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Creativity and the Creative Process

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Creativity and the Creative Process
Denethri Arbor
Instructor: Emily Benson
ENG 125 Introduction to Literature
December 16, 2013

Whether expressed as an awe-inspiring painting, a perfectly executed sculpture or an artfully expressive phrase, humanity throughout history has demonstrated a driving internal desire to discover some form of creative outlet. Studying several of these expressions throughout several culture around the world and throughout history illustrates that these instances of spontaneous, creative expression are usually associated in some way with exploring human experience. Even though they don't often speak directly to the concept of creativity or its development, it is clear that these artists of various types have engaged in a great deal of thought and practice in order to hone their skills and most accurately convey the ideas in their heads. Whether it is intended as a matter of discussion or are simply expressing their innovative spark, evidence of the human mind's impulse to create something new exists in every creative pursuit you may care to mention, from fine art to graffiti, from scribbles on a napkin to polished prose or poetry. “Creativity involves thinking that is aimed at producing ideas or products that are relatively novel, and that are, in some respect, compelling … is neither wholly domain specific nor wholly domain general ... [and] is not as highly rewarded in practice as it is supposed to be in theory” (Kaufman & Sternberg, 2006: 2). While creativity may be a foundational element of everything we have ever created as a species, as a group, or even as an individual, research into the topic reveals that we don't really know all that much about what it means to be creative. Even though we use it all the time both in our personal lives and, in our business worlds and it is the force that drives us forward into new ideas and new approaches that help us achieve success, we don't usually give it a lot of attention or credit. Part of the reason for this is; the highly abstract nature of the concept, while the problem is also complicated by the highly subjective nature of what constitutes creativity or at least desired creativity. To more fully appreciate the concepts of creativity, it is helpful to explore it at work within pieces such as Pablo Neruda's poem "Poetry" or "You, Reader" by Billy Collins. Both of these poems seem to be talking directly to the reader out there, in whatever time they may happen to be, and seek to make a connection of some sort; however, they do this in very different ways. In Neruda's poem, the speaker could as easily be talking to himself about what it is like to be caught by the creative bug, turning him into a poet for life rather than a concrete pourer. The poem opens with “And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived in search of me. I don't know; I don't know where it came from, from winter or a river. I don't know how or when" (Neruda, 1-4). In introducing the poem in this way, the poet manages to make it look as if we've just stepped into a conversation in which we had already ascertained what age he is speaking of when he realized he was meant to be a writer. He describes how his creativity came to him in the second stanza: "my eyes were blind; and something started in my soul, fever or forgotten wings, and I made my own way" (17-20). Within these lines, the poet discusses the creative spirit as if it were an illness, some great thing that happened to him through no self-volition - as if it only took root in him and one day decided to grow. By the third stanza, he reveals just how deep this connection goes as he says he "felt myself a pure part of the abyss, I wheeled with the stars" (43-45). Throughout the poem, then, the poet attempts to describe to his reader what it was like to become a creative person engaged in creative activities as a career. The experience expressed by Neruda is supported by actual research into the process of creativity. Most studies indicate that the earliest phase of creativity “is the need to solve a problem or find a solution as the individual in question takes independent action due to their personal interest in the subject” (Liontiev, 1998). Neruda indicates he was called to his craft from a street (7), "from the branches of night" (8), and "among violent fires" (10). While he does not indicate what any of these things might be, any or all of them could be indications of such a need to solve a problem or provide a solution. Another driving force for creative works that has been identified by researchers is a need to acknowledge the environmental influences “that are needed in order to present the problem and the type of experience it might take to solve that problem” (Stepanossova & Grigorenko, 2006: 236). Depending on the nature of the work and the approach taken to achieve it, the individual tends to become more and more obsessed with the idea of solving the problem. This could include multiple elements of development including research to learn all there is to know about a topic, exploring a range of different obvious and not-so-obvious approaches, and allowing their mind the time to freely associate different ideas they've obtained from a variety of different sources as can be seen in the work of Billy Collins. Collins very clearly addresses his reader in his poem, beginning with the very title itself, "You, Reader." While Neruda suggests that he was called out to be a creative person through a unique process that only calls out to a few individuals, Collins suggests creativity is something that can be acquired by anyone willing to put in the time to give it full expression. This is evident in the first lines of his poem when he says, "I wonder how you are going to feel when you find out that I wrote this instead of you" (1-3). Not punctuated as a question, the lines are almost a challenge that all it takes to find creativity within is the willingness to try. His poem contains nothing of earth-shattering significance, he is not lost for eternity among the distant stars and planets, but shows instead the beauty of the moment, the peace of the kitchen table, and the recognition of togetherness in isolation. As he provides a seemingly random bit of rambling on the topic of what he can see or perceive from his seat at his own kitchen table, the writer continuously addresses his reader directly: "Go ahead and turn aside, bite your life and tear out the page, but, listen - it was just a matter of time" (10-12). As he comes to the conclusion of the poem in which he and the reader are connected through the medium of the written word, Collins is very clearly stating that anyone could have written this poem if they'd only thought to go looking at what they could see from their table to make a connection to the person at the other side of the creative process. In making this statement, he says all people have creativity within them, they're just not all willing to let it out or give it time to work. The concept of giving creativity time to work is important, as it is revealed in the scientific studies that have been conducted on the question of creativity. Collins' poem shows a constant attempt to find a connection with his reader as he searches through the various items around him to discover it. Throughout, he provides a list of these things: "the rain-soaked windows, the ivy wallpaper, and the goldfish circling in its bowl" (7-9). As he continues to mention these things, he illustrates to a degree the second stage of the creative process in which the individual tries to find answers to fill the gaps in their knowledge and allows that information to freely associate within the subconscious mind. Creative ideas are thought to “reveal unsuspected kinships between other facts well known but wrongly believed to be strangers to one another” (Poincare, 1915: 115). Thus we find connections such as "the clock humming on the wall ... a song on the radio, a car whistling along the road outside" (15, 17-18). Within this short passage, the author takes from sight to sound, hearing the clock on the wall, to potentially global with the song and back to the quiet neighborhood with the lone car on the road. In this loneliness of the kitchen on a rainy morning in a quiet neighborhood where the only connection to the world outside the mind seems to be that song on the radio, it is no surprise that the author goes seeking for evidence of togetherness and connection, such as thinking about the relationship between the salt and pepper shaker: "I wondered if they had become friends after all these years or if they were still strangers to one another" (22-24). The thought leads the reader to question whether anyone else is in the house with the speaker and what his relationship might be with that person, but more, it leads the reader to think about their own relationships. Within the creative process, these kinds of free associations are able to connect with and merge or reshape or reject other concepts, bringing the creative person to a potential or real solution that must then be effectively communicated to the rest of the world. Having given the creative process the time and attention needed to complete the associative process within the subconscious mind, the next phases of the creative process involve the input of other people as the individual doing the creating seeks to determine whether their possible solution is viable and if they are capable of properly expressing it. “In the third stage, illumination, a possible solution surfaces to consciousness in a vague and unpolished form. Subjective and theoretical accounts of this phase of the creative process speak of discovering a previously unknown ‘bisociation’, or underlying order” (Gabora, 2002). Neruda expresses this concept as a poem in "Poetry" as he explores how creativity feels to him and tries to communicate these ideas to his audience. "I did not know what to say, my mouth had no way with names" (14-16). There is a vague, unpolished understanding in the mind of the speaker, but this idea eludes any attempt by him to express it. However, he perseveres and finds a means of doing what he didn't think he could simply by engaging in action: "I wrote the first faint line, faint, without substance, pure nonsense, pure wisdom of someone who knows nothing”
(23-27). Although he is not able to fully bring this idea into clear definition, the speaker feels successful in having achieved something, found a new understanding within himself and made the first attempts at sharing those ideas with others. He is now fully engaged in the creative process. There is one more identified stage, in the creative process within the research and that is the verification stage. Within this stage, the creator may choose to engage others in the process, bouncing ideas off of them to help identify holes, reduce unconnected ideas, and refine the potential conclusions/solutions they've reached. It is also during this phase that the creator attempts to be sure their ideas are clearly communicated. This is best seen in Collins' work as he drifts through the kitchen, showing how everything is separate and isolated until he comes to the salt and pepper shakers, wondering whether they have managed to develop a relationship after all these years and making the connection between this idea and his idea of becoming connected to his readers through the words on the page as well as through a shared capacity for creativity. He associates the salt and pepper shakers as strangers, "like you and I who manage to be unknown and known to each other at the same time" (25-27). He imagines his reader "leaning in a doorway somewhere near some blue hydrangeas, reading this" (29-30). In this final statement, the poet has clearly connected with his reader, he is certain he has clearly communicated his views and indeed he has. Through this analytic process, the creative person is able to bring the associative elements conceived of earlier into the living world in an identifiable and understandable form.

Refe.rences
Collins, Billy. (2005). "You, Reader." The Trouble With Poetry. New York, Random House. http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoem.do?poemId=6479
Gabora, Liane. (2002). “Cognitive Mechanisms Underlying the Creative Process.” Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Creativity and Cognition. T. Hewett & T. Kavanagh (Eds.). Loughborough University: 126-133.
Kaufman, James C. & Sternberg, Robert J. (2006). The International Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Liontiev, A.N. (1998). “Teach a Fantasy …” (Creativity and Developing Education). Voprosy Psikhologii. Vol. 5: 82-85.
Neruda, Pablo. "Poetry." http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/poetry-2/
Poincare, H. (1913). “The Foundations of Science.” Science Press. Lancaster PA, 1913.
Rosas, R.; C. Boetto & V. Jordan. (1999). Introduction to the Psychology of Intelligence. Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Catolica de Chile.
Stepanossova, Olga & Elena L. Grigorenko. (2006). “Creativity in Soviet-Russian Psychology.” The International Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press: 235-269.

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