How to Have a Creative Life that "Pays the Bills" (Part 3)
Phase III - Feedback
The more you try, experiment and explore the faster you'll gather feedback.
It could be data you get back from a scientific experiment. Or it may be the results you see when you create a work of art. In other cases it may be feedback you receive from customers when releasing the first version of a new product.
Pay attention. Listen. Take note. Take action on anything that might be useful.
By the way there’s a hazard with certain types of negative feedback (often delivered in the guise of ‘constructive criticism’). It’s good to learn how to let negative thoughts glide by without hooking into your emotional needs.
The history of art is littered with destructive feedback and it’s worth exploring famous rejections and considering how you’d cope with similar nonsense.
One of my favourites happened in 1939 when J S MacDonald, director of the National Gallery of Victoria, wrote about an exhibition of 240 Impressionist and other works on show in Australia, including artists such as Cezanne, Chagall, Gauguin, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Van Gogh:
They are extremely wretched paintings. We have seen the advertising efforts that have been made to urge us to swallow this putrid meat. There is no doubt that the great majority of the work called modern is the product of degenerates and perverts.
Adolf Hitler had similar views.
Robert Kaupelis, in his excellent book Experimental Drawing, makes the point that 'Almost all significant advances in art have looked strange, ugly and inaccessible, even to the artistic elite, when they were first experienced.
God! How I hated Pollock at one time!
The same idea applies to creativity in all fields.
One way to manage 'outer' and 'inner' critics is to retrain our responses. Once I had a small class of children who came from a very strict, disciplinarian school and they were too 'uptight' to start any creative activity. I invited them to make a movie called 'Insults' in which they were free to say horrible things about each other and have a laugh about it. It could have been a disaster but it turned into a hilarious liberation that immunized them from silly criticism.
This phase takes discipline. Often the feedback hurts until you learn how to identify the aspects that are really a reflection of the critics, rather than your work.
Case Study #2
Years ago I worked with a student who was a very good painter.
She wanted to earn money from her work.
I asked, "Have you ever put on an exhibition?"
She had been making art but hadn't taken any of the steps to place it in front of potential buyers.
That was the spark for a simple idea.
It really doesn't matter what you do, as long as you explore, experiment, and try things. Then see what happens.
So that's what she did. She took action, went to a nearby café and asked the owner about displaying her work.
After doing a little show-and-tell session, the owner's feedback was...
And her action resulted in the most successful exhibition the café had ever hosted.
That's cause for celebration!
We teach the process of creativity at The Learning Connexion. But often people stop at applying creativity just to their art.
And while I think that's really wonderful, the bigger picture here is applying creativity to every part of your life...including your art, your career, well-being and finances.
That's what this student did, and it really paid off for her.
Phase IV - Review
This is when you evaluate the results. What worked? What didn’t work?
What did you learn?
Is your creation finished or will you continue to improve it?
What are the applications? If it’s an artwork the application could be an exhibition or selling to a buyer. If it’s an invention you might need to look at manufacturing.
Should you learn about marketing?
Might it be important to collaborate with others?
And so on. In the case of our school we try to figure how our work can be relevant beyond art and apply to people of all ages. This nudges us into the next phase.
Phase V - Evolve the Idea
How will you adjust your approach and improve your creation on the next attempt?
How can you extend the value and reach of the original idea?
How does it give rise to new ideas?
I’ve become much more interested in the way that creativity literally promotes the growth of new brain cells and new neural links. I suspect that this is a big deal and that the time is right to take it further.
There are lots of other things. City councils have discovered that when they pay artists to make murals the incidence of tagging often drops to zero. They also find that art deepens a sense of belonging and also serves as an attraction for visitors.
In a remarkable way, you’ll soon build a sense that everything is connected. It doesn’t matter where you start – the journey will take you to anywhere that you want to go.
Now that we've looked at the five phases of The Creativity Spiral, let's see it in action in the lives of two different people.
Case Study #3
Angela Belcher is a materials scientist in America.
She did a creativity course at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Part of her research drew her into the puzzle of why paua (abalone to Americans) is so beautiful and yet its purpose isn’t to attract. She found that paua create an extremely strong structure by using proteins to combine with ions of calcium and carbonate in seawater. They have a very sophisticated method of extracting and using minerals.
This led to investigating applications for batteries and then, remarkably, to a possibility that paua chemistry might be of value in cancer treatment. The idea was that a targeted mineral extraction might disable cancerous cells although, so far, it hasn’t been achieved.
The feedback in science is really tough in that work has to demonstrate something of value and be repeatable. Whether Angela’s ideas arrive at practical applications remains to be seen, but there’s no question that it’s an exciting line of research. It might turn out that the strange attraction of paua shell has brought to light a solution that’s still looking for a problem.
Case Study #4
Shea Stackhouse, TLC graduate and now staff member, took a different approach by exploring ancient metal crafts, including the making of armour, swords, knives and jewellery.
Shea loves working with metal and his enthusiasm is contagious.
By combining his own ingenuity and skill with medieval techniques, Shea has created a new industry and captivated a growing group of makers and admirers.
He provides us with a powerful reminder that skills and knowledge can go extinct unless they are used and nurtured. His work opens students to a deeper understanding of metallurgy, engineering, science, history, and maybe a touch of alchemy.
In Shea’s situation the feedback has been a mix of educational achievement, artistic recognition and some commercial success. His appetite for making and exploring is insatiable. He’s reached the coveted zone of sustainable creativity.
It’s entertaining hearing about other people's exciting journeys... their initial challenges and dramatic breakthroughs.
But instead of just spectating, why not carve out your own amazing adventure?
Your future, no matter where you are right now, is rich with possibility.
All you need is to choose to do something creative daily. To create value in some way.
Jerry Seinfeld, the hugely successful comedian (worth roughly $820 million USD), has a simple way to keep his routine fresh. He takes a red marker and draws a red ‘X’ through each day he creates something new.
For years now he's never failed to create new material because he doesn't want to break the pattern.
What about you?
What ideas have come to mind?
How are you taking action on those?
My challenge to you today...
Write down at least 10 ideas. Then choose to take action on one.
How are you going to play, explore, and experiment with your idea?
Don't delay. Just take this simple step and pay attention to feedback you receive as you begin to take action.
Through all the excitement and bumps of creativity it's important to remember that we humans have an awesome knack for co-operation. We can work together, inspire each other, and build possibilities much more quickly than if we worked alone.
A 'school' might just as well be called a 'co-operative' – perhaps a better option than the present trend to turn them into factories.
I started TLC because people were wanting a real school. My early students saw huge value in working together and building a culture that fitted their goals.
TLC has turned into an ideal incubator for creativity. It has taken on a life of its own and the creativity is contagious.
Our biggest challenge today is to support students to thrive in turbulent times. Instead of preparing people for jobs that may soon disappear, we want to help them build on the qualities that make them human and creative.
Creativity will always be a work in progress. It's just as demanding at an institutional level as it is for individuals.
Day-to-day constraints (like survival) may force us to compromise. The fact is, all creative choices involve compromise because each change, even a single brush stroke, changes everything.
The Creative Spiral contains all the tactics to get you started. And The Learning Connexion is the ideal place to nurture your growth and speed up your progress.