Listening to 6 Music this morning, Marie-Ann Hobbs noted how both Viv Albertine and Johnny Marr could not equate happiness with creativity. Instead, creativity seems to be something quite separate. – a drive to be productive.
I do a lot of creative things and, in each case, the experience is of a creative urge – an unstoppable drive in the pursuit of good feelings, but which, in all likelihood, will be characteristised by a sense of struggle and often despair. So, ironically, happiness is rarely part of the creative process itself, but it is behind the motivation to engage creatively attracting me like a light at the end of the tunnel.
Happiness relates to creativity usually in two ways for me. And there is a third, but rare, state that can be experienced if everything falls into place.
Firstly, creativity and happiness are there in the sense of anticipation when I mentally construct often idealistic pictures of what I am going to produce. At this stage, I know I am setting myself up for a challenge, and possibly for a fall, but the pure joy of imagining ideas and possibilities creates an energy. I know this energy is usually insatiable, nevertheless, there is a belief somewhere that I will one day do something excellent (on my own terms).
Secondly, in some cases, happiness can be found in the sense of pride many years later when I can look back objectively on what I achieved. This happiness requires the passage of time. Whether it is art, music, writing or teaching I never like what I have done when I finish doing it. Finishing a creative episode therefore usually involves creating or having a constraint of some sort – usually time. Switching off the creative, critical mind and the heightened subjectivity involved in making creative decisions is very difficult. This usually means I have a strong sense of dissatisfaction when producing work. I can’t read, view or listen to things I do. For example, I have a thoroughly researched article that I have written and rewritten through an immersive set of iterations this year. It is probably or at least possibly excellent and, if not, I am fairly sure the peer review will be a valuable and constructive experience – so this reticence to submit is not that I am worried by the criticism I might receive from others, it is that my immersive flow was interrupted at that final point and I now have to summon up a new energy, and interest, in seeing the job through. As a creative person, ironically, the creative struggle of problem-solving provides the intrinsic drive – not the satisfaction of having finished something.
There is a third state of creative happiness and I hope (as I always do) to experience this over the next three days. I am in various bands or, more correctly, I am involved in variously music-related endeavours including two bands of very long standing. So, after all this time, there is an intrinsic happiness that comes from purposeful sociability centred on making things with other people – writing, arranging and recording songs. The third state, one that I often do experience when writing music, is that idea of flow. It is a fleeting sense of everything and everyone coming together; being on the same page; being in the right frame of mind. Usually, this is about being relaxed, trusting your instinct, playing with cliche and irony to find originality, and not over-thinking anything. Together. So flow is a rare and much-desired example of where creativity and process do come together. The feeling is so strong and bankable that it energises all future ideas of being creative, setting up intrinsic motivation around creativity.
So I am obviously happy in that pre-state today. My bandmates and I have set ourselves quite a challenge as we have much of the album recorded (I trust it’s good – I won’t be listening for a while of course). But we need one or two new tracks and it is critical we get the drums down by Wednesday. That becomes the constraint around which other parts are layered over the next while. I believe constraints create an amazing condition to trust what you know and find your flow.
But we’ll see…
Creativity and learning
This does explain a lot about my thinking on education and creating effective learning environments. I think creativity is an important and healthy part of learning that embraces constraints and challenges linked to ideas of satisfaction. Learning co-operatively through creative decision-making creates a rich and immersive space for learning; one that is highly stimulating, but not superficial and not about immediate gratification. A creative learning experience should foster pride or self-esteem – ultimately. This means it should involve a deep and meaningful struggle, the value of which is often not appreciated in the short-term, but which continues to inspire and drive you in years to come.