The Mind needs to Create

Have you ever watched children play with Lego? Their minds are open to endless possibilities for what these square and rectangle primary colored blocks could become. It could be a skate-park, a moon-base, a sports stadium… whatever it is, their mind has travelled further than the limitations of those blocks. Their imaginations have filled in gaps, fixed potential failures and pushed the scope of Lego to ‘infinity and beyond’.

When I’m teaching filmmaking to students, most, when they first arrive, want to know how exactly it is done. They want the steps, the process from A to B to Z that will allow them to make film. Somewhere along the way, they have lost the creative playfulness needed to create, and have allowed systematic ways of thinking to take over. Now I’m not saying we don’t need systematic thinking – we absolutely do, but seeing these students believe that there is only ‘one’ standardised way to create film, makes me sad.

If we think of Lego as a tool to stimulate and drive imagination and creativity, why can’t we think this same way of other tools at our disposal. We have classified what we ‘use’ in certain domains. For example, you could be playful with a paintbrush, but maybe not a microphone?? What could you do with a microphone creatively? You probably think you don’t have one at your disposal – but if you have a smart phone, you do. My point is, that some things have become ‘normal’ to think of in a certain way and others are seen very differently, but simply put – both paintbrush and microphone are tools. You can use them as non-creatively and creatively as your imagination allows.

Many of us, through education and the ‘daily grind’, have lost our playfulness we need to be told what to do, or we want to follow a pattern without asking questions about this daily routine. Things become systemised for many reasons. First, we are taught this way, we are taught through processes, we are taught that there needs to be an outcome, we are taught efficiency over creativity. Efficiency can become monetised at a faster rate than creativity. Even in the creative industry processes are systemised. There are so many types of clichés pointing to this type of thinking – like, ‘Don’t get it done well, just get it done’. This constant demand makes most of us use and come up with systems so we can be productive, but that doesn’t mean our productivity is always meaningful.

Just look around us at our world. We produce at a rate that is no longer sustainable, not just for the environment, but for our own well-being. We are caught up in productivity, setting goals, always on the move for the next bigger better thing. We never have enough money, enough clothes, enough…. Whatever. So how do we get back to that playfulness we were open to as children? How do we approach the tools and technology outside a systemised approach? If I mention a specific tool, most people will automatically put that tool into a context – a world that tool lives in. For example, a potter’s wheel – we think of clay, pots, sitting, throwing, moulding with our hands, and so it goes on. The tool is already associated with the context, but the tool could be used for other activities – however, we lock ourselves into what something has to be and what purpose it has. Just as well we don’t ask our children to do this with Lego.

Minna Huotilainen, Mimmu Rankanen, Camilla Groth,  Pirita Seitamaa Hakkarainen and Maarit Makela in; ‘Why our Brains Love Arts and Crafts’, state:

Experimentation with an abundance of materials without the purpose of creating anything useful is an integral part of play, which is essential for brain development in infancy and childhood (Dissanayake, 2009). In addition, it is crucial for the development of skills concerning emotion regulation, empathy and imagination (Rankanen, 2016b, 66–70). In schools and other learning contexts, we believe that arts and crafts should be utilised for visualising difficult learning tasks, for example in mathematics and biology.

I absolutely love the statement ‘without the purpose of creating anything useful’, if only we could become more playful, more experimental, more open to possibilities.

Dr. René Proyer, in his study the Personality and Individual Differences Journal (April 2017), identifies four basic types of adult playfulness:

  • Other-directed playfulness:Playing around with friends, family, and coworkers
  • Light-hearted playfulness:Regarding many aspects of life as a game
  • Intellectual playfulness:Playing with different thoughts and ideas
  • Whimsical playfulness:Interested in strange or unusual aspects of life, noticing small day-to-day occurrences

His research focuses on several aspects of play in the workforce. How ‘play’ can assist with looking at issues from different perspectives for creative-problem solving, lessen anxiety and gain greater observation skills.

I am increasingly hard on myself if I engage in an activity that I label as ‘wasting time.’ Even though I want more creativity and ‘play’ in my life, I come up against an ingrained way of thinking. I constantly battle with the fact that I have to be productive, motivated towards an outcome, working towards a goal. However, I can do these things via creativity. What, at first may look like an unnecessary waste of time – could actually be an activity that stimulates the mind, or strengthens the ability to make decisions. So, while the activity may not specifically point towards a task at hand, it promotes different ways of thinking and could eventually overflow into productivity.

But of course ‘productivity’ is not all there is in life. Creatively relaxing, being able to spend time with family or friends, or even quality time alone. Being able to enjoy ‘life’. That’s the goal, I don’t mean being constantly happy, that is not realistic, but be able to move through life with ease. Creativity can certainly enhance our life, and our connection with the world and those around us.

Last week I wrote my partner’s mother a poem for her birthday (it was in last week’s post), well I gave it to her on Sunday and there was this lovely moment of awareness of my present being my creative time. It was of so much more value to her and me. It wasn’t something I had bought online, or quickly picked up on the way to her place. I had, put in time, thinking just about her and created something to celebrate that. It’s not much – but it’s so meaningful in this very pushy, consumer driven world. I know I’ve just used the word ‘consumer’ and I haven’t used that in the post – however it is connected. Our over productiveness is an outcome of consumerism – they are all connected. I’ll just leave that there for next time.

So step back, think about your time, think about play and creativity and what you can bring to your own life. Love to hear your thoughts on this.

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