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Encouraging the Creative Mind

One of the essential ingredients of high-performing individuals, teams and organisations is creativity. To be creative means releasing talent and imagination. It also means the ability to take risks and, in some cases, necessitates standing outside the usual or accepted frames of reference. Creative people push the boundaries; they seek new ways of seeing, interpreting, understanding and questioning. They can accept the ambiguity of contradiction and uncertainty.They can tolerate disorder and unpredictability. In fact, they thrive in circumstances which others might see as chaotic and disorderly.” Alma Harris

Dear Friends:

This month I am inspired to write to you about creativity.  My dear, sweet friend and former student, Faith D’Amico, died suddenly of pancreatic cancer.   She was 58. Her husband found a diary Faith kept entitled “A Diary of the Creative Process” which he loaned to me to read and enjoy.  In her diary, Faith quotes Marie Von Franz by saying, “One of the most wicked destructive forces psychologically speaking, is unused creative power.  If someone has a creative gift and out of laziness or for some other reason doesn’t use it, the psychic energy turns into sheer poison.  That’s why we often diagnose neurosis and psychotic diseases as not lived higher possibilities.”  To this Faith adds, “honor your creative gifts, and they will reward you.”  She recommends “falling in love with what you are doing as it is essential to the creative process and the ability to court the music within.”

We’ve all heard many times how art activates the creative part of our brain – the part that works without words and expresses itself non-verbally.  It stands to reason that since the arts help with sensory integration and creative problem solving, we as artists have both the problem and the solution.  As art introduces the brain to diverse cognitive skills that help us unravel intricate problems, we must flub through the maze until we create our desired effect.

The task of improving our motivation can often times be daunting.  So how do we proceed?  How do we encourage the creative mind? Whether a botanical artist or fine artist, the classical realist, or modernist, we must make our learning relevant to our existing knowledge and proceed with both skills and methods that help us direct future learning.

In order to push back the artist’s envelope of knowledge and to find our individual path, we often find it necessary to organize initial concepts with improved visual factual information and apply it to the imposed or desired voice of expression. Simply put our ideas once dreamt may need the help of additional learning to express them.   If this task of “additional learning” is perceived with excitement and expectation, we are on our way.  If it is perceived with fear, we become blocked.  When blocked, the best advice is to turn to our tried and true initiating processes.

Standard educational initiating processes that do not lead learners to grasp the meaning of tasks usually fail to give them confidence in their abilities. Thus there is as such a practical importance of an alternate view of how we can integrate thinking, feeling, and acting,  and in the case of art: observing, understanding, and portraying.   According to “Pact4Teachers”, “educators like to invent new terminology, and as a result the same phenomenon may take on different names. “Schematic” becomes “symbolic,” or “scribbling” becomes “manipulative.” This adds only a bit of confusion and not much new knowledge. The terminology is unimportant. Recognizing development is important.²

Following “Pact4” lead, I’ve listed below the initiating processes that promote stages of development. In the case of my botanical art students, these initiating processes are used throughout my books and my botanical art program.  But as you will see, they are classic.  “Pact4” is identifying the education of young children with the stages of development – however, the skill of drawing is developmental and as such this process applies to actually learning how to draw and how to draw well.

1.Scribbling (Manipulative) Stages” – or GESTURE SKETCHING – A “period of exploration before the eyes and hands are fully coordinated, before the drawing represents a specific object or idea.” This is what the Kimon Nicolaïdes (1891–1938) an American art teacher and former professor of the Art Students League in New York City and O.M. Braida “Ten Steps to Botanical Drawing” refers to as Gesture Sketching.  The process of Gesture Sketching offers a period of exploration that unleashes potential composition and design.  We begin to recognize what Nicolaïdes says.  “The composition arises out of the subject.” Flow not force produces wanted results.

2.Generalizations (Preschematic Pre-Symbolic) Stage” – or CONTOUR DRAWING –  a period of development where the student will “draw or model objects or figures which can be recognized or identified…This is a stage in which [artists] are searching for a style (schema) or means to represent their ideas.” Again, this stage is what the Nicolaïdes and  “Ten Steps”  refers to as Contour Drawing.   The technique of contour drawing is so slow that the artist has a chance to fully observe the subject.  The process unveils the hidden detail – detail that we may find necessary, beautiful, substantive, provocative – the list goes on.

3. Characterization Stage” – or KEY ELEMENT DRAWING –  Following the period of generalized  [observation, the sketches] … develop special characteristics for each…object. In this phase of the artist’s relationship with its subject, confidence builds and so does creativity.  The more observant, the more details are included and consequently the more recognizable the subject.  The Key Element drawings in any art form are critical to better identification of the subject.  This is true not only for botanical art, but for all fine art.  Just think of Leonardo’s copious drawings of hands, feet, noses, eyes, not to mention those of Michelangelo!  For reference you may want to check out these two helpful books:  The Hand/Die Hand/La Main: Sketch Book/Skizzenheft/Carnet De Dessins Ian Monk (Translator), Valerie Donnat (Translator) and Hands by John Napier (Author), Russell H. Tuttle (Editor).  Whether a classicist or a cartoonist, observing and capturing key elements is the “key” that unlocks the door to viewer connection.  By including  key forms, the artist has found a way to reach the viewer.

4. Visualization Stage” – or FINE TONAL DRAWING –  At this stage “some, but not all, begin to focus more upon the actual visual appearance of an object, paying greater attention to the visual contour, to shadows and highlighted areas, to how color changes if it is up close or in the distance. This stage is a move toward making the drawing “look-like,” in the photographic sense, the real object.”  Here we begin to gather the lessons from the first three steps.  Capturing compositional ideas from Gesture, detail from Contour, and pivotal significance from Key Element Studies.  Pulling together these skills could result in rather stiff portrayals of our subject, and it is here that we must remember our line of action.  As Faith noted in her diary, “The importance of LINE OF ACTION!! This the starting point which you, Olivia, always emphasized. This is something I have only recently begun to see. Why some paintings fail & why others are successful.  I can look at my own work & see, and this is a cardinal rule for me now…” The results from this stage show that students of all ages either lose confidence, become frustrated, or just plain give up. The child artist needs continual affirmation and reference to artists, but so does the adult learner.  I often tell my students how Monet threw himself in the Seine in desperation. Naturally not a good idea but just to show that every artist struggles and hurdles obstacles.

Thus these initiating processes give us both method and permission to venture forth, to abandon critique and create away.  This does, in fact, encourage the creative mind.  It also quite naturally leads to an exploration of mistaken assumptions and errors in process and outcome. Revelations which walk a fine line between “daunting” and “inspiring” and where some might make themselves known immediately and while others creep up on you – bit by bit –  allowing time for improvement before motivation is squashed.  These so-called “patterns of development seen in creative individuals” Jonathan Feinstein explains “shows how creativity grows out of distinctive interests that often form years before one makes his/her main contributions.”¹ Patience, then, always the virtue, allows us time to develop our skills and improvise additional processes that fit our purposes.

And so, if we are to encourage our creative mind, it would be good to remember that since thought precedes actions, we must begin with the belief in ourselves.  By opening up to our own sacredness, the artistic experience is more about flow than force.  The action focuses on the moment.  The reward is more than the result.  Turn again and again to the gained information, look beyond for more influence, and watch our art flower. In time, if not already, we might all agree with Faith when she says that “art is nothing but true magic in the purest sense.”

God bless and keep you dear Faith.  Thanks for the memories.  And to you, my many friends, best wishes for a wonderful healthy New Year.  God Bless. OM

¹Abstract from Management in Education by Alma Harris, v23 n1 p9 2009

²The Nature of Creative Development by Jonathan S. Feinstein 2006 600 pp. ISBN: 9780804745734



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