Creativity Research and Art Making

Creativity Research and Your Art Making Process: A Syllabus

Introduction

Do creative people typically work in isolation guided by their subconscious, seizing upon a burst of inspiration? Or, do creative people thrive in community and build methodically on hard work and a series of mini-insights? Are people born creative, or can creativity be taught? Do social conventions and expectations interfere with, or give form to, creativity? Does the audience have a role to play in the creative process? Your answers to these questions have implications for how you believe creativity should be cultivated, and may inform how you make art.

Are misguided cultural myths circumventing your creative process and stifling your creative abilities? Do you want to separate myth from reality? In this course you will explore your art and your art making process against the backdrop of current research and writings about creativity.

Adopting a sociocultural approach to the study of creativity, this course pools the insights and teachings of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, visual artists, performance artists, and business people. Drawing on a rich array of readings and talks, this course will explore a range of topics including how to cope with the fear and anxiety that frequently plague the creative process, the anatomy of the creative moment, finding inspiration in your artistic family tree, the value of thinking with your hands, the importance of support networks, the benefits of constraints, the influence of time and place on your art, and how to tap into the science of innovation.

To live the lessons learned about jumping in with both feet, collaboration, and facing your fears of going public, students will explore the expressive potential of blogging regularly and start building their own electronic support community.


Course Objectives

Creativity research and writings

  • Identify the dominant themes and findings in contemporary creativity research
  • Examine the concept of creativity from a sociocultural perspective that includes the insights of psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, historians, visual artists, performance artists, and business people.
  • Recognize the anatomy of the creative process
  • Examine common barriers to creative thinking and ways to address them
  • Identify strategies, practices, and frameworks that contribute to individual and organizational creativity

You and your art

  • Reflect on how creativity research may inform your art making process
  • Explore blogging as a way to share your creative self and build a support network
  • Deepen your understanding of yourself and your creative abilities


Overview

WEEK 1: Creativity Myths and Assumptions
As an artist, you harbor a lot of beliefs and assumptions about creativity. How many are cultural myths and how many are grounded in research? Through a series of readings and talks, we will unpack some of the most common myths and assumptions about creativity and begin to explore the research that supports and refutes these beliefs.

Readings:

Video / Audio

Blog Post: Think about your own art making process around specific works of art. Where do your most creative ideas come from and how do you cultivate them?
*Respond to blog posts: 2, 3, and 4

WEEK 2: Fear and Courage in the Creative Process
What are some of the things that get in the way of you creating art? Procrastination, distractions, and poor time-management are probably on the list. Is fear on your list? Creativity, by definition, is doing something new and that opens you up to failure and criticism. We can be afraid to make a mistake. We can be afraid of looking stupid. Recognizing the sources of this fear is the first step in coping with it. These readings and talks will get us started in understanding the role fear can play in the creative process and how to muster the courage to overcome it.

Readings:

  • The Courage to Create (Chapter 1), pages 11–35, May, (1975)
  • The Nature of the Problem (Chapter 1) and Art & Fear (Chapter 2), pages 1–22, Bayles, (1993).

Video / Audio:

Blog Post: Think about recent pieces, what role did anxiety play in your art making process and how did you cope with it?
*Respond to blog posts: 3, 4, and 5

WEEK 3: Coping with Anxiety and Finding Your Work
Building on the learning from the previous week, we further explore how various forms of self-doubt and criticism can plague the creative process. These readings and talks help us name these sources and strategize way to cope with them.

Readings:

  • Fears About Yourself (Chapter 3), Fears About Others (Chapter 4), and Finding Your Work (Chapter 5), page 23–64 Bayles, (1993).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: Identify someone you know who is especially creative and describe in detail the traits and characteristics they have that you would like to emulate.
*Respond to blog posts: 4, 5, and 6

WEEK 4: The Nature of Creativity
Now that we have conquered our fears about creating, or at least named them, we can start to explore the nature of creativity. Traditionally, the study of creativity has been the purview of psychologists. Early studies struggled to define and measure creativity in individuals. Understanding these struggles will help us debunk some common creativity myths and recognize the limitations of the individualistic approach to creativity research.

Readings:

Video / Audio

Blog Post: What are the themes and ideas in your art that reflect your worldview?
*Respond to blog posts: 5, 6, and 7

WEEK 5: Anatomy of the Creative Moment
While your creative outputs are unique, the mental process you went through to achieve these original thoughts involve everyday cognitive processes. Brain studies have established the mental pathways we all typically follow when we think creatively. Understanding this process and the hard work it often entails can help us understand and focus our efforts as we try to marshal our creative potential.

Readings:

Video / Audio

Blog Post: While referring to a specific work or two, describe in detail creative breakthroughs you have experienced and how they occurred.
*Respond to blog posts: 6, 7, and 8

WEEK 6: Finding Inspiration in Your Artistic Family Tree
Art is not made in a vacuum. Artists find inspiration all around them, but especially in the artists they respect. These readings and talks offer strategies for looking at the world like an artist and finding your own artistic voice—even if it means “impersonating” artists you respect.

Readings:

  • Creativity and Encounter (Chapter 4), pages 77–94, May, (1975).
  • Steal Like an Artist (Chapter 1), Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are To Get Started (Chapter 2), and Write the Book You Want to Read (Chapter 3), pages 1–49, Kleon, (2012).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: Describe in detail the artistic lineage of a recent piece.
*Respond to blog posts: 7, 8, and 9

WEEK 7: Think With Your Hands and Follow Your Interests
As artists we regularly collaborate with our respective media. These encounters oftentimes trigger our creativity, introduce happy accidents, and take us down unseen paths. The same can be said for our personal interests. Through these encounters we learn more about our subjects and ourselves. These readings and talks encourage you to make the most of these interactions—even if it’s just a plate of leftover spaghetti sauce.

Readings:

  • Use Your Hands (Chapter 4) and Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important (Chapter 5) pages 50–73 Kleon, (2012).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: While referring to a specific piece or two, describe how you find inspiration and direction in your preferred medium.
*Respond to blog posts: 8, 9, and 10

WEEK 8: Community and the Importance of Support Networks
Artists work heroically in isolation, without concern for convention and without influence from the external environment. This is one of our culture’s individualistic myths about creativity. The truth is most artists thrive in community, not isolation. It is one of the reasons, I believe, art students oftentimes stop making art and exhibiting their work just years after graduation. These readings and talks explore the dangers of this myth and strategies for establishing a nurturing support network.

Readings:

  • Visual Creativity (Chapter 10), pages 117–204 Sawyer, (2006).
  • The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It With People (Chapter 6), Geography Is No Longer Our Master (Chapter 7), Be Nice (Chapter 8) pages 50–73 Kleon, (2012).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: Describe how support networks have shaped one of your recent works. (This is a good opportunity to acknowledge unsung heroes in your art making process.)
*Respond to blog posts: 9, 10, and 11

WEEK 9: Social Imagination and Collaborative Creativity
The arts have the unique ability to make us see anew, build community, and envision possibilities. Community-based art projects have been used to raise awareness, educate the public, and even help solve social and environmental ills. These readings and talks explore the role society can have on our art and the role our art can have on society.

Readings:

  • Sociology (Chapter 7), pages 117–126, Sawyer, (2006).
  • The Delphic Oracle as Therapist (Chapter 5), pages 95–111 May, (1975).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: Describe the challenges and benefits you have experienced when you have worked in collaboration to create a work of art.
*Respond to blog posts: 10, 11, and 12

WEEK 10: The Benefits of Constraints and How Function Follows Form
Rollo May says, “Creativity requires limits, for the creative act arises out of the struggle of human beings with and against that which limits it.” Just as riverbanks give form to the rushing waters of the river, constraints can give form to our creativity. These readings and talks consider how constraints can help us focus and even enhance our creativity.

Readings:

  • Be Boring (Chapter 9) and Creativity Is Subtraction (Chapter 10), pages 116–140 Kleon, (2012).
  • On the Limits of Creativity (Chapter 6) and Passion for Form (Chapter 7), pages 112–140 May, (1975).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: Describe the constraints that shaped one of your recent works and how those constraints encouraged you to flex your creativity.
*Respond to blog posts: 11, 12, and 13

WEEK 11: Tap Into the Science of Innovation
There is a growing strand of research into the creativity of performance that focuses on how individuals interact to create on-the-fly innovation by modifying our everyday behavior. These readings and talks explore how a creative mindset can cause creative thinking to cascade throughout your day.

Readings:

Video / Audio

Blog Post: Describe why a newly learned creativity technique resonates with you and how you plan to apply it to your art making process.
*Respond to blog posts: 12, 13, and 14

WEEK 12: The Influence of Time and Place on Your Art
Creativity is culturally defined and a product of its time. While providing valuable insight into creativity, the individualistic perspective ignores significant contributing factors. These readings and talks explore how culture and history provide important contexts for understanding how creativity is viewed and manifested.

Readings:

  • Culture (Chapter 8) and History (Chapter 9), pages 137–171 Sawyer, (2006).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: How does a specific work of your art reflect the culture and time in which it was created?
*Respond to blog posts: 13, 14, and 15

WEEK 13: Creativity and Capitalism: Artistic Thinking in the Workplace
“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” This axiom is a capitalist call to arms on the power of innovation in the marketplace. While a bit hackneyed, it underscores that innovation and creativity are at the core of capitalism. Organizational creativity has become big business as companies strive to create systems that can consistently build better mousetraps. These readings and talks will explore business creativity and how artistic thinking is valued.

Readings:

  • Business Creativity (Chapter 16), pages 295–314 Sawyer, (2006).

Video / Audio

Blog Post: What creative insights and skills did you develop in art school that would be of value to the business community?
*Respond to blog posts: 14, 15, and 16

WEEK 14: Review and Reflect
You have done a lot of reading and thinking this semester about creativity and how you make art. What are your biggest takeaways from this study? How does this inform your art making?

Video / Audio

Blog Post: How has your view of creativity changed and how will this inform the way you make art?
*Respond to blog posts: 15, 16, and 17


Assessment

In keeping with your studio work, the ultimate success in this course will rely on your self-direction and creativity. Your grade will be based on three areas of performance.

A weekly blog post: Each week you will reflect on your art making within the context of the week’s writings and research on creativity. You will create a blog post that extends the conversation. A self-assessment rubric will guide you and establish the criteria and conventions of effective blogging. We will negotiate this more in class.

*Blog post responses: Each week you will write a thoughtful response to at least three of your classmates’ blog posts. To be sure that everyone is included, required responses are assigned on a rotating basis. The system for doing this is pretty simple. On the first day of class, everyone will be given a class list in alphabetical order. You will write a 1 next to your name. The next name under yours is a 2, and the next a 3, and so on. When you get to the bottom of the list you continue to number from the top. Now that your class list is numbered, the numbers next to “Respond to blog post” on the syllabus will make more sense. We will discuss this more in class and negotiate what a good response looks like. The definition of a “good blog response” will evolve and grow more sophisticated over the course of the semester. Just know that your responses to blog posts are equal in value to your weekly blog and established by your classmates.

Class participation: Your class participation and attendance will be another third of your grade. Here are some questions to consider as you self-evaluate your class participation:

  • How often did you actively participate during class discussions?
  • Did you demonstrate understanding of the assigned readings and talks?
  • Did you listen closely to your peers and speak to them in a way that was supportive and collegial?
  • Were you actively listening and engaged even when not participating?


Readings:

  • Bayles, David and Orland, Ted (1993). Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The Image Continuum.
  • Kleon, Austin (2012). Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. Workman Publishing Company.
  • May, Rollo (1975). The Courage to Create. W.W. Norton Company.
  • Sawyer, R. K. (2006). Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation. Oxford University Press. A first edition pdf can be downloaded here


Recordings:

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