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)...

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