Throughout the last year I’ve written often about my practice of artmaking, with a focus on implications of the creative process in everyday life.  The writing led to inquiries into the creative practice of others and these inquires brought new opportunities to learn more about the impact of their process in their daily lives.

Exploring and expressing creativity does not come with an instruction manual.  It is not one-size-fits-all.  The very thing that stimulates one person’s curiosity and creative mojo might not have the same impact upon another.  No doubt this is one of the many reasons evidence of creativity manifests itself in remarkably diverse ways.  Just as our fingerprints are uniquely our own, so too is each of our creative practice.

Such diversity of practice reflects what is original and unique among individuals.  And yet, as the dialogue around creative practice grows, in increasingly larger circles, certain universal outcomes are becoming more readily apparent.  The more we consider and value these universal outcomes—the countless lessons learned as a result of having a personal creative practice—the greater our desire will likely be to cultivate them more broadly in our communities.

Near the end of 2011 I began to make my informal inquiries with more regularity.  Recently I asked Jon Mueller a few questions on the subject.  Much to my delight, Jon was enthusiastic about participating in the dialogue and candid with his responses.  Within those responses he describes the fundamentals of his practice, and, in doing so, Jon reveals the act of listening to be particularly vital.

An accomplished musician, Jon speaks of his process in this way:

“It starts with listening, which is a process. I hear, see, and understand a variety of things that strike me in a profound way. I listen to the way those things resonate with me and my existing ideas and values that are fundamentally important to me. Then I build things based on these new intersections.  Sometimes only more ideas get built. These might get realized in different forms at a later time. Or, sometimes the process moves quickly and is revealed almost as a call to action. The key element to these actions though, is that they must reflect my personal fundamentals.”

Reading his description, I began to recall elements of the Knowledge System model referred to by Hilary Austen in her book, Artistry Unleashed.

The Knowledge System model is comprised of three parts:
Directional Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge and Experiential Knowledge.

In Austen’s framework, Directional Knowledge is data that influences individuals’ unique choices.  Directional Knowledge reflects identity and motivation; it is the aspect of the framework in which individual preferences, ideals and orientations are revealed.

When asked how his professional practice is informed by his creative practice Jon replied:
I have focused strongly on removing a divide between the two. I think it’s less about existing in two separate situations and more about being me as a person – how I think, what I can contribute, what solutions come from my experience and ideas. This philosophy applies whether I’m writing music for solo percussion, analyzing yearly costs for a company, or deciding what food to serve at a party. The aim is to provide quality decisions that contain some sense of my character, which contain traces of the fundamental interests referred to in the previous question.”

In the three examples above, Jon’s emphasis on honoring personal conviction demonstrates how this concept of Directional Knowledge is brought to bear in various contexts.  When I inquired a bit further about this working style, Jon offered the following illustrative example:

“Costs always need to be analyzed, and often, the areas where to reduce them can be obvious. But sometimes those aren’t necessarily the best choices, or the only choices. In some cases, the root of where the concern for reducing lies needs to be dug into deeper. Finding that can involve the creative process. For instance, are employees failing, or is management? If management, what about the system they exist within can better facilitate success? Are the material costs too high or is advertising overworking when the quality of the material already sells itself? Business can be an endless conundrum, and without tapping into one’s own creative process for bringing out the most positive and interesting elements in any situation, it can be disastrous.

Also, wherever a reduction is made, this often creates an opportunity to create additional value. Taking away might improve the health of a business, but what replaces that cost or effort can also have a profound effect, and this definitely involves the creative process. For instance, if 20 people are laid off, what can be invested in those who remain to make their effort and time more fulfilling and successful? If planned activities are canceled due to costs, what else might occur that costs less, but have similar results?

These types of questions exist in many disciplines besides business. What are the reasons for not doing something, and what are the reasons for doing something else? Often, these answers are rooted in one’s own ideas for what can make something interesting, and what is interesting can involve a variety of things, from people, material and sound to thoughts, actions, design, and more.”  

Jon’s description of cost analysis, and the need to “dig deeper” reflects his original statement regarding the value of listening.  As a result of his creative process, and his commitment to listening, tasks that lie outside his artistic pursuits are enhanced.  This impulse to dig deeper and listen might also be regarded as a dedication to quality; anyone dedicated to creative outcomes will very likely find themselves striving for quality during the process.

In a recent interview, John Maeda, President of the Rhode Island School of Design, remarked,
“Once people are exposed to quality, they recognize it right away and they appreciate it”. 

In what ways are you dedicated to, or striving for, quality?  How is this evident in your own creative practice?

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Jon Mueller is the General Manager of 800ceoread, a company that connects people and ideas.  They host the sites ChangeThis.com, Knowledge-Blocks.com and a variety of other resources for people looking to gather or spread good ideas.

He has given talks about creativity and new business approaches at places such as The Music Forum: Loyola University (NOLA), WMSE’s Radio Summercamp (Milwaukee, WI), Viva! Festival (Montreal), Weslyan University (Middleton, CT), PRSA (Milwaukee, WI), and MARN (Milwaukee, WI).

As a drummer and percussionist, he has performed throughout North America, Japan, and Europe, and has released recordings on labels such as Table of the Elements, Polyvinyl Records, Type Recordings, Jagjaguwar, Hometapes, Important Records, and many others.

Over the past 25 years, he has increasingly focused on recognizing the dialog between sound and the situation it’s presented in, often bypassing standard approaches to percussion and considering acoustics and concepts surrounding the work in order to create a larger experience for those listening.

More info can be found at www.rhythmplex.com

© 2012 Kira Campo

I decided to dive a bit further into the CrowdSourcingLove theme.  The photo below documents the direction I’ve taken.  After finishing a final design for the notecards last week, I was able to include one in a collage that I’ve begun.

Here’s a looksie…

P.S. Mary Ann Reilly has turned her CrowdSourcingLove project into a book. check it out! http://maryannreilly.blogspot.com/2012/02/crowd-sourcing-love-book.html 

(text on card: Hafez, That Moon Language)

© 2012 Kira Campo

Mary Ann Reilly inspired me recently with a post on her blog, Between the By-Road and the Main Road.  It was not the first post by Mary Ann to offer inspiration, and, as a faithful reader of her blog, I am certain it will not be the last.  The post was entitled, CrowdSourcingLove, and it included an invitation to readers to express something about love.  Mary Ann followed her original post with many others; each subsequent post featuring a unique demonstration of love.  CrowdSourcingLove  invites others to participate; an invitation to consider further their own demonstrations of love.

I gladly accepted Mary Ann’s invitation and decided to design a notecard.  With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s a timely project.  It also reflects my preference for handmade notes and cards. I’ve been tinkering a bit with ideas and drafts.  As with most creative tasks, some parts have been satisfying…and other parts…less so.  Next week, when the project is complete, I’ll share a little more about the tinkering.

Meanwhile, greatest thanks to Mary Ann Reilly for CrowdSourcingLove!

draft for CrowdSourcingLove

draft for CrowdSourcingLove

(text on card: Hafez, That Moon Language)

© 2012 Kira Campo

My creative practice has taught me more than a few invaluable lessons through the years.  Lessons acquired through the process of expression inform daily life.  Once the lessons of art are internalized, key principles become relevant in contexts which are independent of art, as well.

I’ve written about lessons before, such as the ability to See Anew or Explore Multiple Angles.  And I’ll be writing about others in the future, no doubt!  But for now…

  1. Edit, Edit, Edit: Communicating an idea can be messy stuff. With any creative process, a “refined” idea is the result of a once “fuzzy” idea that has been articulated more fully.  Through the editing process extraneous elements fall away, allowing the crux of the idea to become more clear.  Early drafts and studies serve as evidence that this takes place.  As a result, this universal transition from “fuzzy” to “refined” is made more apparent.
  1. Experience Dynamic Interaction: An important part of my process is allowing a painting or drawing to evolve in an organic way. Each step builds on the steps before, the result of dynamic interaction between my aesthetic judgment and the marks left on the page.  In many ways this practice of dynamic interaction that is integral to painting serves as a metaphor.  A similar type of active engagement helps us to thrive in the world; dynamic interaction with our surroundings develops qualitative reasoning skills.  The act of painting makes me more cognizant of this process in all contexts.
  1. Embrace Mistakes: “Happy Accident” is a phrase that describes those fortuitous moments that sometimes shape the process.  It’s not uncommon for an artist to experience a mistake that ends up improving their work in some way.   Although the cause of the change was unintentional, the effect of  the mistake sometimes leads to an outcome that is more preferable.  The happy accident is about discovery, at its best.  When we persist through a mistake  we learn that unforeseen obstacles do not need to deter our progress.  And, in this way, we experience that a mindset of flexibility and adaptability often produces the most satisfying end.

© 2011 Kira Campo

In 2001 I took part in a painting workshop that changed my relationship to artmaking in a very fundamental way.  While I had dabbled in various creative pursuits for much of my life, only after this particular workshop did I begin to accurately appreciate the value of those pursuits.  Over the last ten years I have experienced how maintaining a personal creative practice yields a remarkable return on investment.

The workshop emphasized the basic elements of design: color/line/texture/form/etc.  It was an opportunity to explore the fundamentals, relying only upon basic technique.  Without rigid structure, it afforded ample space to experiment.  In doing so, the workshop facilitated deep engagement by providing sufficient time and conditions (through acts of painting and collage) that were favorable for open-ended exploration.

Though the exercises would change each week, every exercise served as a lesson in observation and reflection.  I was deeply engaged during each two-hour session.  Over time I noticed that many of the skills activated by this new hobby also informed the hours between my weekly sessions.  As a result of  artmaking I was developing a sensitivity to details like texture/shadow/color/line.  Increasingly this sensitivity extended into everyday life, and I began to attend to aesthetics during my non-painting hours much more vividly.  This new lens was a direct result of a shift in my attention, born from a desire to express abstraction on the page in an authentic way.  Researcher Ellen Langer explores this manner of conscious attentiveness brilliantly in her book, ‘Mindfulness’.

One summer, several years later, I conducted a painting workshop as a volunteer in an assisted living facility.  The experience of deep engagement I had found through painting was echoed in the stories that were told to me by some of the participants.  Their own lives were enriched as a result of their increased awareness to detail and nuance, much like mine had been years before.  Eric Booth, in his book ‘The Everyday Work of Art’, describes the nature of such awareness in exquisite detail.

The true return on investment I gain from painting is never the completed painting.  No, my technical skills are still a work in progress (a fact that often motivates me to devote more time to the craft of painting!).  The greatest benefits are the Habits of Mind that result from the act of painting, habits that inform and improve my everyday life.  Awareness through deep engagement enables me to think more critically and creatively, which extends into my relationships, my professional life and my academic pursuits.

Painting, much like watching a live performance, sensitizes me to my own interior world, and, more broadly, to humanity.  Once I learned to consciously traverse the terrain of deep engagement, I began to regard the thinking skills I had acquired through the process of painting as invaluable life skills.  Knowing the dividends that I will receive from a regular practice of artmaking makes it far easier for me to choose how to invest my time.

© 2011 Kira Campo

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the creativity-innovation partnership.

The title ‘An Imaginary Line’ referred to the figurative device in the post…an attempt to illustrate the connection between innovation and the type of activities which influence our capacity to achieve the creative outcomes we so prize.  The line I described looked something like this:

______________________________

It seems that maybe I had the line all wrong.  I should have been thinking less linear.

I should have been thinking of a squiggle…

I am referring to Damien Newman’s spot-on, brilliant depiction of the design process, shown here, as “The Squiggle”.

The creative process is not linear.  And given the many constraints and imperatives associated with innovative outcomes, why should we assume that any process of innovation would have the luxury of being linear?

Each day we are met by experiences, observations and ideas which have tremendous potential to influence our creativity.  In some instances the impact of this new data can be directly mapped to a creative outcome, and in other instances outward evidence of such connections may be less overt.  I refer to those activities that impact creativity as foundational activities. Engaging in foundational activities ensures that we are equipped with the thinking skills that are needed to construct outcomes that break with the status quo.  Examples of foundational activities are so abundant, and varied, that the concept of plotting such examples hardly evokes the image of a straight line!  Enter “The Squiggle”.

All figurative devices aside, the heart of this discussion is not lines, squiggles or an exercise in plotting!  Taking time to identify and articulate some of the foundational activities that lead to innovation is what is really of interest.  Foundational activities that are important to my creative practice have included painting, shooting photographs, practicing intentional observation…to name a few.

What activities are important to your practice?

I have some thoughts about how to explore the relationship between foundational activities and innovation from a new perspective in 2012.
I invite you to check back in January for the details.

© 2011 Kira Campo

Earlier this week John Eger published a post on ARTSblog, a forum hosted by Americans for the Arts, entitled, “The Future of Business is the Arts”.  The piece included many compelling points, and responding to all of them in a single post would be ambitious.  In lieu of that, it seemed best to focus on a single thread.  So, here goes:

In the final paragraph of Mr. Eger’s post he suggests what seems to me to be a logical action step.  He writes,

“Lastly though, business execs and artists don’t mix, don’t talk to one another. They may not even know each other. A new effort to change all that might work. Just getting to know one another might be the first step for communities in cities everywhere.”

The blending of arts and business has yielded many fruitful partnerships.  Examples of such partnerships (as well as the benefits that often result) are numerous.  The need for breaking down silos seems to be increasingly emphasized.  Presumably, more can be understood and achieved through collaboration than rigid delineation.  What benefits might occur from considering creativity and innovation in this same spirit, softening the delineation between the two?

Last February I read a fantastic post written by Louise Stevens which contained the phrase “creativity-innovation partnership”.  The phrase immediately resonated, as it aptly and succinctly describes the continuum between individuals’ creativity and the type of creative outcomes we broadly refer to as innovation.  Viewing creativity and innovation as a continuum reveals the direct connection between the activities that inspire and support individuals’ creativity and the attainment of innovate outcomes.  Thinking of the continuum in this way—as a true partnership—enables me to envision various points along an imaginary line.

Near the left end of this line are the foundational activities that support individuals’ creativity, such as travel, exposure to new music, taking photos, or, perhaps the most iconic example, sitting in on a calligraphy class in college that will forever shape one’s worldview.  Foundational activities whet the appetite of the imagination.  Near the right end of this line are myriad examples of innovation.  Only one end tends to make headlines.

Those activities which comprise the foundation for innovation are less sexy, but such activities are critical if the imaginary line is to remain intact.  The varied points along the continuum which are relevant to individuals’ creativity are integral to producing innovative outcomes.  Very often the matter of individuals’ creativity is seemingly relegated to one silo and innovation to another.  Such sharp delineation robs us of making the valuable connection between creativity-relevant activities and innovative outcomes.  Understanding the partnership as a continuum inherently softens sharp delineation, allowing us to recognized the relevance between activities we might not immediately see as being meaningful to the innovation process.  Rather than regarding creativity as a silent partner—necessary, but not always the public face—we ought to encourage greater visibility.

How does this relate to Mr. Eger’s suggestion?  The artistic mind is emblematic of innovation and problem solving in action…that is, constant observation, reflection and imagination, always with the intention of producing something novel.  Such habits of mind are universal elements of the creative process, and are necessary for producing innovate results, regardless of the domain or discipline.  Creating additional opportunities for dialogue between arts and business is one immediate way to explore innovation using the lens of creativity.  In doing so, the connection between these two concepts, as well as the nature of their partnership, may become better understood.

What would these opportunities look like?  Where would we plot them on the imaginary line?

© 2011 Kira Campo

This photo was taken last Sunday at a lake near my home.

And, so was this.

On one hand these shots might seem entirely similar.  Same lake, different angle.  But if you stop (even briefly!) to attend to the these two shots, it will soon become clear that the differences are numerous.  Same lake, different angle, each offering something distinct.

But suppose you were going to take two minutes to study the differences between these two shots.  How could two minutes enable you to become completely absorbed in studying the details?  Is it enough time to notice more than you might with a cursory glance?
Try it!  (yes, right here and now)

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Each of us faces myriad choices in our daily lives.  More often than not, we may simply be moving through familiar tasks on auto-pilot!  And, in many ways, this serves us well; an effective strategy for keeping up with the quick pace that life demands.  But this is not the only strategy…and there are times when this might not even be the *best*  strategy.

Ellen Langer, in her remarkable book, Mindfulness, describes what is lost whenever we make “premature cognitive commitments”.  The act of mindfulness, Langer argues, is an “openness, not only to new information, but to different points of view”.  If and when we consciously choose mindfulness, we are choosing to actively influence the way our mind makes sense of new information.  In doing so, we stand to gain valuable insight that would be lost if we simply chose to coast on auto-pilot!  Mindfulness helps us to resist the “seduction of the known”.

Complete mindfulness each and every day would be utterly impractical.  But in the context of creativity and problem solving, mindfulness has a very practical role.  Learning to explore the multiple angles of an idea or problem space is essential.  There are lots of ways to practice this, but here’s a suggestion: scroll back up and take a look at the photos at the top of the post.  Imagine that you were trying to describe the first photo to someone in full detail.  What would you say?  How would you describe it?  Then imagine you were going to describe the second.  Again, think full, juicy, descriptive detail.

Practicing mindfulness demands that we abandon auto-pilot for deep engagement.  Exploring multiple angles, in an effort to learn something previously unknown or unnoticed, is a practice with great rewards.  (Just think of all the extra details you might have bypassed had you quickly labeled the photos above as “picture of a lake” and left it at that!)  If we think of any idea or problem space we encounter as having multiple angles, and then take time to further explore what information might be distinct or useful, we might just be surprised at what we see.

© 2011 Kira Campo

Earlier this month the Art Educators of New Jersey held their annual conference in New Brunswick, NJ.  This year, like last, I delivered a 50 minute presentation on Studio Thinking and discussed how the Habits of Mind identified in the framework help to cultivate creative thinking skills.

Later that day, as I discussed the same topic over dinner, the conversation veered into the direction of ‘Creative vs. Artistic’.  Since the distinction between Creative and Artistic is often conflated, I offered an experience from my own life to illustrate the difference between those two concepts.  It went something like this:

I was recently asked to judge a group show for an arts organization in my community.  The theme selected for this show was fairly traditional and there were many works in the show that possessed notable artistic merit.  However, there was a single piece, entitled ‘The Tree of My Life’ which demonstrated a degree of creative merit which set it apart from other works in the show.  The work was painstakingly rendered, which lent further power to what was already a rich conceptual accomplishment.  The power in this work was meticulous execution, coupled with a *novel* idea. Relative to the other works in the show, ‘The Tree of Life’ exemplified creativity.

Is that which is artistic also creative?  Ipso facto, just like that? Perhaps!  It is my opinion that any original art object is, by default, creative.  But I also believe that not all art objects are E-Q-U-A-L-L-Y creative.

When we seek to evaluate the creativity of an object it is necessary to consider it in comparison to other works; knowing the available alternatives provides necessary insight about the yardstick being used to measure the creativity quotient.

Likewise, when considering an idea or solution that is not artistic in nature, we are also wise to consider the many alternatives that might exist. Because, very often, with the sufficient investment of time and attention–that is, with deep engagement–solutions abound.  The finest examples of creativity I am able to name *not only* deliver a novel and effective solution, very often they also appear to be the solutions that are out-on-a-limb on the proverbial tree of life.

And, on the rare and marvelous occasion when a solution truly exemplifies creativity, that solution, regardless of  the domain, certainly qualifies as art.

© 2011 Kira Campo

Viewing a problem space differently leads to the proverbial ‘a-ha’ moment.  We’ve all been there.  But how can we get there more easily?  more consistently?

Problem finding and problem solving benefit from a shift in perspective.  Consider three ways the visual arts demonstrate the principle of consciously expanding perspective: 

Essential Lessons

1. Establish ways to explore multiple angles: Artists routinely employ various methods to adapt and augment their perspective.  In my own artmaking, I might use a colored filter to evaluate the value scale of a composition or turn a drawing upside down while in process.  Both of these techniques succeed in producing an alternate view of the work.  Creative outcomes, both within and outside the arts, are more likely to occur when we investigate the problem space from multiple angles.

2. Appreciate alternative points of view: Consider a group exhibit that features the work of many artists.  Very often such exhibits are curated with a single overarching theme, but each of the works models a different way of handling that theme or subject.  The variety evidenced among the works is demonstrative of the breadth of individual point of view.  Appreciating variety in this way teaches us to make space for additional points of view.  By developing an appetite for alternative perspectives we are internalizing a value that is central to problem solving and innovation.

3. Learn to apply abstraction: Even the most complicated painting or drawing is derived from only a handful of essential shapes.  Abstraction makes it possible to see and represent the similarity between disparate objects.  For example, through abstraction the visual properties of the human form bear resemblance to unrelated objects.  Similarly, abstract thought affords us the opportunity to see the parallel thread between disparate ideas. In this way, abstraction makes the connection between (seemingly!) unrelated ideas more accessible.

Making and appreciating art provides the territory to experience and model what it means to see anew.

© 2011 Kira Campo