Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Creative Process

Nummer 14, Home, 2012 © Guido van der Werve



 Last week I visited the Stedelijk Museum with a group of students to watch the new video 'Number 14', made by Guido van der Werve. It's a brilliant piece of work, showing a tribute and homage to Chopin, Alexander the Great and Papendrecht. The students were there because they to have to make a homage to a person they admire in the coming eight weeks. Damn those teachers and their conceptual assignments!

To help them along I will give them some pointers to work on such an assignment, considering some necessary steps you will have to take in a creative process. Now this is tricky. I'm well aware that the research considering creativity is as deep and wide as the Pacific Ocean, but anyone who has other or better ideas, please feel free to comment below.

I will stick to the research I did, and that is the implementation of the Mother of all creativity process models, the one Graham Wallas formed in 1926. It is a fairly simple recursive model in four stages and is used for decades by all kind of research concerning creativity, problem solving and tackling complex thought problems.

Graham Wallas c1920s © British Library of Political and Economic Science

1. Preparation.

First you start to think about the problem or question that is there. How to make an homage to this person you chose? What kind of tools are you going to use? Only images? Or perhaps film? But that takes a lot of time and you have only eight weeks. Text? And what do I want to say? How did other people do that with this person? Maybe there are bad YouTube covers, let's check that out…
You dig in, try to find all kinds of stuff about your hero or heroin and try to link that to the means and first idea's you have. It's a big pile of chaos you start to collect. Do throw anything away yet! There's always time and opportunity for that later. For now, every idea has the same value and should be treated like little gold nuggets.

2. Incubation.

Ok, so this is a weird term and should be explained a bit. What is meant is that you have to take a break in your cognitive thinking about the problems and all the possible solutions. It's just too much! You also have to give your unconsciousness a chance to process the information. Some believe that this is actually the best way to think about big, complex problems. Go hiking, swimming, biking or something else to take your mind of the problem. Don't worry, you'll process the solution in the background and you will know you have something when you hit the Illumination stage.

3. Illumination.

This is the 'AHA!' you've been waiting for. An idea that is better than the rest of the sub-ideas you have had the past few days. This one has something special; you can even feel it in your body. Some say it feels like a bolt of electricity, others describe it as a moment of lightness the moment the idea occurred. However it feels, you will recognise it when it comes along. And don't worry; you will have a few of them the coming weeks, so be patient.

4. Verification.

Now, of course, you have to find out it the idea really works! What is great in your mind can be crap on paper, so get to work! Is it done before? How to visualise it? What are the complications and consequences? As soon as you start to work on this, other problems arise and will need an answer in the future. They need preparation again! So you get back to stage 1 and start all over again, but now with more knowledge, insights and ideas than the first time.

Repeat when needed. Good luck!

Robert Philip is a photographer and course leader at the Utrecht School of the Arts.

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