Since mid-December, I’ve created a few gifts: drawing a list of trips, nalbinding pairs of socks, and creating a windcatcher for a wind chime. While in high school, I took at least one art class per semester, hung out in the art room in free time, and biannually built sets for the school thespians. In college, I set down visual arts for auditory arts, taking flute lessons, performing in a college band, and singing as part of my summer job. Against the background of my roommate’s senior project on manic-depressive (bipolar) disorder’s effect on creativity (specifically musical composition, but creativity in general), I recently started musing about the nature of creativity.
Take as an example, creating the windcatcher; please know I did this not at Luther but while at my parents’ farm for a break. My process, built from skills learned in my high school jewelry class, imagined the form, a red oak leaf, and followed a formulaic process to realize a material version of that imagined leaf. Because galvanized tin from an old stovepipe was the best available option, I used that material (logic). After flattening the metal between a hammer and anvil (basic carpentry), I sketched out the leaf (mathematics in the form’s symmetry). Next, I used tin snips to cut out that form (again, basic carpentry). At first, the tin snips were bending – not cutting – the metal, but an accidental misalignment of the tool against the metal taught me how to properly use the tin snips. I didn’t creatively solve that problem; an accident solved it. I used a metal file to somewhat smooth the edges (carpentry), and painted the leaf using paint from another project on the farm (prevailing culture suggests green for leaves). Wherein lies the creativity?
Creativity, I now think, is solely in the imagining of something that creators wish to share with others. Writers imagine an emotion, a scene, a plot, etc. and use formulaic phrasing (language) to convey that idea; painters are as much carpenters and hardware-store-paint-mixers as they are creators. Yet I was taught that the whole process of making art employed creativity, and couldn’t reconcile this idea with the tedium of the systematic process used to realize a empirical form of my imaginings. I better understand that artists are skilled precisely because they must employ a series of uncreative tools after their initial creation, the only step requiring their imagination. Imagination is inherent in many other sectors besides art – and where goes imagination, there too goes creativity, from a thesis-driven essay to a god perceived as Creator.
My roommate’s readings suggest that treatment of manic-depressive disorder is helpful at least for poets. These word-crafters had no change in their ability to imagine (create) ideas, but their massive swings hindered their ability to follow all the necessary formulaic steps to convey their idea. Years after my high school art classes and after struggling in flute lessons, I now view art, including music, as requiring both creativity and technological skills. From language to my next meal, everything is a creative conception brought from our private imaginations to the public arena through formulas, systems, and processes.