Friday, April 15, 2011

Why Do We Even Bother? Random Thoughts On Creativity

Taking Shape
Photo by Kevin Harber via Flickr

Merriam-Webster's defines creativity as "the ability to make new things or think of new ideas."

Linda Naiman of Creativity At Work describes it as the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. Creativity involves two processes: thinking, then producing. I do wonder, however, if a person must both think of the new idea AND produce it in order to be creative. How many of us can picture a beautiful landscape in our mind but feel we are unable to transfer that to paper?

I once designed a sideboard for our dining room but  am not a woodworker and was totally unable to produce the actual item. Yet a local craftsman, who had no idea what I wanted until he saw my sketch, whipped that baby out in about a week. That's just a side thought but do keep it in mind as you are helping your residents work through their creativity: perhaps "the end product" will need to be a team effort.

Photo via LIFE

We can all agree that creativity involves novelty (something new) but as I've looked over various definitions of creativity I'm beginning to think that an actual definition, universally meaningful to everyone, does not exist. Webster's definition may be too simplistic for some. Naiman's by be too limiting. You are going to have to hammer out for yourself what you feel is the "best" definition of creativity, mainly because I feel that our own creativity is so personal. While it does involve creation of the new there's so much more that drives our creativity. Our creativity comes from our past experiences and exposures, our belief system, our relationships, our health and values, and our dreams, goals, and desires. Our creativity is our response to the life we have lived and hope to live. It is the expression of who we are and how we feel about ourselves. It is how we communicate our inner-most being to the world.

We've all felt the sting of having someone laugh at something we've worked on diligently and in which we felt a degree of pride. That sting is because we have invested ourselves in that project- it is part of us. No one likes to be laughed at. Never, ever, never-ever make fun of a resident's creative efforts. What we create is personal and meaningful. Oh wait- it would be a "personally meaningful" activity!

Photo by L-M-M via Flickr

Do we need to be educated or intelligent to be creative? Absolutely not! I know a woman with a developmental disability who is incredibly musical. She has her radio or CDs on all the time. She sings readily. Can she read music? No. Does she write music? Maybe, when she is singing a song quietly to herself without really thinking about it. Can she carry a tune in a bucket? Well, most of her tunes stay in the bucket but some notes occasionally splash over the side into what others might call "musical oblivion." But she loves music, has a knack for knowing good music, and has emotional responses to music. Creative.

Photo by curlsdiva via Flickr

Does the expression of our creativity- the art, the poem, the furniture, the dance, the machine, the song, the whatever- necessarily need to have value to others? Does it need to be good? Is the value in the idea? Well, I think in part the answer to that depends upon why you create and on which side of the creative product you find yourself. Do you love getting lost in the hours? Do you love the challenge and technical execution of creating? Do you want others to see it or is it enough for you alone to see it? Conversely, are you looking for a showpiece painting for your foyer with no desire whatsoever to be part of its creation? Do you seek acclaim and recognition for your collection or monetary gain by re-selling?

There are countless people in the world who create incredible works that no one else ever glimpses. Some of these items would be worth a fair sum of money, some not so much. But does the value of creativity, it's worthiness, rest strictly in a dollar value or approval of others?

Pencil Crayon Carrier
Photo by Christina Herpin via Flickr

I know a lady who labors for days over plastic canvas sculptures, using a variety of colors, yarn types, and stitches to create incredibly detailed and finely crafted dolls, carousels, mobiles, cottages and anything else you can imagine, maybe even more than you can imagine. With all due respect to those of you who love it, I personally am not a fan of plastic canvas but am able to acknowledge the artistry and technical skill of this woman's work. She gives away most of her items- the thought of selling them is ridiculous to her. On the other hand, I love me some handcrafted furniture but know a guy who cranks out the plainest, most wobbly furniture you've ever seen in your life, complete with hunting scene decals. Not my tastes, not the skill level I would pay for, but he is in his wood shop every day, building furniture, cuttin' off fingers (not kidding) and having a blast the entire time. Is he any less creative? From the perspective of process, I don't think so because I think in the long run creating should be about joy. Both of these folks take great joy in their creative work.

The Self Portrait Artist
Photo by scottnj via Flickr

Creative expression begins, first and foremost, in our soul, in the essence or who we are and how we see our place in the world. There aren't two separate classes of people in the world, the creative and the uncreative. Everyone is creative, some people just don't do anything about it or never had the opportunity, for reasons we'll look at another time. Yes, some people are more innately creative, some people have simply been exposed to more opportunities to create. Regardless of skill level, however, everyone- you, me, your residents- has something to say and need a way to say it.

Photo by toastytreat87 vis Flickr

So why should we express ourselves? Why bother to speak our souls, to flex our creative muscles, to jump in and wrestle with the creative muses? I started compiling a list of common denominators as I've read through countless writers and "experts" on the benefits of creativity. Listed below are just a few of the benefits to our residents (and ourselves) from engaging in the creative process.

Sensory stimulation.
Connection with other people.
Cognitive stimulation.
Sense of control over our world.
Conflict resolution.
Physical activity.
Improved memory.
Problem solving.

Are any of those reasons something you've ever care planned? Also, there is some exciting research being done in the area of creativity, brain health, and dementia. We'll look at that too in a later posts.

Image via China Culture Industries

As we start looking into different activities, programs, and opportunities to lead the creativity out of our residents, I would also like to keep my eye on y'all, the leaders and facilitators. And yes, the creators. We'll look at ways to develop our own creativity and, because sometimes we need it, to give ourselves a creative kick in the pants.

Image via CitizenShift

How have you seen your residents change as a result of creative pursuits? How do they talk about their creative activities? Please take a moment to share your thoughts by clicking "Comments" below. Those of you suscribing my email will need to click over to the blog to get to the "Comments" link.

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