by Natalie d'Arbeloff  



The word is seen so often and in so many contexts that you can hang any meaning you want on it - which ends up stripping it of all meaning. Take the familiar course title: Creative Writing - does it mean that before they sign up for the course prospective students are in a state of un-creativity? And that they will enter the creative state afterwards? Yet surely all writing is creative: someone has to create it. Whether it rates as good, mediocre or bad is a different matter, based on value judgements which can vary according to culture, education, time, place and fashion.


My view is that the ability to create exists in all of us just as the ability to reproduce biologically exists in most of us. The comparison could be taken further: humans reproduce biologically by accident or by choice - brutally, casually, tenderly, passionately, cynically, clinically, or innumerable variations on those possibilities - all requiring one condition to be fulfilled: sperm and seed must meet and fuse. This law can also be seen to work in all fields of human creativity whether in the arts, sciences or ordinary life. Creativity lies latent in all of us but it's only when some spark strikes it, some 'meeting' takes place, that it stirs and kicks into life. It may happen instantaneously or struggle through a long, painful gestation but it doesn't happen at all without that click, that Aha!, that fusion. 


You know when it's happening because it feels out of the ordinary. You're having a conversation with someone and they say something which strikes a deep chord in you; suddenly you hear yourself speaking in a way you didn't know you could, expressing thoughts you never had before. You surprise yourself. You are at that moment creating something, giving birth to a new life-form which you may or may not decide to nurture. But the moment when you heard those words which lit the spark within you is the father-mother of your 'child'. This is where I concede that the Creativity Courses have the right idea - it's just the title I question (though I've been known to use it too). All of us who are involved in the practice and teaching of any art, including the art of living, strive to provoke and nurture that spark in others and in ourselves.


A workshop I gave for an Art Therapy training group was called Creating With The Contents of Yourself. I had put a pile of randomly chosen props in the middle of the large room - fabrics, clothes, cardboard boxes, string, chairs, pieces of wood, crockery, plastic, newspapers - anything I could scavenge around the building, plus large sheets of paper and basic art materials. .The day was divided into three two-part questions: WHERE?    WHO?     WHAT?


1A: WHERE are you now in your life? What sort of space does your life occupy? Does it feel small, cluttered? Vast, empty? Think about it and depict it in a simple diagram on the first sheet of paper. Then choose some props and construct that space in an area of the room.


1B: WHERE would you like to be? Imagine this as clearly as possible, the kind of space and atmosphere around you. Write or sketch it on the second sheet then create this imaginary space next to the first one. If Space No.1 is where you want to be then see if you want to make any improvements.


2A: WHO has power or influence in your life, your space, right now?

Power over your actions, your work, your time, your thoughts. It could be a real or imagined influence, past or present, as long as it affects your everyday life now. Write this on the third sheet then choose your props and prepare a short performance piece, enacting this theme.  


2B: WHO (if anyone) would you like to have in your space, in a better way or a totally new way? (You don't have to name a person, a symbol will do) How would this new presence or influence affect your space?  Write the answer briefly on the fourth sheet then set about constructing it/enacting it.  


3A: WHAT is the major problem (or doubtful area) in your life at present? Write this on sheet five then build (and/or act) a symbolic representation of it within your Space 1.  


3B: Change places with the person in the space nearest to you. He/she comes inside your Space 1 and pretends to be you, with your problem. You play the role of his/her advisor and say WHAT you think should be done about the problem. Maybe you move things around within the space. (Everyone changes places and becomes 'advisor' and 'problemee' to their own problems as presented by another person.) 


By the end of the workshop, I was stunned by the spontaneous creativity of each member of the group, their inventiveness, self-awareness, honesty and energy. It became an unrepeatable theatre performance/ art exhibition/ therapy session, with positive results for all of us. Once I had given them the format, the theme and the rules of the game, I did not have to do much more except watch and encourage. The spark of creativity needed only to be ignited then BOOM! - a multicoloured fireworks display with far-reaching sparks, hopefully igniting others along the way.  


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Natalie d'Arbeloff is a painter/book artist/writer/cartoonist. Her work has been exhibited internationally and is in many public collections including the National Art Library of the Victoria & Albert Museum and  the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.  You can read all about her and see examples of her work on the website she recently created at: http://www.nataliedarbeloff.com.