Wk10: Creative Environments – How Pixar Fosters Creativity!

The environments in which a creative individual operates in can be very influential in how well they can perform. Environment has many different meanings that can be applied to fostering creativity, such as:

  • a biological environment – the incidental surroundings and availability of resources
  • a built environment – created with the purpose of serving and encouraging creativity and collaboration
  • a social environment – where creative individuals can look to peers for sharing ideas and receiving criticism.

Creative individuals are not all alike, and personal preferences differ greatly between individuals. However an SBS world news study has found that low levels of lighting, ambient background noise, desk clutter and tipsiness can boost creativity and lateral thinking, along with writing by hand and going on walks.While this lifestyle may seem distracting or disorderly, it creates a healthy environment for creative thought and exploring of one’s mind. (Delistraty, 2014)

Some environments can have a negative influence on creative influence, such as one of poverty and oppression, which gave rise to the band The Clash, who joined up and formed a movement against the society that they lived in. They were among the first to establish the English ‘punk’ movement of the 1970s.

There are several companies that recognise the importance of an environment that fosters creativity, from multi-media businesses like Google, to more artistically inclined producers such as Aardman Studios, and our case study for this article – Pixar, the pioneers of computer-animated film.

In order for its employees to work at their best and hardest on their massive productions, Pixar creates an environment both systemically and socially. Edwin Catmull, Co-Founder and President of Pixar, writes:

Our philosophy is: You get great creative people, you bet big on them, you give them  enormous leeway and support, and you provide them with an environment in which they can get honest feed- back from everyone.” (2008, p. 6)

Pixar states that their movies are not the result of just one idea or “high concept” that is successful, but the suggestions of the 200-250 members of the team building on the initial idea until a fully developed film is made (Catmull, 2008, p. 4).

“The high concept… is merely one step in a long, arduous process that takes four to five years.” (Catmull, 2008, p. 4)

This puts importance on the acknowledging of peers, working in a group environment and taking extra special care in the creation progress, making sure that each new step taken is something that the rest of the team can work with.

Pixar recognises the value of creative thinkers and therefore caring for them and putting them in the best environment possible is in their interests. The individuals are placed at a higher level of importance than their ideas, as Catmull writes: “Smart people are more important than good ideas” (2008, p. 4).

To encourage its employees to work together, Pixar seeks to create an environment of mutuality, co-operation, honesty and sharing. At very regular intervals, ideas for new scenes are played out in animatics and shown to the rest of the group, so that feedback and criticism can be offered, so that the ones presenting can get advice on what to change or where to go next. This also helps to dispel their fear of showing their work by exposing them to criticism in an honest environment. Still, a lot of risk taking is involved and encouraged, as Catmull writes: “if we aren’t always at least a little scared, we’re not doing our job”. (2008, p. 4)

After a movie is shown, a post-mortem for the film is held – a retrospective review of the creative process. Catmull writes that:

 “Many people dislike project post-mortems. They’d rather talk about what went right than what went wrong. And after extensive time on a the project, they’d like to move on.” (2008, p. 1)

To help alleviate this frustration, Pixar asks the participants to list the top five things they would do again, along with the top five things they wouldn’t do again (Catmull, 2008). This balance of positive and negative feedback encourages the creators and allows them to learn from past experience at the same time without them being overly negative and critical of their work, or overly defensive.

Pixar are averse encourages its employees to explore and modify their ideas to the fullest extent until they become viable, so as to not interrupt the creative flow by discarding ideas or stating what will and will not work right off the bat:

“Instead of coming up with new ideas for movies, our development department’s job is to assemble small incubation teams to help directors refine their own ideas to a point where… those ideas have the potential to be great films.” (Catmull, 2008, p. 7)

To better understand Pixar’s mindset when dealing with creative people and setting up an environment to foster their ideas and encourage creative thinking, John Lasseter, director of Toy Story (1995), the first computer-animated movie, breaks it down into seven core values:

John Lasseter’s Seven Creative Principles

  1. Never come up with just one idea, as it means having a limited focus. Have three, equally great ones. You will be less focused on these ideas and can think more freely between them, granting new perspectives. Movies are made up of tens of thousands of ideas and suggestions, from character designs, every line of dialogue, the delivery of those lines and so forth are all the result of a huge team of creative, free thinkers. The group dynamic emphasises having lots of malleable thoughts to share around and meld as they are passed along the group.
  2. Remember the first laugh – write down jokes that are funny the first time and save them, so that they are not discarded when they go stale after being retold so many times in development. Preserving old content is important, especially if it is good enough to make it into the final product, i.e. a joke that gets a good laugh the first time it is told.
  3. Quality is a great business plan, period. No compromises should be taken with studios, publishers or anyone in a managerial role. The individual creator of the movie, idea or other creative product always has the last word.
  4. It’s all about the team. A group of people working on a creative project usually produce better results than just one individual. These groups should be honest, direct, and helpful to one another. Everyone should be treated as equals, and nothing that is said should be binding.
  5. Fun invokes creativity, not competition. It is always better to have people who can get along working together, rather than working against each other, or competing in similar roles. Co-operation goes a much better way in giving confidence to creative individuals and ensuring that the creation process is fun for everyone.
  6. Creative output always reflects the person on top. Bad tempered managers are no good, as negativity badly impacts the creative process. It is vital that creative individuals are No negative people should disrupt or impair the creative process.
  7. Surround yourself with creative people you trust. Creative individuals should work in a team of equally talented, or even superiorly talented other people. If they are good-natured and pleasant than that’s even better. Creativity requires a safe and secure environment. Insecurity do not mix. (Reis, 2009)

References

Catmull, E. (2008). How Pixar Fosters Collaborative Creativity. Harvard Business Review.

Delistraty, C.  (2014). How Environment Can Boost Creativity. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/09/how-environment-can-boost-creativity/379486/

Reis, D. (2009). John Lasseter’s Seven Creative Principles. Animation Magazine.

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Wk9: Creativity and Copyright – The Digital Revolution

Copyright is an important part of the creative industries as they ensure ownership of a product to its creator and protects from theft or piracy. Copyright protection lasts as long as the creator’s lifespan, plus 50 years. When this copyright expires, and the rights are not claimed by a publisher, it becomes ‘public domain’ and becomes accessible to all.

There are lots of different opinions and views firmly held on whether or not copyright law is fair – whether it protects people’s content or stifles creativity and promotes censorship and greed. Some small-scale content creators don’t mind their content being used or copied if it means promotion and exposure for their product, while some have to be careful as piracy could result in loss of sales that would destroy their business and their career.

Each case is different, and if cases are taken to trial, the outcome is usually determined based on precedent. These views are usually biased one way or the other and attached closely to personal reasoning, and these beliefs can be hard to change, even in the face of research that proves it wrong, or contradictory (McIntyre, 2012, p. 176).

The earliest form of copyright law began in 1710 when the British Parliament enacted the Statute of Anne, which allowed book authors ownership of their books rather than letting publishers gain the rights to distribute products, and often restricted them in other countries, effectively censoring the product. The Statute of Anne entitled the book’s original creator with the protection and ownership of their product, allowing them to control its distribution. (McIntyre, 2012, p. 176) Royalties started in 1886 to reward content creators for the use and reuse of their work globally.

Copyright law first came to prominence in the music industry – the recording industry made up a huge portion of the US economy, making $38 billion in the 1990s. Copyright law is also important in “film, television, publishing, radio, news organisations, journalists and photographers” (McIntyre, 2012, p. 176).

However these laws have been hard to maintain with changing technologies and practices within an industry. The Internet, a huge and highly accessible system for freely exchanging and copying information, along with the increasing digitisation of content, has been said to “allegedly engender the free flow of commerce” (McIntyre, 2012, p. 177) by very easily allowing consumers quick, easy and free access to content that would normally be paid for. Wireless connectivity and communication, and services like Skype can provide almost everyone with the ability to send messages and electronic data around the world that instantly reach its destination (McIntyre, 2012, p. 176). This can mean the

It is much easier to take someone else’s product or material and reuse or modify it without the author’s permission. This has been the cause of varying levels of concern both for multi-billion dollar corporations and independent content creators (McIntyre, 2012, p. 180):

“To be able to perfectly replicate someone else’s content distorts the sense of ownership and uniqueness that comes with it, robbing the creator of its artistic merit and originality” (McIntyre, 2012, p. 180).

For this reason, it is argued that “copyright law, Romantic authorship and the significance of the author were ‘born together’” (Bently 1994, p. 974).

For this reason, laws have been designed for protecting Intellectual Property (IP), which is a non-physical form of property, such as digital products, ideas or designs that are owned by someone.

Wikstrom writes that copyright law is so important to the film, TV and publishing industries, they should be called copyright industries rather than creative industries, as copyrighting is essential for legitimising a creative piece of work to serve a commercial purpose (2009, p. 17).

In one particular case relating to journalism, a news outlet that reported news from other stations for free gained a large following, along with from other, non-official sources, such as search engines, generating traffic and ad revenue for those sites, and stopping the official source from gaining it (McIntyre, 2012, pp. 180-181).

There is a divide between consumers and producers. Consumers want to access information they want as quickly and conveniently as possible, arguing that, in accordance with the creator’s need for artistic expression, artistic works are meant to be shared and experienced, and that copyright law is outdated and contradictory to this idea:

“Perhaps no area of human creativity relies more heavily upon appropriation and allusion, borrowing and imitation, sampling and intertextual commentary than music” (McIntyre, 2012, p. 181)

The other side of the argument, made by content producers, is that they deserve the right of ownership to and compensation for what they create:

“There’s a saying on the Internet that ‘information wants to be free’. […] However, creativity is a different matter. Under the principles of copyright, we want creative works to be compensated”. (Samuels, 2000, p. 249)

Some pieces of art or music are specially made for a commercial purpose, and are less to do with artistic expression and freedom. For example, an artist may create a short jingle for a company’s advertisement. To the artist, this might be seen more as a service for monetary compensation than a labour of passion and self-expression. Copyright law is necessary to protect both the artist and the client.

 “Copyright will continue to be important in the international legal community for as long as we want to encourage the making of creative works” (Samuels, 2000, p.248).

Still, as evidenced by the massive changes to the music industry, it is worth investigating any and all new technologies that emerge, as it can have a profound impact on industry and complicates matters of copyright law and ownership, especially if laws are not swiftly put in place to manage the exploitative potential of new technology. “The idea of property dates far back in humankind’s history, where people hunted and gathered and carried their possessions with them. We no longer live like that.” (McIntyre, 2012, p. 194).

References

McIntyre, P. (2012). The Digital Revolution: Copyright and Creativity. Creativity and Cultural Production: Issues for Media Practice (pp. 176-194). London: Palgrave Macmillan

Wk7: Creativity and Industry – Hooray for Capitalism…?!

Design is a vague term and this makes it difficult to pin one solid definition on it. In the design industry, lots of designers focus on personal expression and creativity, while much fewer places focus on using design for more innovative and competitive purposes (Power, 2009, pp. 200-201). Design can allude to aesthetics, lifestyle, or “product progress, change and innovation” (Power, 2009, p. 201).

Scandinavian design originated in a showcase showing Nordic design, decoration and furniture. These products of the label are predominantly Swedish, but as they became immensely popular, the label it was given in the beginning stuck (Power, 2009, p. 203). However this kind of design has been endemic to the region for much of its history, with the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design being founded in 1845, which is the oldest standing design institute in the world (Power, 2009, p. 203).

Stockholm, in Sweden, has seen a high concentration of both creative and innovative movements compared to the rest of the world, containing “50% of all Swedish firms and 52% industry turnover” (Power, 2009, p. 203). This is due to a number of environmental factors. Similar firms with different ideas concentrated in a highly industrial area can allow for a lot of “collaboration, rivalry and competition”  (Power, 2009, p. 201) between these firms, which can mutually spur on their efforts. The outlets that come ahead can create a whole new market, influencing other nearby outlets to adopt a similar approach to serve this new market (Power, 2009, p. 201), thus the industry changes and evolves much quicker.

A Nordic survey taken in 2002 found that there were “11,199 Swedish firms – 5,631 graphic designers, 2,740 architectural firms, and 2,828 ‘other design’ firms” (Power et. al., 2004).These firms are predominantly small-scale, and deal in “graphic design, web design, industrial design and communications design in business-to-business services” (Power, 2009, p. 204), meaning that they provide and supply services and resources to other companies.

One must consider the factors by which this densely populated urban area sees so much industrial activity. Locality is an important factor, as companies are “sensitive to distance effects” (Power, 2009, p. 204), and accessibility to other services increases mutual productivity and efficiency for all parties involved, including customers and clients. Small-scale firms are flexible and able to adapt to market changes and not fall behind when market forces move on, and inter-company collaborative groups can be assembled quickly and easily for specific projects (Power, 2009, p. 204).

Examples of design in Australia include car manufacture, furniture, decorations, architecture and infrastructure, designer clothing, housing, appliances, leisure and recreation, high-end luxury items, computer-aided design and manufacture, hardware and software, graphics, transportation, and environmental. Each of these kinds of design are either practical things required to facilitate industry, items for leisure and luxury for consumers, or marketing devices that individual firms use to entice the consumer to use their services exclusively in an otherwise varied and competitive market. These competing business and the services they provide make up a thriving commercial industry, which is a benefit to governments, businesses and consumers alike.

Current industrial practices within Western Australia include housing, and infrastructure. The Perth area is very isolated and has a lot of potential room for expansion. New roads and highways are being built in important areas, such as the freeways, and within the city itself. This creates a short-term inconvenience to the population, as roadworks often close off areas, causing delay to drivers, but long term, the roads become more accessible, and can accommodate more drivers. There is also an increase of housing, with lots of land being cleared and put on sale, to be purchased and have office buildings or homes built upon them, from quiet suburban neighbourhoods (including my own) to expensive custom-made luxury homes on the coastline.

However, this is very damaging to the environment, as natural woods and wildlife habitats are destroyed to make way for new roads and housing. Many species resident to Western Australia have seen declining numbers as a result of their habitats being destroyed, such as the Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo, declared Endangered by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Australian Department of the Environment, 2004).

References

Power, D. (2009). Creativity and Innovation and the Cultural Economy. Routledge, Hoboken.

Power, D., Lindstrom, J., and Hallencreutz, D. (2004). The Future in Design – Country Report: The Swedish Design Industry. Oslo, the Nordic Innovation Centre.

Australian Government Site (2004). Department of the Environment. Retrieved from
http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris

Wk 6: Creativity and Technology. Beep Boop?

Technology relates to the tools we have at our disposal. In this day and age, it is constantly changing and evolving at an exponential rate.

New and emerging technology can revolutionise creative industries such as music and art, allowing for production that is easier and more accessible. This can be either a benefit or a detriment to the creative producer, as they are given a new set of tools to work with.

Expanding on the subject of technology’s effect on music, music notation was invented in 11th Century, allowing music to be interpreted and replayed by live musicians, and it had a – place to be stored rather than just memorised,

In the past century, recording tools allow music to be not just recorded, but played by a machine perfectly, an infinite number of times. This eliminates the need for live performance, and people have argued that this has harmed the music industry by detracting from traditional methods, stating that live musicians are more talented for being present on stage and playing instruments, rather than letting a machine do it.

However, further advances in technology have been made to generate visual imagery, such as lighting, and even holographic projection, compensating for the visual aspect of the performance that a lack of live musicians would take away.

Still, live musical performances are not obsolete as one might think they would be, and are still common practice these days. One could say that live musicians can engage with their audience, and present more of a novelty than just listening to a song on iTunes in your bedroom. Furthermore, they are taking the time and effort to perform music in the traditional method, but they can still be accompanied by machines playing. It must be for this reason that they are held with a great deal of respect, while electronic composers are dismissed as being less talented than traditional musicians for lacking these performative qualities – though personally I find this absurd, as one could argue that they are still by all accounts composers, using a different set of tools that the technology has made accessible to us.

As for the specific ways that technology evolves, it is usually a creative process and takes a great deal of insight to develop a new piece of technology. One must ask, what are we lacking in daily life that can be made more efficient? Furthermore, what can be created to alleviate this lacking to make our lives easier, more convenient, or put an end to a problem that we have no solution for?

Technology that creates technology has been on the rise, with programming languages giving way to the very first computer programs and operating systems such as C++, and 3D printers used for. This means that programs and software can be made for very specific purposes. But computer hardware evolves at such a dizzying pace, and anything that is flawed can quickly be updated or fixed. This means that software with too specific a purpose can quickly become obsolete and must be discarded, as it no longer fulfils its purpose, while more versatile and malleable software can survive for decades as it fills multiple niches and it userbase discover more uses for it. The best examples of long-surviving would be programming languages as C++, game engines such as Unity, and 3D Printers for use with CADCAM (Computer Aided Design/Manufacturing), which is designed solely for creative and experimental purposes. If these programs or tools become outdated, then more recent and efficient versions will be made, but they will serve the same purpose as its predecessor, and the original purpose of the first will be preserved.

The rate at which technology is advancing can prove daunting to creative producers, as the tools at their disposal are made almost limitless. With a limited toolset, the creator is at least aware of the limitations they are under, giving them less creative freedom, and they have to adopt a more focused approach and get creative with what little they have. This isn’t always a bad thing to have, as skilled designers can make use of whatever tools they are given. For example, Super Mario Bros. is still thought to be an excellently designed game, despite being released on what could be considered to be a very old, limited console. This can also be said of Doom, released for the PC in 1993, thought to be revolutionary for its time, still praised as a good game, and despite its age, still has a thriving community that create new improvements and modifications for it to this day.

As technology becomes more advanced and versatile, and the more features and functions it has, the more complex it can become for its users. Traditional artists wanting to make the move from traditional pen and paper to a graphics tablet will notice that the artistic process is the same, but the technology may prove to be unintuitive, and the artist may have to spend a lot of time relearning the drawing process to compensate for the hardware or software and its specific functions.

However, not all software needs to make all of its uses and functions apparent from the outset. For some creative individuals, discovering the scope of a program’s capabilities can prove to be an interesting, fun or exciting process in itself. Technology is, after all, the product of a creative mind to address a problem, or make a particular process more efficient, or easier. Once the software’s user takes the extra time to learn the software and its extra functions, they can gain a much larger skill set than they had with just traditional methods.

References

Mitchell et. al., National Research Council, (2003), Beyond Productivity: Information, Technology, Innovation, and Creativity, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Wk2 Addendum: 3-2-1 Reading Exercise – Analysis of ‘Cock-Crow’

Ekirch’s extract Cock-Crow illustrates a significant change of lifestyle at the start of the eighteenth century, as part of society’s increasing growth and innovation that has taken place since the early days of Man. The extract details the multiple factors that directly or passively contributed to this change in lifestyle, with a commentary with how the concept of ‘nightlife’ has carried on into modern day and evolved even further, and predictions with how socio-economic and technological changes will further influence society’s perception of night, and its role to play in people’s daily lives.

In the eighteenth century, people stopped being afraid of going out late at night, and society experienced a significant change with the arrival of “nightlife”, with social gatherings, business ventures and travelling becoming just as popular during the night as during the day, as Ekirch writes:

“No previous time in Western History experienced such a sustained assault upon the nocturnal realms as did the period from 1730 to 1830.” (2005, p. 324)

This is due, in part, to people’s fears of witches, ghosts and other supernatural beasts gradually dispelling:

“By 1788, a newspaper could report, ‘Not a single building in all London is perhaps now to be heard of, which bears the repute of being an haunted house’.” (Ekirch, 2005, p. 325)

Meanwhile, there was a huge amount of socio-economic growth, particularly in Europe, when trade was at an all-time high. Night-time activities became popular for people of all classes, and the working classes began to show more interest in pastimes thought to be exclusively for the rich:

“The following year [of 1734], ‘people of all ranks’ reportedly flocked to Dublin theatres, while in Venice a visitor in 1739 discovered that masquerades were the ‘favourite pleasure both of the grandees and the commonality’.” (Ekirch, 2005, pp. 328-329)

However, the increase of nightly activity also included a rise in crime, mostly prostitution, burglary and vandalism. The creation of the streetlamp and the new gas-powered light was employed to illuminate all the streets of London to ward off this illegal activity. Furthermore, measures were taken to increase the power of the police and security patrols:

“First in Westminster, then elsewhere, patrols grew more regimented, more numerous, and more aggressive, ultimately culminating in the creation in 1829 of the Metropolitan Police…” (Ekirch, 2005, p. 332)

Nightlife had many consequences that impacted people’s lives, such as the lights and patrols stripping people of their privacy, even in their own home, in some cases. The gas-powered lamps were criticised for their intensity and as a source of pollution. People’s sleep schedules were changed as they spent more time being active, and many of them lost time previously spent sleeping and dreaming.

This new lifestyle was slow to catch on in more conservative places like Rome, and quieter, rural areas such as Yorkshire. People, particularly of working class, would smash street lamps in protest, while others simply rejected the idea of nightlife, in favour of the traditional calm and quiet of the dark.

Our ventures into nightlife, artificial lighting and disregard for the divide between night and day are continuing to this day, socially and technologically. The author speculates that if these advances continue, then night will soon lose its meaning, and the “calm and quiet” will becoming a distant memory. Should society erase the concept of night, it would face a great loss, as night provides a time for rest, intimacy, or calm contemplation.

References

Ekirch, A. R. (2005). At day’s close: Night in times past (pp. 324-339). New York: Norton and Company

Week 5: The Ever-Enviable State of ‘Flow’

Today’s reading was Csikszentmihalyi on The Flow of Creativity, which I would define as the state of mind in which a person’s outward perceptions fall away and they instead become utterly immersed and focused on their present task. It is the state that creatives seek the most, as it leads to the greatest levels of productivity, renders stress, anxiety, and other real world concerns powerless, and can lead to a profound sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when the person exits ‘flow’ and has achieved what they wanted, such as finishing a piece of work.

I can identify with this concept an awful lot, as I had previously come up with a variant of the idea myself, only I referred to ‘flow’ as ‘the creative groove, and aside from the name, it served as very much the same idea.

Csikszentmihalyi goes even further as to define what factors play a part in maximising the enjoyment of the creative process, and therefore form the impetus for ‘flow’ to take place. I found this particularly enlightening to read. Despite my ambition, I have yet to muster such impetus to act on what I desire to do the most, and I find myself very fortunate to have the author give a breakdown of what conditions best breed enjoyment and spark creativity.

I feel as though I spend a lot of time short on impetus for creativity and flow, as a direct result of not meeting a few of the conditions Csikszentmihalyi mentions – for example, a lack of immediate, recognisable feedback for my actions. A lot of my projects are for my own personal entertainment and are based solely around my own sense of humour, and I would be reluctant to show something so personal to the outside world for fear of judgment or causing offense. However, having only myself to judge my own work creates a limited space for feedback, and the lack thereof slowly banes my incentive to carry on doing it, regardless of who it was intended for.

I do aspire to experience flow more often so that I can spend more time focused on what I want to do, and feel more fulfilled at the end of it – that I have tapped into deeper potential and achieved more than I could when forced to deal with the never-ending trivial tribulations of real life. Yet surprisingly I do not consciously seek to achieve ‘flow’ very often. Often I am distracted, stuck in a loop of procrastination, followed by regret, as I look back at the time I wasted, and disheartened at the lack of progress that I have made, and having instead only reinforced the vicious cycle of inaction and negativity, I cannot amass the strength to push myself out of the cycle and take action to combat it. This cycle has been perhaps the greatest and most taxing obstacle that stands between me and achieving my future aspirations, and has formed the base of the neuroses that cloud my thoughts, disrupt my ‘flow’, and defeat my spirit.

Still, I am thankful to Csikszentmihalyi for his insightful writings. Though it is not pleasant to come to terms with my neuroses, being aware of the problem is the first stage in counteracting them. I know it won’t be quick or easy, so the lack of instant gratification in defeating the problem will make it all the more exhausting. There are potentially years of internal programming to sift through and straighten out, cleaning out all that impedes my productivity, causes negativity, and hope to regain the impetus for creativity, and the means to achieve ‘flow’.

However, nothing that ever matters comes easily. It will be a long, ongoing process to rebalance my mind. It will take commitment, and effort – that which I would normally shrink away from in disgust. But I have realised that being truly creative is not something that comes freely, but is a path that must be consciously and constantly committed to. The most ultimately fulfilling route one might take in life will not necessarily be the most fun from moment to moment. There must be focus, and sometimes we have to take away all that is familiar to us before our minds can stretch out to new frontiers, and if only for a moment, we can become something greater than what the trappings of reality, and indeed our own delusions, make ourselves out to be.

Week 4: Myths in the Making

Our tutor Chris presented the Lecture this week on the Creative Psyche. The term “psyche” refers to the personality, the mind, the soul – the non-physical part of the self.

We saw video clips of fictional characters such as Thor, who has been represented in a plethora of different ways throughout history. There is a stark contrast between his portrayal in a program from National Geographic, which shoots for historical accuracy, and recreating the past as best as possible, and the portrayal of Thor by Marvel, in which he appears in an explosive pillar of lightning, and the attacking Viking warriors shoot lasers for some reason. (No doubt this is playing to the more fantastical and entertaining side of Norse myth.)

We talked about the concept of mythopoeism, which is the process of creating myth. Writers such as Tolkien, Lovecraft, C. S. Lewis and Pratchett (the latter of whom I was saddened to find out passed away recently) do this by going one level deeper and creating a mythology within their fictional universes such as Middle-Earth and Discworld. This creates a huge amount of depth and believability to their worlds as it more closely represents reality, because our history has given us a wide range of mythology all our own. Lovecraft’s works are a mythology, a fantastical tale set in a familiar setting, which is what makes it so spine-chillingly unsettling.

Characters in myth and fiction alike are known for their personality. Thor is a gruff and powerful thunder God. Zeus is a proud ruler of Olympus and philanderer. Medusa is a wicked woman with a heart of stone. The personality or psyche is endemic to the myth. However this does not only apply to fiction.

In a way, we all have our own mythology as an individual, due to our unique life experiences. We can also be thought of as art by how we express ourselves and make decisions. For example, we looked at individuals such as Andy Warhol, a 1960’s pop artist and one of the first multimedia artists, along with GG Allin, a violent and extreme individual who would do violent and unpleasant acts on stage far too disturbing to repeat here. GG Allin is a living embodiment of nihilism and anarchism, acting as a piece of expressionist art. Another example is Banksy, a street artist whose beliefs are very anti-government, anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-bigotry, and the list goes on, and his works are very subversive of societal themes (police officers holding hands, children holding guns, etc.). Banksy remains anonymous, and only exists through his art. This can be interpreted as a deliberate move so that people think of his art, and the messages it conveys, more than about him personally.

In the tutorial we had our first group Socratic discussion, based on our readings of Carl Jung, who wrote about how people can be represented by one of nine archetypes, and to become their ideal self, must overcome their shadow selves, which are a negative aspect of themselves as a result of too much or too little of a certain quality, such as power, cunning, bravery and passion. We assessed, elaborated, built on, and shared our own thoughts in the group, weighing Jung’s writing against modern ideas and perspectives where it seemed dated.

The most interesting point we raised, among others, were:

  • Is the “ideal self” a static or permanent point, or is it variable?
  • What deeper meanings can be gleamed from Jung’s idea of individuation?
  • How do we apply Jung’s “archetypes” in modern times?
  • How do similar ideas originate in completely different cultures with different beliefs?
  • Is one’s gender, or are “gender roles” still as significant in modern times?

Overall I found this discussion a lot of fun, and very enlightening. It was interesting to hear other student’s beliefs and conclusions about Jung’s writings, and discussing how to best interpret them to apply them to us, in modern times, deconstructing the “archetype” down to one human quality, and accepting that we have multiple qualities that while they are never static, must be kept in a balanced state. I was not as confident as I could have been during this talk, although I did quite a bit of talking, I wasn’t sure if the class understood what I was saying. It was the first time in a long time, or perhaps ever, that I have had the chance to do something like that. I’m sure that I will build my confidence in time as we have more talks in the future, and I look forward to our next Socratic discussion.