Wednesday 22 October 2014

The Art of Thought

There are a few words that I have an unexplained aversion to - and one of these is "process". I don't know why, but it always conjures up horrible Powerpoint slides with boxes and arrows. It seems to suck the magic out of anything. I don't like the expression "creative process" or worse still "process for generating insights" as both of these seem to imply that one day, both could be turned over to a computer.

So digging back through my old psychology books, I was pleased to see that one of the seminal essays on creativity, written in 1926 by Graham Wallas (above) is entitled The Art of Thought. Wallas studied the writings of scientists such as Poincare and Helmholtz, to arrive at a theory of how creativity could work. The stages he defined were:
PREPARATION: focus on the subject or problem
INCUBATION: whereby the subject is internalised into the unconscious and nothing appears to be happening
INTIMATION: where the creative person has a hunch that something is coming
ILLUMINATION or INSIGHT: the idea bursts forth into consciousness
VERIFICATION: conscious elaboration

I was particularly struck by a quotation from Hermann von Helmholtz, the German physicist, speaking at a banquet on his 70th birthday, about the incubation phase:

“happy ideas come unexpectedly without effort, like an inspiration. So far as I am concerned, they have never come to me when my mind was fatigued, or when I was at my working table. They came particularly readily during the slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day.”

It's the incubation stage that suffers most in the current day and age. Compelled to be "always on" we turn to the internet when we have a free moment - sometimes using the excuse of "finding inspiration". But we should have more faith in our own internal capacity for inspiration.

Incubation requires time and space.


Barbara said...

Hi Sue, I’m pleased to say “process for generating insights" is a new one on me, what on earth is that supposed to mean?

I agree. Incubation does require time and space as well as peace and quiet. I can’t think of anything better than a wooded hill on a sunny day – or a beach would do – so long as it was deserted.

Sue Imgrund said...

Yes, I much prefer the notion of those ideas "bursting forth into the consciousness" rather than being generated by some process or another.