Thursday, October 20, 2011


Attempting to define creativity is like trying to eloquently and concisely express a conflicting emotion. Frustrating, on the top of your tongue... fraught with the imprecision of language itself, and most of all, perhaps a little futile?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Language (of the artist, creator, designer, human...)

I've come to realise that trying to say what creativity 'is' might be quite a futile goal in itself. There are just so many different ways of understanding what it might be, and a whole list of frameworks from which it may be defined.

It is much like language in this regard - meanings shift and change. More than that, however, it is a concept which breaks out from the words which attempt to define it. Everyone has a sense of what creativity is, even if they cannot put it into precise words. It is evocative and emotional, in the same way that a particular word might have a sense of power behind it.

I know that mayn't make much sense. I might revisit this later and try and express this ill-defined thought a little better!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


When is a work finished? Can it ever be finished? (what is a work?)

Or is the initial inspiration for its creation simply exhausted?

Is the first design generated and made for a collection something of a template, from which
branching ideas are then expressed as the remainder of the collection?

(did that make sense?)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

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Sometimes I wonder if the creative process (particularly relating to the design process) is anything like one of the basic tenets of quantum theory: the idea that observation alters the outcome.

That is... well, I often feel as though there is a weight of expectation placed upon me as designer - that there are certain motions I am expected to go though (inspiration, generation of ideas, initial sketches, toiling and prototyping, resolved idea...) when developing something new.

Of course, these 'motions' are nothing but labels that have been identified and quantified from what is generally a very fluid, flexible process. Thankfully this has always been taught as such during my study at RMIT - though it was initially hard to break away from following these processes in a linear fashion as they were taught to me during high school.

Despite knowing all this stuff intellectually, it can be difficult to break away from the idea of what I 'should' be doing, or to stop thinking about what I am doing in terms of these processes. I know that if I were creating anything outside of a university environment that I would go through the same motions (pretty much), but perhaps with a little less self consciousness and (a lot) less angst.

The fact that I know my work and processes will be assessed leads me to approach my work differently, though I can't really tell you exactly how because I'm not to clear on that point myself. Am sure, however, that we all as students make the effort to make certain processes clearer, and pivotal decisions more obvious so that all our 'angsting' does not go unacknowledged.

So... to come back to my original point. The fact that work is being observed by assessors impacts the final outcome to some degree. I wonder if the same holds true for creativity itself. If all the processes comprising creative thought were recognised and labelled, would knowledge of them impact upon creative thinking? Would understanding these mechanisms in a more precise way make them more... well, mechanical?

Monday, September 26, 2011


All of this might just do my head in. Have just been reading about 'what is a "work"?', "work" being a term I have freely been using thought my research as to refer to something that has been made, as an expression of creative thought or processes.

Of course, nothing is ever that simple! After all, as this reading has pointed out to me, when does a 'work' become a 'work', and when is one ever completed? As I said in the title of this post: "ughhhhh".

Naturally, I don't have to talk about this in depth in my thesis, but I feel as though I should acknowledge it somehow. For now, I shall just add it to the ever increasing list of terms I need to define...

Friday, September 23, 2011

Creativity and Skill

Really interesting essay on the link between creativity and skill by Berys Gaut - essentially an argument that the two are intrinsically linked. Possibly I thinking it's so fascinating because I agree with this premise wholeheartedly.

After four years of undertaking a design degree, and spending a good deal of my life making things, I personally would deem my most creative works as those stemming from an understanding of the techniques I was using at the time, and perhaps outcomes utilising a technique in an unexpected way. This has evolved over time, however... when learning a technique, such as beading or embroidery, I wasn't doing anything but following a pattern or instructions from a book - I might have been creating something, but the act of simply producing something was not 'creative'.

The argument that "the core capacity involved in creativity is skill", writes Gaut, is a "long philosophical tradition, stretching from Plato to recent times." From Plato's Phaedrus:

'if any man come to the gates of poetry with out the madness of the Muses, persuaded that skill alone will make him a good poet, the shall he and his works of sanity with him be brought to nought by the poetry of madness, and behold, their place is nowhere to be found.'

...Or if you prefer, works that are deemed creative by their very nature (such as poetry) are not able to be generated using a formulaic approach and have any value as a highly creative work. There was (is?) a belief that creativity is something requiring a spark of inspiration, perhaps a touch of madness. But is this perhaps the distinction between skill and genius, 'genius' somehow encompassing the ability to generate something original, inspiring, and able to stand the test of time.

I've yet to re-read the essay, so there's a lot of thinking, understanding and interpreting to still do. But the concept and opening quote really grabbed me, and I think a study of the interplay between creativity and skill is extremely relevant to looking at creativity in fashion design. It is an industry which relies heavily on skills, such as pattern drafting, draping, sewing, etc... At one extreme, there is no creative thought associated with the skill of being able to copy a design and produce a pattern from it. But at the other end of this spectrum, a deep understanding of a skill (eg. embroidery) might allow it to be utilised creatively, in a way that has not been done before.

More on this later (much more, probably)...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Benefits to understanding creativity?

"Some people appear to be offended by questions about how creativity works, believing that it is not possible for us to understand this... Creativity does not work by magic or by divine inspiration. We cannot explain it in terms of intuition. It is true, to be sure, that creativity involves intuition, but to say that does not tell is much, since the word 'intuition' is just a placeholder for some unknown psychological process, invisible even to creative persons. If we want to understand how creativity is possible... we cannot rely on appeals to intuition... In other words, we have to understand how intuition works."
From 'Creativity: How Does It Work?' (Margaret Boden)

I like the idea that we cannot perhaps truly understand creativity as a phenomenon, short of perhaps completely understanding what consciousness is (and that's a whole other conundrum!). We can, however, study the processes of creativity; perhaps separate the generation of a work or idea into stages. Even if it is only these 'stages' that are distilled, this information can still be used by an individual to better understand their own creative process, with the possible outcome being more productive generation of ideas (critical to the fashion industry, which typically thrives on fast turn overs).

Saturday, September 17, 2011


... honing in on the field of fashion design is probably the way to go - the more specific, the better. That's not to say that there is no merit in looking at approaches to being creative that are not fashion related, but being too broad will probably do my head in.

Common to just about every definition of creativity is that the work produced is valuable, that an idea has been generated that no-one else has ever had before.

As Margaret Boden writes in Creativity: How does it work?:

"What different people regard as interesting varies, so new ideas can be valuable in many different ways. Encyclopedia writers, gallery curators, chemists, sculptors, property developers, entrepreneurs, and advertising executives focus on different sorts of creative idea, different sorts of value."

Essentially, depending on which field a work is being evaluated for creative merit, different aspects will be seen as having value. If I'm to focus on the fashion industry specifically, I need to evaluate what is of value in terms of creativity within this field as a means of contextualising my findings. My predominant interest, however, is in identifying methods by which a fashion designer may be able to generate ideas with greater ease - to take apart the creative process so that it might be better understood.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Am still trying to decide if I will refer all my findings re: creativity back to the area of fashion design. Does it need to be contextualised that way? Or should I just use a variety of examples from different design (or 'creative' fields)?

Obviously I need to have a specific focus, and part of me wants to write about creativity in fashion design simply because there is hardly anything written about it at all. Of any study focusing on creativity, fashion design and the processes employed are never mentioned as a way of illustrating the different approaches to being creative.

However, I don't know if trying to limit everything to fashion will make my research... well, limited.

I guess I'll just have to see what I come across; see what develops. One solution might be to take my findings about approaches to creativity to fashion designers/design students relate to them...

Monday, August 1, 2011

width, depth...

Something that is deemed creative is often given this label because it draws upon inspiration and references from seemingly unrelated areas. So am I narrowing my research too much by restricting it to fashion design (or design)? The creative techniques a writer may use, for example, might prompt the creative processes for a fashion designer...

Friday, May 27, 2011

I'm glad I picked this topic for my thesis...

...because it is just so interesting! Am actually a little excited at the moment, so let me back track and explain why.

First up, my sister Jessica is an incredibly creative person herself. She's a talented author and musician (her debut novel is out very soon, along with accompanying soundtrack!), and I'm sure she could tell you all about the hard work being creative actually entails!

Anyway, a few hours ago she mentioned me and my research journal on her blog - mentioning in particular my question as to why design hasn't been explored as a way of looking at the creative process in the same way art has.

So far, there have been some really interesting comments left by her followers. I'd like to share one in particular left by Stephen Parrish... and thank him for taking the time to share his thoughts!

Hi. I don't really understand the distinction between art and design, or at least the need for a distinction. Both are obviously creative, neither less than the other. I don't think the typical person sees a fashion designer as anything less than very creative.

My background is cartography, and most people don't think of mapmakers as graphic designers. After all, you have no control over the shape of the continents, or the layout of a city. Yet cartographers must make a myriad choices as they work, in every aspect of graphic design: balance, contrast, figure-ground, etc. My advisor and mentor went so far as to use the word "euphoria" to describe what he felt when he designed maps.

I can well understand how a fashion designer would feel the same, when all elements come together, and the project just clicks. Funny, I also draw and paint as a hobby (i.e., traditional "art"), and although the creative process is satisfying, as is nailing down something I'm depicting realistically, I never feel anything like "euphoria" when I work---as I did when making maps. Design not only deserves equal footing with other creative endeavors, there's something about it that sets it apart, and if I had to venture a guess, I'd say it's because the designer is always restricted in some way (the clothes have to fit the model, the continent has to look like Africa). That very restriction is what releases a powerful creative drive and results in, well, euphoria.

The idea of restriction benefiting the creative process has intrigued me ever since I took on this topic. A few posts back I related the idea of inspiration to constraint, a concept that has featured in a couple of the articles I've written as well.

I would say that designers (fashion designers or cartographers) have to be creative in their approach to a design problem so that functional or innovative solutions can be generated. Without that restriction, the possibilities are endless and I doubt any designer would know where to begin.

Having said that, art can have a function too... to provoke, for example, or to make a political statement. Perhaps art is considered more 'creative' because of its seemingly emotional, intuitive nature? But... if restriction is the guiding point, maybe the restriction in art is that a work is directed by a particular emotion, or a desire to make comment on a particular issue. Then again, fashion designs can be spawned from exceptionally emotional origins, and also make the wearer experience emotion in how the clothes make them feel.

Anyway, it has been a long day and I'm probably going to start talking in circles if I don't stop here. Thanks again to my lovely sister and all of the comments left by her followers!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In the back of my mind...

Summary of the things in the back of my mind as I have been researching, was well as a 'where to go from here' list of things to still do....
  • First up... of all the reading I've done into what creativity is (or different ways of approaching the creative process), there seems to be a lack of writing relating to design (specifically fashion). Many of the articles use either art or science to illustrate how breakthroughs are made when creating, or how inspiration might strike. Articles written from a neurological perspective in particular seem to use art as a point of reference, with expositions into how the brain interprets colour, line, etc, and how this is a fact of biology.
  • This leads me to wonder why design hasn't been explored as a way of looking at the creative process in the same way art has. Has design somehow been deemed to be less creative? Or perhaps less 'accessible' to the reader of these articles?
  • On a related topic... might be good to really define/highlight the difference between art and fashion design. At a superficial level, I suppose it would be easy to say that design concerns itself more with function and practicality, and perhaps even with considerations into production/mass production. Yet there are overlaps, too... some fuzzy edges. Fashion designers might occupy themselves with the creation of distinctly unwearable pieces, so the functional aspect (at least in the sense of it being a body covering) is rendered a moot point. Hmm... yes, definitely need some clarity here.
  • This brings me to definitions, of which I still need more. In particular, explanations for particular steps in the design process such as inspiration, theme, concept, prototyping... See earlier posts for more terms that might need defining.
  • Given the need for design specific definitions, it might be beneficial to look at textbooks to get a distilled view of the design process from a teaching perspective. These could then be evaluated from the viewpoints of different creativity theories, to see if the approaches in teaching design are in fact making the most of creative potential in students.
  • I need to start asking questions to people - to get different perspectives on their creative processes. I feel as though practicing designers, students and lecturers will be able to offer invaluable insight. Given that I want to focus my project on how designers might make the most of their creative dispositions, and on techniques that might assist the creative process (with what creativity might be as a background), featuring interviews with such people might be the best way to illustrate various approaches to being creative.
That's all for now. I'll probably be back in 5 minutes having thought of something else to add!

Where does creativity hide?

Interesting video of Amy Tan talking about her own creative procees. It's certainly very entertaining! As she put it, her talk is about "Nothing out of something, and how we create."

Some of the points/questions she raises are:
  • Are we innately equipped with something in our brains that cause this muse like effect? (Nature vs. nurture. An argument that never gets old, I suppose. Certainly, when it comes to creativity, this argument has not been settled. While some posit that creativity has much to do with how the brain functions (Einstein's brain was said to have a visible structural difference which assisted in the movement of thoughts/ideas from one hemisphere to the other), others (such as Edward de Bono) will insist that creative thinking can be taught to anyone. Though maybe there needs to be a distinction between creative thinking and creativity. Hmmm. Anyway, gone off on a bit of a tangent here.)
  • Creativity might be a function of neurological quirk, or a byproduct mental illness.
  • Creativity as a link to sense of identity.
  • Skill is different to creativity. Tan mentions being good at drawing as a child, but drawings were copied from book. (I do believe that skill is vital to being creative, however. If you are a skilled patternmaker or machinist, you can take your knowledge and be more creative in its application - perhaps developing a new system for drafting, or a new way of finishing a hem. Personally, I believe that you have to know the rules before you can break or bend them. Having said all that, maybe a new way of patternmaking might be viewed as innovative, more than creative. Bugger, another tangent.)
  • Reasons for creating: "looking for the about". What do you want to achieve by creating? If you try too hard, you will only discover the about, discuss the about and it will be boring. (I guess this is about openendedness and the offering opportunities for interpretation... that creating something of a journey.)

Also, the joy of related videos... Sir Ken Robinson: do schools kill creativity? and David Lynch - consciousness, creativity and the brain both look interesting. Will check them out later!

Reading: Serious Creativity

Oh, the idea of the different coloured thinking hats really tickles me. I'll be going into more detail on this article later. Right now the thing that is standing out to me the most is I might need to make a distinction between creativity and creative thinking. This raises a number of questions, too!

Edward de Bono proposes that anyone can think in a more creative way by using lateral thinking skills. But can you make someone more creative? Are there certain dispositions - genetic or otherwise - that make one person more creative than the next? And could these thinking techniques be of use to those already out there being creative and creative?

Know Thyself

This year I've just been telling myself, quite consciously and constantly, to be intuitive with my work, to go with my gut feeling.

Often as students, we wonder what we "should" be doing. I often see my classmates struggling with how to approach their work (we all do, all the time), or wondering about how to interpret their inspirational material.

Ideally, I'd love to be able to generate something useful to students at the end of this project... a bit of a guide as to what creativity is/might be, and outline some different approaches to being creative as a designer.

Creativity would certainly not be impeded by an understanding of yourself and how you work.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reading: Poincaré's 'delicate sieve': on creativity and constraints in the arts (Paisley Livingston)

Fascinating article on the nature of inspiration, insight and how this ties in with creativity. A lot of it confirms what I have been thinking anyway, and wrote about in my post this morning. Although it focuses upon the processes of mathematician Henri Poincaré, rather than those of a fashion designer, there are many universal processes that apply to a variety of fields... many parallels that maybe drawn.

Without further ado, here be some very interesting points:

  • "Poincaré famously reported that some of his best mathematical ideas simply popped into his head while he was on holiday and not consciously doing mathematics...
'...Disgusted by my lack of success, I went away to spend a few days at the seaside, and thought about entirely different things. One day, as I was walking along the edge of the cliff, the idea came to me, again with the same characteristics of brevity, suddenness, and immediate certainty...' "
  • Article is not espousing the idea 'that genuine creativity is largely if not not entirely a matter of sudden, involuntary illumination or insight', but rather that 'creative achievements are often the product of different sorts of interacting psychological processes, including the stages of preparation, incubation, insight, and revision that have become commonplace in the literature on creativity.'
  • conditions preceding flashes of insight should be that of a 'period of conscious work' in order to set in motion what Poincaré referred to as la machine inconsciente (the unconscious machine).
  • 'inspiration must be accompanied by conscious effort: unless the researcher or artist makes a prior selection of the elements upon which the mind is to operate, the search will be too open ended and will most likely be fruitless as a result.' (This is exactly what I've been saying about how we operate as fashion designers - inspiration as constraint in order to narrow the field and generate a lexicon of design elements from which we can create a collection).
  • Idleness might not actually be idleness - the times when an artist (or designer) sets aside their work in order to pursue other interests, when their minds are not consciously occupied with their work are still beneficial in finding solutions or insights. The 'unconscious machine' has been set in motion...
  • "the key to innovation, be it conscious or unconscious, cannot simply be the application of 'a tremendous power of attention'... Having said this, however, the solution to how to be more creative is not to 'assume that the unconscious mental process' can identify new information or combinations. It seems that a mixture of hard work, research and then reflection is key. (This, I suppose, is something that we've always been told as students, but it is great to hear the why behind this!)
  • "Invention consists precisely in not constructing useless combinations, but in constructing those that are useful, which are a tiny minority. To invent is to discern, to choose." (LOVE this - a beautiful way of expressing the process of refinement).
  • All up, "... artistic creativity often arises from a multi-faceted process involving hard work, periods of idleness, unconscious cognitive activity, and episodes of inspiration, appreciation, and revision."

So... yeah... maybe this is the answer to the question I posited at the beginning of the semester, which was why do I get sudden thoughts/inspirations when I'm in the shower? It really does seem as though relaxing and doing something different helps sort out problems.

What I am left wondering though, is whether or not the knowledge that 'periods of idleness' can assist in maintaining the creative processes will help or hinder it. Perhaps it would come down to a matter of personality. Would telling yourself that you need to stop in order to interpret and process ideas stress you out? Or could you be comfortable in the knowledge that it will probably be beneficial?

I guess if you were concerned that you were wasting your time in 'relaxing' and not doing anything, then there probably would not be relaxing at all... and this would not be conducive to the desired 'breakthrough'. Perhaps the solution would be to do something like physical exercise, where there would be enough 'doing something different' (and in my case, pain because I am so unfit) to distract from the original task.

The only way to know would be to try these techniques out, and I imagine the results would vary greatly from person to person. If they were found to be useful, perhaps they could be scheduled in, or one could get into the routine of going for a run every time stress was taking its toll. Routine, after all, has been shown to be conducive to creativity.

Inspiration or Insight?

Is it a sudden flash of understanding that we are in fact experiencing, when we talk about getting a sudden flash of inspiration? I has this thought just before as I was making coffee – and quite appropriately it hit me quite suddenly, too.

I rather like the idea (whether this is completely wrong or not), that when we study something, or ponder upon a particular concept, that all the information and associated thoughts just… sit in our brains for a while, as it tries subconsciously to sort out.

Then... those sudden flashes are akin to someone jumping up and down with their hand in the air, going, ‘Me! Me! I know!’ Because we have in a way hit upon an answer, or a new way of looking at something – we have achieved clarity that feels absolutely inspiring.

Reading: A Three Facet Model of Creativity (Robert J. Sternberg)

Small list of personality attributes which creative people are said to possess:

  • -tolerance of ambiguity
  • -willingness to surmount obstacles
  • -willingness to grow
  • -intrinsic motivation
  • -moderate risk-taking
  • -desire for recognition
  • -willingness to work for recognition

Am still trying to process this article properly, so I'll come back and edit later. Right now the idea of having a 'tolerance for ambiguity' intrigues me. I guess in a creative field you have to deal with a lot of overlapping concepts and general fuzziness.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Combinations and Permutations

If creating something is simply a matter of selecting different combinations - choosing colour, fabric, texture, shape, pattern - then why would we say that a machine making these selections was not creative?

Thinking about this last night, I pondered upon the idea of writing a computer program that could 'design'. In my daydream, all that would need to be done would be to select a few inputs such as fabric/colour/garment type, or perhaps even a theme... and design options would be generated.

Of course, there would be millions of permutations of each design, so there'd need to be a filter to draw out the less successful ones. Maybe you could set it to present designs that would cost a particular amount to manufacture... or were judged against a certain aesthetic (perhaps picking out ones that conform to the proportions of the golden ratio?)

Because here is where it gets tricky. What makes a design more successful or not? A group of designers looking at the range of options generated would invariably have differing opinions on what the better designs were.

All designers undertake a process that at least vaguely resembles this computer program, I imagine. As I wrote the other day, we select 'inspirations' in order to narrow down our choices when designing, so that we're not creating every garment there ever was or ever will be. So what drives the design decisions we make? Why put a seam in a certain place and not another? Why choose that particular print?

The only thing I can think of at the moment is that there is a deep seated emotional response, or a recognition of 'yes, that's what I wanted to create'. We pick things that we like, that please us aesthetically. Machines are not (or should I say, 'not yet'?) capable of making these choices rapidly, at what we would call an instinctual level based on emotion or personality. The human mind is excellent rejecting anything it deems to be irrelevant.

Yeah, that's all I've got right now. Also, this has set me off on thinking about what determines an individual's aesthetic sense. Hmmm...

PS. Would the process of creating this 'computer program' be deemed creative, even if the outcomes are not?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reading notes: Artistic Creativity, Style and Brain Disorders

Another definition: "The production of novel, motivated or useful material defines creativity, which appears to be one of the higher, specific, human brain functions."

From a neurological perspective, this article attempts to understand the creative process by studying brain disorders and their effect on creative output.

  • "Neurological diseases in artists provide a unique opportunity to study brain-creativity relationships, in particular through the stylistic changes which may develop after brain lesion." (Thought: do these brain lesions affect motor control, etc, which would alter physical appearance in the creative works?)
  • Four 'classical' phases of creativity are identified - "preparation, incubation, inspiration and production".
  • Psychological mechanisms identified as being behind creativity include replication, redefinition, forward incrementation, redirection, reconstruction, re-initiation and integration.
  • Characteristics of creative persons: openness, lack of conventionalism, playful thinking with risk taking.
  • "Imagination abilities and integration of dream memories into reality are... features which may facilitate creativity."
  • Ability to disengage from 'repressed' and 'controlled' mental processes can be beneficial in producing spontaneous expressions. Sleep and dreams have been connected with the dis-inhibition of brain mechanisms - 'next morning creativity'.
  • Interesting definition of 'ambiguity' - "a possibility for the brain to evoke several perceptions, interpretations or solutions simultaneously." (From other readings, a tolerance for ambiguity has been highlighted as a personality trait in creative persons).
  • Many areas of the brain are used in the process of creativity - a "complex combination of sensory, cognitive and motor activities" indicate that being creative is engaging the functions of the brain in an holistic capacity.
  • "... style is the most personal signature of artistic production, which corresponds to the uniqueness of each individual and each brain."

Reading: Teaching Creatively and Teaching for Creativity (David J. Brinkman)

A straightforward yet clear overview about the different degrees of creativity, as well as how teachers might be creative in the way in which they themselves teach. Despite focusing upon the tuition of musicians, this offered some interesting quotes and thoughts about what creativity is and how the creative process might be supported.
  • "Big C" and "little c" creativity - Big C creators are icons in the study of music, little c creators of 'ordinary' creativity... new interpretation of familiar piece of music.
  • Personality traits associated with creative individuals: willingness to take risks, tolerance for ambiguity, intrinsic motivation, sense of humour, wide range of interests, persistence.
  • "Creativity takes time. Although we may have flashes of insight, it takes time to work out the implications and uses of that insight."
  • "Creativity happens when expertise, creative thinking skills and motivation overlap."
  • "We can teach and model techniques for generating ideas, for being sensitive to personality traits the might encourage creative expression and risk taking in their work."
  • Time needs to be allocated to creative activity. (Have a set routine?)
  • 'Incubation' is part of the creative process - teaching situations can be structured so that students will recognise the value in allowing an idea to 'simmer'.
  • Important for students to have joy and interest in what they are doing/learning.
  • 3 facet model of creativity (Sternberg) - intellectual style (note to self: what is this?), intellect and personality are integrated in a creative person. They are also intrinsically motivated, curious, and have a desire to work for recognition.
... though I have to say, not a lot of this is 'new' or unexpected to me. But it is nice to have thoughts on this topic reinforced somewhat.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The trouble with language

So much of all this is just semantics… the inherent difficulty of language in defining and describing concepts as intangible as creativity, originality, innovation, inspiration, talent, skill, hard work, genius, value... (thank you, Sean for that list of concepts. I’m sure I could keep going and adding more into the mix).

Anyway, really feel like I should have a glossary at the start of my thesis. Even if I define these words in my own terms, it'll help people understand what I'm trying to get at. I hope.

Routine vs Inspiration, Inspiration vs Restrictions...

Speaking of scrawlings on tickets and the like, I just came across this surprisingly coherent piece of writing that I committed to paper a number of weeks ago while sitting on the tram...

I am always surprised at how many ideas I have when I just get out and do things, as opposed to sitting down and thinking right, I have to do work now. How does this fit in with the role routine supposedly plays in the creative process? Well, perhaps it should be a habit to immediately do something else if you're not being effiecient with what you are trying to do at the time... if there is no flow of ideas. You can't force creativity. Maybe I need to establish some structures for myself, or have a piece of music that always sets a particularly creative or cerebral mood?

I do like the idea that routine can help to provide structure... as a way of eliminating extraneous ideas, as well as helping to put the mind in a particular 'mode'. One idea can spark many, but to be efficient (timelines are incredibly prevalent in the fashion industry), one has to eliminate (survival of the fittest idea - how Darwinian) some of these ideas in order to simply get stuff done in time.

In fashion, we always talk about 'inspiration' as though it is some divine thing... as though we as designers are suddenly blessed with this fantastic thought that we just had to realise in the form of clothing. The fact of the matter is, this is so rarely the case. (Or is that just me?) We are compelled to make things on a fairly constant basis, so when the matter of inspiration is brought up, it is generally a way of us designers setting ourselves little projects. It is very hard to create something from nothing at all - a few wispy thoughts - but by picking a theme, we are then able to narrow down our choices in terms of colour palette, silhouette, fabric choice, etc. The infinite combinations and permutations and possibilites are refined to a particular language for a collection, and we can start making...

...there are many potential pots ready to be sculpted from one piece of clay, I suppose. But in the end, only one form is selected, shaped and refined... Oooh, imagery and metaphor. Was that creative?

Bringing it all in... ish

Have been reading LOTS over the past few weeks, but probably without a lot of direction… I just want to know what other people think about creativity, what drives creativity, and how it can best be harnessed. To be honest, haven’t really yet brought it back to the various questions I set myself to contextualize my research.

What I found I have been doing is sometimes responding on quite a personal level… as in, “Oh yeah, I work in that way,” or transversely, “My brain does NOT work like that.”

A friend of mine - a student of creative arts – was telling me of an author (she couldn’t remember who it was, and I haven’t been able to figure out who it was since) who used to set aside very specific times in which to do his writing… for example, from 9am to 12pm. Those were the only times when he would write – the rest of the time he would spend walking around his garden, thinking about what he would write the next day. This particular process was so effective for him that what he wrote during his was incredibly refined – so much so that next to nothing was required in terms of editing before publication.

I CANNOT imagine working in this way at all. Perhaps, if I gave it a go and it became a routine, it could be effective. Certainly, the process of reflection is (to me) highly important in reaching a successful resolution. However, I would find it amazingly hard to let go, and resist the urge to scribble a sudden thought and inspiration onto the nearest scrap of paper or receipt, tram ticket or even my leg. (These all at some time have been surfaces onto which I have scribed my thoughts).

Actually, that reminds me of what Roald Dahl once said about inspiration, and how it could suddenly strike from nowhere. (I’ll find the original quote, as it is really interesting). He once got an idea in the middle of nowhere while driving, and was stuck without pen or paper. In the end, he ended up drawing the word ELEVATOR into the dust that had collected on the back windshield. This lead to Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator).

Interestingly, I have probably been doing something similar with this research journal… not writing in the dust, funnily enough, but I had abandoned it temporarily while I fill my head with other people’s thoughts, trying to work out what I feel about them and comparing various different processes to my own. It is only now, after this period of thinking and meditation that I feel ready to write… and I am finding that the process of writing is triggering a lot of new thoughts. Trying to clarify and distill these thoughts is a fantastic way of thinking of new ones.


Sometimes I wish that I could record my thoughts, simultaneously grasp all the various tracks along which my mind runs, and be able to articulate all the fuzzy edges and fleeting thoughts with clarity.

Thoughts in Transit

I sometimes feel as though I do my best thinking while aimlessly wandering around... or when I'm waiting for trams. For this reason, I end up with lots of scrawlings on receipts or tram tickets. They're ideas that I simply cannot afford to forget, so they have to be written down!

It's not as though I'm necessarily relaxing in these situations, but I do feel like the different surroundings (and maybe the lack of other distractions) help me to contextualise and realise the intangible thoughts that have been floating around in my head (often for a number of days). I guess it is a bit like the sudden bolts of inspiration that can hit while in the bath or shower... that I had to relax in order to clarify an idea or sort out a problem.

(As a side note, I used to do maths problems in my sleep when I was at school. Going to bed after attempting to solve a difficult problem - my head still full and buzzing - was often the best way to get an answer. It was rare that I'd wake up with the exact answer in my head, but I'd always know what I'd done wrong the night before, and what I needed to do to solve it properly. To this day, I don't know if this was a healthy thing or not, but it did work. I just wish it worked with my designing!)

Speaking of side notes, this is another aspect of thought that really intrigues me... that we create branches of ideas in our heads, like vine tendrils... delicate webs of neurons...
...and that sometimes the very act of writing our thoughts down interrupts this incredible branching process and we lose some of what we'd thought in those moments. Even now, having written this, there's a niggling feeling of a lost, floating thought. How ephemeral our cognitive processes can be!

Monday, May 9, 2011

What makes a genius?

Just caught the tail end of the documentary What Makes a Genius? on SBS2. Was bummed to realise that I'd missed most of it, but the internet is a wonderful thing, and am currently watching it from the beginning.

Having seen the last 10 minutes, as well as the first 5, there seems to be a fair amount of discussion about the role of creativity and genius. The very beginning features a man capable of squaring large numbers in his head - up to 5 digits. However, he says:

"I wouldn't call myself a genius, and I'm not just being modest. I think genius is something that is a very creative process, whereas what I'm doing is a process that is somewhat mechanical. It's almost like, you know, genius is Mozart who can compose brilliant compositions. I'm merely someone who's playing the piano real well... and I think there's a real difference between a skill and something that's immensely creative."

Anyhow, I'm off to watch some more.

Here is the opening part of the documentary

Friday, April 8, 2011

Questions, Questions, Questions...

Questions that are forming the background to my thinking are...

- What is creativity?
- What is an idea?
- What is inspiration?
- What does it mean to be innovative?
- What does it mean to be innovative in the fashion industry?
- Who are the innovators, and in what way?
- How important is creativity to well-being and social progression?

If being creative is a necessity in the fashion industry, this leads to...

How do we make the most of our creative dispositions?

...I propose a study of methods, exercises and techniques (and the theories behind them). I would love to include primary sources - interviewing students and staff about their thoughts and experiences of being creative.

In terms of presentation...

I would love to deviate away from a typical essay/thesis format, and produce perhaps a small book that students can actually use as a reference. This could include a combination of written theory and exercises/techniques which students can undertake. Depending on what my research actually throws up, I want the presentation to help students engage in their design process and prompt their thoughts... perhaps even provide inspiration..

Working title...

Maybe something like: "The Fashion Designer's Brain: A User's Guide"?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Video: Edward de Bono on...

...a number of things, actually. All of them about thinking, creating, creativity and how to think originally.

Here is the video in question. Some notable points are:

at 0.37 - "...on creative thinking"

I find the distinction between talent and skill at making the most of your talent to be most intriguing. In fact, I am brought back to being interviewed for this degree, and being asked whether or not I considered raw talent to be more important than perseverance and hard work in the fashion industry.

To this day, I am not entirely sure what my answer was. From what I can remember, I said that to be operating in industry, there is surely talent somewhere. But only by truly pushing yourself, your business ideas and your processes can you be successful. (There was actually a lot more rambling going on, but I try not to dwell on it.)

However, I digress. The point is that this short little segment of video left me wondering as to how we as designers should best go about making the most of our talent. It is a reminder, too, that a creative mindset can't simply be just switched on. We have to work, and sometimes work hard, at being creative. If 'creative thinking is a skill', then how do we refine this skill to become better at generating creative and innovative ideas?

at 1.21 - "...on being different"

An interesting way of looking at the creativity: by considering its opposite. In this case, being truly 'creative' means generating ideas that 'have value'. Of course, 'value' is extremely subjective, and perspectives upon what has worth are driven by social, cultural and economic factors which change over time.

I suppose the root of this idea is that, if something only exists because it is different to what has gone before, then there is no true value or use and the process of thinking that lead to its existence was not creative. There was no innovation; no necessity. In regards to the fashion industry, I am now pondering upon how the 'non-creative' thinking contributes to unsustainable practices. If something has no value, it is much more disposable...

at 1.57 - "...on making mistakes"

I love this section to bits. So much so that I have to directly quote:

"... a big deficiency in language, certainly the English language, is we don't have a word which says fully justified venture, which for reasons beyond your control did not succeed. So anything that did not succeed is called a mistake, and people don't like mistakes..."
Well, I happen to love mistakes. Some of them, anyway. Throughout my training at RMIT, I have slowly learned to embrace the 'happy accident' - where the outcome of a trial was not expected, but lead to interesting results that were further explored. I believe this says a lot about how the ability to reflect upon and consider something other than the expected is integral to a successful, creative design process.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Getting Creative

This article by Sarah Wilson (Sunday Age columnist) is about the importance of creativity/creating, and it highlights some interesting points. For example, how the act of physically creating something can almost be meditative... a time for thinking things though.

'Painting, singing, gardening, playing the glockenspiel, finger-knitting: it’s pleasurable. But more than that it exposes ourself to ourself. When we’re creative we naturally narrow our focus and distractions are shut out. Time disappears; we’re in flow. And from here stuff is able to bubble up, stuff that really is the self expressing itself. And so, as we swirl the paint around, mindlessly, we appear on the page. Carl Jung once built is own house and described his creation as “the representation in stone of my innermost thoughts”.'

I've certainly experienced this, particularly when sewing by hand, beading or embroidering. They're acts that, once learned, don't require huge amounts of attention. I find that my mind wanders extensively when undertaking these activities, but there is somehow still direction to my thoughts... almost as though the act of physically making grounds me somewhat.

At this point, too, it is interesting to make the distinction between creating something (perhaps making might be a better term) and being creative... to my mind, this is much like the distinction between craft and art. Most people are capable of creating something, whether this be a knitted scarf or a roast dinner. However, most do so by following a knitting pattern or by following a recipe. Creativity might come in by changing stitches or using different spices. As such, it might be said that there are differing degrees of creativity, for more creative acts would be to make your own pattern, or devise your own recipe.

Anyway, gone off on a bit of a tangent here. But it was nice to see that creativity is viewed (by some at least) as a highly valued attribute.

So what exactly do I mean by...



- noun

1. the state or quality of being creative

2. the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, forms, relationships or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.

3. the process by which one utilises creative ability: extensive reading stimulated his creativity.

- adjective

1. having the ability to create

2. characterised by originality of thought; having or showing imagination: a creative mind

3. designed to or tending to stimulate the imagination: creative toys

characterised by sophisticated bending of the rules or conventions: creative accounting

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to be creative

Came across this really interesting article about how having routine can actually improve your ability to create and think creatively.

The most fascinating part for me was the comparison of routine to hypnosis: "By repeating the same routine every day, all these creators are effectively hypnotizing themselves, deliberately altering their state of consciousness in order to access the 'deeper state of mind' that allows them to work their creative magic. The different elements of the routine become associated with this creative state of mind, so that they can re-enter it by simply repeating the steps of the routine."

The article also referenced the Daily Routines blog, which is filled with entries about the habits of artists, designers, scientists, etc, and how these might contribute to the creative process. The blog is currently on hold, but there is apparently a Daily Routines book out sometime this year. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled!

All of this got me thinking about whether or not I actually have any routines in place to help me be creative/productive... I probably do, but am not aware of them. More likely I have bad habits - working in places (like at the desk by my window), where I am seemingly compelled to be unproductive. From what this article is saying, I've hypnotised myself somewhat... whenever I sit here, force of habit compels me to not do work.

That said, there are places where I do seem to have sudden flashes of inspiration... like in the shower. I wonder if this happens to anyone else? This is something that I have personally attributed to the fact that I'm relaxed... once I've let go of the day a little bit and my mind isn't actually consciously thinking though the things I want to achieve, a lot of stuff often becomes a lot clearer.

Given all of this, I would love to be able to do a little survey of the fashion cohort at RMIT... lecturers and students. Just to find out if people do have habits to get themselves in the creative zone, or if they experience sudden flashes of inspiration (and if so, where and when these occur). Such feedback could hopefully really assist in refining some further areas for research. Although I am spurred on by the BIG(ger) question of 'What is creativity?', I am narrowing it down to a study of how people in creative fields can assist themselves to be more creative. This might cover a range of techniques, be a compilation of interviews (text or film format), or even a study of the interplay between raw talent and habit...

Phew. Was good to get some of those thoughts out. But will stop for the time being, as I don't want this post to be a big wall of text. I think I have stumbled upon a good creative habit for myself, though... writing. My head is currently churning with ideas...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Mind Map

To complement my thoughts on paper, here are some questions I have extrapolated that might help me direct my research:

  • What is creativity/how may it be defined?
  • What is an idea?
  • What is inspiration?
How do we make the most of our creative dispositions? Consider a study of methods, exercises and techniques (and the theories behind them).
  • What does it mean to be innovative in the fashion industry... and who are the innovators?
  • What is the distinction between innovation and creativity?)
  • How important is creativity to well being and social progression?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Quotes about Creativity... some food for thought

“The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.”

- Frank Barron

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity.”

- Charles Mingus

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You must simply do things."
- Ray Bradbury

“Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.”

- Pablo Picasso