Categorising seems counterintuitive to the creative process but in fact, it can be used as an effective tool in eliciting novel and surprising connections. Naturally, we file all information we receive, boxing it up if you will, in a database system that takes all our perceived input and orders it. Maybe, instead of looking outward for inspiration, we look inside these boxes for a resource of ideas.
Our human disposition to categorise is an inescapable quality. We label people, objects and situations to make sense of them, giving them meaning within our belief system (and reassure our belief system). This is a quick automated process that acts as a safety net for our brain. To try and comprehend everything individually as a unique experience would simply overload us. We’d literally be stuck in an overstimulated, perpetual, catatonic state of processing the world. So how do we creatively utilise this innate ability we have? We explored the idea of these categories recently and gave students a tool they could use to expand their generation of ideas.
In our context, we have had the opportunity it to bring in an artist and explicitly run lessons on ‘creativity’. Kristen is a filmmaker and writer and her brief is to provide students with tools that can be used in the creation of their Performing Arts work. Over the course of the past few weeks, we have explored some simple yet potent ways we can engage in the creative process. The first of which started with a fuzzy wombat.
The fuzzy wombat is essentially an imitation fur from our prop room that was rolled into a ball and sitting around in our office. We told Kristen we wanted the students to explore the object as a stimulus eliciting a variety of thoughts, ideas and points of inspiration. Students were shown the fuzzy wombat and asked for their immediate response, which was along the lines of ‘black’, ‘furry’, ‘ball’ – fairly obvious. Then, to write out ten more words that come to mind in reference to the object. Then, repeat this with ten more (an Artful Thinking routine). After reflecting on how the mind starts to make more intriguing connections with an increased number of responses, Kristen gave the students a set of categories:
Colour | Shape | Size | Texture | Smell | Weight | Sound | Nationality | Favourite Food | Setting | Family (Birth Order) | Time | Fashion sense | Religion | Species | History | Age | Level of Education | Taste | Responsibilities | Needs/Addictions | Gender | Occupation | Religion | Hobbies/Interests | Personality | Culture
Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list (in fact the students came up with some of these). The task was then to think about our fuzzy wombat in different categories and write ten more association words. From here students selected 3 words from all the lists they had created and asked to write a story starter, either a sentence or paragraph. Instead of being given an object and being told to write creatively about it, the students were given a tool to explore the object then have an arsenal of words and ideas to write a story.
An important aspect of this activity is the chance to get out the bland, obvious responses before digging deeper into more powerful ideas and connections. We should never discourage the boring, it is often a block if not expressed or written down. But we should follow up by encouraging the persistence of exploring more diverse, deeper layers and abstract links.
This idea was revisited with an investigation of self. This time describing ‘who you are’ through different perspectives. Starting with writing one’s names, then the colour your name is, sound, meaning and number. From this act of reflection Kristen then gave a poem structure:
Line 1- First Name
Line 2- 3 or 4 adjectives that describe your person
Line 3- Important relationship (daughter of…father to…brother of…)
Line 4- 2-3 things, people, or ideas that the person loved
Line 5- 3 feelings the person experienced
Line 6- 3 fears the person experienced
Line 7- accomplishments
Line 8- 2-3 things the person wanted to see happen or wanted to experience.
Line 9- His or her residence
Line 10- Last name
This resonated with me as it did with the students because I was forced to think about describing myself, which is often the most difficult. We have gone on to use it as a character building tool which has stirred up some odd combinations and some really rich zany figures. Looking inside the box at what we know, again we find a plethora of material ready to be capitalised. This is essentially what creativity is about, making the connections with the material at your disposal.
For more posts on Arts, creativity and the creative process check out my blog.
Header image by Nela.