainly hope that what I
am doing in the studio is relevant.
The issue of general intelligence
has had a long history of debate since Spearman (1904)
first hypothesised the notion. Alfred Binet developed the first intelligence
test in 1905 to help students who were falling behind in their studies
Gardner (1993) holds that society puts linguistic and logical-mathematical
abilities on a pedestal and since psychometric tests are designed with
this bias, chances are that they will be an incomplete assessment of intellectual
potential. Gardner's notion of "Multiple
intelligences" (1983) was his attempt to address these issues. Psychologist Robert
J. Sternberg (1988) offers an alternate method of determining general
intelligence that encompasses a wider sample of intellectual abilities.
He feels that intelligence is a combination of traditionally tested analytical
intelligence; contextual intelligence, or the wisdom to put abilities into
practice; and creativity, which he describes as experiential intelligence.
The first steps towards
understanding creativity from a psychometric perspective came in the form
of post-war creativity tests that were designed to measure "ideational
fluency", issuing as many unusual associations to a stimulus as possible,
and "divergent thinking", the ability to come up with a number of solutions
to a question (Gardner, 1993). These tests were based on specific tasks,
which, in themselves are counter to the very idea of creativity (Taylor;
Getzels, 1975). There are other problems in attempting to quantify
a creative intelligence. Is the subject very creative, a little creative
or completely off the scale? Some creative personalities are very whimsical
about the way they think, whereas others go about their work in a very
rational and practical manner. Results depend on who designs the test,
who scores and what kind of answers are expected in the model. For these
reasons, creativity tests failed to predict an individual's level of creative
potential; however, the tests did measure some things, the most obvious
being that creative personalities show considerable dedication in areas
where quantitative tests cannot predict success (Csikszentmihalyi;
Rathunde; Whalen, 1993).
There is little correlation
between creativity and measured general intelligence. This has also been
a source of considerable debate. Csikszentmihalyi (1996)
alludes to studies suggesting a threshold intelligence level, where it
would be difficult to do creative work at lower levels but a higher measured
intelligence quotient would not necessarily mean more creativity. Csikszentmihalyi
and Getzels (1976) described creative personalities as intelligent
in their abilities to see problems in novel ways. Gabora's (2002) exploration
of computational models of the brain seems to support the idea that creative
personalities may be simultaneously naive and knowledgeable. They can cope
with primitive symbolism or rigorous logic, making it possible for them
to adjust to academic and scientific surroundings. I think that if creativity
has a tenuous correlation with intelligence it is because it is not intelligence.
For Damasio (1999), creativity is an intelligent manipulation of the consciousness
that requires knowledge, ability, available working memory, reasoning and
a mastery of language (315).
Creativity is a distinct
function of the brain that seems to perform at a higher level when there
is a higher level of intelligence. Artistic ingenuity does not occur at
lower intellective levels. It simply will not happen.
Infiltration homogen fur Konzertflugel
(Homogeneous Infiltration for Piano)
Mixed media, 100 x 152 x 240 cm
Paris: Georges Pompidou Center
(Copyright the Estate of Joseph Beuys / SODRAC, 2006)
What is the nature of
creative intelligence? I can experience its qualitative nature through
art making. A work of art contains all of the components of intelligence
blended in a metaphor. The art object or situation may not necessarily
be understood immediately, or be relevant to a wide range of people, but
if a work of art is respected by other artists, it is a very good sign.
Most artists are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely
objective about it as well (Csikszentmihalyi,
1996). The knowledge and craft of the artist is clearly apparent in
the most difficult aspect of art making, which is to keep it simple. All
artwork uses visual metaphors to express a meaning beyond its literal form.
How does a simple object like a musical instrument, covered in burlap with
a red cross painted on it, become a metaphor? Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)
had the ability to make typical objects communicate poetically. Wrapping
a grand piano (with its smooth shiny black surface) tightly in rough burlap
on which is painted a red cross may symbolise that art suffers in
times of war, that music is silenced, is healing, or that we care so much
for art universally that we protect it in times of war. By addressing the
blended effect of the piece, we read the signs that Beuys orchestrated
"I still see it complete in my
mind and then I notice the missing half and I remember
Creativity as a cognitive
In my back lane, an elm
tree had two beautiful arms reaching upwards. Because it was an old tree
they had to remove one of the arms that was threatening to break and fall.
Sometimes I forget that and when I turn around to look at it, I see the
tree the way it was for a fraction of a second. I see it complete in my
mind and then I notice the missing half and I remember what happened. I
sense the outside world with the same substrates and processes of the brain
that I use for abstract reasoning. My initial perception of the tree combined
mental images from my visual system and my memories. According to Merleau-Ponty (1999)
there is always interplay between the perceptual and the rational in vision
with the perceptual system always looking for what is latently possible
in a stimulus (24). Creativity stems from the latency.
and Johnson (1999) make a distinction between cognition as a philosophical
and behavioural inquiry into conscious experience and the empirical study
of structures such as metaphor, perception, representation and language
(12). New technologies such as MRI (magnetic resonance imagery), neuroimaging,
computer modelling and information systems can serve as a basis for looking
at the cognitive processes involved in creativity. The cognitive sciences
investigate the categorisation of language and thinking into cognitive
domains as well as the neurological methods by which concepts are constructed.
In my conscious mind I
have very little information about the cognitive processes involved in
my dual perception of the elm tree. Somewhere beneath my consciousness
the creative process is grounded on how my organism associates external
stimuli with embedded memories. I do not know how much information I retrieve
from my memory but I do know that all experience, inherited from evolution,
acquired from learning or necessary to regulate my biological system, exists
in latent form waiting to become an explicit action or image (Damasio,
1999, 332). I am also limited by my biology. There are only a certain number
of neurons, electrical and chemical synapses that are dependent on units
of potential and there are a restricted number of memory locations available
at any given instant.
The terms "abstract concept", "abstraction" or "concept" can
be used interchangeably (Turchin,
1991). Lakoff and Johnson (1999) think that rational inferences are
computed by the same neural architecture used in perception and bodily
movement and that human reason is a neural structure that is actually part
of the sensory motor systems of our brain. What this means for creativity
is that concepts are neural structures that allow thinking about concepts.
The neural pathways in any individual will determine what concepts they
will have and what kind of reasoning they will be capable of doing (19).
Every individual's conscious experience is unique and based on their physiology.
My intuition is the product of cognitive mapping, in the sense of the conceptual
blending of primary metaphors (early sensory-motor and subjective experiences
that have been buried) with more conscious logical decisions (Lakoff and
Artistic creation also
explores and reveals the brain's perceptual capabilities (Zeki,
2001). With no conscious intention on my part, the elm tree has somehow
entered my creative process. I am exploring trees in my sketchbook and
doing something with branches. A tree has become a symbol for some kind
of system and, as I am drawing, my ideas come into reality.
||Gabora's (2002) diagram represents
each possible memory location by a vertex.
Each ring represents a location in a particular
memory architecture. Rings with circles inside
represent locations where a memory has
been stored. The degree of whiteness indicates
the amount of activation by a current
thought. It is greatest for location k. In this
case, only one other location in the activated
region has something in it, and it is only marginally
activated, so a retrieval event may or
may not take place. If many memories had
been stored in locations near k, they would
blend to generate the next experience.
(Adapted with permission of the author)
Gabora (2002) has been associating the cognitive process with computation.
In the computer processor, there is always a relationship between the
content of a binary calculation and the memory location where it is retained.
The one-to-one nature of this correspondence in a neural network is called "content
addressability". Any experience that evokes memories of previous moments
would have to be identical to that experience. A "fully distributed" memory
is a situation where an entry or thought occupies every memory location.
In computers, this creates interference that results in a problem called "crosstalk",
which can create false and spurious memories, or "ghosting", which is
where the trace of one image obfuscates another.
In Gabora's model, many
memory locations contained in a large area of the brain become activated
during the initial intuitive phase of a creative idea. The diverse contents
of these many locations come together to form a thought. Due to the content-addressable
structure of memory locations, as one focuses on an idea, the locations
from where the information was retrieved narrow and the next thought is
a product of a concentration of memory locations. Gabora has estimated
that a human being would require more physical memory sectors than there
are particles in the universe to encode all colours, sounds and sensory
experiences. This leaves an encoding situation she has called "sparse" memory.
A fully distributed, content-addressable
memory has advantages for creativity since the process of remembering can
be more accurately described as reconstruction rather than retrieval, which
corresponds well with Damasio's idea of dispositional images. This neural
mechanism can be useful in the construction of abstractions, primary neural
concepts that Gabora associates with the creative act.
Gabora cites research
that has measured increased associative richness, or having a variety of
verbal responses to a stimulus word, in creative personalities. The associative
mode in cognition is intuitive and remotely links things in a subtle manner.
Items are correlated but not causally related. An analytic mode, on the
other hand, is conducive to analysis through cause and effect, where a
solution can be worked out logistically into a form. Creativity seems to
call upon the associative and analytic modes at different times, depending
on the requirements of the problem that is progressing toward completion.
The physical structure of memory locations suggests a relationship of correlation
rather than one of causation between memories and concepts stored in overlapping
regions. Correlation and the resulting interference that may occur suggest
why familiar creative characteristics include defocused attention, heightened
sensitivity and an awareness of subliminal impressions (stimuli perceived
When I have access to
some understanding of the physiological dynamics of behaviour, it objectifies
my emotional responses, which because they are intermediary to the mind
and body are difficult to rationalise. This is especially true for the
things that are disconcerting. I find that I am particularly sensitive.
What is painful in the studio is the frustration of wondering whether the
art will be understood, if the developing ideas make aesthetic sense or
is it a wasted effort? What am I thinking about? Why am I doing this? Inability
to deal with uncertainty makes creation difficult. Knowledge from scientific
exploration of heightened sensitivity as a cognitive-neurological adaptation
may remove, or at least lessen, the enigma. I know that if I just keep
on sketching and keep on going to the studio, it will involve some struggle
but the science assures me that ideas will come because I am sensitive.
It is not mysterious and I am not devoid of ideas, losing my abilities
or being rejected. I am simply at work.
Gabora (2002) thinks that
an incubation period may be unnecessary in the categorisation of the creative
process. When deductive or rational approaches fail, a creative individual
will attempt brainstorming, a creative activity that is neither random
nor causal. Inductive and generative, it consciously avoids preconceived
models of reality and works to weaken inter-conceptual relationships. Through
defocused attention and heightened sensitivity, brainstorming allows for
the processing of more features of an idea under consideration. New ideas
arise through a sort of conceptual meltdown (Gabora, 2002).
A novel idea will appear
in a state of potentiality. This preparatory stage of the creative process
is immediately followed by an evaluative focusing stage. In the brain,
because of saturation, fewer memory locations release their contents to
participate in the formation of a new thought. The creative mind now has
a finer control over which concepts are evoked and thought becomes focused
and logical. Continuing the process of brainstorming at this point would
be a distraction. This model tends to suggest that the generative-evaluative
process is cyclic and when a novel product is created new objectives are
set and there is a resumption of the cycle.
I get physically tense
when I sense the clock ticking, yet nothing is happening in my imagination.
I have found that if I relax, chances are better that I will find a resolution.
I imagine that the subconscious is working things out. I know that I have
to keep sketching and writing until it happens. This is apparently not
unique. Picasso (1881-1973), grappling with his painting of Gertrude Stein,
for which he had her sit for eighty sessions through 1905-1906, erased
her face on each occasion. According to Stein (1961,
c.1933), upon returning from his 1906 vacation in Spain, Picasso had apparently
resolved his problem and completed the portrait without the sitter. While
this story may be apocryphal, it does tend to illustrate some of these
notions on the cognitive construction of creativity.