Week 3 – Tales from the Pale Blue Dot

The universe is a chaotic place. If you stop to think about the seemingly unrelated series of events that have led, from the inception of the universe, all the way to this point in time where you’re running your eyes over these words on your screen, it seems nothing short of a miracle that we’re here at all. To even attempt to begin to comprehend the sheer magnitude of even our tiny portion of the world is impossible.

Which is why, as human beings, we have developed a singularly unique method of dealing with it.

We tell stories.

I spoke last week of that little voice of mental narrative that we use to thread together the events of our daily lives. To me, it feels like nothing more then a symptom of something that has been happening on a greater scale from the very beginning of the human race: the development of universe explaining stories to combat the reality of our own insignificance.

As human beings, we crave universal coherence. If you imagine us – as we are – infinitesimally tiny specks roaming a pixel of a pale blue dot:

you will realise just how terrifying the thought of cosmic insignificance is. To exist with the knowledge of little control each of us have over the individual specifics of our lives is just…..it’s impossible to consciously live with, really.

Which is why stories are important.

It is only within the realm of myth and fantasy, within the domains of our own fledgling imaginations, that we are given true power over something completely beyond our control. It’s the same effect we inspire when we name something we find terrifying – suddenly we are given a modicum of control over something that would, without the name, would remain completely uncontrollable.

The Mirror Watches

....I think I'll call it 'fluffy' (Black goes Gray, 2010)

Stories allow us to indulge our greatest fears within the safe playgrounds of our psyches, and in doing so, find a means to rationally deal with the fear (whether conscious or unconscious). Which, oddly enough, is a process Carl Jung refers to as Individuation.

Individuation, within the scope of Jungian psychology, is the method in which the psyche, or Self comes to reconcile differences between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind.

In other words, it’s the manner in which we deal with our dark sides.

A sting in the Swamps of Dagobah

That don't involve light sabers or a stint in the swamps of Dagobah (Copyright Lucasfilms 2012)

Our Dark Sides (Or our Shadows) refer to those portions of our ego that have been repressed – through the stresses of socialisation in childhood – and turned into Complexes.

(Don’t worry, let me make things less clear with this chart)

According to Jung, our minds are divided into five different – but fundamentally intertwined facets:

  1. The Ego: the ‘id’ (in Freudian terms) of our Psyches. This facet includes both our positive and negative social traits, free from the restraints of the laws or rules of our cultural environment.
  2. The Persona: The mask that we develop in our childhoods to project out onto the world. Basically, it’s the face we show to the people we meet – formed of the intricacies of social interactions learned in childhood
  3. The Anima/Animus: The opposite gender specific aspects of ourselves. The female aspect (anima) for men, and the male aspect (Animus) for women, and, finally
  4. The Shadow: Once again, the portions of ourselves we dislike due to social conditioning, which has been repressed and stored in our unconscious mind – left to fester with its adjoining archetype to rear its head in ugly and unpredictable ways
The nightmare of PacMan

Yay (Travis Pitts, n.d.)

The development of the Persona during childhood, I feel, is one of the most important aspects of Jungian psychology. To imagine, if you will, the tug between our primal instincts in childhood – counteracted by the socialisation we experience from very young, appears to be one of the major reasons for one universal aspect of everyone’s childhoods that I’m sure everyone will recognise.

The art of Play.

Children at Play

YEAH! (Funny Signs, 2011)

From at least the age of five, we begin, in the infancy of our imaginations, to construct the wild and fanciful adventures that continue to grow and evolve during the entirety of our childhood. (Mullineaux, Paula Y. and Lisabeth F. Dilalla, 2009). It is during out childhoods – during the development of our persona, that the constant act of Individuation through play occurs. We may play ‘House’ to come to terms with the accepted social roles we are expected to play when we’re adults (however much we hate the idea of cooking or cleaning). Small boys will spend countless hours re-enacting the bloodiest acts of war ever conceived between platoons of tiny green men, all in the name of imbuing themselves with the power they do not – in reality – possess in their childhood state.

Toy soldier

Pictured: The hardest working Military in the world (Frederico Foschini, 2008)

All through the formative years of our lives, our fantasies develop – well often into adulthood in fact – as a means of escapism and self-therapy.

And it’s not just on an individual scale – this mode of fantasy making – the creation of stories and myths in order to deal with both ourselves and our daily lives – occurs on a global scale as well!

Mythopoesis refers to the unshakable habit mankind seems to have of creating myths and legends as a means of explaining the unexplainable, and of explaining ourselves. We have always had myths: stories that we one used to fill the gaps in our scientific knowledge, to demonstrate a commonly celebrated aspect of human life, or to even escape the harsh realities of it, we have always created stories.

Thor: God of Thunder (and great hair) (Copyright Marvel)


And we still do – regardless of how far we advance into the rehttps://unwritingrehana.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=46&action=editalm of scientific knowledge.

(The Ring: making the case for never having a television in your bedroom. Ever)

CreepyPasta may, at first glance, seem like a uniquely internet based phenomenon. A collection of tantalisingly short horror stories – often based on technological subjects like video games or computers – designed to shock or scare the people who read them.

However, if you think back to pre-internet days you will realise that they are nothing more then the camp fire stories countless remorseless Fathers would tell their kids – but retold in a different medium.

Once again, we are creating stories for something that most of us, on a certain level, suspect actually runs on magic.

In other words, we never really grow out of playing our fantasy games. We just find new ways of introducing it into the real world.

Recommended Reading:

References

Week 2 – The joys of single person conversations

I talk to myself. In fact, I’m doing it right now. In an unconscious way, you probably are too. I’m sure I’m not the only person I know who experience that constant stream of vocal narration – that person who is themselves but not themselves – watching with detached interest the ongoing cinematic experience that is our daily lives. In times of trauma, it is perhaps the part of you that watches your emotional self with a mixture of pity and distaste, outlining why you are foolish for allowing the trauma to get to you in the first place, but at the same time coming the logical solution to resolve it. And it’s perhaps not the only voice. There are other voices there too. There’s the ever present (or in my case, occasionally present)voice of reason that prevents you from leaping into the pool from the second storey of the house.

The worlds safest diving board

However awesome that may be (Rerun, 2010)

That authoritative voice of arbitration that helps you decide how which pair of batman-themed pyjamas you really need.

Batman PJ's

Trick question: the answer is all of them (JumpinJammerz.com, n.d)

And finally, the soft, whispering sound of the voice that comes to you in the pit of the night, to, with all the crushing realisation of mortality, remind you of all the ways you’ve failed in life, and the ways you will always, no doubt, fail in the future.

Kittens in teacups

Pictured: the medically recommended dosage of kittens after reading that sentence (innocentenglish.com, 2008)

But not often.

In fact a study conducted by the University of Manchester found that, of the possible four percent of the general population that experienced phantom voices, an overwhelming majority reported those voices affected them in a mostly positive way (The University of Manchester 2006)

Which is fine.

If, that is, you don’t start doing it out loud.

We were lucky enough to be lectured this week by John Harman, an author and retired journalist who shared his experiences as a novelist during the late fifties and early sixties with a sort of dry wit and affability that made it very easy to imagine him as one of those vodka swigging, chain-smoking journalistic wordsmiths popularised in a recent, and yet to remain unnamed TV show.

Mad Men Poster

You have two guesses – otherwise we replace the rock (Entertainment Weekly, 2009

He too, talked out loud to the people nobody else could see – a relief for me, because it made me feel just a little less outlandishly weird then I usually do.

So yes, I talk to myself.

And to the other people inside myself. From the cynic John Cleese-esque British bloke that picks on the bland stupidity of everything around e, to the enthusiastic, mindlessly naïve voice of optimism that assures me that sure, the little fuel lights been on for an awful long time, but I’m sure you’ll be able to make it to Joondalup and back again without filling up first.

And that’s just two of them. The sheer amount of noise that that goes on in my mind is deafening. Not to mention that just occasionally, I end up talking back.

I learned very early on in my bus-catching career that this was an extremely effective way of getting extra seats to myself.

Always alone on the bus

Because bus patrons are extra polite when it comes to leaving seats free for invisible people (Ben W, 2011)

but a not so effective way of making friends.

Mr. Harmen also talked a great deal about “The Box”, or the things we allow to stifle our ability to create. One of the ‘sides’ of the ‘box’ he described was the ‘Emphasis on rewards’ aspect of creation.

Now I’ll be honest, I love trying to solve a creative problem more then I enjoy actually finishing something. I have a terrible track record when it comes to completing things. The moment I experience my ‘Aha’ moment, most of the joy of creation flows out of me, and I move on to other, more challenging projects.

One example of that is this doll:

No chance of demonic posession here, no sirree

No chance of demonic posession here, no sirree (Rehana Badat 2012)

This doll is the product of about three weeks of trial and error pattern experimentation. I was, back then, delighted by the idea of a soft jointed doll – one I could sew clothes for an perhaps mass produce to sell online later. I spent hours upon hours drawing and sketching, working a pattern, constructing prototypes and tweaking seams until I got everything exactly how I wanted them. Every tiny detail mattered.

Doll shoes

Every. Tiny. Detail

After awhile my bedroom began to resemble the aftermath of some kind of horrifying act of doll carnage. To this day, I still use a leftover prototype body piece to keep my extra sewing pins in.

Pincushion of the damned

Or as my sister so lovingly refers to it: The Pincushion of the damned (Rehana Badat 2012)

So I finished it. Completely. Right down to the stitches on her tiny Converse shoes, and the details on her designer denim jeans (fun fact: the pockets and buttons are fully functioal). But the moment I completed it I….just….lost interest. My original plan was to make at least three more, all with different outfits and hairstyles. But the moment I stopped having to struggle to create, I lost the will to create altogether. It was baffling. Suddenly something I was willing to spend countless days on became something bland and unenjoyable. It almost began to feel like work by the time I completed the second one (and even then I cut corners where I could).

Which is why I find drawing so enjoyable. No matter how good you get at drawing, there is always room for improvement. You could figure out how to convey entire stories of heart wrenching emotion in a single brush stroke, and yet there will still be some achingly talented fourteen year old who can do it better. It’s the challenge that keeps me going – and the thrill of new discovery, the process of creation itself and not the finished product that keeps me going. Which is terrible because since I barely ever get round to making more then one of anything I produce, I don’t end up making as much money as I’d like to.

Target

In other words, I've yet to quit my day job (The Onion, 2000)

So it’s something I’d like to change. Somehow. It will take discipline, now that I think about it. And time. But it’s certainly something I’d like to work on.

Another challenge.

So far, I’ve neglected to talk about the activities we did in class. I do, first off, have to admit that the reading was a bit dry. Witnessing the clinical dissemination of the creative process – something that before the start of this course seemed like such a magical and undefinable thing, was, well not hard. However, it lacked the stylistic flair most creative topics possess. It basically broke the theories of the creative process into three categories: psychoanalytic, behaviouristic and self-actualisation views. Unsurprisingly, Freud linked it with sex.

Sigmund Freud

Pictured: an eighteenth century sex maniac

An interesting model was presented by Harold Rugg – that of the link between the conscious and unconscious mind containing a special ‘area’ between them in which creative thoughts – manifestations of the unconscious mind coming close to the conscious kind. The distinction between the conscious and conscious mind becomes more important the further we delve into Jungs theories on the psyche – which my group will be presenting about in next weeks tutorial.

A second concept – one less popular in my mind – is that our creativity is merely the result of positive stimulation in response to our creativity. In other words, the Mona Lisa was simply the proverbial saliva of Da Vinci’s Pavlovian response to the positive re-enforcement her received from society.

Finally, there’s Csikszentimihalyi (who for simplicities sake, we will further refer to as ‘C Dawg’) concept of creativity only existing as a result of the environment it was conceived in – and then, only labelled so as a result of society unanimously deciding it was ‘Art’

And Warhol Soup Can

Is it? (Warhol, 1968)

Personally, I’m not yet certain what to think yet. As with the somewhat murky definition of Creativity in the first week, the actual, functional source of our creativity is a thing of debate. I may have to research it further before coming to a decision.

As for the tutorial, the second question in particular brought me problems. How exactly did I come up with, and implement ideas? The truth is, it is usually idle thought – brought upon again by a combination of boredom and the endless chatter of my mind, that first sparks an idea. Often, the idea will just sit there, and do nothing for a long while – the ‘Incubation’ period that John Harmen briefly talked about in his lecture. And then, if the idea is still with me a few days after I’ve had it, I will attempt to sketch an outline of it. If I feel I am moderately incompetent in successfully drawing the subject matter – I’ll begin researching it, and making quick studies from images I’ve found using Google Image Search.

Then, and only then, will I sit down and attempt a completed work.

As you may have noticed, a huge part of my creative process involved trying to bolster both my confidence and technical ability in regards to the subject matter. Once again, it feels as though I gain the most enjoyment from, developing solutions in response to a problem, and carrying them out, as opposed to enjoying the accomplishment of the finished product. Sure, my goal is to have something interesting to look when I’m finished, but my first joy is definitely preparing for the task.

So it is with that that I remind you that Leonardo Da Vinci completed very few works in his lifetime. Much of his genius seemed to lie in the sheer joy he experienced from the thrill of new discovery and study. Take the Vetruvian man below. While certainly not a finished painting by any means, it still retains the sensation of the countless hours of prior study and research it must have taken to complete it. I have no doubt in my mind that Leonardo derived far more pleasure in the study the preceded this image, then the construction of the image itself.

Vitruvian Man

(Da Vinci, 1487)

Enjoy.

Additional Reading:

References

Week 1 – Time Travel with the Doctor (Spoors)

How often do we truly realise that many of the ideologies and thoughts that we so easily accept today – the rights of the individual, for example – didn’t simply appear, freshly formed, in our prehistoric minds, but were instead the result of thousands of years of societal evolution. Not often, which was what made Dr. Spoors centuries spanning exploration of the perception of Creativity so fascinating! After all, what other characteristic, besides basic physiology, is as innately unique and species defining as humanities creativity? And considering the fact that we’ve been the lucky possessors (or unlucky, depending on your point of view) of this fantastic trait since at least 290,000 BCE (“Bhimbetka Petroglyphs – Auditorium Cave and Daraki-Chattan Petroglyphs”, n.d) we should obviously know all there is to know about our creativity by now.

Bhimbetka Petroglyphs, Venus of Willendorf, Venus of Schelklingen

From left to right: Copule and Meander Petroglyph – The Bhimbetka Rock Shelters (“Bhimbetka Petroglyphs – Auditorium Cave and Daraki-Chattan Petroglyphs”, n.d), The Venus of Willendorf (24000 – 22000BCE) (Whitcombe n.d.) and her less famous older sister, Venus of Schelklingen (Hohlefels Höhle - Cave or Rock Shelter in Germany in Baden-Wuerttemberg -n.d.)

Nope. Turns out the definition of creativity has been on constant flux since man first dragged something sharp across a smooth surface. The thing that seemed to strike me through-out Dr. Spoors lecture was the slow movement of creativity from being recognised as something externally derived (be it divine, shamanistic or the result of outside intervention ) to something so wholly internal and intrinsic to our humanity that we even use it as a measure of the effectiveness of certain AI (Artificial Creativity, n.d.)

Although hopefully not too creative

Hopefully they don't get too creative...

In the modern sense, the definition of creativity has expanded in ways to include not only the obvious associations – such as the arts language – but in modes of thinking, the methods we perform business and our day to day lives. We are all, in a sense, creative, in that we may all be given the same task, and yet apply ourselves to it in a myriad of unique and different ways – a definition perhaps influenced by our modern technology. After all, it is possible to run the same program with the same variables a millions of times, and always end up with the same answer –

blue screen windows seven

er....most of the time....

But give a human being the same materials and same direction and the possibilities are endless.

Which brings me to my next point.

Where to next? Eko Pams’ lectures on Design History (Design Foundations: Design History) often emphasises the effect the availability of materials and certain technologies have on the type of art produced by a society (for example, you would never find evidence of delicate ice-sculptures produced in Ancient Egypt), so how will our creativity be defined in the future? Will it be expanded to include the works not only of non-human players (such as Ruby, one of many elephants who have developed the ability to produce art ), but of non-living or cognitive players as well?

But is it art?

Paintings produced by the little turtle robot AARON (Cohen, n.d.). Sure it's pretty, but is it Art? Is something that lacks drive and motivation really capable of expressing itself if it has nothing to express?

Speaking of technology altering our perception of the world, this weeks reading ‘Cocks Crow’ was interesting for a modern reader such as myself – one unfamiliar with the idea of the night as an almost inaccessible place – alien and bereft of the comforting glow of streetlights. While certainly romanticised to a degree, the author wastes no time in enunciating the previous ills of the ‘old’ night, along with its peaceful benefits, before eventually lamenting the loss of what he sees as the ‘fanciful world of our dreams’ and with it, a ‘better understanding of ourselves’. While I do agree that the loss of the night may have altered humanities creative endeavours from its previous methods, it is also entirely possible that new, unthought of avenues, would come to only emerge as a result of the recession of the night. The rapid globalisation, for example, could only have happened if the communication between, for example, Beijing and Chicago were permitted to accommodate massive time differences due to lighting and the internet. But, as with all new technologies, from the automobile to the cellphone, there are prices to pay. The fact that most of my mornings only begin because my phone has started to vibrate is one of them. The twenty-four hour lifestyle that Ekirch only briefly hints at in his passage is now the norm. And with it, a new, constantly ‘switched on’ generation that lives in a world that never sleeps has arrived. The night has vanished, and taken with it our privacy, our intimacy and, perhaps he was right, just a little bit of our previous humanity. Not to say that we haven’t in recompense, been furnished with something new and novel – a way to connect with people we would never have previously connected with. A means of encouraging social examination and political upheaval where before, such ideas would never have been given the chance to grow. In a way, despite Ekirchs obvious lament for a lost age, the new age, while different from the previous one, is a positive one. After all, who wants to work by candle-light?

On the subject of work (I’m kidding), this weeks tutorial focussed on our creative selves, it’s relationship to the rest of the world, and if we felt creativity was something divinely or internally produced. Personally, I like to believe I’m a creative person. Sure, that’s probably a biased opinion, but it’s one that continues to motivate me through some of what people would consider the less enjoyable aspects of life. I don’t mind the wait at the restaurant, because (if I’m still waiting for someone), I can just whip out my sketch book and attempt to draw people without making the subject vastly uncomfortable (a surprisingly difficult thing to do). A stint in the doctors surgery is a fantastic time to imagine the various life-threatening diseases (are they all?) that the people around me are hypothetically suffering from. Really, being a creative person is perhaps the only reason I haven’t gone completely mad, and taken as many people with me. Or perhaps I have, and don’t realise it yet.

As for where I believe my creativity comes from, I certainly don’t believe it to be anything religious in nature. Certainly, I was lucky enough to grow up in an extremely rich cultural environment – and as religion was a large part of it, many of the stories and fairytales my mother would tell me were very different from the sort many of my Australia friends grew up with. In that way, I might be seen as creative from some of the stories and narrative conventions I take for granted – but only when viewed by someone who didn’t grow up in a similar environment to mine. In the same vein, I don’t really put much stock in the idea of a muse, or some other entity that inspires me to create. However, inspiration – whether as the result of pure chance or extensive meditation, is definitely something I’ve experienced. The pure brilliance of that ‘aha’ moment is what drives me seek out new and varied experiences – to do and experiment with things in ways that I’ve never tried before. Which is why while I like the idea of inspiration from an outside source, I don’t particularly buy into the ‘muse’ aspect of romanticised sources of inspiration.

After all – in most instances, I’ve found, it isn’t inspiration that finds you. It’s you that finds the inspiration.

In Soviet Russia, Waldo finds you!

I feel there's a Mother Russia joke here somewhere....

The one source of creativity that I feel hits very close to home is the idea that sometimes, loneliness and suffering are essential to the creation of good, if not then at least interesting, works. Human beings have always been interested in the ‘other’. Too often we forget the miracles present in our own lives. But how often have you been absolutely mesmerised by something completely alien to the norm? Furthermore, possessing a sort of loneliness or ‘otherliness’ often allows an artist or creator to view the world from a different perspective – that is, from a place outside of the rest of society. But of course it’s not essential. Just another aspect that could be used in the production of creative works.

And finally – how does the passage of the day affect my creativity? Well, quite a lot actually. I am physically incapable of getting anything decent done between the hours of four and five thirty pm.

Deal or no Deal

Or as I like to call it: The Deal or No Deal hour ("No Deal for Andrew O' Keef", 2008)

And inexplicably, my best ideas seem to arrive at that precise golden moment when I’m shampooing my hair and have nothing to write on. Or while I’m driving and have nothing to write on. Or while I’m half awake at four am with nothing to wri- you get the idea. But other then inspiration hitting me at only the most inconvenient times, I find that the time or night or day has very little bearing on how creative I’m feeling. If anything, I can be creative at any given moment (provided, from evidence, that I have nothing to right on).

Eckhart was right. There are no more nights. Only occasionally dim twenty-four hour days.

Additional Reading:

References: