Wednesday, 21 April 2010
Using emergence to think about creativity, you might say that the more interactions there are between sufficiently diverse elements (the complex adaptive system here is you - all of you - mind, body and emotion - thinking, doing, feeling - trying to survive), the more likely it is that something interesting will emerge.
The interactions might be between your mind and ideas in a text, or between your eyes and the marks you're making on a piece of paper, or between your history of experience and memory and a painting in an exhibition. The more you allow for the right kind of interactions, through time, the more likely it is that something will appear.
The appearing aspect of creative work is well documented. Artists might talk about it being as if something is drawing 'through' them; writers talk about characters in a novel 'having a life of their own', or of being 'guided' by something beyond themselves. This is an athiestic blog, so I'm not talking about anything other-worldly here (I'm not even interested in the word 'spiritual', I'm afraid....). Similarly, in science, numerous discoveries are documented as having appeared in dreams, or to have suddenly emerged into thought in some other way (eureka! etc).
When Maisel talks about trying to work yourself up into a frenzy of immersion, presumably he's trying to create the conditions that make it possible for this kind of emergence to take place. His ideas fit with, and contribute to, cultural ideas about creative people as tortured and driven; convoluted, miserable, possessed, obsessed, responding to an inner compulsion to work endlessly. This kind of focussed attention, the amount of time involved, the practice of actively making connections between diverse things, certainly make sense in terms of trying to generate conditions for the emergence of novel forms.
But then there's another model of creativity, the one I've been referring to throughout this blog, which talks about letting go, release, lack of forcing, allowing. This also seems to facilitate the emergence of novel forms, but perhaps through a different kind of mechanism? In this case, you're not increasing the nature, scope and intensity of the interactions, but actually reducing them. Letting go of busyness, doing, acting. Sitting, without action, and gradually lessening thought and intention, letting your mind and body become still.
In the space created by increasing nothingness, unexpected forms can rise silently to the surface, move into the place that has been made for them. Making space and stopping interactions, at least at the level of consciousness, perhaps allows for other, hidden kinds of movement, resulting in emergent forms that would otherwise never be noticed, or perhaps never even get a chance to be born. Anish Kapoor; 'an artist has to be able to sit in an empty room, and wait for something to happen'. Alice Walker, writing The Colour Purple, sitting in a cottage alone in the woods every morning, waiting to see if her characters would visit. If they didn't, she got up and went to chop wood.