What feeds our imagination in the act of creation?


Some artists turn to music. Some turn to design and others turn to art movements, aiming to trigger that spark and burst of creation. This article looks at the influence of these 3 factors in the process of artistic creation and concludes that, oftentimes, it’s at the intersections and confluences of these stimuli where the stuff of magic happens.

The process of adaptation in creation is quite common, and pastiche as an act of imitation is a practice familiar to many ideas. However, when does borrowing border on plagiarism? As author Dean Inge spouts, “What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” If we begin from this premise we can be more constructive in unpacking the influences (as the euphemism goes) of design, music, and art in one’s creative process.

Source: http://www.omicsonline.org/blog/

Source: http://www.omicsonline.org/blog/

If we view the components in an artwork metaphorically as fragments of text, and I employ artwork as a generic term for any mono-, cross- and inter-disciplinary form of work, then we could view the act of creation as the assembling of diverse semiotics. In a piece of theatre, for example, the acting, lighting, set, and sound design form the semiotical elements of the stage presentation. There is a sense of intertextuality that takes place in the process of creation, and it is in this montage that the clash of ideas and the provocation of perceptions take place.

Julia Hoffmann, Creative Director at MoMA from CreativeMornings/Stockholm on Vimeo.

In the above video, MoMa’s Creative Director Julia Hoffman speaks about the thinking behind the formation and preservation of MoMa’s brand, speaking specifically about how typography is utilized to communicate MoMa’s brand identity. One of the examples she mentions is of undertaking the task to create a 30-second advertisement of Tim Burton’s exhibition at MoMa. Initially seized by terror at the prospect of creating an advertisement for one of the world’s greatest filmmakers, the solution turned out to be awfully simple. It first began with a discussion between the curator and the artist, and a pitch was made to simply ‘Burtonify’ the MoMa logo. Burton was a fan of this idea and the project took off.

What happened here was not just a fusion of two different aesthetics, but also an imbuement of Burton’s classic characterization of the ‘wounded monster’ figure, and a music score reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands. From this mini-example, the set-up to creating an advertisement involves allowing the influences of a previous aesthetic, music, and a borrowed story to make it happen.

Tim Burton himself was inspired from a multitude of influences. According to Tim Burton Collective, the roots of his creative genius lie in the work of

‘stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen, and the Hammer horror films starring such cinematic legends as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, to shlock-y matinee escapades featuring Vincent Price, and the not so obvious: from the early works of Walt Disney to the films of cinematic auteur Federico Fellini.’

On how he allows these influences to inform his film however, he does so in a way that builds on the canvas rather than simply mashing them together.

Tom Schulz is an English and Theatre educator at the Singapore American School and is an active member of the International Schools Theatre Association. I had the privilege of attending a screenwriting workshop he conducted at the Singapore Drama Educators’ Association (SDEA)’s Theatre Art Conference. During the freewriting exercises he conducted for the individual and in pairs, he always played music to add ambience to the thinking space. In an article featured in Time magazine, Michael D. Lemonick talks about how music can stimulate brain activity. Melody and rhythm can ‘trigger feelings from sadness to serenity to joy to awe; they can bring memories from childhood vividly back to life.’ According to neuroscientist Valerie Salimpoor, who is passionate about discovering music’s mysteries in affecting brain activities, music activates the amygdala, which is ‘involved in abstract decisionmaking. When we’re listening to music, the most advanced areas of the brain tie in to the most ancient.’ This is a beautiful description of how music could instigate creative wavelengths of thinking, which are usually abstract, facilitating the creation process in any work of art.

To create is a gift, an externalization of our imaginations, and an exercise in free expression.

How best to facilitate the process differs from person to person, and it is up to the individual to explore what works best for him or her. For me, music is very effective in stirring the churning of instincts into concrete visualizations and ideas. According to Tom Jacobs from The Pacific Standard, ‘researchers report the soothing sounds of a Mozart minuet boosts the ability of children and seniors to focus on a task and ignore extraneous information.’ For the reseachers Masataja and Perlovsky, this suggests ‘consonant music […that has a pleasing sense of stability and completeness] may have an important cognitive function: help overcoming cognitive interference.’ There is something very soothing in allowing music to calm and settle your neurons in a way that focuses your concentration and thinking.

The more you perfect your craft, the easier it will be for you to convert creative stimuli into art. The way creative experts such as musicians and dancers think also differ because of their ability to relate to the performances that they watch on an active level, in that their minds are perceiving their own bodies at work (be it playing the piano or dancing the tango). This phenomenon works on a critical idea in neuroscience—mirror neurons. Mirror neurons ‘fire both when individuals perform an action and when they observe someone else perform the action!’ Mirror neurons are a ground-breaking nexus to creativity because they change the way psychologists imagine the flow of information. In the past, they had assumed a linear flow of information—thinking that ‘perception leads to recognition, then to planning and thinking, which in turn leads to action.’ From the perspective of mirror neurons however, the brains of experts are ‘dancing and making music even when they are simply sitting in the audience.’

Therefore the moral of the story seems to be, or in my humbly prescriptive worldview at least, that finding the right environment for yourself, letting yourself ease into an organic and iterative process of response-change-growth, is what seems to foster a healthy bloom in your creative relationship with yourself. What matters is not so much the right or accurate way to do it, but rather just letting the flow take over and being open to influences, however Zen that may sound. Once you create that right environment, all you have to do is allow osmosis of ideas to take place.

Isabella Ow

Isabella Ow

Creative at Sabbatical
Isabella writes and muses with art objects. Anything contemporary, inventive and original fascinates her. Full-on Christian and positive-thinker!
Isabella Ow