The Art of Creativity

Let’s assume for a moment that everyone is capable of being creative. This is a fair assumption based on an egalitarian model of human development. To varying degrees, people respond to complex situations in very creative ways. But is this enough to make the suggestion that everyone can translate creativity into expressive forms with the power and import of art?

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Emily Carr University of Art + Design

For example, art schools are hotbeds of creative engagement and, wherever they are available, their community based creative courses attract a wide variety of the populace. Most people I speak to have a deep attraction to art and to artists. Many individuals harbor a secret desire to become artists. The same is true of the attraction to writing. One thing that is often forgotten in discussions of the period of history we live in is that the proliferation of web sites and blogs is perhaps one of the best indicators of the universal desire to create and communicate. This desire crosses national boundaries, class differences and religions.

The questions that flow from this seemingly superficial assumption about the universal desire to be creative are many, but among the most important is what do we mean by creativity?

First and foremost, creative engagement means producing something new and, most importantly, engaging with the world through less linear and unpredictable means than the constraints of everyday life often allow. The ephemeral nature of discovery combined with excitement of working with ideas and materials, encourages fluidity of thought and an almost child-like excitement about simple acts like shaping paper into a sculpture or creating movement from drawings that are still.

Artists are compelled to create. Their lives are burdened by the fact that there are rarely any alternatives to the depth of desire that they feel — the physical and mental need to explore their chosen craft or medium. Most writers cannot pass a day without engaging with words and sentences. Yet, not everyone is a writer or artist.

So, although everyone is capable of being creative, very few exercise their talent to the point of making creative engagement the centre of their lives. This is because the translation of creative desire into forms or materials requires a further step beyond the spontaneous production of artifacts. The secondary act of speculative and critical thinking that needs to be applied to creative production requires a profound understanding not only of history, but also of our place in history.

Painters come to an intimate understanding of the materials they use in the context of the history of art. The intellectual work that is necessary here far exceeds popular notions of spontaneous inspiration. Take a hard look at the many letters which Vincent Van Gogh wrote, and you see a man devoted not only to explaining his art but also to communicating his intentions. Alternately, take a look at the many letters that Samuel Beckett wrote, and you become a witness to his intense and sometimes violent need to communicate his views of the world.

In all of this, art is produced through action and reflection, through interchange and community. Practice, repetition and rigour transform working with materials, ideas and media into complex acts of communication.

Creativity is therefore about more than what we do or how we think. It is about the application of knowledge to the production of artifacts, ideas and even moments in time. Everyone can be creative, but not everyone wants to spend the time and energy engaging with the demands that creative production requires.

President's Convocation Speech of 2010 - Emily Carr University

Mr. Chancellor, Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Grads, Colleagues, Dear Family and Friends - All —

Before I begin my formal remarks, I want to express my thanks to Dr. George Pedersen for his extraordinary work on behalf of Emily Carr. Dr. Pedersen is finishing his term as Chair of the Board of Governors. He has been steadfast, insightful and generous not only to me and to the Board but to everyone at Emily Carr. We love you George, thank-you.

I also want to thank our Chancellor for his very generous donation to Emily Carr that will support awards to graduating students in perpetuity. I also want to thank Jake Kerr for all his help in securing a new campus for Emily Carr. I look forward to working with Jake over the next few years as we realize the dream of building a 21st Century Art and Design University. Finally, I want to acknowledge and thank Monique Fouquet, our VP Academic for leading the complex transition and planning process that is transforming us into a fully-fledged university of Art and Design.

Graduations are always auspicious occasions, special moments in time for you, -- students of Emily Carr University, and for us, faculty, staff and administrators — special because this event marks the both the beginning and the end of an important period in your lives and in ours. Emily Carr as an institution is small enough that we know many of you personally and have witnessed and in some cases participated in your struggle to become artists, designers, media creators — and because that struggle is so important to the future — yours and the society we live in, my comments today will deal with the future and your potential contribution to the betterment of society.

Universities fuel social, cultural and economic growth and change. Universities are at the heart of what we mean by freedom and democracy. It is within the university context that we can freely share not only ideas, but also develop solutions to some of the challenges that we all face. To be a creative person in this context is both a privilege and a burden.

We cannot exercise our creative talents in a vacuum but must connect what we do to where we live, connect our visions to the communities we share, link our imaginations to suggesting solutions to the vexing problems of the day, explore and innovate with the hope that we will also communicate values that have an impact, values that we can believe in and support.

Over the last four years, many of you have witnessed some dramatic changes in our society. We have all lived through a major economic downturn and seen an extraordinary election in the United States. We have watched the emergence of China and India as important powers and lived through more and more examples of climate change. These are but a few of the many events during this compressed period in time. Throughout this period you have had to learn how to balance your personal lives with being a student, and to find a sense of equilibrium as our social context has become more and more complex. Whether you have desired it or not the history of this period has affected your art and it is one of our shared responsibilities as artists to understand these effects.

As creative people, we balance mastery of materials whether they are real or virtual with the creation of artifacts. When you become an artist or a designer or a media creator you commit yourself to this balance, to the shape and form of meaning, to the translation of meaning into form and shape and this commitment is sometimes difficult and other times seems to flow intuitively. The ability to balance all these elements teaches us something about balance in general, about the need to find and maintain some poise as the complex swirl of everyday life circles around us. There is an exquisite beauty to this balancing act — exquisite because we are privileged enough to be in a context where we can dream and where it is possible, even a requirement to translate those dreams into reality. Emily Carr University permits and encourages the imaginative leap from idea to reality! What an extraordinary thing! A place that actually opens up the possibilities of self, transformation and personal growth — a place that historically over 85 years has helped build the creative culture of BC and Canada —a place of freedom that has nurtured and supported some of Canada’s most important creative people.

This heritage is what we all have a responsibility to maintain, support and celebrate. This is the present and the future.

I want you to imagine yourselves inside a room with the sounds of twittering everywhere, the chatter and exchange of ideas, disagreements, agreements, information and misinformation, think of that room as a large public square where we have assembled to talk, create and talk some more. Think of that room as a studio where the smells and tastes are integral to releasing the energy of creativity. Think of yourselves during that silent moment in front of an empty canvas or a blank screen and that chance, that rare chance to create, to imagine and to produce. At each stage of your learning experience you have had to overcome that emptiness, the sense that there is meaning even if it is not immediately apparent. And each time that you have productively found a solution, you have validated your education, and reinforced the importance of what we do collectively and individually. This creative heritage is your responsibility to maintain, support and celebrate.

We live in a city that by virtue of location and history extends Canada eastwards to the vast nations of Asia. We live in a city that is small by comparison to the large cities of Europe and America. Yet, we have produced some of the greatest artists of the 20th Century and hopefully will continue to produce even greater artists in the 21st Century. Perhaps it is the fact that we are the mediators between Europe and Asia. Perhaps we have always been not so much a gateway to the East as a cultural point of transition between east and west. And perhaps that hybridity has given us a unique advantage — the advantage of understanding how cultures come together and how diversity is at the very core of our identities, at the very core of most creative acts.

So, graduates!!! You now bear the burden of carrying on some great traditions. You now have the chance to become what you imagine, you can translate your hopes into action, but you will also need to relate what you do, what you imagine to who you are and WHERE you are. You will need to connect to the community and understand where you can contribute. Now more than ever there is urgency to how we interpret the present and how we see the future. And, as you engage with these challenges remember Emily Carr. We are and always will be your extended family.

Good Luck and all the best for the future. [This speech is also available in PDF.](/~rburnett/Weblog/Grad_2010_Speech.pdf)

Picasso filmed in 1950

Visite à Picasso’ (1950) 20m, dir. Paul Haesaerts A poetic treatment which includes the artist painting on glass while facing the camera, shot at Picasso's home in Vallauris, accompanied by some fairly moody organ music in this very dark, but captivating film. The artist here takes on the character of an eminence-grise, an alchemist engulfed in the "sol y sombra" of his laboratory-studio, filmed in gorgeous black and white.

Experimental Video: Ed Emshwiller

"Sunstone is a landmark tape. Symbolic and poetic, it is a pivotal work in the development of an electronic language to articulate three-dimensional space. The opening image is an iconic face, which appears to be electronically "carved" from stone. A mystical third eye, brilliantly crafted from a digital palette, radiates with vibrant transformations of color and texture. Sculpting electronically, Emshwiller then transforms perspectival representation: the archetypal "sunstone" is revealed to be one facet of an open, revolving cube, each side of which holds a simultaneously visible, moving video image."

The Value of Art

A recent study by the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism persuasively argues not only for the value of the arts to the health of our society, but for its necessity as a fundamental part of everyday life. It is a great report, but it amazes me that we are still producing reports on these issues as if the debate is a new one. No city can survive without culture. No country would even dare call itself a country if it couldn't link its culture to its history. Every aspect of what we do and of how we live is intertwined with the cultural actitvities we pursue. No small town in Canada or the United States is without its craftspeople. Most of the environments that we inhabit either reference culture or express some form of cultural activity. The fork and knife that you use to eat with were designed by creative people. The buildings we inhabit are the product of centuries of thinking about the built environment. Unless we start connecting the dots here, we will continue to think of culture as something that is done by others, by artists and designers, as opposed to a process that we all engage in to varying degrees. Artists create the windows through which we can view and engage with our own world and the worlds of others.

 




An item from my extensive collection of newspapers from 1968