Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age

New York Times, June 20, 2016


Do Children in a Keyboard World Need to Learn Old-Fashioned Handwriting?

There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.

And beyond the emotional connection adults may feel to the way we learned to write, there is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.

In an article this year in The Journal of Learning Disabilities, researchers looked at how oral and written language related to attention and what are called “executive function” skills (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.

Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study, told me that evidence from this and other studies suggests that “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”

Last year in an article in The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Laura Dinehart, an associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University, discussed several possible associations between good handwriting and academic achievement: Children with good handwriting may get better grades because their work is more pleasant for teachers to read; children who struggle with writing may find that too much of their attention is consumed by producing the letters, and the content suffers.

But can we actually stimulate children’s brains by helping them form letters with their hands? In a population of low-income children, Dr. Dinehart said, the ones who had good early fine-motor writing skills in prekindergarten did better later on in school. She called for more research on handwriting in the preschool years, and on ways to help young children develop the skills they need for “a complex task” that requires the coordination of cognitive, motor and neuromuscular processes.

“This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong,” Dr. Berninger said. “We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.” You have to see letters in “the mind’s eye” in order to produce them on the page, she said. Brain imaging shows that the activation of this region is different in children who are having trouble with handwriting.

Functional brain scans of adults show a characteristic brain network that is activated when they read, and it includes areas that relate to motor processes. This suggested to scientists that the cognitive process of reading may be connected to the motor process of forming letters.

Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, did brain scans on children who did not yet know how to print. “Their brains don’t distinguish letters; they respond to letters the same as to a triangle,” she said.

After the children were taught to print, patterns of brain activation in response to letters showed increased activation of that reading network, including the fusiform gyrus, along with the inferior frontal gyrus and posterior parietal regions of the brain, which adults use for processing written language — even though the children were still at a very early level as writers.

“The letters they produce themselves are very messy and variable, and that’s actually good for how children learn things,” Dr. James said. “That seems to be one big benefit of handwriting.”

Handwriting experts have struggled with the question of whether cursive writing confers special skills and benefits, beyond the benefits that print writing might provide. Dr. Berninger cited a 2015 study that suggested that starting around fourth grade, cursive skills conferred advantages in both spelling and composing, perhaps because the connecting strokes helped children connect letters into words.

For typically developing young children, typing the letters doesn’t seem to generate the same brain activation. As we grow up, of course, most of us transition to keyboard writing, though like many who teach college students, I have struggled with the question of laptops in class, more because I worry about students’ attention wandering than to promote handwriting. Still, studies on note taking have suggested that “college students who are writing on a keyboard are less likely to remember and do well on the content than if writing it by hand,” Dr. Dinehart said.

Dr. Berninger said the research suggests that children need introductory training in printing, then two years of learning and practicing cursive, starting in grade three, and then some systematic attention to touch-typing.

Using a keyboard, and especially learning the positions of the letters without looking at the keys, she said, might well take advantage of the fibers that cross-communicate in the brain, since unlike with handwriting, children will use both hands to type.

“What we’re advocating is teaching children to be hybrid writers,” said Dr. Berninger, “manuscript first for reading — it transfers to better word recognition — then cursive for spelling and for composing. Then, starting in late elementary school, touch-typing.”

As a pediatrician, I think this may be another case where we should be careful that the lure of the digital world doesn’t take away significant experiences that can have real impacts on children’s rapidly developing brains. Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways.

“My overarching research focuses on how learning and interacting with the world with our hands has a really significant effect on our cognition,” Dr. James said, “on how writing by hand changes brain function and can change brain development.”
 


Defining Creativity

by Shelley Berc


Let’s start with the dictionary definition, however brief and limited, it covers the basics:
Creativity: the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, or imagination.

To this definition let us add the following:
Creativity: an act of transformation by which we turn one idea or thing into something else by way of intellectual, chemical or manual alchemy.

And this:
Creativity: life as a gigantic erector set. You can put anything together in new and original ways–the most immaterial with the most concrete, the most esoteric melded to the most down to earth.

Albert Einstein referred to this thinking process as “combinatory play.”

The Courage to Fail Over and Over Again

Creativity is the experimental laboratory of civilization. It expects and needs trial and error, and the courage to fail over and over again. In the words of Samuel Becket on the secret of his creativity:

“Fail, fail again, fail better.“ Samuel Becket

The Sum of Creativity is Always
Greater than its Parts

Creativity may look like a noun but it is really a verb—and in specific an action. It could be an interior or exterior process–a thought or a manifestation, an idea or a product, but it is always an action, an energy, a putting one’s self forth into the unknown. Creativity is the world of the intrepid explorer, of the adult 2 year old, who never ceases to ask the questions:
Why?
What if?

Can you Teach Creativity?

In our workshops people are always asking us: “can you really teach creativity?” Our answer: “We can teach it, but you won’t really learn it until you remember the days when you had it.” We suggest they think back to the time when they kids. We were all creative as children. We were creativity specialists before we learned to walk or talk.You never have to learn about your creativity from scratch.
Being creative is pretty much like learning how to ride a bike—you never forget how. But you do have to re-engage the muscles. Society and, in particular, education and the workplace, tramples blithely upon our originality–so much so that most people forget they were ever creative at all.

“Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” Anna Freud

Creativity Makes us Infinitely Adaptable and Flexible

Creativity is one of our primary tools for survival. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, our ancestors had to be adaptable to their changing environments in order to survive. The ones who thought “out of the box” were the ones who escaped getting eaten—which is why they are the ones who are our ancestors.
Other species can communicate, make tools, even plan for the future–but we humans have the unique ability to put things together in new and different ways. We are so curious that we not only want to put stuff together, we like to take it apart—just to see how it works.
Many young tinkerers joyfully pull apart watches, kitchen faucets, even car engines until formal schooling teaches them that that kind of behavior is not the way to go about learning.
Granted, we do not necessarily need to re-invent the wheel by destroying the family automobile; but there are times when unraveling the known is the only method to finding new and better ways of doing things. In fact, it is often the only way to revolutionizing how we conduct our lives.

“There is no cure for curiosity”. Dorothy Parker

More than a Pinch of Chance

Civilizations come into being or advance when people do things in ways they have never done before. Nomads give up wandering and decide to stay put in one place.That decision leads us to sedentary societies and all the social, cultural, and scientific advances they manifest.
Conversely, sedentary societies breed explorers and discoverers, who expand the reach of their people, mentally and physically, far beyond their national borders and cultures.
Humans invent and reinvent the configuration of the world over and over again; and each time it changes, all of us are changed. These transformations are propelled by the driving force of creativity, the ingredients of which are: curiosity, imagination, flexibility of thought and action, trial and error, tenacity, and more than a pinch of chance.

A Wonderful Tool called “Creativity”

We humans have a precious tool called ‘creativity’. We are practically born with it and with it we can do what any reasonable person would believe was impossible.
So why do so many of us give up using this priceless asset as adults? Intensely creative people do not give it up. It’s not as if they have more creativity, but they certainly use it more. Creativity is like any muscle, the more you work it, the stronger it becomes.
Einstein once said:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.” Martha Graham

We may not all be Geniuses,
but who said Creativity is just for Geniuses?

We all have many original and fantastic thoughts that could be extremely valuable to the world we live in. But how many times do we give these ideas a chance to see the light of day? Every ounce of human creativity is needed on this planet in order for it to survive and flourish. The creativity of each human being is as unique as her DNA and is necessary to the creative fabric of life on earth. Are you giving your creativity the chance it deserves to contribute to the creative impulse of life?


“The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity?” But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.”

Abraham Maslow



“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

Maya Angelou



Think Less, Think Better

by Moshe Bar
The New York Times


A Friend of Mine has a Bad Habit of Narrating his Experiences

as they are taking place.

I tease him for being a bystander in his own life. To be fair, we all fail to experience life to the fullest. Typically, our minds are too occupied with thoughts to allow complete immersion even in what is right in front of us.

Sometimes, this is O.K. I am happy not to remember passing a long stretch of my daily commute because my mind has wandered and my morning drive can be done on autopilot. But I do not want to disappear from too much of life. Too often we eat meals without tasting them, look at something beautiful without seeing it. An entire exchange with my daughter (please forgive me) can take place without my being there at all.

Recently, I discovered how much we overlook, not just about the world, but also about the full potential of our inner life, when our mind is cluttered. In a study published in this month’s Psychological Science, the graduate student Shira Baror and I demonstrate that the capacity for original and creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations and other forms of “mental load.” Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.

In a series of experiments, we gave participants a free-association task while simultaneously taxing their mental capacity to different degrees. In one experiment, for example, we asked half the participants to keep in mind a string of seven digits, and the other half to remember just two digits. While the participants maintained these strings in working memory, they were given a word (e.g., shoe) and asked to respond as quickly as possible with the first word that came to mind (e.g., sock).

We found that a high mental load consistently diminished the originality and creativity of the response: Participants with seven digits to recall resorted to the most statistically common responses (e.g., white/black), whereas participants with two digits gave less typical, more varied pairings (e.g., white/cloud).

In another experiment, we found that longer response times were correlated with less diverse responses, ruling out the possibility that participants with low mental loads simply took more time to generate an interesting response. Rather, it seems that with a high mental load, you need more time to generate even a conventional thought. These experiments suggest that the mind’s natural tendency is to explore and to favor novelty, but when occupied it looks for the most familiar and inevitably least interesting solution.

In general, there is a tension in our brains between exploration and exploitation. When we are exploratory, we attend to things with a wide scope, curious and desiring to learn. Other times, we rely on, or “exploit,” what we already know, leaning on our expectations, trusting the comfort of a predictable environment. We tend to be more exploratory when traveling to a new country, whereas we are more inclined toward exploitation when returning home after a hard day at work.

Much of our lives are spent somewhere between those extremes. There are functional benefits to both modes: If we were not exploratory, we would never have ventured out of the caves; if we did not exploit the certainty of the familiar, we would have taken too many risks and gone extinct. But there needs to be a healthy balance. Our study suggests that your internal exploration is too often diminished by an overly occupied mind, much as is the case with your experience of your external environment.

In everyday life, you may find yourself “loading” your mind in various ways: memorizing a list of groceries to buy later at the supermarket, rehearsing the name of someone you just met so you don’t forget it, practicing your pitch before entering an important meeting. There are also, of course, the ever-present wanderings of a normal mind. And there are more pathological, or at least more chronic, sources of mental load, such as the ruminative thought patterns characteristic of stress, anxiety and depression. All these loads can consume mental capacity, leading to dull thought and anhedonia — a flattened ability to experience pleasure.

My birthday gift to myself for the last couple of years has been a week of silence at a vipassana meditation retreat. Being silent for a week, and trying to empty your mind of thought, is not for the faint of heart, but I do wish that everyone could try it at least once. During my first retreat, I wondered how a simple tomato could taste so good, why I did not mind physical discomfort as much, how looking at a single flower for 45 minutes was even possible, let alone so gratifying. My thoughts — when I returned to the act of thinking about something rather than nothing — were fresher and more surprising.

It is clear to me that this ancient meditative practice helps free the mind to have richer experiences of the present. Except when you are flying an F-16 aircraft or experiencing extreme fear or having an orgasm, your life leaves too much room for your mind to wander. As a result, only a small fraction of your mental capacity remains engaged in what is before it, and mind-wandering and ruminations become a tax on the quality of your life. Honing an ability to unburden the load on your mind, be it through meditation or some other practice, can bring with it a wonderfully magnified experience of the world — and, as our study suggests, of your own mind.

Why Theater Majors Are Vital in the Digital Age

by Tracey Moore
The Chronicle of Higher Education


theatre

The study of theater has always been a slightly odd fit with higher education

Theater’s departmental needs are so different from the norm: Where other programs require smart classrooms, desks, and Wi-Fi, we seek vast, empty spaces with sprung wood floors and natural light. The inner life of a chemistry major should not affect the outcome of an assignment; for theater majors, the inner life is the assignment.

The craft of acting involves human behavior. Constantin Stanislavsky, the father of American acting style, was a Russian actor who became frustrated with the inconsistencies of his own work. He sought to define a “system” for creating believable behavior on stage, which involved an in-depth study of a character’s motivations and circumstances.

Some of the precepts of Stanislavsky’s technique for embodying life on stage include fierce concentration and the ability to focus one’s attention at will, significant mind/body reciprocity, a developed and practiced imagination, and the exploration and study of the outside world (other people, other art forms, literature, and one’s own life experiences). Acquiring those skills could be an antidote for college students who are said to be lacking empathy, isolated and narcissistic, distracted and jaded.

Theater (slow, communal, physical) may be the cure for what ails us in the digital world. Social psychologists, neurologists, and doctors tell us that cellphone use (in the way our students do it, more than eight hours a day) is altering modes of attention, reducing eye contact, hurting necks and hands, and changing our brains and sleep cycles. Apparently nothing feels as good as the dopamine rush that floods our brains every time the phone “pings.” We are all of us, to a degree, nomophobic (the term coined to describe the anxiety that results from being without one’s phone).

A colleague tells a story about assigning a scene from a 1970s play in which one character waits on a park bench for some time. The actor was unable to conceive of any kind of “waiting” that did not involve having a cellphone to mitigate the boredom. She simply did not know what to do.

Our students (and this will very likely increase in the next couple of years, as the first cohort of 21st-century children goes to college) are unfamiliar with the experience of being alone with their thoughts or of following their thoughts, unimpeded, wherever they might travel. Solving a STEM equation is important, but discoveries in the sciences will occur only when people know how to be alone with their thoughts. Who is teaching that?

In acting classes, students grapple with the effects of technology on their brains, bodies, and social selves. Cellphones must be turned off and put away. The goal is to disconnect with technology and to connect with one another and themselves. Students struggle to maintain eye contact; they work to develop a psycho/physical connection for what they think, feel and do; they concentrate for longer and longer periods of time. They read plays; they memorize text; they learn to follow their impulses to create movement, gesture, intimacy, community. If this scene were unfolding in a movie in which computers were threatening to destroy humanity, you’d be cheering for the theater majors to save us.

A colleague recently despaired because her students no longer understood the action “to flirt.” Accustomed to soliciting one another via text, and more used to hookups than dates, this verb was no longer a touchstone for college students, and “flirting” did not elicit any specific physical or emotional behaviors (sustained eye contact, light touch, smiling, playfulness) from the actors. When asked to flirt, they went straight to simulated sex. There was no in-between. Bottom line: Even though technology has become what we do all day, it isn’t human behavior.

From 2011 to 2014, the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation worked with theater artists in Chicago through an online survey and a battery of aptitude tests to determine whether there are innate skills shared among theater workers. The aptitude called “foresight,” which is the talent to envision many possible outcomes or possibilities, was present in all theater workers (playwrights, directors, designers, actors). When actors try out various line readings or interpretations of a scene, when they improvise or create backstory, they are using foresight.

But foresight would be impossible without empathy. The actor’s ability to envision multiple outcomes or motivations in a play must be based on the character’s circumstances, not the actor’s. That requires a kind of stepping into another person’s shoes that social scientists say is dwindling among college-age students.

When he played the role of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Philip Seymour Hoffman explained that his preparation each night included sitting for at least a half-hour at the cramped kitchen table onstage, experiencing his shabby surroundings, sipping coffee, and allowing his imagination to wander as Willy’s would have. Our student on the park bench would have had trouble with that.

Algorithms recommend music based on what we’re already listening to, books similar to others we’ve read, and “friends” from among people we already know. As a result, we are less frequently confronted by the other, the unknown, the different. Stanislavsky’s technique requires a thorough study of a character’s situation — whether geographic location or state of physical health — and asks that actors explore the effects of those circumstances on their own selves. In a semester, a college actor will play multiple characters, stretching to inhabit another psyche, another intellect, another body. It’s a veritable empathy boot camp.

Businesses have long recognized that elements of actor training can be used to develop creativity, improve communication, and resolve conflicts. Many corporate consultants have bachelor’s degrees in acting and make a good living teaching improvisation, role play, and collaborative problem-solving to M.B.A.s. Yet universities with theater departments have failed to recognize that they have this resource in their own backyards.

Whatever your feelings about the legitimacy of theater as a college major, or its eventual earnings potential, there are important struggles and discoveries happening in the acting classroom. As technology and machines consume more and more of life, perhaps theater can help us remember what it means to act like a human.


Postcard from Paris

by Deborah Murphy
The National Post, Canadian newspaper


I am sitting in a locals’ café in the Marais, an old now very chic quartier on the right bank in Paris. I have been writing as per my teachers’ instructions about the people in this place. There is a romantic young couple, a dignified grandmother with her grandchildren eating ice cream, a middle aged woman with her poodle in a straw basket and a disheveled man drinking a beer. I am watching them like they are actors in a play–my play–and I am making up stories. Writing in cafes all over the city of lights that is Paris. Each café has its own clientele, its own rhythm, its own colors. Some are like charming old ladies wearing way too much make up, others are sleek and shiny like fitness fanatics, others are run down and seedy– like old bums who can’t wait to tell you their life story?Here I am drinking my café crème and eavesdropping on people three thousand miles away from home?I am in Paris, I am writing, I am living my dream.

It has been a hot summer in New York City, even with air conditioning, you could feel it sizzling in the streets and I dreaded going out. All I wanted to do was escape. But where and what to I kept asking myself? My husband was busy with a major court case, my youngest (finally going off to college this fall) was in the Berkshires being a life guard at his old camp, my friends were at their summer homes in the Hamptons or visiting beaches in the Mediterranean. That just wasn’t for me–I wanted to maybe take a workshop, learn something new, rediscover something, maybe even reinvent myself. I was surfing the net for some workshops or educational travel when I saw a site for The Creativity Workshop writing, drawing, storytelling and personal memoir. It turned out to be just the right thing. Before marriage and kids, I’d always loved writing stories. And somehow, along the way, I forgot how much I enjoyed making imaginary worlds. I guess I just didn’t have the time with the children and my husband and so for twenty years creativity got put away in some drawer with my scrapbooks and college memories. I decided this hot exhausting New York summer to try to get back to my writing, and to recapture my creative life, to go to Paris to The Creativity Workshop.

The Creativity Workshop is a unique I think because the teachers are more interested in helping participants learn about their own unique creative process than getting them to make an artistic product that follows the teachers’ personal sensibilities. The teachers, writer Shelley Berc and multimedia artist Alejandro Fogel have been teaching the workshop for many years and Shelley is a professor at the renowned International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. They teach their workshops in Greece, Paris, Florence, and Barcelona (as well as in their school in New York City) because they like to work with people outside of their everyday environments–they say it helps them rediscover aspects of creativity and play that are buried in their day-to-day lives. I couldn’t agree more–my time in Paris away from my country, husband, and kids made me remember my dreams of being a writer.

During the six-day workshop, I spent three hours a day working with Shelley and Alejandro on various writing and creativity inducing exercises. Then they would send the group out into the streets of Paris to see the city and do some little projects that would help us look at Paris from different and exciting perspectives. They sent us to Cluny and had us searching like detectives for a missing piece in the fantastic Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Then we had to write about this ‘missing piece’ and create a story as to what happened to it. Everyone shared their stories over lunch in a near by brasserie (wonderful omelettes and salads!) which ranged from romantic medieval quest tales to funny stories ala Inspector Clouseau! Shelley told us after we did the assignment (she never tells us anything much before because she says surprise is a key element in creativity) that the most important thing about the missing piece exercise isn’t what we find but what we see. When we think something isn’t there, she continues, we look at a painting or an environment with greater scrutiny and so we see the little details that might pass us by. Meantime, I really got to see the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. I sat in the beautiful oval room that houses them and looked and wrote about them for the required hour. Normally I would have just gone in, glanced at them for a few reverential minutes and then felt compelled to do the rest of the museum. But The Creativity Workshop and its exercises gave me the permission (and the assignments) that made me concentrate on a few things in Paris and really get to know them rather than trying to stuff in a thousand wonders and not see any of them.

The next day Shelley and Alejandro held class in the Jardin des Plantes and we did fantastic exercises using our senses of smell and touch among trees and plants gathered from around the world. Then we created diorama boxes out of the natural objects (rocks, leaves, tree bark, bird feathers) for which we made up stories and shared with our fellow workshoppers. All it took was a shoe box, some stuff off the ground, and our imaginations in which we gaining more and more confidence. We had a great group of people–teachers, writers, a computer expert, a dancer, and businessmen from the US, Paraguay, Hong Kong, Italy and Ireland–all eager to learn and experience their creative process through writing, drawing, and story telling of personal memoirs. In the Jardin des Plantes, there is a superb 19th century natural history museum which has been recently restored. Architecturally it looks like it is straight of out Charles Darwin’s time but when you get inside, the antique cabinets and old stuffed elephants are interspersed with hi tech displays, videos, and computers. I spent the rest of the afternoon there going through the vast four storied metal grilled and glass roofed building learning about evolution from the sea to man going into outer space. And of course, the museum like most museums in Paris had a wonderful café and of course I sat down in it and did the required daily writing that Shelley and Alejandro insist is the needed exercise for the muscles of creativity.

The exercises for the Creativity workshop were stimulating tools that I will be able to use throughout my life. As a group, we went to see the collection of illuminated manuscripts at the Louvre and then proceeded to make our own illuminated book of days–a chronicle of our week in Paris that combined language and art. I’m personally a terrible artist but the point of the creativity workshop isn’t to be a great artist but to let yourself explore making images and playing with colors along with writing. We investigated old maps and globes at the Musee Carnavalet and then we made our own life journey maps–twelve foot scrolls of writing, drawing, and storytelling on the floor of the workshop studio. Also in this fantastically eclectic museum, we explored sense memory munching on madelines (to the chagrin of the guard) in Proust’s corklined bedroom where he wrote Remembrances of Things past which was brought to the museum piece by piece after the famous author’s death. We did a lot of collaborative exercises and really got to know the other participants very well. I am sure many will remain friends to share writing and ideas with–thanks to the Internet. It was a wonderful week reconnecting to my writing, my sources of inspiration, and learning about things that stimulate me to create. There were these wonderful daily classes and then all the museums, boulevards, and restaurants of Paris to keep me wandering and wondering the rest of each magical day. The last day of class, our teachers had us write a letter to ourselves to be opened in a month. In it we wrote what we had experienced that week in and out of class that helped us in our creative expression–the things we learned that we would not want to lose or forget.

I will open this letter next month and I am sure I will smile and all the memories and wonders of a writing week in Paris will return to me and I will go to my own café and my New York museums and try to sustain what I learned in The Creativity Workshop in Paris which is so alive and vibrant in me now.

 


 

Use Your Imagination…

By Shelley Berc


When Life is Uncertain Our Imagination Can Make the Unknown the Great Adventure of Our Lives

Supposing you go for your yearly physical and the doctor says: “if you don’t exercise on a regular basis, your chances of having coronary problems are high.” You would probably head straight to the gym” (at least for a week or two).

What if someone, (maybe even yourself) told you: “if you don’t exercise your creativity and imagination, your spirit will get sick.” Would you start working those ‘muscles’ on a regular basis? Most of us would put it on the backburner for ‘when we have more time.’ Which never happens.

Just think about racing through life without ever registering the beauty of flowers in bloom or the sharp smells of autumn? What if you couldn’t taste food anymore or even imagine the taste of food? What if you never fantasized what it would be like to have a completely different life?

For many of us, the life described above would be dull, frustrating, and accompanied by the sense that something vital was missing.

When we exercise what I like to call: ‘the magic what if” of our imagination, all our senses come alive. We feel focused, optimistic and motivated. We feel that we have the resources to make things happen. That belief can set us on the beginning of wonderful lifetime journey that is the essence of the creative life.

In the world we live in we don’t get much encouragement to express our creativity, unless of course it makes us a lot of money. We are supposed to be consumers of creativity rather than creators ourselves. This is the mandate of an economic model that prefers you to consume rather than produce. After all, how are companies supposed to make money, if you are too busy creating yourself to buy their stuff? The underlying and terribly destructive message is that if we are not stamped with the seal of approval by corporations, critics, or Likes on Face Book we have no business creating at all.

To make our spirits thrive, we have to throw out the received notion that creativity is for the chosen few. We must establish the belief and the practice that we all have the ability and the right to be creative. For many of us it is not only a right, but a necessity of survival. We don’t have to leave the creative experience to innovative scientists, famous writers, dazzling movie stars. Each one of us is capable of gems of imagination and creative activity. These attributes are part of our evolutionary success: being creative means we can meet the challenge of the unknown and unexpected. This gives us a better chance to survive in an uncertain world.

Our creative manifestations don’t have to be grandiose; they can be simple and playful and still fulfill our ravenous appetite for curiosity and exploration. I bring up the issues of simplicity and play because we often undervalue things that are easy and fun for us to do. Our usual logic is: Only hard things are valuable. If it is easy and fun then it isn’t worth anything. Not true at all—sometimes things being easy for us just means that we have a natural connection, a gift for it that most people do not.

Doing creative work that comes naturally to you is an efficient means of getting your imagination up and running. It helps us gain confidence in our creativity and feeds our desire to engage it more seriously because we are working in a territory that ‘sings’ to us.

If gardening excites you, garden. If you are a lover of words, write. If it is singing, then by all means, sing your heart out.

When you are comfortable with the medium and the materials, you will put up with the heartache and frustration inherent in the process of any creative act. You will also be preparing yourself to do inspiring work that pushes you out of your comfort zone into the wild blue horizons of undiscovered imaginative possibilities lurking inside you.

If creative work is work at all, then it is playful work. Play is one of the most powerful tools for us humans to learn to think differently. It is one of the most valuable resources we have for making any new discoveries, in fields as diverse as psychology, technology, and art.

Our creativity brings us a message from within that insists we tend to our vision. Like a good detective, we must tenaciously follow the clues of our imagination and we can bring that vision, that Magic What If, to life.

 


Creativity in Everyday Life

by Shelley Berc


Why is creativity important in everyday life? Simply put, it is because it makes life infinitely interesting and fulfilling. Creativity is a way of living life that embraces originality and makes unique connections between seemingly disparate ideas. Creativity is about living life as a journey into seeing and communicating the extra-ordinariness of the simplest, most every day acts.

We often think about creativity as making something, but in fact the root meaning of the word means ‘to grow’. When we are creative we feel as if the world and all that is in it is vibrantly alive. Creativity’s by-products are some of the major achievements of civilization–from the invention of the wheel to Mozart’s sonatas.

Human beings are essentially born creative–from infancy on we find innovative ways to negotiate life. The most creative people find ways around obstacles because they see them not just as roadblocks but also as opportunities. Creativity expands our perceptions and along with expanded perceptions come new ways of problem solving–from making an exquisite meal when you don’t know how to cook to painting an extraordinary landscape when you are living in a freezing attic and can’t afford a full box of paints.

15 ideas for expressin creativity in everyday life:

1. Make your immediate surroundings as beautiful or eccentric as you can. Experiment with your sense of color, texture, and line. Add an element of surprise or quirkiness to your home decor. The unexpected can jolt you out of complacency and into inspiration.

2. Go somewhere new–as close as a restaurant you’ve never tried or as far as China. New places excite the mind and senses and when we are excited our creative abilities soar.

3. Spend 10 minutes a day dreaming out the window.

4. Don’t censor yourself.

5. Do something new or something old in a brand new way. As Picasso said “I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

6. Slow down your perceptions so you savor them–that means eat slowly and taste your food, look closely at the flowers in the garden, spend time writing down and drawing your perceptions.

7. Believe in and follow your ‘What ifs’–what if I was an amazing writer? What if I could make a revolutionary spaceship? What if when I walk across a room it feels like floating?

When we ‘what if’ ourselves, we start to believe we can achieve our dreams. That is the first step to making them come true.

8. Spend 15 minutes looking around with the eyes of a child. Remember that sense of wonderment, love of color, surprise, curiosity and hunger to explore. It can get your creativity going because you are remembering how you were once very imaginative.

9. Take a notebook and pen everywhere you go and jot down your observations. We often have innovative ideas but we forget them if we don’t record them.

10. Don’t over-criticize yourself. At worst it will kill and at best cripple your creative hopes and dreams.

11. Make up a visualization in which you observe yourself imagining and creating effortlessly. Picture yourself loving the process.

12. Just Do It! Creativity is a muscle: use it or lose it. Dance, draw, brainstorm, change your life. The more you use your creativity, the easier it becomes and the better you get at it.

13. Collaborate creatively with like-minded friends–write a journal together, make a quilt, design a new play space, choreograph a dance piece, start a new business.

14. Dress wildly–revel in color and texture. Buy or make a fabulous hat. Don’t be age appropriate.

15. Remember the words of Samuel Becket, on the secret to life-long creativity: “fail, fail again, fail better”!

 


 

Creativity Articles

A selection of articles about The Creativity Workshop that recently appeared in newspapers and magazines.


100 Best Worldwide Vacations to Enrich your Life

by Pam Grout
National Geographic

Read Article


Use your Imagination!

by Shelley Berc

Read Article


Creativity in Everyday Life

by Shelley Berc

Read Article


Play, Play, Play

by Susie Ellis
The Weekender

Read Article


Can You Get More Creative?

by A. J. Jacobs
Real Simple Magazine

Read Article


Travel and Creativity

by AllPsychologyCareers.com

Read Article


How Fear Chokes Creativity and What to Do About It

by Shelley Berc

Read Article


The Dubai Connection

by David Berliner

Read Article


Tap Into Your Inner Artist in a Creativity Workshop

Natural Awakenings Magazine

Read Article


Theatre of the Mind

by Shelley Berc

Read Article


Time to Nourish our Creativity

by Shelley Berc
Boomer Girl Magazine

Read Article


The Gift of the Amateur

by Shelley Berc
Prologue Magazine

Read Article


Book of Moments

by Shelley Berc
The Paumanuk Review

Read Article


Take Another Look

by Alejandro Fogel
Sketchbook Magazine

Read Article


How to Cultivate Eureka Moments

by Michiko Kakutani

Read Article


Seeing Through the Blur

by Alejandro Fogel
Sketchbook Magazine

Read Article


The Creativity Workshop

by Francesca Salidu
Babel, Italian Magazine

Read Article


Tapping Creativity

by Gary Kuhlmann
In Class, University of Iowa Alumni Magazine

Read Article


Postcard from Paris

by Deborah Murphy
The National Post, Canadian newspaper

Read Article


La creatività? Si impara a scuola con il relax e senza tecnologia

by Robert Calabro
La Repubblica, Italian newspaper

Read Article


Doodling for Dollars

by Rachel Emma Silverman

Read Article


Why Theater Majors Are Vital in the Digital Age

by Tracey Moore
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Read Article


Think Less, Think Better

by Moshe Bar
The New York Times

Read Article


Defining Creativity

By Shelley Berc

Read Article


What Is Creativity

Read Article


Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age

New York Times

Read Article

Travel and Creativity

by AllPsychologyCareers.com


Learn how travel can boost our ability to become more creative

Hemingway wrote while in Cuba, and Gauguin painted in Tahiti; Mark Twain wrote his only best selling book during his lifetime “Innocents Abroad” on board a ship. And in the 1940s, on a Greyhound bus in the middle of the night in Kansas, Princeton physics researcher Freeman Dyson cracked the problem of quantum electrodynamics – the theory of radiation and atoms – that others had been trying to solve for years.

Creative geniuses from all fields seemed to know something about travel that made it indispensable to their work, something that boosted their creativity by changing their thinking. For many creative giants, traveling resulted in discoveries that defined their lives – and careers.

Now psychologists have started studying the benefits of travel, tackling the question of how it appears to increase creative thinking. By studying psychological distance, which takes place geographically, temporally (over time) and also perceptually – or through one’s mind – they seek answers on how distance aids not only the eminent and famous for their creative contributions, but everyone’s creativity.

Lile Jia, a PhD graduate student in psychology at Indiana University (IU) at Bloomington, investigated how the concept of distance affected the creative cognition and insights of students on the IU campus. Other researchers have studied how psychological distance in reference to “time away” from a problem increases the likelihood of solving problems, but Jia sought to show that simply placing oneself in a traveling “mindset” might also affect creative problem solving.

Two Creativity Studies:

Study #1

In one study, he formulated a creative generation task asking participants to list as many types or modes of transportation as possible. But he divided the participants into two groups:

The Benefits of Taking a Trip

  • Three out of four executives believe that vacations prevent burnout (78%) or that vacations improve their job performance (75%).
  • Two out of three executives believe that vacations improve their creativity (68%).
  • Travelers have a 25% increase in performance on vigilance tests after returning from vacation. Travelers aged 45 or older show a 50% increase in performance.
  • Annual vacations reduce an individual’s heart attack risk by 50%.
  • More than half of employed Americans (53%) state that they feel more connected with their families after returning from vacation.
  • Simply thinking about or anticipating vacation travel increases positive feelings about one’s family, economic situation, and health.
  • While on vacation, travelers rate their overall health one point higher (on a scale of 1 to 5) while on vacation.
    They also get three times more deep sleep after their vacation and sleep almost 20 minutes longer after their vacation.
  • Group One – The Distant Condition. Participants were told that Indiana University students studying abroad in Greece developed the task of generating different modes of transportation.
  • Group Two – The Near Condition. Participants were told that students living on campus at Indiana University developed the task of generating different modes of transportation.

In the journal article “Lessons from a Faraway Land: The Effect of Spatial Distance on Creative Cognition”, Jia reported a striking difference between these two groups. Those participants who thought that individuals in Greece developed the task came up with many more transportation options – and many more creative options – than those who thought the task was developed in Indiana.

Those in group one – those generating more creative responses not only listed the usual ways of getting around, such as buses, trains and planes. But as they imagined the source of the problem coming from Greece, a distant country far from Indiana, they listed horses, scooters, bicycles, and spaceships. In other words, they not only considered the local environment of Bloomington, Indiana when deriving their answers, they used Greece, other parts of the world, and even outer space.

Study #2

In a second study, also appearing in the Journal of Social Psychology article, Jia administered puzzles or brain teasers to three different groups of students:

  • Group One. The first group of students were told that the series of brainteasers came from a California research institute.
  • Group Two. The researchers told a second group of students that the puzzles came from down the hall in a building on campus.
  • Group Three. The third group of students didn’t receive any information on the origin of the brain teasers.

As in the first study, participants in group one, or those that were told that the brain teasers came from California did the best at solving the brainteasers. They solved more of the problems than those in either the Indiana group or the control group.

In summary, Jia concluded from both studies that increasing psychological distance, even by simply stating that the source of the problem came from a distance away, increased creative thoughts and insights. And that distance can be artificially produced simply by changing the way individuals think about a problem – or their perceptions of the problem.

For decades, psychologists have been interested in how geographical and temporal (time) distance affects creativity. In fact, a large amount of research exists on construal level theory (CLT), a theory that states the closer individuals are to things, problems, and ideas, such as being in the “here and now” and “up close” with problems, the more concretely, literally, and unimaginatively they think about these problems. The theory states that by getting far away from problems or issues, even if it’s just a perceptual distance, the more abstractly individuals think.

Jia’s research definitely builds on and adds to the body of research on CLT. And it helps explain why travel is important not only for physical and mental health but for creativity as well.

The benefits of breaking the routine

Vacation signifies time away from work and stress, a needed break for rest and relaxation. Most individuals consider it a break in the routine, a time for not thinking of anything closely related to the problems and concerns of their everyday environment.

Yet it’s exactly this “break in routine” that proves so beneficial for creativity. In other words, while individuals stare out the car window as they travel the winding roads of mountains, or sit sipping cocktails beachside, they often have those “aha” moments or creative breakthroughs to problems they’ve been trying to solve for days, months, or even years.

Everyday habits and routines constrain mental thinking, according to psychologists like Jia who study creativity. But spending time in different environments and cultures actually broadens and opens up thinking as unused neural networks within the brain fire and respond – in ways they wouldn’t respond if sitting back in the office or driving the same road home each evening.

In a television interview with Charlie Rose, developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik likened this type of brain activity to a baby’s brain.

By adulthood, individuals have learned how to “dampen down” most areas of their brains in order to use one area to specifically focus on one thing. But babies and young children haven’t yet developed the ability to pay attention intently on one thing, becoming captivated and enthralled by multiple stimuli, spreading their attention “all over the place.”

When adults step into a foreign, unknown culture, the firing of neural networks occurs over the entire brain. The areas of the brain that adults have for so long dampened down again become saturated with neurochemicals, and processing takes place similar to processing that occurs in a baby’s brain.

Obviously, adults must be able to pay attention, Gropnik said, but all “adults have the potential to continue to experience the world as children do.” Curiosity is central to human experience, and one way to increase curiosity is through foreign travel.

Living abroad

The studies of two other psychology researchers have taken a slightly different stance on foreign travel and creativity, focusing instead on living abroad.

William W. Maddux of INSEAD, a business school in France, and Adam D. Galinsky of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management in Chicago, stated that a study they conducted showed that students who had lived abroad performed better on puzzles and problems than those who hadn’t lived in a foreign country.

Their study also appearing in the Journal of Social Psychology in the article “Cultural borders and mental barriers: The relationship between living abroad and creativity” showed that those who had lived abroad performed better on the following tasks:

  • a puzzle that gave the students some items and required them to affix a candle to a wall without spilling the wax;
  • a problem that required creative negotiation skills;
  • a problem that required identifying a missing word with three clue words.

Open-minded thinking was a main reason these students performed better on puzzles and problems, Maddux and Galinsky hypothesized. This type of thinking takes form in foreign countries as individuals realize that there are many different – and valid – ways of living in the world. There isn’t one right way or viewpoint, and a single issue or problem often has multiple viewpoints or solutions.

Living abroad also presents multiple challenges, such as figuring out transportation schedules for buses and trains, finding reasonable ways to shop and cook given a country’s markets or lack of grocery stores, and understanding cultural customs. Many of these challenges don’t affect those who simply travel to other countries through planned tours, or are only in a foreign country for a short time period.

More research needed

As with many new research areas involving creativity, Maddux and Galinsky caution that more research needs to take place on creativity and living abroad, and creativity and travel, before scientists can make any definitive conclusions.

Yet researchers today are getting closer to uncovering why “distance” in terms of geography, time, or perception, or actually living abroad, leads to better creative thinking and outcomes.

Those desiring to study the psychology of creativity have many fields available to pursue this passion, including: Human Growth and Development, Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology, Educational Psychology, and Media Psychology.

To become a researcher in psychology, usually a PhD is required. However, some schools offer certificates in creativity studies. Contact schools who offer psychology programs for more information.

Creativity leads to self-fulfillment

Psychologists want to know what types of thinking leads to creativity, for all types of people, in order to help people live better, more satisfying, and mentally healthy lives.

Those studying the psychology of creativity believe that this key component of cognition is significant for understanding how entire societies advance and move into the future. Creativity solves problems such as how to help those in developing nations start businesses so that they can support and feed themselves. Creativity offers solutions to problems such as global warming. It provides options for solving economic recessions, and even war and national conflict.

Creativity, in other words, resides not only in the imagination of a few gifted individuals, but within groups, in entire cultures and countries. Despite the fact that creativity is relatively new to psychological study, only gaining momentum during the second half of the 20th century, psychologists in all areas understand its significance – and romance.

At the start of his book, “Creativity Flow And The Psychology of Discovery and Invention,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that creativity is the central source of meaning for the entire human race.

Creativity is essential, he states, because it is uniquely human. Humans share 98% of their genetics with chimpanzees. The 2% that separates humans from apes stems from human abilities to think creatively, and to learn from these creative pursuits resulting in language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology. All of these endeavors make human life interesting, separating humans from apes.

The second important reason to study creativity, according to Csikszentmihalyi, the former chair of the psychology department at the University of Chicago, and considered an expert on the psychology of creativity, focuses on the quality of life itself.

When involved with creativity, he states, individuals feel as if they are living more fully than during any other part of their lives.

“Perhaps only sex, sports, music, and religious ecstasy – even when these experiences remain fleeting and leave no trace – provide as profound a sense of being part of an entity greater than ourselves.”

For psychologists like Csikszentmihalyi , it’s not paradoxical that creativity appears so easy to define and yet so difficult at the same time. For these researchers, that paradox fits perfectly with the nature of creativity.

 


Time to Nourish our Creativity

by Shelley Berc
Boomer Girl Magazine


We are all born creative, it is a fact of human nature. Anyone who has watched a child absorbed in her make-believe world can see that. But the curiosity and imagination so evident in our child selves often fades with the passage of time.

Society doesn’t give adults much support for being creative, unless you make a lot of money at it. Why not? Think of how different our world would be if people were encouraged to think innovatively, take risks, absorb and express beauty, pain, and wonder. Children do all those things naturally through play. When a society loses its creativity, destruction sets in all too easily.

How do we get our creativity ‘instinct’ back or if we haven’t lost it, how do we keep it vital and alive? These are the questions and some of the answers we will explore in this blog. We will frequently refer to the arts in this foray into our creative selves, but only because they provide us with some of the more obvious examples of creative process and expression. We can apply the tools of inspiration that artists invoke to any creative endeavor, be it gardening or transforming our lives. Art is a by-product of creative expression, not it’s be all and end all. The beginnings of any painting or new scientific discovery lie in the process of the creative journey, which is exactly what we are going to consider here.

Over the next weeks we will look at creativity in terms of inspiration, beauty, playfulness, focus, space, and time. We will challenge the things that block our creativity – inner and outer critics, concepts about ‘not wasting time’, the mantra that we are not creative so we shouldn’t even bother to express that part of ourselves. I hope there will be a lot of discussion from our readers as to what creativity means in their lives and how they access it in their everyday endeavors or how it has been thwarted. Creativity thrives when it is encouraged and valued. I hope this blog can provide a bit of that nurture and that the discussions that ensue will help readers find other like-minded souls to share their ideas and imagination.

It is extremely hard to unleash our creativity when we are busy all the time. Today we are going to look at time and find ways to free up enough of it to get and stay creative in our busy, multi-taskful lives.

We may not be able to free up much actual clock time, but with playful attentiveness we can stretch the time we have to seem fuller and deeper. This is what I call creative time. We can use our imaginations to trick time into slowing down so we can see, touch, and taste the every day world in ways that bring back its magical essence.

Not many people have the luxury to spend hours painting a landscape or sitting in a café, finding characters to populate their next novel. We live in a world where the majority of our time is not our own. It belongs to our jobs, our families, and our fears that we are wasting our time by not being clearly and immediately productive. What if we took just 20 minutes a day to exercise our creativity? Let’s start by relaxing and doing absolutely nothing.

To be creative, one has to be a little bit lazy! The Creative Muse loves staring into space over a cup of coffee or walking aimlessly in a fragrant garden. It loves taking long showers and playing pointless games. It loves to lounge – that’s how it gets its work done! But contrary to popular belief, to be creative doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be your focus all day long. With that attitude, even the most productive artist would give up. Taking time for 20 minutes of creative exploration each day can bring our imaginations alive and keep them inspired while we go about the rest of our lives. That’s right, creativity is a hardy plant, but it does need its daily watering.

Twenty minutes a day – surely we can find time for that – especially when it means feeding the unspoken longings of our soul. For it is the soul that suffers most when we don’t let ourselves create. Our soul needs to have play-time in the world of pretend, which is a deeply focused and meditative place. Creativity and play clear our beings and give us energy to live. Twenty minutes a day of writing whatever comes to your mind, or drawing the vase of flowers that sits forgotten on the window sill, or turning up the music and dancing your heart out. When creative expression is accessed every day even for the shortest periods of time, it becomes stronger and more resilient, just like any muscle. The creativity muscle nurtures the most sensitive qualities of our human nature. It stimulates our ability to see with body, mind and soul the gorgeous nuances of life–whether it be the many subtle shades of water in the sea, or what our neighbor is really feeling when she says ‘have a nice day.’ Creativity is our internal piano tuner, adjusting us key by key for optimal perception. It reminds us what an amazing world we live in, by putting sight, sound, touch, and even taste at the forefront of consciousness.

Take a stroll around your neighborhood and have a good look around you. Slow time down with your gaze and watch an animal move, or zoom in on the front doors of the houses you pass. Or sit in a window at work or home and actively see what is there for five minutes? Write down every bit of it – every sound and sight and each reaction you have to what you are perceiving. The very act of recording what your senses ‘see’ makes you more open to what is around you.

I am sitting cross-legged in an easy chair with a snoring cat curled in my lap. I feel the soft warmth of a mohair sweater against my skin and the silky ripple of his fur as he stretches against my body. My sweater is green, so are his eyes. He is looking out the window and I wonder what he is seeing. I imagine him chasing a blue jay in the yard and surveying the landscape for more birds to run after. Suddenly I discover myself seeing through the eyes of my cat. Haven’t we all had that experience of imagining ourselves in another’s shoes? In a split second of reverie, we catapult ourselves into the world of imagination, where we can become a cat or re-invent our lives. It is a practice that only takes a few minutes a day. And over time those minutes add up to a different and exciting way of seeing, expressing, and transforming our lives.

 


 

Play, Play, Play

by Susie Ellis
The Weekender


Everyone is born creative. However, for many of us – whether it is from a fear of failure or from past criticisms – our innate creativity goes dormant.

The good news? It’s easy to wake up and get it going again! Learning some practical techniques to stimulate your creativity and imagination is the perfect jumpstart.

I learned this very important lesson when attending Shelley Berc and Alejandro Fogel’sCreativity Workshop in New York several months ago. The duo will be at the Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Aspen – offering aspects of their workshop to delegates who want to flip on their creativity switch. Personally, I feel as though this session is closest to the heart of our “Innovation through Imagination” theme.

In this Weekender, I will share some of my “ah ha” moments from the workshop:

  • We are all born creative, curious, and hungry to explore the world around us. The question is how to keep those qualities alive and flourishing as an adult.
  • Instead of looking at creativity as a product (like a painting, a piece of music, a poem, etc.) it’s better to look at it as a process.
  • Before you can get to innovation, you first need to have imagination and creativity.
  • There are practical steps one can take to spark creativity: give yourself time to play; start drawing (and toss away what you drew without showing it to anyone), tell stories, write creatively, take pictures, make visualizations, etc. Stimulate yourself by moving between these creative processes.
  • Establish a 15-minute creative practice a day to get the juices flowing.
  • There is brain science behind all of this: the right brain needs more stimulation and the left brain (for many executives) needs a little quiet time.
  • Creativity is a key to success in all professions. It also helps individuals feel more fulfilled, relaxed, and happier.
  • In Shelley’s words: “For a child, creativity is expressed in play and play is the way s/he learns. Life is just one big erector set that is to be snapped together and pulled apart in a thousand different ways. But as adults we often lose flexibility of mind and feel compelled to put away our toys as we acquire jobs, kids, and mortgages. We at The Creativity Workshop believe you can retrieve the child’s sense of wonder and it will help you live a richer, deeper life.”
  • Collaborating is another way of being creative; it can enhance one’s originality because it helps provide new ideas.
  • Quit thinking about creativity as needing to lead to something, like financial success. Enjoy the process for what it is.
  • Building on another’s creative – or even innovative idea – is a good way to take things to another level.
  • According to a major new IBM survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, “chief executives believe that more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision, successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity.”
  • A recent Wall Street Journal article called “Doodling for Dollars” explains how putting down the Smartphone and picking up the crayons can spark creativity.
  • A 2009 study published in the journal, Applied Cognitive Psychology, found that doodlers retained more than non-doodlers when remembering information that had been presented in a boring context, such as a meeting or conference call.

Theatre of the Mind

by Shelley Berc


We do not need any more actors directors playwrights designers critics. We do not need any more love, hate, psychology, politics, history, space, intimacy, stages, or especially money. We need so much that we can’t need anything but a theatre of the mind.

Crawl through the dark cave of mind that is the womb of all theatre and you will discover the theatre of the mind. The theatre of the mind is the loudest, brightest, most theatrical space in all of creation. It is collective and individual, invisible and all envisioning, narcissistic and universal, beautiful and ugly and brutal and tender; it is the only theatrical hope/experience that keeps us going back and back, performance after putrid performance; it is why we love to read the plays of Shakespeare, to enact the magic incantation of their story heart and language smell in our minds and why so often their stagings disappoint, frustrate and limit our imaginings. The theatre of the mind is the stage of perfect wonder that each one of us and every one of us ever smitten by live performance longs to see again, a lost Eden that comes so easily in our secret thought and appears so hard to realize on the living stage. And it is a tragedy– this loss of a live, transformative theatre, this cavern of twisting into labyrinth into gorge into ocean and sky because we need its external presence as a people, as community to act in the very fact of its occurring as omen, talisman, catalyst, to dream out the potentiality of life; to dream a new blue print of civilization, together.

When I was a child, a stage could be anything–a piece of the linoleum basement floor, the top of the oval chrome and Formica kitchen table, the rotting top step of the back porch stoop, an empty grandmother’s bed, a patch of dirt under a willow tree. It could be anything and with some words and performers and watchers (sometimes just two people who kept trading places with each other) we en-acted the great battles of good and evil and the dilemma of greed, the hunger of selfishness, for an arrested breath of time we could be glorious, heroic, in harmony with the earth under our feet and the sky above our dreams. Children play, live together in the theatre of the mind with all its darkened nooks and bright alleys; there they meet and spin the promise of our future and learn to become the adult actors of history to come.

The theatre of the mind defies the narrow stage definition of time–time man made gives way to time star made and rock made; rain made and earthquake made.

This is a theatre you can dwell in–as actor and audience, both actor and audience–for the rest of your life and for the time before and after your living, before fame money power ambitions and other theatrical delusions came to play upon your mind, to cut it up into apartment complexes, factories, and statements.

Sole condition of a theatre of the mind
that it can not be done (that it is as Plato’s perfect bed; the pure, conceptual pre-textual non material ideal of all fabrication. But, despite all this, it is the least cerebral of all performances; it is the most active, most impossibly alive.)

In the painted cave of the theatre of the mind are the actors of the theatre of the mind–a sea bed throng of signs and questions, humans and beasts; monsters and butterflies all of whom we recognize/have seen before in our sleep and our moments outside of linear birth to death time and dreaming of illimitable sky. Now here they come, these performers, perpetrators of our dreams, parading like a beauty pageant– weddings and murders, pairings and disappearing taking place right before our unwatchable eyes where each of us sees the play unfold exactly as her own soul requires.

Action in the theatre of the mind
atomic
spontaneously
combustible
embryonic
catatonic
implosive
microscopic
macrocosmic

In the theatre of the mind things are never what as comforting as recognizable as they seem. Here, plot is a trap, character a land mine–you enter one broken being after another, survive one explosion after another; the fragment of you, the audience, that is left is the play to be performed live at that moment in your head in dialogue with the life on stage that night so that each night of theatre of the mind is a thousand nights of theatre, a thousand different plays being performed on stage in the dark cave behind the curtain of audience eyes all at once, each play a different one–the broken bits of humanity that speak therefore to journey like the constellations in the sky. And yet, for the theatre of the mind to thrive we need the living stage to serve as the catalyst and clearing house between minds, engendering a vital, imaginative, ethical community of minds with common foes and goals and most of all a common language, a vocabulary of discourse that does not reduce but expand ad infinitum our possibilities as human beings.

The theatre of the mind is the theatre of yearning, humanity’s yearning where we admit/confess to the darkened stage and the light flooded finale that it is impossible for any one play to speak to see to hear whole. Through the theatre of the mind of mosaic visions this wholeness of sense that is ultimately denied us can at least be glimpsed grasped, in a thousand clapping hands in each of our own theatres of the mind, echoed and beckoned and seduced to performance by the theatre of the impossible set upon the stage that night.

Aspects of space and imagination in the theatre of the mind
Here stage space is a book in which the makers of theatre of the mind write down dreams and fears to be ‘read’ by the audience who are themselves writing other books in the theatres of their minds. This book that is the theatre of the mind is like the medieval stained glass walls of cathedrals. You can read them as sign and story–loud bright bloody vocal outpourings of myth. In the theatre of the mind that is the illuminated manuscript of images, the images don’t move but the audience moves, from mansion to mansion, station to station in the house of wonder agony and compassion that is our common home. The compassion comes when the show is over, a death of signs and acts, the final peace from the exhausting accretion of overwhelming life.

The theatre of the mind says: How dare you pretend to resolve anything? How dare you erase the resonance of myth, the germinal of theatre, by dividing it into ‘acts’; budgeting it into this character and that; calling forth beginning middle and end when the sole purpose of theatre as the locus of memorialized action is to set the individual on journey after journey of discovery (which is the movement of text, of ‘forwarding the action’ or plot in the theatre of the mind) until a play’s end is the pile up/collision of a series of explorations into the sense of universe; wherein the character traveling is not just himself but a voice of the unison–the compilation of all characters–an illumination burning itself up with life on a field of darkness which is the stage at the beginning and end of every drama. Action in the theatre of the mind is the playing out of hands, the turning over of a deck of chance illuminations, placed one atop the next until there is so much overlay of light we come to the thankfulness of darkness, of ending, again. Then we are again at the beginning so that the theatre of the mind whose individual play pieces may appear diametrically opposed are always the detritus of the same never ending show.

Actions for a theatre of the mind
wind walking
sun speaking
gesture of taste
sight of sound
will burning itself up
destiny melting down
courage singing

Images for a theatre of the mind
atom banquet
bacteria dance
worm choir in dirt bath
jaguar eyes
medieval flat perspective overlaid with quicktime movies
movie stars pasted in the eyes of enormous TV screens that walk the stage like
lamplighters in renaissance time
algae and fish life flying through underwater waves
elbow landscape
the stage a tank of sharks
the stage a solar system with planets, moons, fallen stars
the stage empty but for magnified dirt on its floor boards, amplified sound in its wings
the stage empty but for the tears and hisses of audiences who cannot bear to go to hear to see anymore the kindergarten of lies put before them when they came to play out the end game of cosmos.

Elements of a theatre of the mind
black holes
fractals
lip stick stains on galaxies
hip hop music and magic spells recorded live on CNN
language of distinctive voice without definable meaning as we beg to know it and debase it;
the word, the poor holy word
a certain kind of weeping which only the heavens can.

The theatre of the mind refuses to answer any questions; in fact, it seeks to kill all answers (the catharsis of tragedy) which strews the proscenium with a sea of irrefutable dogmatic blood that rationalizes the forward march of history. In the theatre of the mind, all answers are beaten into questions. All the images and text of the theatre of the mind are pre-text for unanswerable questions. The theatre of the mind is the stage of these unanswerable questions and thereby the theatre of the miraculous.

Characters of the theatre of the mind
lightning thunder earthquake volcano meteorite rain comet blast
all angels of air and its dragons
all denizens of the deep
amputated limbs
pure mouths rescued of bodies
the blood after cold blooded murder
heaven
the rotund earth
what we call divine

In the theatre of the mind, language kills and in the best of senses; that is to annihilate into other wondrous matter. Words here are visceral and the fortress of language with its bricks of sound, rhythm, and alphabet- vowel- consonant cliché innuendo context pretext make up the iconic language which is the vicious unassuagable appetite of the theatre of the mind. A theatre that you see and hear in your mind as you walk through the days that walk you through your life.

The matter of plot or story lines of theatre of the mind
the story of the big bang
the story of the creation of love in the western world
the story of war on earth
the story of earth
the story of separation

Conditions for the theatre of the mind
no money
no theories
no subscribers to placate
hunger, thirst
joyful dirt
no specializations or division of labor among the artists
a diviner’s gift of salvaging garbage treasure
a green thumb for resurrecting raw materials: the stage as the tramp’s last supper

In the theatre of the mind are a thousand roving characters who may be performed by one or a million actors on the stage who turn into each other as readily as reproducing and dividing paramecium. Consistency of anything–plot, character action point of view– has no place here for we are inside the action of time where nothing stands still or remains the same–neither star nor rock plate is without its parallel eternal metamorphosis. This is the drama and cast of the theatre of the mind.

(she who was there, is not)

We go to the theatre neither to see nor hear nor understand; we go to dream.

Aims of the theatre of the mind
to have and foster revelation
a notion of our limitlessness and our obscurity
a coming to beauty after devastation
screaming, laughing, weeping
to do away with all blue haired matinee ladies
to scare off all those who demand to know what the play is about
to create the equivalent of a rose growing in quicktime and slow motion that you can touch and smell inside your self
to be reminded of wonder and magic everywhere

To forge alchemists and theatre of the mind makers for an impossible theatre of us all; a theatre alive and on stage that is as magical for the collective as the solitary one within.


Seeing Through the Blur

by Alejandro Fogel
Sketchbook Magazine


The Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when asked why he was teaching factory workers to draw, said “I’m not teaching them to draw, I’m teaching them to see.”

In our Creativity Workshop we ask people to open their eyes… wider. We want people to pay just a little bit more attention to their surroundings, to their daily navigation through life. We tent to navigate focusing on where we go and everything else becomes a blur. When was the last time we spent 5 minutes (Full 60 seconds minutes) observing a beautiful door. Getting close to it, smelling it, even touching it (God forbid!). We are increasingly becoming one dimensional, our reality is a thin layer of electrons projecting zeros and ones. We actually think that we’ve seen Venice because we watched the High Definition DVD about Venice. But… what about touching that wooden door we like so much.

Why is touching important?

Referring to a big piece of marble, Michelangelo said: “The idea is there locked inside. All you have to do is remove the excess stone.”

We have the ability to make that door transcend the mere quarter of a second we would have given to it as we passed by… The door is beautiful, let’s remove the excess stone. Imagine the door and remove it from the blur. To create we need to use our eyes, observe, and most importantly: imagine.

Albert Einstein said: “I’m enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

All the freedom of expression that humanity gained during the 20th century is rapidly disappearing in the 21st. We are being told by multinational corporations to stop imagining because they are going to do it for us and we should just sit and watch. They are transforming the way we perceive artists and their art. We are being told that we should leave art to the “professionals”, sit passively and admire it. Buy the DVD, get the book, take the poster home. They are telling us that there is no room for amateurs. Only the chosen few should be seen as “the creators”. All others are amateurs. The word “amateur” is now used to dismiss someone pretending to be an artist.

Amateur, from the Latin: amatorem (lover) had a very different meaning just a few decades ago. It was about loving a certain field or art form and contributing to it as much as one could. It was about doing something for love and not for money. Amateurs would have a day job and create the rest of the time. Artists were dedicated to their art and did not like to be called a “professional”. That was an insult.

We need to bring amateurism back to its real meaning. We need to rescue as many doors as we can from our daily blur by touching, smelling imagining and becoming the real creators, the true artists that we can be.

 


 

The Gift of the Amateur

by Shelley Berc
Prologue Magazine


Leonardo da Vinci claimed he saw all his paintings in the humidity stains on his walls before ever lifting his brush. Herman Melville stared at Mount Greylock every day until one day it became that devilish cetacean Moby Dick. Children look up at the clouds and see houses, alligators, and dinosaurs rather than cumulus, nimbus, and cirrus. According to biologists, man can no longer be defined as different from other animals by virtue of speech or tool making. But we are absolutely unique in our dazzling ability to make metaphors. Creativity is the art of living metaphorically.

We are all born creative, curious, and hungry to explore the world around and within us. For a child, creativity is expressed in play and play is the way he learns. Life is just one big erector set that is to be snapped together and pulled apart in a thousand different ways. But this flexibility often fades with the passage of time. We put away our toys and acquire jobs, kids, and mortgages. We become ‘specialists’ and keeping up with our specialty is supposed to take up all our spare time. But our eyes still seek out beauty and our hands itch to make something wonderful out of the wonders we see.

We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage us to be creative unless it looks like we are going to strike it big with a commercial hit. Creativity, like so much else in our world, has been co-opted into consumerism and its worth calculated by how much money it generates. It is only recently that the word ‘amateur’ became a dirty one. Until the 1980’s, just about every educated person no matter what his or her profession played an instrument, or painted, or wrote for pleasure. The aim of these hobbies wasn’t necessarily to become the next Beethoven but to deepen the sensibilities of the individual doing them. The Victorian art critic John Ruskin, when asked why he was teaching factory workers to draw, said “I’m not teaching them to draw, I’m teaching them to see.” I would venture to say that enhanced seeing and feeling are the real reasons to create, whether it is be a garden, a haiku, or a brand new thought.

The word ‘amateur’–from the Latin ‘amator’ or lover–means to create for the sheer love of it. I propose that we bring back amateurism with a vengeance. Weekend painters, closet writers, doctors who are poets, dancers who are CPAs! Some of our greatest scientists, thinkers, and artists have been amateurs. Charles Darwin was an amateur naturalist, Johannes Kepler supported his astronomical investigations by being a court astrologer, Wallace Stevens had a day job in a bank, and the idea of being a professional poet never crossed Emily Dickinson’s mind.

The creative spirit within us is a trickster that adores turning the world upside down. It is a tempest in our comfortable little teapot. It is our personal daemon determined to imprint our unique voice upon the planet, if only we will let it. It trips us and tickles us until we join in its playfulness. If creativity is any one thing–it is play, play, play. If we don’t express our imagination, it festers, it frustrates, it turns us into passive onlookers, when we were meant to be tooting our horn in the universal choir.

Our creativity is a gift. In many indigenous cultures, a gift cannot be kept to one’s self but it must be passed on to others, or it will turn on its owner. My theory is a little less ominous. I think the more creative we are, the more we want to share it. We give this gift by passing on the energy of imagination, play, and never-ending curiosity. Creativity is seriously infectious. Nothing can stop its rampant spread except embarrassment, self doubt, and a premature insistence on perfection. Wanting our inspirations to be fully formed from the start is like expecting a new born baby to get up and walk.

There is a myth about the creative soul that if you don’t feel inspired, you don’t have it. I’ve been a writer for 30 years and if I had to depend on my inspiration every time I stared at a blank piece of paper, that piece of paper would stay forever blank. I’ve experienced every emotion imaginable when I write–from abject terror to feeling absolutely nothing–and through it all like a recalcitrant mule, I have plodded on. Who can know from book to book or play to play if they will be a success? That’s not the point of creation anyways; the point is to take the journey. I trust my hands on the keyboard a certain amount of time per day as more reliable than the breath of the muse, but the funny thing is that the key punching action often leads the muse back to me. We never know what we can do in the realm of the imagination until we try or, in the words of Samuel Beckett: “fail, then fail better.”

Shelley Berc is the co-adaptor of King Stag and a playwright and novelist. She is the Director of The Creativity Workshop.


100 Best Worldwide Vacations to Enrich Your Life

by Pam Grout
National Geographic


Critical judgement–the part of our brain that says, “Yes! No! It’s not good enough!” should stay at home, locked in a closet.

–Shelley Berc, playwright, novelist, and cofounder of Creativity Workshop

You may not come home from this eight-day workshop with a suitcase of paintings or a briefcase full of poems. But you will come back with a heart full of artistic passion, completely convinced that creativity and imagination–yours and everyone else’s–is the answer to just about any question the world could pose. Plus, you’ll have the tools to enable you to fill a whole cargo hold’s worth of luggage with paintings, poems, drawings, and essays.

Playwright Shelley Berc and her husband, Alejandro Fogel, a painter and multi-media artist, launched The Creativity Workshop in 1993 to help people interested in the creative process to get “out of their own way.” They became convinced after many years in a university setting, that creativity often gets squelched by one’s own judgements and by a culture that has turned it into a commodity.

“Creativity, like so much else in our world, has been co-opted into consumerism, and its worth calculated by how much money it generates,” Berc says. “We live in a culture that doesn’t encourage adults to be creative unless it looks like they are going to make money at it. But without imagination, we would not have any great scientists, thinkers, or artists.”

The aim of their workshops is not to find the next da Viinci or an up-and-coming Proust. Rather, they hope to deepen the sensibilities of the lucky individuals who enroll in them. Instead of focusing on any one art form, participants in The Creativity Workshop do it all–they write, they draw, they tell stories, and most importantly, they learn to play, play, play.

“If creativity is any one thing, it is play,” Berc says. “For a child, life is just one big erector set to b snapped together and pulled apart in a thousand different ways. But as adults, we often lose that flexibility and put away our toys as we acquire jobs, kids, and mortgages.”

Berc and Fogel believe creativity is encoded into every human’s DNA and that, even though adults become less flexible as they age, that sense of wonder and reckless imagination can be regained. In fact, by focusing on imagination rather than on creating a product per se, creativity becomes a way to view and appreciate life.

The pair know what they are talking about. Berc, a professor at the University of Iowa Writing Programs from 1985-2000, has written novels and plays that have been performed by such celebrities as Stanley Tucci, Patrick Stewart, and Tony Shalhoub. Fogel, whose award-winning work can be seen in museums and public and private collections across the globe, is not only a painter but also an expert in cultural myths and legends.

In their workshops, held annually in Crete, Paris, Barcelona, Florence, Dublin, Prague, and New York City, they lead exercises in free-form writing and drawing, associative thinking, mapmaking, sense perception, and other techniques that help people access and develop their innate creative nature. During the eight days of the program, (which is taught in English), you will spend five of them (three and a half hours per day) in class with Berc and Fogel. The rest of your time is free to explore and be inspired by the fabulous locations they have chosen for their workshop venues.

La creatività? Si impara a scuola con il relax e senza tecnologia

by Robert Calabro
La Repubblica, Italian newspaper


Da New York i workshop di Shelley Berc e Alejandro Fogel Corsi full immersion con esercizi e tecniche di rilassamento Meditazione, canto e altro ancora per “riprendere a sognare” e l’obbligo di “scollegarsi” per almeno mezz’ora al giorno SE L’ELEGANZA si impara sui banchi, perché non apprendere anche ad essere creativi? Dopo i libri e i corsi su come diventare chic, è la volta dei workshop sulla creatività. L’idea arriva dalla Grande Mela dove Shelley Berc e Alejandro Fogel insegnano il loro metodo a scrittori, artisti, scienziati, poeti o semplici curiosi. Scrittrice e drammaturga lei, con opere rappresentate in importanti festival europei quali Avignone ed Edimburgo, artista multimediale di grido lui: dal 1993 i due amici hanno deciso di mettere insieme esperienze e metodologie per diffondere il verbo del “pensiero creativo” in tutto il mondo.

Oltre a New York, tengono seminari itineranti, rigorosamente full immersion, anche nel Vecchio Continente: da Creta a Barcellona, da Praga a Bruges, passando per Dublino e Firenze dove il prossimo corso si terrà dal 9 al 18 luglio 2006. Costo delle lezioni? Seicentocinquanta dollari per un corso intensivo di quattro giorni a New York, 1650 per i seminari di nove giorni in Europa, hotel incluso.

Ma cosa insegnano Berc e Fogel? E come si impara ad essere creativi? “Insegniamo una serie di esercizi volti a rilassare, suscitare reazioni ed espandere il corpo e la mente”, spiega la scrittrice e co-ideatrice dei Creativity Workshop. “Si tratta di esercizi di visualizzazione, tecniche di rilassamento del corpo e di percezione dei sensi. Proponiamo inoltre le tecniche dei Surrealisti, come la scrittura e la pittura automatiche. Tutti i nostri esercizi sono volti a far sognare più velocemente di quanto pensiamo, per scavalcare le paure, i blocchi razionali che ci separano dalla nostra parte creativa. Cerchiamo di creare un senso di gioia e un’atmosfera di gioco in modo che sensazioni come il fallimento non esistano nel processo creativo. Nella nostra società la gente ha così tanta paura del fallimento che non si permette più di sognare”.

Shelley e Alejandro sono convinti che sviluppare una forte creatività interiore aiuti a vivere meglio in ogni aspetto della vita, dal lavoro alle relazioni interpersonali. Ma come può emergere la creatività in una società nella quale esiste una iperproduzione di input mediatici e tecnologici? “La creatività fa uno sforzo enorme”, risponde sorridendo Alejandro Fogel. “Non a caso chiediamo a chi partecipa ai nostri corsi di rilassarsi e di mettere a fuoco quelle qualità necessarie per lasciare fluire l’immaginazione. Durante i nostri workshop invitiamo le persone a trascorrere almeno tre ore e mezzo al giorno senza strumenti informatici di sorta, usando semplicemente una penna e un bloc-notes e soprattutto le proprie risorse interiori, specialmente la capacità di sognare. Lasciamo per un po’ la tecnologia fuori dalla porta e raccomandiamo a tutti, dopo il corso, di trascorrere almeno mezz’ora al giorno totalmente scollegati. Consigliamo di scrivere, dipingere, meditare, cantare, danzare, fare qualsiasi cosa per non essere sopraffatti dal flusso delle immagini della società dei consumi”.

Ai Creativity Workshop, partecipano gruppi di 20-30 persone provenienti da tutto il mondo, con un range d’età assai ampio che va dai 25 ai 60 anni. Nonostante le differenze culturali, sociali, geografiche e anagrafiche, tutti – fanno notare Berc e Fogel – hanno le stesse esigenze, le stesse speranze e le stesse barriere.

Imparare a rallentare i propri ritmi e trovare il tempo per ascoltare se stessi è il messaggio lanciato da Shelley Berc e Alejandro Fogel: “Se ognuno di noi si prendesse una pausa di venti minuti al giorno per far emergere la propria creatività, il mondo sarebbe un posto migliore e più civile”.


 

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Tap Into Your Inner Artist in a Creativity Workshop

Natural Awakenings Magazine


We’re all born creative. Curious and hungry to explore the world around and within us, our search for the beauty of being never stops. Deep inside we yearn to enlarge our daily joie de vivre, even make our life a work of art.

Immersing ourselves in the soul-satisfying zest of creative expression answers this indwelling call. We feel transformed, fully authentic, utterly alive.

But how often do we fully feed our artistic soul, a need as essential to a balanced life as exercise and meditation? We need not be a natural-born artist. For creativity naturally colors all we do as we journey and listen to our dreams. It’s how we give meaning to life. And it has little relation to the outside world’s objective standards and aesthetic criteria.

This month Natural Awakenings explores how experienced workshop leaders can guide us in releasing our own inborn joy of creation. Shelley Berc and Alejandro Fogel operate worldwide from Creativity Workshop in New York.

Writer Shelley Berc and multimedia artist Alejandro Fogel established their company, Creativity Workshop, in 1993. Together they lead workshops that develop imagination through tools of writing, drawing, storytelling and personal memoir. Exercises help participants delve into their own life stories, childhood memories and intuition midst inspiring environments in New York, Barcelona, Florence, Prague, Provence, Dublin, Bruges and Crete.

Berc’s plays have won multiple national awards. She’s published two novels, and writes “Postcards from Shelley” a column about her world travels. From 1985 until 2000 Berc served as Professor of the International Writing Program and the Iowa Playwrights Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Fogel’s award-winning artworks grace galleries, museums and public and private collections in 10 countries on four continents. Media range from words and paint to video, digital and performance art. A major focus explores the cultural heritage and legacies of Pre-Columbian art. He’s helped develop a native folk artists archive with the Argentine Commission of Visual Arts. And he’s been artist-in-residence at the Institute of Current World Affairs and the Rockefeller Foundation Study and Conference Center.

How do you feel before, during and after a personal creative session?
SB: I meditate before I write. It helps me relax, so that I can listen and perceive deeply. While writing I feel like an antenna for the world–not just for people, but nature too–so my feelings fluctuate. The best is when I feel nothing but being inside the words. If a musical instrument could feel, perhaps that’s what it would feel like when playing music. It can be exhausting listening to inner characters invent themselves. My everyday self doesn’t quite know where it fits in after I’ve finished a day’s writing.

How can participants emotionally prepare for a creative workshop with you?
SB: We counsel workshop participants to relax and be patient with themselves. We all need to release the ego that gets in the way of new and innovative ideas and makes us fearful of doing things we might not be good at right away. A project’s innate gestation period might be longer than we want. But as author Ranier Maria Rilke says, “You can’t tell a seed how long it should take to sprout.’ Come to class with the spirit of a beginner’s mind. Over and over we start at ground zero, for every moment of imagination is like no other. Children understand this. Adults sometimes say, “I did this as a kid, why would I do it again now? I already know it!’ But true seeing is always new. It calls for simplicity, not-knowing, not pre-conceiving. Every session is geared to this sense of seeing and doing for the first time.

AF: Creativity workshops are about process not product. We must suspend judgment and just keep writing and drawing. We’re like runners racing against our critical selves. If we can out-run that, we’ll see amazing possibilities. The only mistake we can make is to give up on our imagination. That’s why author Samuel Beckett advises that we “Fail, then fail better.” We must keep trying, exploring, believing we can go deeper.

SB: People become less fearful and more playful. They gain courage in their creative ventures. Writers discover they can draw. Visual folks fall in love with writing. We strip the barriers between creative disciplines and try to race back and forth between language and imagery so creativity becomes a fluid, joyful whole, a reliable river of inspired ideas.

AF: Joan Miro has painted the same stars all over his paintings ever since he was a teenager. I asked a Miro museum curator why. She said that every morning when Miro faced his canvas he’d panic and freeze. He couldn’t start working. One morning, Miro faced away from the blank space, held his brush behind his back and doodled some strokes. When he turned and saw that a star had emerged, he realized that the canvas was no longer empty or intimidating. In our workshops we start with doodling geometric shapes like spirals, circles and infinity loops. The shapes get us going.

AF: Many report that this workshop has changed their lives. But it’s they who have changed. Our workshop acts as a gentle catalyst that nudges and nurtures toward such change. Some go on to switch jobs, practice art, start or finish a book, travel, work with children or volunteer as peace activists. Collaborative discussions in class feed everyone’s inspiration.

What inner indicators signal that we are ready to take this step?
SB: So many of us once wrote, painted, performed or took photos, then gave it up for one reason or another. Plus we have this absurd cultural notion that if we can’t make money at it then we aren’t good enough to do it. One day we wake up and say, “I used to love doing that. Why don’t I do it any more?”

Forgetting that we have something is different from never having had it, for it can be reawakened and valued. As teachers, Alejandro and I help students realize that expressing one’s self creativity is as natural as breathing.

Living in itself is a creative act. Artful living is a way of always seeing things with curious new eyes, exploring, questioning, courageously stepping out to be who we are. A creativity workshop like ours provides a frame in which to play, discover and refine our voices, images and dreams.

 


 

Can You Get More Creative?

by A. J. Jacobs
Real Simple Magazine


I’m in the middle of a month long project to see if I can reignite my creative spark. I’m a writer, so creativity is part of my job description. But in the last few years I’ve started to worry that my middle-aged brain is ossifying. And as I’ve discovered, continued creativity may be crucial not just for my livelihood but for my longevity, too.

A 2006 George Washington University study of 300 senior citizens found that creative activities, such as art and writing, slow the aging process, resulting in fewer doctor visits and better mental health.

A couple of days later, I enroll in a creativity class. This seems like an oxymoron. Isn’t it like taking a class in how to be tall or have a smaller nose? But I guess creative people are open-minded, so I want to give it a shot. I arrive at The Creativity Workshop, in New York City, for my one-on-one training with the directors, a ponytailed artist named Alejandro Fogel and his partner, Shelley Berc, a novelist. Berc asks me to sit on the floor, as a kid would. She says I need to be more playful.

My problem is that I’m too logical, Berc tells me. I like to analyze and compartmentalize. “We’re going to try to make you think less,” she says in a soothing voice. “Logic is important. But if it comes in too early, it ruins things.” Neuroscience backs her up: According to Jung, creative people know how to mute the volume on the frontal lobes (the buttoned-up, analytical portion of the brain), freeing the rest of the brain to make unexpected connections.

Fogel and Berc lead me through a series of exercises to help unburden me from linear, sensible thinking. I draw doodles with my eyes closed. I make up a story about 10 random objects, including a penny and a plastic lobster. (It’s a love story in which the lobster is really a beautiful wizard.) I feel dorky, but that’s my analytical side talking.

I pledge to try the techniques at home. The next night, I tell my wife that I can’t watch Downton Abbey. I have a date. Fogel told me, “Make an appointment with your creativity.” We can’t wait for creativity to strike us like lightning, he says. We have to build it into our lives as a discipline. My goal is to brainstorm article ideas about fatherhood. As my gurus instructed, I sit on the floor. I look around the room, at the towering lamps, at the underside of the table. This is what the world looks like to my sons, I think- Hmm. What if I wrote an article from the point of view of kids? Or, better yet, an article of kids’ advice to dads? It’s a lightbulb. Not the brightest bulb, but not bad.


How Fear Chokes Creativity and What to Do About It

by Shelley Berc


What are some of the things that get in the way of us being our creative best? There are many culprits, like procrastination and having an over-scheduled life, but I think that Public Enemy Number 1 is Fear.

We are afraid to be wrong. We are afraid to make a mistake. We’re afraid of not being perfect. We’re afraid of looking stupid and being laughed at or being rejected. There are a million scary things out there and inside us that make us say to ourselves, “pursue creativity? I don’t think so.”

“Fail, fail again, fail better.” Those are the words of Samuel Beckett, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature, when asked what was the secret to being creative. So why do we shun the necessity of failure? What scientist would refuse to go to his lab for fear of not getting the test results she wants?

Fear of expressing our innate creativity as a thinking tool is counterproductive and often leaves us unable to think clearly and deeply at all. It doesn’t help us to be better workers, it doesn’t help us be better parents, and it doesn’t help us have better lives. As a matter of fact, rejecting or ignoring your creativity can leave you frustrated and feeling a great emptiness in your life.

Learning to pay attention to and use our natural born creativity is an enormous advantage to us personally and professionally, regardless of whether we see ourselves as ‘creative types’ or not. Many evolutionary biologists view creativity as an inherent asset that has helped our species survive. Why? Because using our creativity makes humans flexible in their thinking and adaptable to surprise and change. Creativity is what helped our distant ancestors figure out how to get out of a bad situation when face to face with a saber tooth tiger.

Using your creativity means welcoming trial and error into our lives. It is common knowledge that most people who succeed brilliantly have failed devastatingly, yet they keep going, keep insisting on their vision, on their right to explore, question and yes, make mistakes. Pursuing their ideas and following their ‘gut feelings’ are more important to them than worrying if they are right or not.

Being wrong can be very useful for the creative person. It is one of the ways we learn what direction to go (or not go) forward. If it weren’t for getting things wrong, we would never make unexpected discoveries, which can lead us in fascinating directions we never dreamed of. How many times in the history of science has a scientist failed to accomplish what she was trying to do, but through the process discovered something even more valuable than what she had in mind?

What if instead of calling projects that don’t pan out ‘failures’, we call them what they really are: Experiments. No new ideas, small or large, come to fruition without experimentation, without trial and error. In the world of creativity, there is no wrong; there are only possibilities that need testing. The Muse has no concept of petty notions, such as  “If I don’t get my invention to market or my pastel finished in x amount of time, it’s no good and I should scrap it.”
Creativity is no respecter of clock time or superimposed deadlines. It only respects imagination and the tenacity to follow the course upon which your creative work is taking you. And the stress is on “where the creative work is taking you”, not where you are trying to take it.

Why is it so hard to find and follow your Muse, no matter how seductive or inspiring she is? Think back to when you a kid, chances are you shelved many of your creative gifts forever because of a cutting remark that an adult or another kid said to you about your imagination. How can anybody possibly know what you will turn out to be good at when you are six?

If you were a child who always drew trees that looked like Jackson Pollock abstractions and you had a teacher who said, “You know, you really need to learn how to draw a tree,” you might never draw again. What about a child who is supposed to be writing a story for school and it’s not logical–the ideas and images seem to skip around? Then I would advise the child’s teacher to have a look at the structure of poetry. Maybe that child who can’t write a linear story is on her way to becoming an amazing poet, changing our hearts because of the things she writes. How many great scientists, artists, and thinkers do we lose because of shame?

So many things get erased from us, and I mean really erased early on, not only because of what other people say, but what we feel about what they say.
We are pigeonholed so early in our lives that many of our talents have gone untapped and leave us yearning, wondering what we are missing. As we grow up, we internalize those judgments people made about us and we become very good at crushing our own creative aspirations. We become our own most vicious critics. How do we create when a part of us is choking that impulse?

John Cage had an excellent solution.  He said: “Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.” The creating comes first and the analyzing later. That leaves the creator in a place of uncertainty, an exhilarating position for a creator, but a situation our inner critic can’t stand—a good reason for her to stay out of our way at this point in the creative process.

Creativity thrives on uncertainty. If we always knew the outcome of our creative endeavors we would probably be too bored to complete them. Uncertainty, curiosity, stumbling one foot after the other, we create our own unique yellow brick road of imagination. We can live gracefully with uncertainty when we stay connected to the part of ourselves that gets joy from the act of creation, rather than always looking to what its product is going to be.

We find wonder and beauty, new ideas and images everywhere when we allow our senses to experience each moment fully. When we shut down our perceptiveness and our sensitivity and only look to the finish line, our creativity has no access to the very elements that make it enriching and deep.

Taking delight in the creative process will nudge us to keep coming back to it, even when it gets so hard or frustrating we’d rather do just about anything else. Playfulness, curiosity, and surprise can steer us through the quagmire of inner babble, doubt, drudgework, and yes, the failures that must be experienced to realize a truly creative life.

Our lives are the research laboratories of our unique possibilities. The worst thing that we can do to our creativity is to be ashamed of it; to believe that what we create, or want to create isn’t good enough and will never be good enough, and therefore we have no right to do it. This is when we need to get out our tenacity and put it to work in service of our imagination, regardless of what we are feeling.

Our imagination, whether we use it in raising our kids or making the next big discovery in science, returns us to our true selves–half wizard, half clueless hero on an unknown journey of discovery. Our imagination is our magic wand and our touchstone. It is a potent elixir that energizes spirit, mind, and body into profound transformation.

To stay with our creative journey, we should celebrate our quirks, our idiosyncrasies, our unique and weird ways of perceiving and expressing. They are our staunchest defenders against the destructive aspects of self-judgment. They are the qualities that make our individual creativity unlike any other. They are, in fact, each creator’s home.


 

How to Cultivate Eureka Moments

by Michiko Kakutani


The Nike slogan “Just Do It” materialized when Dan Wieden, a founder of the advertising agency Wieden Kennedy, thought of the last words uttered by the murderer Gary Gilmore before his execution — “Let’s do it” — and gave them a tweak. That day a colleague had mentioned Norman Mailer, author of “The Executioner’s Song,” an acclaimed book about Gilmore, and that killer’s final words popped into Mr. Wieden’s head.

The idea for Post-it Notes came about when Arthur Fry, an engineer at 3M, was daydreaming in church, thinking how annoying it was that the bookmarks he’d placed in his hymnal so frequently fell out. He then remembered a 3M colleague’s talk about a new glue he’d developed: a paste so feeble that it could barely hold two pieces of paper together. That weak glue, Mr. Fry suddenly thought, might help him create the perfect bookmark, one that would stay put.

The Barbie doll was reportedly born when Ruth Handler, a founder of Mattel, was on vacation in Switzerland and saw an unusual doll in the window of a cigarette shop: the doll was a pretty, well-endowed young woman with platinum blond hair. Because Handler didn’t speak German, she didn’t realize that the doll was a sex symbol sold mainly to men. Instead she saw a prototype for a new toy for girls: an alternative to the baby dolls then popular.

In recounting such creation myths, Mr. Lehrer, a contributing editor at Wired and a contributor to The New Yorker, proves an engaging tour guide to the mysteries of the imagination and the science of innovation.

Like Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point,” “Blink”) and Joshua Foer (“Moonwalking With Einstein”), Mr. Lehrer takes scientific concepts and makes them accessible to the lay reader while dispensing practical insights that verge on self-improvement tips along the way. With these suggestions, his book implies, you too might be able to maximize your creative output.

The book’s breezy methodology makes for some problems — it’s often difficult to tell just how representative a study or survey, cited by the author, might be — but Mr. Lehrer largely avoids the sort of gauzy hypotheses and gross generalizations that undermined Mr. Gladwell’s 2008 book, “Outliers.”

Much as he did in his earlier books “How We Decide” and “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” Mr. Lehrer shows how adept he is at teasing out the social and economic implications of scientific theories while commuting easily among the realms of science, business and art. He deconstructs the creative process behind a Bob Dylan song with the same verve he brings to the story of how Procter & Gamble created the Swiffer, its New Age mop. And he examines the art of improv, as taught by the Second City training center in Los Angeles, with the same appraising eye he brings to more arduous discussions of brain science.

The 18th-century philosopher David Hume, Mr. Lehrer notes, argued that invention was often an act of recombination, of compounding an idea or transposing it from one field to another:

“Johannes Gutenberg transformed his knowledge of wine presses into an idea for a printing machine capable of mass-producing words. The Wright brothers used their knowledge of bicycle manufacturing to invent the airplane. (Their first flying craft was, in many respects, just a bicycle with wings.) George de Mestral came up with Velcro after noticing burrs clinging to the fur of his dog. And Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the search algorithm behind Google by applying the ranking method used for academic articles to the sprawl of the World Wide Web; a hyperlink was like a citation.”

In each case, Mr. Lehrer points out, “the radical concept was merely a new mixture of old ideas.”

The InnoCentive Web site, started by an Eli Lilly executive in 2001, has shown that solutions to difficult scientific problems (which are posted online, with a monetary reward attached to each challenge) are often solved by people working at the margins of their fields, who were able to think outside the box.

In other words, Mr. Lehrer says: “Chemists didn’t solve chemistry problems, they solved molecular biology problems, just as molecular biologists solved chemistry problems. While these people were close enough to understand the challenges, they weren’t so close that their knowledge held them back and caused them to run into the same stumbling blocks as the corporate scientists.”

Being able to step back and view things as an outsider, or from a slightly different angle, seems to promote creativity, Mr. Lehrer says. This is why travel frequently seems to free the imagination, and why the young (who haven’t learned all sorts of rules) are often more innovative than their elders.

The second half of “Imagine” is devoted to looking at “group creativity,” examining what sort of collaborative dynamics (within businesses or communities) tend to maximize innovation. Studies of Broadway musicals by Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern University, Mr. Lehrer says, showed that relationships among collaborators were one of the most important factors in the success of a show. If team members had too little previous experience working with one another, they struggled to communicate and exchange ideas. But if they were too familiar with one another, fresh ideas tended to be stifled.

Indeed, group interaction appears to play a key role in innovation. In a lengthy and fascinating section on Pixar, Mr. Lehrer recounts how Steve Jobs designed that animation studio to force employees to visit the building’s main atrium: mailboxes were shifted to the lobby; meeting rooms were moved to the center of the building, followed by the cafeteria, coffee bar, gift shop and bathrooms. Jobs believed, one producer explained, that “the best meetings happened by accident, in the hallway or parking lot.”

In another chapter Mr. Lehrer makes a strong case for cities as incubators of innovation. Echoing Jane Jacobs, he argues that the sheer density of urban life, “the proximity of all those overlapping minds,” forces people to mingle and interact with a diversity of individuals. This, he goes on, creates exactly the sort of collision of cultures and classes that often yields new ideas. He even quotes a theoretical physicist, Geoffrey West, who says he has found data that validates Jacobs’s theories.

“What the numbers clearly show, and what she was clever enough to anticipate,” Mr. West says, “is that when people come together, they become much more productive per capita.”

One study by Mr. West and another physicist, Luís Bettencourt, Mr. Lehrer writes, suggests that “a person living in a metropolis of one million should generate, on average, about 15 percent more patents and make 15 percent more money than a person living in a city of 500,000.”

In the later pages of this engaging book Mr. Lehrer turns from analysis and reportage to prescription. The jostle and serendipity of city life, he believes, can provide a model for how the Internet might be retooled to accelerate creativity.

“Instead of sharing links with just our friends, or commenting anonymously on blogs, or filtering the world with algorithms to fit our interests, we must engage with strangers and strange ideas,” he writes. “The Internet has such creative potential; it’s so ripe with weirdness and originality, so full of people eager to share their work and ideas. What we need now is a virtual world that brings us together for real.”

©The Wall Street Journal


Doodling for Dollars

Firms Try to Get Gadget-Obsessed Workers to Look Up—and Sketch Ideas
by Rachel Emma Silverman


Put down that smartphone; pick up that crayon.

Employees at a range of businesses are being encouraged by their companies to doodle their ideas and draw diagrams to explain complicated concepts to colleagues.

Put down that smartphone; pick up that pencil. Employees are being encouraged by their companies to try visual note-taking to explain complicated concepts to colleagues and clients. Rachel Silverman explains on The News Hub.

While whiteboards long have been staples in conference rooms, companies such as Facebook Inc. are incorporating whiteboards, chalkboards and writable glass on all sorts of surfaces to spark creativity.

Firms are holding training sessions to teach employees the basics of what’s known as visual note taking. Others, like vacation-rental company HomeAway Inc. and retailer Zappos, are hiring graphic recorders, consultants who sketch what is discussed at meetings and conferences, cartoon-style, to keep employees engaged.

Doodling proponents say it can help generate ideas, fuel collaboration and simplify communication. It can be especially helpful among global colleagues who don’t share a common first language. Putting pen to paper also is seen as an antidote to the pervasiveness of digital culture, getting workers to look up from their devices. And studies show it can help workers retain more information.

Even with advanced gadgets such as smartphones and tablets, “the hand is the easiest way to get something down,” says Everett Katigbak, a communication designer at Facebook. Most of the walls at the company’s offices around the country have been coated with dry-erase or chalkboard paint or a treatment for glass to allow employees to sketch ideas whenever they arise. The company’s offices are filled with jottings, from mathematical equations to doodles of cats and dollar signs.

IdeaPaint Inc., which makes a paint that turns a surface into a whiteboard, says its sales have doubled annually since the product was introduced in 2008. The Ashland, Mass., company says more than half of its business is in the workplace.

Taking notes and drawing may help workers stay more focused, too.

A 2009 study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology found that doodlers retained more than nondoodlers when remembering information that had been presented in a boring context, such as a meeting or conference call. The logic, according to Jackie Andrade, a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth in England, is that doodling takes up just enough cognitive energy to prevent the mind from daydreaming.

Last summer, software maker Citrix Systems Inc. CTXS -3.02% opened a “design collaboration“ workspace at its Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters. The facility was designed to encourage the company’s gadget-obsessed engineers and other employees to let loose and sketch ideas, says Catherine Courage, the company’s vice president of product design.

Whiteboards cover almost every wall and table. Markers, sticky notes and construction paper are readily available. There are also pipe cleaners and foam balls for 3-D models, and employees make props like hats and glasses to help them act out concepts. Employees use the materials mainly at project kickoffs or when trying to define a project or new process.

To loosen up employees, meetings sometimes begin with participants sketching self-portraits. Although some engineers are skeptical and say they can’t draw, “it gets them in the mood,” Ms. Courage says.

Audra Kalfass, a Citrix software-development engineer, says when she meets with her team and there is a technical issue, “it’s natural to start drawing stuff.” Since nearly every surface in design meeting rooms can be written on—even the tables are made of whiteboards—“you just grab a marker and you start drawing,” she says.

Ms. Kalfass says she is a “horrible“ artist. Nevertheless, “it doesn’t take much artistic ability to communicate visually. You don’t have to be amazing artists… It’s mostly boxes and lines and stuff like that to get your point across.”

At Spectrum Health System, a Grand Rapids, Mich., health-care provider and insurer, technology managers took a workshop with Dan Roam, a San Francisco “visual problem solving“ consultant, on using images like stick figures and arrows to explain the complexities of the health-care industry to Spectrum employees.

After the workshop, Chief Information Officer Patrick O’Hare helped create a presentation featuring cartoonlike sketches for the chief executive. In one, the company’s three business branches—health insurance, hospitals and physician clinics—were depicted as a body, representing the consumer, divided into three parts. Mr. O’Hare’s presentation was a hit, he says, much better than the PowerPoint presentation he had delivered a few weeks earlier.

Mr. O’Hare says he isn’t a good artist but the workshop taught him it was “OK to stand up in front of a group and draw stick figures. It doesn’t have to be so pristine.”

HomeAway, an Austin, Texas, vacation-rental company, hired a graphic facilitator to help train a dozen employees—including senior managers and training and human-resources staff—to use visual shorthand and sketching to help guide meetings, says Lori Knowlton, the company’s vice president of human resources. The aim was to better “capture ideas using images,” she says. Plus, it is more fun than “being surrounded by spreadsheets and emails.”

The company also brought in graphic recorder Sunni Brown to help sketch, in real time, what was discussed at a large company meeting on HomeAway’s strategy. The resulting cartoonlike image, which serves as the meeting’s minutes, hangs framed at the company’s headquarters.

At Turner Broadcasting System Inc. in Atlanta, a strategy-development team recently drew tree branches and placed sticky notes on the branches to explore ways to extend the Turner Classic Movies brand, says Jennifer Dorian, a senior vice president.

The exercise yielded more than 200 promising ideas, some of which are in development, says Amy Zehfuss, vice president of network strategy for the Time Warner Inc. TWX -1.70% unit. “Seeing all the stickies on the tree is a really powerful visual,” she says.

Even PowerPoint software developers do their share of doodling.

Jeffrey Murray, principal test manager for the Microsoft Corp. MSFT -2.46% unit, says his team often starts with whiteboard sketches and cartoonlike storyboards when considering new product features.

Sketches help “get everyone on the same page and can convey the emotion and experience of the user,” he says. Eventually, the images are transferred to PowerPoint decks, he says. Inevitably, developers sketch and scribble over the deck’s whiteboard projections.

©The Wall Street Journal


10 Creativity Tips for Teachers:
An Inspired Teacher is an Inspiring Teacher

by Shelley Berc

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1. Believe in your moments of inspiration. Follow where they lead.

2. Carry a notebook and pencil everywhere you go. We often have
innovative ideas but we can forget them if they aren’t on paper or
smart phone.

3. Don’t be ashamed or discouraged when your creative idea doesn’t pan
out. You will have ones that do succeed if you keep trying. In the
words of Samuel Beckett: “Fail, Fail Again, Then Fail Better.” That is
the best way to creative success.

4. Take 10 minutes every day to write without thinking. Let your hand
outrun your brain. Let your unconscious do all the work. Whatever
words come to mind, scribble them down. After awhile, you’ll see
distinct patterns and themes emerge in your writing. You’ll be
surprised at how much you have to say and how well you can say it.

5. Creativity is a muscle: use it or lose it.

6. Don’t let your inner-judge criticize you too much, especially at
the start of a project. It can easily kill your creative impulses.

7. Once a day, do something totally out of character. Surprise
yourself; it will ignite your imagination.
When we ‘what if’ ourselves, we start to believe we can achieve our dreams. That is the first step to making them come true.

8. Slow down enough to notice where you are. Learn your environment
by heart.

9. Collaborate creatively with like minded friends—write a journal
together, make a quilt, create a new playspace for kids, design a
group garden, choreograph and execute a dance piece, start a reader’s
theatre, do collage. Whatever it is, do it together–you’ll be amazed
at how much you can inspire each other.

10. Always remember that creativity is a process, not a product. A
process that is a way of life!

The Dubai Connection

The Creativity Workshop Alumni Stories
by David Berliner


Dubai has the world’s tallest building, ancient markets and bare deserts sitting side by side. We are featuring 4 past participants, with careers and personalities as diverse as the landscape, who are all linked to this city by The Creativity Workshop.

Naureen AcquilNaureen Acquil, Marketing and Promotions, Gulf News in Dubai.
She says that The Creativity Workshop in Florence helped her expand her creative potential. Exploring Florence and the surrounding Tuscan towns with other participants was also a highlight of her Workshop experience.

“I believe that creativity is not only stimulating but fun,” says Naureen, “and we need more creative leaders in the corporate world. These are two of the reasons I wanted to attend this class. The Creativity Workshop in Florence was transformative both professionally and personally. It will remain a high point of my life. I needed that ‘creative nudge’ to realize that I I have it within me. I love using all the creative tools I learned at the Workshop.”

Bassel DeiryBassel Deiry, an educator from Dubai, attended the The Creativity Workshop in New York City. “People from 14 different countries and many different professions were in the class and that really added to the excitement and learning.” Bassel is the Teaching & Learning Coordinator and a Mathematics Teacher in Dubai.

“I came back with new techniques for enhancing creativity, innovation and collaboration. Shelley and Alejandro allowed us to explore a universe of thoughts, strategies, and rivers of energy. They did not try to change our raw creative side, but gave us tools to develop it with our unique voices.”

Nathalie HabibNathalie Habib, also from Dubai, chose to attend the Creativity Workshop in Florence. “I was burned-out at work and wanted both a relaxing vacation and a way to stimulate my creativity. When I saw this workshop on-line I said: ‘this is it! Florence is full of the things I love—wonderful art, beautiful landscapes, and that very special Italian spirit. After attending the Workshop, I felt rejuvenated. It was as if my creativity knew no bounds.”

Nathalie is the General Manager and Executive Producer in Dubai for Blink Studios, a highly successful animation company that is creating animations for an international audience. With a TV series in development and many other projects in the works, Habib’s re-energized creativity has enabled her to achieve great professional results. “It has also been incredibly important to my personal growth. I now start my day full of ideas and imagination and end it, still hungry and determined to achieve the impossible.“

Hana AlsyeadHana Alsyead is the Vice President of Communications for Olayan, a Saudi Arabia company that is a major participant in the field of global investing. She is also a budding writer. She was drawn to the The Creativity Workshop in Dubai because its focus on process over product felt right to her. Just as importantly, the class was taking place in her beloved ‘second home’ -Dubai. “With its international energy and beautiful beaches, Dubai always inspires me.”

Hana applies the techniques that she learned in the workshop to her job, such as “free writing,” which she uses to quickly get her thoughts out on paper so she can see their full scope, before honing them. “The Workshop made me much more conscious about pushing through the fear and shame that stunt creativity and catching those nasty culprits in the act and dealing with them. I learned how to nourish the artist in me who has been neglected for too long. Most importantly, I learned new ways in engaging creativity in my everyday life, making it richer. more rewarding, and much more fun.

With creativity flowing through all of our veins, sometimes it just takes the right push to help us realize its full effect. For many people, whether they take it in New York, Prague, Dubai or some of our other international location, The Creativity Workshop is that magical force which brings their creativity alive.

 


 

Book of Moments

by Shelley Berc
Paumanok Review


If I were to tell you how I write it would be like

describing the formula of a tragic love story–the excitement of the first meeting (the conception of the idea), the first kiss (beginning of the actual writing), the relationship (the passion and struggle of making the book, sentence by sentence, page by page), and the inevitable destruction of the romance (the ending words of the book and the book then lost to its maker forever). This metaphor would be true whether I was writing a tragedy or a comedy. It would also not be true because writing a book is not as sure and known a quantity as a classic tragic love affair–not my books anyways or my peculiar meandering process of writing.

I believe a book is made up of the moments we spending looking around at our strange and eclectic world and that these moments of seeing are a kind of reading which is the real book of every writer–the one she must read in order to write herself. The writing of individual books is actually tangential to the true book, which is a form of touching with the senses upon every inch of everything that is. As I write this I am aware of the waves (I am at the sea) Greek music on the radio in the background, the restaurant cat rubbing up against my legs as he begs for food, the quality of the late afternoon light and the high pitched little girl whines of the Americans at the table to my left. These will all, whether I like it or not, find their way into the book I am writing at the time, (though most often in heavy disguise or denial). It can’t be helped–they are the fabric of my writing space.

But most of all– and this is what draws me to writing–I am aware of the soft firmness of the keyboard beneath the fingertips and the excitement and curiosity I feel at what might come out of my hands and this board–what surprises, what things I do not know, what transformations of all that I sense in the immediate world around me.

I believe books are made up of minutes of acute awareness and so each book is a book of moments. The book of moments is created in time–the minute by minute tapping of fingers on a keyboard– and out of time–the world of the deep-mind, which has no sense of hours and minutes. Each time I write a book, a play, an essay the work is dependent on two things:

1) Seeing an image or an idea or a sound and
2) Stopping everything I am doing it to give it my full attention.

Each moment is filled with such images that are sparks of wonder. They can either be passed over or attended to. That’s the only real decision that an artist ever makes–listen up or ignore. Art comes from the moment-to-moment attention paid to vision and its patient transcription and/or transformation by the see-er. Some days its almost impossible for me to move rationally through the day, getting things done including writing because I am experiencing such an explosion of sight. Seeing is what makes me crazy to create; it can also make for serious attention deficit disorder. To be en-tranced or en-chanted by sight, like love, can make it impossible to get anything done.

I see a white day lily growing out of a cracked white clay pot and my mind like a camera flashes the image into me, as if I am inside the lens of the camera. And there the image physically seems to explode. There is such an urgency to this sensation of upheaval that the scattered bits of the original vision must find their way back out again or destroy me; and that journey out is the making of story. The image once exploded within must out and that is the reason for the urgent fingers upon a keyboard and the books that will come from image after image piled up, encircled by the artifice of form that gives them a structured garden to live in and flourish. The first lesson a writer learns is that once the image is absorbed in the way I am alluding to, it cannot be disregarded, passed by like any number of things we pass by each day so we can get on with our lives. If we ignore these signs, therein lie frustration, bleakness, terrible anguish and probable paralysis for the writer.

The separate images, fragments, sounds, snatches of conversation of each day we are alive form a mosaic–a journey map that manifests itself through me, the writer, as the elements of story. To another artist, the transformation of impressions might manifest itself as a dance or a musical composition or a painting. In the process of alchemy all artists share a common cauldron called life. But how we mix it up, is a matter of wild differences which has always amazed me because our tools–paint or paper or bodies in the air–are really quite finite as is the time in our lives we have to do our work. As it is I often feel that I am not so much writing as painting. Letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters! These are my colors, my textures, my brush strokes echoing the moments of sight.

Moment: Man moves round white table off a beach as white sea gull flies off from a cliff at the same time.

The intersection of these two unrelated events creates the hole which human imagination in its quest for connectedness attempts to fill in. The machinations of this drive to make sense, to derive causality between gull and man lifting table, not to mention the common color white, is the root of story telling. The double image of bird and man and their props–table and cliff– create movement or action, which is the raison etre for story. In certain stories, especially those built of the mosaic of moments, it is hard to distinguish landscape from action, character from environment, music of language from the arc of meaning of the story. This is because such story telling is based on the natural phenomena of the web formation which is really a series of interconnected spirals or labyrinths. A writer envisioning in this manner is replicating the journey of the hero (herself a human spiral of double helixed DNA) which follows the rocky road of the maze; in this case said maze is an obstacle course of characters, images, philosophies, songs and possibly even apple pie recipes. A writer writing in this manner is in love with life’s riddles and would sooner have a new one to solve than have the answers to those already set before her.

I write to discover things I don’t know. For me writing is a kind of reading, as I have said, of moments–those chosen moments when one stops the action of real life to see deeply into one particular sound or image, thought, or memory. Writing then becomes its twin–that is reading, which is a form of seeing that stops time and life to turn them into another kind of time and life–that of the imagination. Artists tend to read nature, read humanity, read the divine as if they were books. When I read this book of life, I am drawn to put my interpretations and my reactions down in words and so another book is written out of the life book seen and absorbed, exploded within the writer’s body and poured back out into the creation of a new book which I happen to call mine.

My books settled comfortably on a shelf always unnerve me. They never seem real to me and I surmise that probably they are not. The real book is invisible–the book of moments that has a thousand titles and a thousand stories, some written, most merely dreamed while walking down a street and seeing-in-passing a day lily in a cracked flower pot waiting to be read.

The Creativity Workshop

by Francesca Salidu
Babel, Italian Magazine


Q.- How would you describe your workshop on creativity to those who have never heard about it?

Shelley Berc.- The workshop is, first of all, not about producing an artistic product, it’s about the creative process, so all the activities and exercises are based on that premise. Every single workshop begins with a relaxation exercise and this is not only just to calm everybody down but also concentrate everyone on interior sensibilities.

Alejandro Fogel.- We call our workshop “Writing, Drawing and Story telling and Personal Memoir”, so in fact there are, I would say, more than two sides; it’s not just writing or drawing or writing and drawing, it’s writing drawing and story telling because at the end of the workshop we ask every participant to create a map and that map is most of the times performed, in some ways, by the participants. In terms of the technique that we use, what we try to do is to create the idea that words and images can be one thing; not necessarily separating writing and drawing or painting from performing or separating performing from writing, we are trying to integrate those disciplines since we don’t really teach craft, we are teaching ways to develop the possibilities to get out those images, from inside, that we all have. So, our main goal is to integrate everything, not: “Well, let’s do drawing now” and “Let’s do writing”, it’s basically one thing; to get images out, no matter the way we do it.

Q.- I would like to know the meaning of the word ‘automatism’ in your workshop, because you use this technique. What’s its meaning and its use within your workshop and why is it so important?

A.- Well, the word actually comes from the techniques used by the French Surrealists in the nineteen tenth and twenties. They called the work they were doing ‘automatic’ writing at the beginning, and then they went into automatic drawing. So we took that name for the technique from them and we use some of their principles and techniques too. It means writing or drawing or doing whatever we do without thinking.

Q.- Why do you think that’s important? Why should people try not to think when creating?

A.- Because we have this rational barrier, this rational wall, that doesn’t let images that we all have inside out. So, if we can not think for just a few seconds maybe that those images that are all inside us will come out, and in fact they do.

Q.- Is that linked to an idea of creativity as something that should be disconnected from rational forces?

A.- No, I wouldn’t say that creativity is disconnected from rational thinking because to create a final product we need our rational consciousness to put it together. What I mean by that is that since this wall exists, the rational wall that doesn’t let those images out, what we need to do is to find some technique to get those images out. Then, what we use our rational consciousness for, is to put those images together.

Q.- Another very interesting word that you use in your workshop is ‘appropriation’. What does it mean?

A.- Basically it means stealing! It’s a nice word to describe the act of possessing someone else’s ideas or thoughts. It’s something that’s been going on for quite some time, that’s been accepted since the widespread influence of the electronic media; when you can take a picture from the internet and put it in your computer and transform it, you’re somewhat appropriating that basic image that somebody else created and do something with it and it would be your image plus the image of someone else. We think that in the workshop is very important because, as we constantly say, it’s about process, not about product, so if a participant feels that somebody else’s image means something important to him for the duration of the workshop, he can take it, and it might lead him to something else that is really, truly created by him or her.

S.- It’s also based on the concept that there is no individual idea solely, and that we are all working with the same group of symbols and images, universal characters, almost an alphabet of myth and image, and that, really when you go back and look at the great masters, they were all stealing; Shakespeare was stealing everything, and if you go back to the Greeks, they were all taking from the community oral story, not from their individual imaginations only. So that a lot of what we’re doing, in the ways of putting it together, might be considered weird, but they go back to some very old concepts. Also the concept that language and image are related, I mean, really until you get to the Renaissance, when you had a printing press, there was always a concentration of handwriting and hand drawing; not only in the manuscripts, most books were heavily fought with images as well as the calligraphy, this incredible calligraphy of language. So, in many ways we’re going back to old traditions. When we do the performing that goes on in the workshop it’s really based on community story-telling, so that everybody gathers in circle and listens to somebody tell a story.

Q.- From your words art becomes a site of exchange, and thus paradoxically to ‘steal’ means also to give back what you have previously taken.

S.- To recognize once again that you really are part of a community.

Q.- Do you think that art and creativity could still have in modern society the task they had in the past, for example in the Renaissance; basically to gather people together, to make people share experiences?

S.- It’s one of the possibilities. Art has so many possibilities, but certainly that’s one of the needs of the world community and one that art fulfills very well. For us one of the most profound things is that it’s possible when one asks a group of people who don’t know each other to explore their creativity, to find out the dreams of a community. It’s exciting to watch people come out with many of the same images, many of the same longings, many of the same hopes, that for one reason or another the world community right now doesn’t respect. So, it’s really a place for lost dreams, because we’re living in a culture now that really doesn’t respect dreams that don’t lead to money, or don’t lead to star dust, which is usually alley to money and to finance and trade. But for everything we know that’s a very abstract need, people have other needs that are far more basic and that’s: human contact, the ability to dream very deeply, to go places in your imagination, to hunt for images, because we really are hunters.

Q.- If you were to suggest to people coming to take part in your workshop for the very first time to leave something at home and to bring something to work with during the workshop, what would you suggest them to leave at home, and what to bring?

S.- I would suggest that they leave their critical brain at home, the part that says: “yes! no! it’s not good enough! it’s better than…”. Critical judgment all should stay at home, be locked in a closet under the bed or in the cellar. And I would bring all my openness, all the energy of a child, the sense of wonderment…

A.- …the wish to dream, because what we basically want the participant to do at the workshop is to dream, something that we usually forget. It’s something probably related to the isolation we have today as human beings being surrounded by concrete. You know, in the big cities we don’t look at the sky any more, we don’t know that the stars exist, or that the moon comes out, or the sun comes out, you know, we don’t see the sunset, we don’t see the sunrise anymore. And that’s connected with dreams too, we don’t pay attention to our dreams any,ore, and we probably don’t even realize that we dream any more. So, one of the things that we want people to bring to our workshop, or at least while they are at the workshop to think about, is the ability to dream.

S.- One of the reasons that, you know, people in modern capitalist societies are so possessive-oriented is that an object, you see an object and it holds some kind of fantasy, that you yourself with imagination could easily create in your mind and hold much longer than this object that you give money, you put on your body, you could ever in the world. So, we’re trying to teach people how to recapture their own dreams without living this culture that makes you keep wanting and needing to buy things, to have another dream, another goal. We’re saying “ok, well, we believe in dreams too, but the dreams and the imagination are in you and they are in the other people and they are in nature; let’s try to recapture them”.

Q.- Have you ever noticed any difference in the participants coming from different countries or have you experienced that people all over the world have the same needs, the same barriers, the same hopes?

S.- Yeah, amazingly the same.

Q.- Because actually you have been working in many different places, you are used to traveling along the world, where societies sometimes are different…

A.- Yeah, we haven’t done work with the aborigines yet, so we’re not quite sure what the reaction would be, but we’ve done work with people of the western societies, many different western societies, and the reaction has been pretty much the same. The kind of response has been pretty much the same and the kind of work too.

S.- You really start to see a basic humanity coming out, from country to country, from age to age. We really like to work with people of all different levels of experience, all different ages, all different backgrounds, because we’re promoting a kind of group-work in imagination and in play that is totally non-competitive. It’ not about a group competing, the participants can even be working together; it’s about each one finding a very deep and tender part of themselves. And what invariably we all find out is that when each one finds that very deep part there are connections to other people, and it seems to us a very lovely balance between community and individuality, which is something that all political organization have sought for over history, you know, weather you have an aristocracy or communism, I mean, all the different variations and the issue is that human beings need to strike a balance between community and individuality, between narcissism and altruism. It’s a very difficult balance. I think what pleases us most about the groups and this methodologies that we’ve developed is that people start to find a balance, each group starts to find one another and themselves as individuals.

Q.- So, is it that each one has his own personal route and path but at the same time one is helped finding it through the group-work dynamic?

S.- Yes, and you start to like the other people. You know, a lot of people work together afterwards.

A.- What I think the workshop really does is to make people get to know each other deeply because of the nature of the exercises, such as ‘show and tell’; they show their particular object and they explain why and there are questions about it that interrelate; that connects to when they do drawing, cut pieces together and create a group to build a new drawing or a new piece and they’ve really established their relationship before. So, I think what we create is some kind of archetype that would go beyond the sense of community, would be more like a tribe, you know, a small group of individuals pursuing maybe one idea, at least for one week or two. That seems to be one of the keys for the success of the workshop.

S.- The quest of survival is the imagination, is to save the imagination. Because we recognize it as a basic human need, such as food, shelter, sex… I can’t remember, there’s five basic human needs, but imagination is one. Nobody talks about it, but when you don’t have it you have great destruction, you have such frustration, because we’re simply too complex an animal to just go out for things and eat things, and buy things. We’re trying to make this basic human need celebrated and important. We’re not just interested in a group people who may be artists, we’re interested in a community, many communities in the world that have imagination.

Q.- Let’s go back to the idea of personal and human history as a means to be aware of things that have been happening through the years in human societies and as a key to understand our present . This is a very important point in both your works: “A Girl’s Guide to the Divine Comedy” is the journey of a girl who is in some ways a symbol for all human beings, and that’s the idea that Dante himself had when he wrote “The Divine Comedy”; that seems to be also the starting point of “Root to Route”, the story of a very personal journey which at the same time represents the possible journey of each human being inside one’s own past. Tell me how you developed this idea of traveling inside the mind, in the past and then to the present and then back again, always ready to set for a new journey.

A.- I think in my case it developed by accident, like most of the things that happened to me through life…because until I’d really discovered my roots, or at least at that point what I thought were my roots, I was just following Argentina’s education paths that lead to look to Europe and to look to United States for inspiration. So I was an artist creating pieces that were like Magritte or Max Ernst, like one of the Surrealists of the beginning of the century, so I was kind of copying those people. Then one day by accident I ended up in the Andes and when I saw the mountains it was like a lightning, like an explosion inside me. I found a culture that I didn’t know existed. First I found the landscape and then I found the people that live within that landscape and they had lived there for centuries and nobody told me about. I went through university and I had never heard of them. I heard vaguely through history books but I was explained things that happened in the civilizations that were there in the past, you know, like they explain things in the history books: very cold and distant. So, that was my first connection with my roots; my direct connection was that I was born there, in that part of the world, and somehow I was attracted, I understood the sensibility that was connecting those people with the landscape. And I said before that I thought that those were my roots because even though my father told me many times that he was a survivor of the Holocaust I kept erasing his voice from my memory all the time because I guess it was very hard for me to take, but my roots are also in Eastern Europe, where he was born from a Hasidic family, went through the Holocaust and escaped and ended up in South America. So, I’m telling you all this facts and where my roots connect because that’s how I create my own art. My art is not really separated from my real life. It’s like I am a living artist that creates his pieces depending on where I go and what happens to me. So there is an inseparable connection between my art and my life and I could say really easily that my studio is everywhere I go, not necessarily I have a studio where I sit down and make drawings and create canvases or videos. My studio is here too, you know, in San Remo by the sea, searching for the connection. Then it takes me to trying to encourage people not to do exactly what I do, because I’m one of those few fortunate that can do it, but to search through their roots, because we can always find really important things, maybe only important things for us: memories and connections with our families and traditional stories that maybe we can rescue and maybe transform, and that’s why the connection with Shelley’s work is personal memoir. We really believe in personal memoir as a way to transform society in a way, transform it today, that it is totally being overrun by the media and by impulses that are trying to erase our past.

S.- And impose dreams, artificial dreams, not our dreams: Cindy Crawford’s dreams, Walt Disney’s dreams, Madonna’s dreams.

A.- Yeah, it’s an absurd. We have so many individual stories running like sound waves, that are spreading all over the world and the only thing we need to do is to straighten our arm and grab one because it’s already passing by.

Q.- So there is like a net of personal stories around us that represents our life and tell us something about our real needs and dreams, not those artificially imposed by the media or by outside standards and fashions. And this perspective open new ways to understand human history, the one you don’t find in the books.

A.- Yes. Well, I’m not saying that we don’t have to listen to what’s going on around us, but we shouldn’t let those impulses run our life and our memory and our past. We don’t want Mac Donald’s to take over what we want to eat and make disappear all the cafes in Paris. We want everything to have a place.

S.- We want also Mac Donald’s to have a place?

A.- Yes, of course. I like Mac Donald’s as an image!

Q.- What kind of journey is your Dante’s journey?

S.- I’m a little different from Alejandro in that I really in my blood am a Gypsy. I think if I just had my bag and my jacket and a pen I would be very happy.

A.- Why are you saying different? I’m saying the same thing, I’m saying that my studios are everywhere.

S.- Well, because I think that you’re grounded in a culture, I mean I feel a Gypsy in a way that I don’t really feel I belong to any culture.

A.- What culture?

S.- Your roots, you have a sense of roots. I don’t feel I have any sense of roots. I don’t really feel American or European…you go into your family, you go into the blood of the land of South America, you have roots and you feel them! I feel no roots, I feel that my root is to journey. That’s what I mean is different, and it is different. So, I feel like Dante a lot, I feel like I’m in exile from some ideality that probably doesn’t exist, and I keep wandering and on the way I see stories. I’m probably looking for something that I never hold in my hands or in my heart, but I keep looking because ..I don’t even know why.

Q.- What is the gift or the promise that your theater wants to offer to the audience? In a sense Dante promised through his journey the salvation of the human soul.

S.- Yeah! The salvation of the human soul. That’s why in the “Girl’s Guide to the Divine Comedy” we go through a whole part that is very active and there’s a lot of people on the stage and things are happening: people are going to the subway station as the Inferno, shopping malls for Purgatory and you get a Paradiso when you have a twelve year old girl alone building a garden out of junk and telling the story of the cartography of the soul. She’s trying to figure out how we change even our ideal of mapping, so that instead of mapping places to conquer, places to possess and make money you trade that you map what the distance is between the heart and the head and how far is it from despair to hope, so that you understand how is to live life as a human, ‘human’ in the most humanistic sense, possibly also, I guess, as a spiritual being, not of the body, and how do you make the body and disembody aspect of all of us go together. I’m hoping that when you see something like that on stage, that can’t be staged, then you start to understand the paradox of our condition and the possibility to dream out of our condition.

Q.- This is a very, very precious and special gift. Do you think that people are able to understand and experience this? How is the situation in America when you practice such kind of theater? How do people react? Is it difficult to make it through?

S.- What’s funny to me is that it’s difficult because of the people who produce theater. I don’t think it’s a difficult theater to understand anymore than Shakespeare is a difficult theater to understand, but if you have people who produce who say “no, what we have to have is family drama with a kitchen sink, that’s what the people want to hear” and that’s what gets done…so, we’re facing a lot of problems with people with power second-guessing what people want to watch. For example, there’s a book now called Sophy’s World, which is a history of philosophy and it’s a best-seller all over the world!

Q.- So you’re saying it’s not a matter of people’s taste.

S.- No, I think it’s the people who market the taste. I think people are open to anything. If somebody said “Hey, the cool thing is ‘Theater of the Mind’!” then people would go and see “Theater of the Mind” and they would understand it! They would understand it in their way, the way that everybody understands something a little different. But if people go “Oh, no, that’s too intellectual, it’s not comprehensible, there’s too many words”…I think this is the big problem; the kind of people who have taken control of our media, including artistic media. Because you see things that slide through, you know, mistakes get made like this “Sophy’s World” or…there’s so many examples of things like “Hundred Years of Solitude”.

Q.- So, how would you describe in general the situation in the United States concerning theater?

S.- I think it’s in very bad shape. I think it’s not very deep, everything is on a very superficial plane. It’s a little like television, even the experimental work is really modeled on the talk show; one-person-stand-up comedy. There are so many links between performance art and the night club, the cabaret and television rather than the avant-garde as we think of it, the history of the avant-garde in Europe. There’s a lot of irony, which has its place but when your all concept and attitude is irony there’s no pathos. There’s a lot of blatancy in the drama, the serious drama is very blatant, political in ways that you could get in a soap opera. So, I would say that it’s lacking in depth, profundity, any kind of spiritual redemption, and, most painful for me because theater is a medium of language, is lacking in musicality of language. It’s not an important thought to most playwrights now that language should have a sound the way that a composition has a sound. What it means is you put word ‘a’ together with word ‘b’ and you get meaning ‘c’, and it’s not true because human interaction has to do with the quality of words and a poetry of expression that we just simply don’t respect. We respect meaning and information, it’s very puritanical.

Q.- This way communication passes through the brain and not through the texture of language.

S. Yeah, and communication should be the easiest, simplest, the most blatant way to say something.

Q.- This is a very pessimistic portrait of our society!

S.- I don’t think it’s pessimistic about people. I feel very disillusioned and frustrated with the people who control what gets seen in art, any kind of art form, what gets heard. Those people for some reason are looking for the lowest common denominator, even in the highest of the art forms, for some reason, if something is not understandable or doesn’t fit a genre that they are certain will sell, it’s not only not saleable, it’s not good. ‘Good’ has become so associated with popularity that there’s no room for a new possibility, and if you don’t give people the possibilities of new ways of seeing different kinds of art forms then, you know, they buy what’s there to buy; if you go a store and you can only buy ‘x’ you buy ‘x’, if you can’t buy ‘y’ you don’t buy it, if it’s not there. So, my frustration is with the people who control what gets produced, not with the people that go or even more so with the people who don’t go because particularly in the world of theater people don’t go! And they don’t go because the same stuff gets produced and produced and it’s bad and it’s boring and there’s nothing new about it, there’s no possibility about it.

A.- It’s also a circle; tickets are very high so, you know, you have to pay thirty-forty dollars to go and see an off-Broadway production when a ticket for a movie-theater in the same city costs nine dollars. So you are erasing a generation from theater because young people can’t afford it. Imagine a couple who wants to go Saturday night to see a play, so that’s eighty dollars, plus going out to dinner, another thirty, take a cab, take a drink, we’re talking about one hundred and fifteen dollars…it’s an absurd. What it does is it lowers the quality of the production because, you know, it’s a circle, so young people don’t go, so things are created for a certain kind of people.

Q.- Do you think it would be possible maybe to do something in other countries? For example how do you see the situation in Italy, judging from your own experience?

S.- There seems to be more opportunities, even though there isn’t a lot of money people still manage to do things and people go and see theater, people get exited to try new possibilities. Like here it’s the way also in France and Germany.

A.- There’s more support from the State.

S.- Much more support from the State. But I also know that people are very frustrated that that support is also diminishing. Maybe they’re following in the wake of the American course. I’ve heard from so many Italians that nobody cares about art or our theater or workshops because all that’s important is to make money. It’s a very cynical way to go about your life; you go to school not to learn but to get a job, so you really don’t care what happens in that class, you only care if you can get the parts to get a good grade. I think eventually it’s going to turn around because this kind of attitude oddly enough will not work very well with the communication age and the information revolution because you need a lot of creativity and problem-solving skills to use the technology. So, if you don’t have a kind of inquiring mind you can’t keep up with your own machines. -That’s another paradox!

S.- Yeah! And I’m hoping and hoping that that will bring again the Renaissance to creativity, maybe not in art, maybe in some other form. 18- The last question: concerning the word ‘paradox’. That’s also an important concept in your idea of creativity.

Q.- Why? What is paradox in art and for human beings?

S.- A paradox to me is when two opposite things are together in the same thing, so you can’t say it’s white or black, you can’t say it’s gray, you have to say it’s ‘white and black’. This to me seems to be the quintessence ? position of humanity, that we’re ‘this and this’, or we’re ‘that and that’, the same way we’re an individual and we are a community, we are narcissistic and altruistic, the way we can be evil and good. It goes all the way back to the old myths and all the old fairy tales; this incredible battles go on that we play out as individuals, we play them out in such things as wars. It is a deep basis of creative expression. I would rather see them being played out in the creative expression that in the battle field which is really one of the things that happens when groups of people can’t dream. They explode. – This idea of paradox brings me back to the idea of history and to the Renaissance ideal of art, because it makes me think how the attitude of human society towards this concept has gone through different changes. In the Renaissance the paradox of androgeny, with its implicit idea of homosexuality, was regarded as a miracle; a human being in whom the two opposite sexual identities could meet and cohabit was considered a privileged creature, the living symbol of harmony and perfection. At the end of the sixteenth century, when such society undergoes economic and social changes, and thus the humanistic mentality gives way to the strict censorship of the Reformation, the myth of androgeny and the idea of homosexuality came to be condemned as a monstrous sin, an abortion of nature. The concept of ambiguity, rooted in the paradox, is no more a means to explore new possibilities in man and nature, but it’s become a dangerous phenomenon that destabilizes society instead of enriching it, and leads men to confusion and damnation. This big shift in the perspective of ambiguity and paradox seems to me deeply connected to the shift in the idea of art and creativity. I think that ambiguity has a very important part in what we’re talking about.

A.- Yes, I think that the basic notion of our workshop is a paradox, because we say that we are trying to teach people about process and not product and that’s what we do, but at the end they all end up with a product! So, the basic ideology of our workshop is to work with this kind of paradox, and it’s unintended, but the very nature of the techniques we use to produce a process through the days the participant work together, to just give the tools of the process, become that paradox that at the end they all have a product. An that’s unintended.

Q.- I was impressed during one of the workshops when a participant asked you if she was supposed to choose words to match the images, to explain the images, and you said “no, that’s not the way, because then you don’t have paradox and you don’t create new images, new ideas”. S.- That’s very important! I hate descriptions. I get worried because one of the things that people fall into is that…

A.- …they tend to describe, that’s the easiest thing to do. You sit here and you describe the sea, the waves…

Q.- It’s reassuring in some ways

A.- Right, exactly. What we intend to get people to understand is that we want to produce shock, at least little shocks. You know, it’s very hard to shock people today at the end of the twentieth century but sometimes some connections, words put in some particular place with some images put close to them, produce little shock-waves, and that’s the idea. Those little shock-waves will generate other images. That’s why we try to be really careful about it; one would say: “well, cut some words from here and place them, and cut some images from here and place them”, because the tendency is: if you draw the image of a tree and than you have the word ‘tree’, maybe you put them together or you have the word, I don’t know, ‘dog’, and then you put them together…

S.- Yesterday I got very angry because one of the participants had drawn this beautiful, very abstract horse, and then we put them in groups and one of the other guy completed the horse, meaning made it look like a horse, and we couldn’t say anything because we were asking them for the exercise to work together, but I felt that I had been stabbed, that everything we were trying to transmit was lost.

A.- That’s the rule of the game; you can’t guide people, but we can point things out; we can’t do the work the work for them.

Q.- Anyway, I have seen people getting little shocks during your workshops, like for example when you take a sheet of white paper and crumple it up and throw it away. That really produces a strong impact on people’s minds!

A.- Yes, that’s a kind of symbol of our workshop–that the impulse to create is always more important,more infinite we could say– than the product created.

S.- It’s also important that participants don’t sit calmly in chairs to write. Lots of time they sit on the floor, they lie on the floor. We associate writing with stress and being at a desk and being a student. It’s not! It’s dreaming. If you ever watch children when they’re on the floor they write and make pictures at the same time, they don’t sit up at a desk holding their pen like it’s, you know… – …a dagger!

A.- Yeah, doing it on the floor really changes the association you have with writing or with drawing, because most of the time you do it on the desk or at the table. Going down to the floor takes you to another dimension, both literally and figuratively.

Q.- A sort of underworld.

A.- Yes. What we try to do is create the idea that the participants are not really doing the work consciously– they are not responsible for the unusual images or words that emerge because they do so automatically. So, they can be free of guilt of what they do because they’re not rationally thinking about it, and that’s probably what produces the most interesting pieces, because people have more freedom from self censorship than they normally do when they sit down and purposely write something or draw something with their rational consciousness.

Q.- So, these are all tricks that you use to try make people free of their own defenses.

S.- Tricks are good because, you know, the trickster in folklore is a humorist, a somewhat nasty character who shakes everybody up out of their complacency.

Take Another Look

by Alejandro Fogel
Sketchbook Magazine


The world around you–the sound of running water, the shape of a jar, even stains on a wall–can be a good source of inspiration. It’s simply a matter of opening your eyes, literally.

How do I find inspiration to create new and original work?” This age-old question is asked over and over again by participants at creativity workshops and art classes. And the answer–I suggest to my students–is right before their eyes.

Leonardo da Vinci used to stare at the wall of his studio for long periods of time. The wall was empty. There were no paintings on it, just large, dark humidity stains that would change slightly every day slowly through the seasons. Da Vinci would stare at them and literally see his drawings, paintings, sculptures and inventions on the wall. The raw images from the stains became da Vinci’s masterpieces. What would we have seen on da Vinci’s wall? Certainly something different. Just like children who look at the clouds; one may see a house and another may retort: “No, that’s a cow!” We’re so similar in the way we perceive the world around us and yet so different in how we interpret it.

Whale watching
One morning author Herman Melville woke up in his house in Pittsfield, Mass., and followed his morning routine. He had breakfast and went straight to his study on the second floor. He looked out the small window and stared at the same landscape he saw everyday, a piece of sky and Mount Greylock, part of the Berkshire mountains. That morning, however, something extraordinary happened. Instead of seeing Mount Greylock, he saw a whale. In an instant, the sky became the sea and the mountain became Moby Dick. Melville knew the sea intimately from his years as a sailor, but it was this moment in his study that he conceived his celebrated novel. He was never able to see that mountain as a mountain again. For him, it would always be Moby Dick.

Do a double-take
The sources of inspiration are all around us. The simplest things can become the most incredible images when we rescue them from our daily reality. We can transform the images into our own personal, individual creations, and portray them the way only we can portray them. We need to open our eyes and see what’s around us, over and over again as if for the first time. We need to believe that a mountain can, indeed, be a whale.

Notebooks and dreams
I take a little notebook and pen wherever I go. I have notebooks by the shower, in the kitchen, by my bed, just in case some idea hits me. If we don’t capture the images we see when we see them or write down sparkling ideas when they occur, we all too often forget them. It’s like the way dreams usually disappear when we awake. If we don’t make the effort to remember them right away, when we are in the limbo state between sleep and waking, they vanish.

All around you
Be aware of the texture of a tree, the shape of a window, the colors of the doors on your street, the sound of water coming out of a faucet, the smell of a peach, the vibration of the air as you walk down the street. No one else will experience these impressions the way you do, and you won’t experience them the same way from day to day. The sources of inspiration are always right there. All around you.

 


 

Tapping Creativity

by Gary Kuhlmann
In Class, University of Iowa Alumni Magazine


In an innermost room of the Lascaux cave, a hunter picked up a paint-loaded reed or hollow bone, drew in a breath, and gazed at an empty wall. In the next moment, using a sophisticated blowing technique, the artist lifted his airbrush to his lips and began to create. Thirty thousand years later, a professor in Iowa’s International Writing Program wants to remind us that we’re all still primal hunters. In the intimacy of a small classroom in the English-Philosophy Building, Shelley Berc and her husband, visual artist Alejandro Fogel, 95MFA teach, the lost skill of tracking down our own wild animals, the life-sustaining beasts of our dreams and imaginations.

Over an intensive four-week period, in a course called “Creativity Workshop: Writing, Drawing, and Storytelling as Personal Memoir,” Berc and Fogel investigate ways of breaking through barriers of rational thinking, of unlocking personal images and letting loose creative thinking.

Berc calls the class a hands-on workshop wherein students use creative writing, drawing, painting, collage, photography, and other art forms to explore the possibility of understanding the world through its images and its symbols. The goal is not to create a product, but to re-express those images in ways that are both collective and universal and also one’s own.

From her perspective as a university teacher, Berc recognized that the imaginative process was not being taught. After developing her ideas and teaching the creativity workshop for several years in Europe, she won support from the university in 1996 to begin teaching her methods at the UI.

“It’s a way for people from all kinds of disciplines to come together and make sometimes really exciting artistic discoveries, but also humanistic discoveries,” Berc says.

The workshop lures writers, painters, sculptors, and dancers interested in overcoming creative blocks, but Berc’s favorite class rosters have reflected a multitude of disciplines. Students from fields usually considered not so fanciful, such as education, science, and business, also enroll to rediscover the power of their imaginations. Even a few doctoral candidates can provide grateful testimonials to the magic of the workshop in getting them past that daunting first blank page to a finished thesis.

The syllabus for the course includes not one textbook, but Berc and Fogel do ask that her students have certain prerequisites. “Openness, the energy of a child, a sense of wonderment,” Berc says. “And leave the critical brain at home, the part that says, ‘yes, no, it’s not good enough, it’s better than.’ Critical judgment should stay at home, locked in a closet, hidden under the bed or in the cellar.”

Nobody in Berc’s workshop picks apart anyone else’s story or poem or drawing. Not a big believer in reading work in progress aloud to a large audience, Berc instituted the practice of having participants whisper their writing to a single listener, with the partners switching every time. From these quiet pairings, students develop close bonds with one another and start working as a team. When they finally perform before the full class toward the end of the course, they receive praise and support, expressions of simple joy from people who themselves feel the need to make something, to tell a story, to connect some dots.

If we don’t develop our urge to create, Berc says, we may well end up like the subject in our prehistoric ancestor’s cave wall painting, where a wounded bison lies in front of a hunter–and the hunter is dying.

“When creativity isn’t valued in society, destruction takes over,” Berc says. “We’re more complex than our consumer culture credits us for. We’re not here just to eat, to go out and buy.”

Berc and Fogel are determined to revive the hunter asleep inside their students. Introducing tools not normally used in university classrooms, they lead participants in meditation and visualization exercises, automatic drawing and writing, map making, and even playacting with puppets. Each semester, about 18 students begin every workshop session by lying down in the middle of the classroom floor for a body relaxation exercise–it’s the beginning of an adventure of discovery, a journey through defenses that prevent them from creating.

“The worst thing is the fear of creating,” Fogel says. “Anxiety about the empty page. We all have that beginner’s mind every time we have to face the start of another project.”

Fogel jolts students out of that fear when he holds up a sheet of paper and then instantly crumples it up and throws it away.

“I want to produce a kind of shock, to show them that this piece of paper that you think is so precious because it has your work on it, is not so great,” he says. “The impulse to create is infinitely more important than any product created. Once they realize that, it becomes much easier to start putting marks down on the white page.”

To calm the class down and to concentrate everyone’s attention on their interior sensibilities, Berc begins every workshop session with a series of relaxation and visualization exercises. The students focus their thoughts on their breathing and on relaxing muscle tensions. Berc then takes her listeners on a flight over the topography of their imaginations, as she recites archetypal stories about adventures, journeys, and myths, and encourages the students to “watch the images their bodies leave behind.” When someone happens to catch sight of an interesting image, that person rolls over onto her stomach to write or draw in a sketch pad. Soon more and more students have picked up their pencils.

“Automatic writing and drawing are ways of discovering the truth of the subconscious,” says Fogel. “And we try to create the idea that the students are not really doing the work–that the unusual images or words emerge automatically. So, the students can be free of guilt about what they make because they’re not rationally thinking about it. And that produces the most interesting pieces, because it gives them more freedom from self-censorship than they would have if they sat down to purposely write or draw using their rational consciousness.”

Lying on the floor changes the association with creating, according to Berc, taking students both literally and figuratively to another dimension.

“Getting back on the floor and playing with your crayons is good!” she says. “A lot of the creativity that we’re born with–it’s almost a birthright–is lost through experience, the necessities of survival, and education. If you watch children when they’re young learners, they like to do things on the floor, they like to draw on the floor, they like to sprawl out. Why? When you work that way, you are much less rigid. You’re playing! Play is how we learn. If we don’t have enough play, we can’t learn how to survive. And survival isn’t just physical. We as human beings can’t survive without dreams.”

From the relaxation and visualization exercises on the floor, participants move on to “show and tell” games, short interviews with one another, and playacting, all efforts to learn true stories about themselves and others. In finding out what stories they have to tell, participants have the express permission from Berc and Fogel to steal from each other, a concept Berc calls “appropriation.” If a participant finds somebody else’s image meaningful, he is free to appropriate it for the duration of the workshop in order to shape the stolen image into work that is truly his own.

“Our idea of stealing is mostly geared to get people to work in groups, to be able to think the same way the other person works,” Fogel says. “In the workshop, we talk a little about the collective unconscious, Carl Jung’s theory. We talk about how each of our unconsciousness is just a little part of the enormous universal unconsciousness. In a room, ideas from that unconscious are floating around. We see that in our workshop all the time. We see people working with the same images without looking at each other’s work. Certain groups have fish, for example. That’s why we say that the ideas within this room are the property of everyone.

Encouraged to freely appropriate ideas from each other, students feel liberated from the paralysis that can strike when they’re told to create something new.

“There’s nothing new anyway,” Berc says. “It’s all about how we reinterpret what’s already been done. From the Middle Ages up until the Renaissance, nobody worried about being original. Artists only painted about five subjects and they were all religious.”

With creativity tools learned from Berc and Fogel, students work on expressing their memoirs in the course. The teachers say that talking about personal histories is something anyone can do, and it’s a technique that builds a sense of safety and community in the class. But memories also contain many of the universal images that rattle our bones and blind us with beauty, and so they become useful strategies for originating and organizing creative work.

“Especially if you’re not an artist, that’s where you can find a lot of your creative juices,” Berc says.

The workshop culminates in participants sharing a visual autobiographical map presented on 12-foot rolls of butcher paper. Each student creates a three-dimensional representation of his or her writing, drawing, or performance, presenting a cartography of the individual’s discovery of the creative process.

“The basic notion of our workshop is a paradox,” says Fogel. “We are trying to teach people about process and not product and that’s what we do, but in the end, they all end up with a product!”

Students from The Creativity Workshop should be able to walk away from the class with a set of tools they can use for a lifetime of creative expression. But more importantly, Fogel and Berc say they want the students to take with them the wish to dream.

“We hope that, even if they don’t become artists, at least people come out of our workshops having gained confidence in their imaginative birthright or actually go on to develop it,” Berc says. “It’s very necessary to our survival to have the time to play, and to play imaginatively. We’re trying to remind people that we’re all creative beings. To deny the creative side of ourselves is like depriving ourselves of access to divine.”


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