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Are You Dreaming, Genie? Creativity

When it comes to creativity, some might say it is trainable. Others would say it just happens. What do you believe?

The belief that one can train the creative process to respond to will might be called rational. Not that the other is irrational, although to some extent it is—irrational or removed from rational in that will or mind cannot force it. In fact, the attempt to force creativity might, in the eyes of Gestaltists, instead smother it.

How could people hold such disparate beliefs about one thing? Are we even talking about the same thing?

Edgar Allen Poe described his creation of "The Raven" as a logical, deductive process, one that was calculated in its entirety for best effect and constantly under his control.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge described his poem "Kubla Khan: Or, a Vision in a Dream" as the product of inspiration so pervasive that several hours were lost to him forever as the poem came to be.

Essay question: Reconcile these points of view. Ten minutes.

I'm not sure they can be reconciled, in truth. This is what we will be working on. If not reconciliation, then something else that will work for you. And maybe me.

What works for you, of course, is integrally dependent on what you believe will workI take the solipcistic view. . Will you pursue Poe's discipline or Coleridge's flash?

But before we go on ... Somewhat in the exemplary tradition of William Safire (note: affection for his usage implies no political parallel), I take actual published examples of that which I rail against and of course for, and display these examples with, and for, commentary. Real-life examples of how suboptimal writing misleads may help persuade you that doing it right reflects well on you.

Not only that, but you will see that it can indeed be done (retaining creativity while nailing the rules, that is, otherwise known as keeping right while leaning left). Subscribe to this feed—No personal information is necessary; just right-button-down (Mac: cntrl-button-down), copy the link, and cut-and-paste into your reader.

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Let us take a moment to examine this notion of creativity a bit more closely. (If you don't want to do that, skip ahead to the exciting conclusion.)

In rather philosophical attempts to understand or deconstruct or unpack or disassemble the idea of "creative thought", I have seen two rather different approaches, one of which could be called "rational" and t'other "gestalt". (We humanoids forever have to name things, you know.)

The Rational View

Proponents of the rational thought process say this: That there are stages in the creative process, all of which are logical and none of which are unconscious. It's a bit like Skinner's black box, except the black box has labels on its outside that light up as they activate. Maybe they're like a scrolling screen like the one you see at Times Square, constantly changing but the message ever visible.

I have seen the word "genius" disputed (conceptually). Those people of apparently extraordinary ability, it has been said, merely have a thorough understanding of intellectual processes in conjunction with an intimate appreciation of the problem they confront. Thus armed they are equipped to solve their problems (in sequence rather than in parallel, I assume) in such a way that to the ingenuousNeither devious nor inscrutable; but in this sort of context a scintilla of condescension may be assumed. their solutions, which are in fact but the sweated fruit of meticulous labor, may be perceived as preternaturalWay past ordinary. lightning-bolts of inspiration.

It is possible that I am somewhat misrepresenting this point of view. If so, it is not deliberate (conscious?); I am attempting to delineateHowever I fear that I am unable to prevent a tint of prejudice from staining between lines.

'Objectivity', except perhaps in high mathematics, is not attainable, anyway.
it as best I understand it.

On second thought (or scroll rewinding), the rationalist approach does not entirely deny the existence and participation of un- or subconscious factors. Unconscious exists, it allows. But its clean lines (Danish) are maintained, even with unconscious elements backstage and influencing the actors. When scrutinized closely enough, the path from problem to solution is found to be marked with discernible and concrete mental steps, like convenient step-wise rocks across the river.

No lightning bolts allowed. In fact they are not only disallowed; they are branded as products of wishful dreams.

The Gestalt Approach

The word gestalt, which may suffer a bit of stigma as a snob word, came from the German word Gestaltqualität, meaning form or appearance, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary whence that definition sprang. But in the realms of psychology and psychiatry where it was recognized as a gloriously arcane term and therefore instantly appropriated(and shortened), it has not surprisingly taken on a somewhat more loaded meaning, that of an arrangement of elements so melded (and presumably peacefully so) as to be more than the sum of its parts.

To be honest, I don't quite understand how the concept of perfect unification, which is one thing, translates into more than the sum of its entries, which is quite another.


Take three separate blobs of Sculpey® (an oiled clay that bakes at low temperatures) at room temperature, meld them with your hands, pop them in the appropriately heated oven, and you get …
something inseparable and unified.

But it is no bigger than when it went in thereUnless you added yeast,
you tricky dog.

I know; I'm being too literal.

Nevertheless, I can't help but wonder. Do our minds, when so unified (assimilated?), because of that become greater than? Is this growth or enhancement necessary or only occasional? Are these minds so unified that there is no longer a subconscious and so we're back to the rational viewThat was a joke. ?

I have been playing the devil's advocate.

I actually have no argument with the gestalt approach to the mind. It is because we are talking about mind that the theory makes sense. Doesn't life itself demonstrate convincingly that bodies, once devoid of life, have lost an intangible source of gestalt?

We can apply that principle to mind. We learn from this source and that source; we take some time to reflect on it, and, presto, we have 'focused' or integrated or otherwise grown larger (our minds, that is) from the new and broadening data.

So gestalt, in Western eyes, is considered configuration greater than what comprises it and unlikely to be dismembered. Even by the most iron-fisted reductionist.


Back in 1963 Mary Henle presented a paper proposing four characteristics of creative thinking:

To prepare the ground for the creative-thinking points described above, Henle also recommends detached immersion in the subject matter—interest while maintaining a discrete distance; the capacity to utilize error, as not all errors are created equal; and, crucially, a condition of receptivity.

So now we have it: A list, complete with appendages, of characteristics to increase the likelihood of creative thinking.

A list of traits that, if faithfully adopted, can in reality offer no guarantee of success.

But the possibility is tantalizing.

And I have a few tricks from the art-training side to help release that painfully shy right genie.