Advice from an Artist on How to Be Creative #4: Play!

Katie Brennan
Sep 17, 2018 · 3 min read
Artwork — by Katie Brennan, tape collage on paper

This series of four ideas come from an email interview and conversation I did with Steve Thomas of, and fellow altMBA alum. Curvefinder is a a personal project Steve launched to explore how people all over the world are innovating themselves, their businesses and the people around them. His aim is provide practical tools and inspiring insights, as well as profiling real people or every-day-innovators making positive changes for themselves and others.

Read Our Full Interview HERE.

Number 4: PLAY!

Don’t ascribe a purpose to what you are doing. This goes part in parcel with working within a sacred space. Let your creativity lead the way. Don’t decide too closely what you’re going to make beforehand. Allow for surprises and play and enjoyment. I think about this as accessing another part of my brain that thinks totally differently from the more logical, linear part. It will come up with the most magical solutions if you let it.

Creativity can operate in any realm, but in its purest form, creativity operates for creativity’s sake, in that sacred space where there is just you and the work. In this space, there are no outside influences.

A great idea within the sacred space of the studio. A not-so great idea within the larger context of our everyday lives.

If you need to apply creativity with purpose, make a container not a target.

When we decide beforehand what we’re going to end up before we’ve even begun, we eliminate any wiggle room, any room for play. And therefore if we don’t end up where we expected to, we’ve failed.

For me, the concept of failure is something I don’t think about very much. In her book Art Thinking Amy Whitaker shares a concept that explains why beautifully.

Usually when we’re working on something we make a plan to get from point A to point B. But as Whitaker points out:

If you are making a work of art in any area of life, you are not going from a known point A to a known point B. You are inventing point B.

I almost never know where B is.

I have some vague idea of where I’m going, but I don’t know what my destination or final product will look like. And any time where I’ve been foolish enough to have a fairly clear idea of what I think I’m making, the creative process upends my idea surely and swiftly, and gives me something else instead.

This is because I’m creating point B as I go.

So the idea of making a container, not a target, is to map out some constraints and/or variables that will tell you when your creative efforts have finished, that you've arrived at point B. Constraints are a huge part of my artistic practice — in fact, I couldn’t make my work without them.

Choose things that will make a container that can store your idea and creative process: specific materials or processes you will use, purpose or function of the thing you’re making, the amount of time you will work on it, etc. Time can be a great one; you will know you’re done simply because you’ve run out of it. This one is particularly good if you have perfectionist tendencies.

Designer / artist Jaime Hayon is a great example of this. All of his projects start with some silly or playful response or idea that he bats it around for awhile playing with it. That simple, fun and playful gesture is then distilled through his dedication to his artistic and technical expertise that brings his pieces into wondrous artistic harmony between fine craftsmanship and the kernel of a silly, simple idea.

Now setting constraints may feel like you’re sucking all the air out of the room. But I would argue it actually does the exact opposite.

By making a container, and not a target, you’ve left room for play, for magic, for creativity, to come in and help you come up with a solution within a narrow set of constraints.

By making a target, not a container, you’ve created a kind drudgery where you’re just executing to reach the final goal, rather than delighting and enjoying the process along the way.

I know which one I’d choose any day!

Katie Brennan

Written by

Artist & Art Consultant working at the intersection of Art, Business, Spirituality, Creativity and the Power of Magical Thinking.

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