The Two Step Dance of Creation: Act, Think

Continue from last post…..The desire for creative liberty seems to be like a pressure valve that needs to be released every so often, at indeterminate intervals. Depending on what kind of problem, one’s mood, how efficiently one is working, the pressure rises, and once it reaches a threshold, one will run into a problem or creative roadblock in the project.

At this point, it is necessary to do some action to relieve this creative urge. This can be in a number of ways. The difference between the two poles of the model I have just presented in the last article, supporting creativity, is that stage one, creative liberation, could be summarized as action, and stage two, creative delibaration, could be summarized as thinking. However, this is a slightly different kind of thinking in the head. This type of thinking follows more closely with the distributed cognition definition of thinking. Humans use our environments in order to work out problems and manipulate material and physical entities (words, paint, objects, etc.) to help conceptualize a problem.

I will give a concrete example. Say I am painting, and I have a particular line that I am developing, and this line has a certain radius to it. This radius needs to be extended because that is what the perceptual logic of the piece dictates. In order to deliberate over this problem, I can look at it and imagine what it looks like, taking the perceptual logic and running with it, so to speak. Simulating future circumstance based upon the foundation I currently have, building up. This is all constructive, vertical, rule based thinking, all relating to the perceptual logic and to the thinking part of the process. However, within this process lies action (part of the first stage). The action is me taking my brush and moving it along the curve to see how it would feel to make this kind of curve. This is a mini two step cycle in itself actually, because I perform the curve and I evaluate if it resonates with the perceptual logic that has developed within me. But these are mini performance and mini evaluations that would cause a small spike and dip on the larger dampened oscillator model.

This stage of the process is deliberation. It is setting up and formulating a plan by using different methods to think about the problem. This step can only go so far until it requires more input, it needs a real change to continue, almost as if the rational mind is a hungry machine fed by trying, in some way, to act upon the world, after all, it is called feedback.

(I have a hunch here that experts are able to go longer before requiring additional feedback, letting them solve problems with minimal manipulations of the environment because they can call upon previous instances that have been abstracted to categorical problems and prototypical steps required to solve these problems, heuristics. This is good if it works, but troublesome if it doesn’t, because oftentimes, the experts have a hard time changing their mentality.)

The main gist of each step is

  1. Exteriorization of mental content, acting
  2. Generation of mental content, thinking.

However, as the enactive paradigm and the distributed cognition theory in Cognitive Science has taught us, these factors are tightly bound, which is why we see interesting overlaps in each of the mini cycles for the poles.

Either way, in this article I wish to highlight the fact that it is necessary to ease the pressure valve built up during vertical thinking, for once the pressure builds this style of creativity loses its productive value…more action is required. This is where implementation is required, actualizing the ideations, and why I referred to step one as exteriorizing mental content in the model above. The thoughts must take a certain form, and choice have to be made in order to decide what form they should take, but the actual implementation the finest grain details of doing the action, the millimeter by millimeter guidance of the hand and precise choice of every word is not a fully conscious act. The mind knows the end result it wants to achieve, but only until it actually views its creation does it truly find out how it has managed to exteriorize this idea, meaning that the nitty gritty was largely indeterminate until the final exteriorization. Now the deliberating mind can view this creation and evaluate how it fits, how it changes the scene, and where to go next. There is a whole host of new problems to solve and avenues to explore, although they may be minute compared to the overall logic of the piece.

This dichotomy is the same as that of form vs. function. Form is exteriorizing and function is the thinking part, i.e. extending the logic and building upon foundations. On one side the artist is the actor, but he is enabling the piece to exist as a coherent whole, with a personality, and acting upon the viewing in some way (convincing their eyes to flow in a certain manner, striking some chord within them, etc.). So step one consists of the author acting in order that he may watch those actions in step two to see if they were the desired actions or not. Thus painting is a two step dance with the canvas, as is problem solving and the creative process overall, a two step dance with any medium. There is the function, the story of what needs to be told, and the form, the actual plot the author develops in order to tell that story. And as a matter of fact every sentence tells a small story, that of the intention of the author. The story are the semantics of the sentence and the plot is the syntax used to convey that meaning. The author is cognizant of the semantics and based upon the mind supplies the appropriate words to congeal the thought.

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