Over the last four months we have been writing a series of articles going back and forth between deconstructing/critiquing existing approaches to creativity and offering a series of alternative proposals.
And in the latest volume of our newsletter (Emerging Futures Volume 18) we set out to contrast “classical creativity” and our approach to a “worldly” creativity.
Writing out this 35+ point comparison got us thinking about how we might sum up the key differences. And, debating what exactly would be a “key difference” got us thinking about habits of thought/action— and we realized that it was more important to first identify these “primary gestures” — because understanding these habitual actions gets at something we all do often without even realizing we are doing it.
Gestures Are Habitual Unconscious Actions
Gestures are habitual unconscious actions. Given a certain situation — you just act in a certain manner. Ducking, throwing one's arms up, diving in to save someone drowning, or giving someone the finger these are all habitual gestures.
Our thinking has similar unconscious habitual actions or gestures. There are certain very general habits of thought and action that one immediately reaches for when confronted with an issue. These are what we are calling “primary gestures”.
A gesture here is a general habitual, unconscious, style of thinking-acting. And they are “primary” because they come first — we are already doing them before we even pause to critically think about what we are doing — these gestures seemingly happen of their own accord — they take primacy over later considered thoughts and actions that build upon them.
We could simply call these “habits of thought”, but by calling them a “gesture” we draw attention to the shape or mannerism — the pattern of action this thought takes.
On the Primary Western Gestures of Thinking and Acting
Modern western thought enacts the gesture of digging when confronted with almost any issue.
Issues get formed as specific questions:
- “What is really going on here?”
- “Is that the real issue?”
- ”What underpins this?”
- “Is there something deeper going on?”
Here the implicit gesture or unconscious shape of the action is one of digging. But it is more than just digging — it is digging and casting aside. The gesture involves casting aside as irrelevant what is dug up until one uncovers an “essence”. In this action only the “essence” matters — everything above or beside it is judged “superficial” and cast aside.
The Gesture and Creativity
We can see this gesture at work in the implicit assumptions that are made in the classical way we answer the question: “What is creativity?”
The standard dictionary answer is that creativity “involves creating novel ideas”. This in itself might seem benign. But notice what is happening: All reality is cast aside — not only are only humans creative in this claim, but only human “ideas” are creative. The gesture of digging and casting aside is especially in this case an incredibly radical gesture: the world does not count, show-up or matter — creativity is only about humans. Dinosaurs becoming birds, life emerging from non-life — not creativity. But more than that (if that is even imaginable!) it is only about what happens in the human mind— this is what it means to define creativity as being about ideas! The gesture is even more radical — everything is cast aside but the contents of the human mind.
But this gesture of digging does not stop there. It has as its implicitly assumed task the uncovering of a deep and hidden essence — much like the digging for a buried gem or vein of gold. Everything will be blasted, dug, and pushed to the side to uncover the “essential truth”. And if it is an idea occurring in the mind then the location is the brain — so all the world and all of the body is gone and now we are left with only the firing of neurons — a very atrophied reality indeed.
But, as impossible as it might seem, this gesture can go further — what “produces” those neurons? — there must be some “thing” that is responsible for this. And this gesture finds its ultimate end in DNA.
So What is Creativity?
Our interest is not in debating what is the right “essence” to ascribe to creativity. But looking critically at this gesture of digging and casting aside — what happens because of this gesture?
Can we even begin to engage with creativity via such a gesture?
Is there a better alternative primary gesture?
Imagine using this gesture or practice to answer the question: what is flight?
We would first point to a flying creature — a bird for example, and say “somewhere in there is the answer”. So where? It is not in the head — many creatures who do have heads do not fly. Eventually it would be ascertained that it must be “in” the wing. So a bird is killed and a wing is removed and studied. Now no matter how hard you look in the wing you will never find flight — just like no matter how hard you look in a brain you will never find creativity. Why?
Because fight, just like creativity, is relational. Flight is the outcome of a specific relationship — and to fly you need to hold this relationship together. Yes, you need wings, but you also need a body, air density, currents, atmospheres, land, heat and much else. But more than any of these things you need practices that produce actions that equal fight.
What is flight? It is the achievement of an event that holds a relationship together for as long as one is airborne. Is it dependent on wings or any other singular component? No! There are certainly many and perhaps infinite specific ways to achieve this relational event — spiders fly by casting out a strand of filament, and seeds fly by making very light parasols.
Now, all of this is equally true of creativity.
The gesture of digging is a disaster to all things relational. The quest for deep essences is the proverbial bull in the china shop of relations.
Nothing is left that matters of what is being studied. But, ironically enough is left to “study” and generate “answers” — those that dig come away with answers: creativity is x, y, or z. But, it simply does not matter — what is “uncovered” can be a fact (something about brains— but it is an irrelevant fact).
Notice too that this gesture of digging and casting aside is one focused on finding a fixed and unchanging essence. Now, if creativity is something genuinely novel — how can it be some “thing” that has always already been there? That would not be creativity at work but the uncovering of the unchanging — which is the fundamental opposite of a creative process…
Proposing Alternative Primary Gestures
So what new primary gestures are needed for creativity?
We need to stop digging and going deep.
We need to stay on the “surface” and live across things — we need relational Primary gestures.
Digging vs expanding across…
How do these alternative primary gestures operate?
These are gestures of “seeing across,” feeling what is “between”, sensing what arises from the “middle”…
- These are gestures of expansion…
- Atmospheric gestures…
- These are gestures where nothing is lost.
In relations — everything matters — but everything matters as a totality — not as a collection of individual parts.
It is a gesture of “wholes” that exceed and make the “parts.”
In this gesture the “whole” proceeds the parts — the relation proceeds the thing — the no-thing proceeds the substantive…
These are gestures comfortable with what matters being no “thing” but rather the dynamic space between things that makes up an event.
Here, with this gesture, there is no “thing” to point to…
Unlike a the gesture of uncovering the problem with a car engine — say a carburetor issue — with “things” like creativity or love — there is no “thing” there — there is literally nothing. All that is “there” is the active caring for the event — which is itself a relation of relations — these are not “things” — but primary gesture that are in touch with lived events.
From the perspective of the western primary gesture of uncovering essences — none of this makes sense— there is literally no-thing to uncover.
For Creativity's Sake — Let’s Keep It Superficial
It is hard to even begin to sense an alternative worldly creativity with the habits of digging for essences, the purifying and the throwing away — these are the gestures of a world beholden to fixed essences and pre-established harmonies.
Creativity is aberrant — wild, emergent and wholly relational.
Once you begin the primary gestures of depth and digging — what can be left of creativity?
Classical Creativity and Worldly Creativity
So what is the key difference? We realized — it is nothing on our list — it is something more primary — in the sense of something we automatically do. The key difference is in what habits we automatically launch into.
How to Be More Creative With Primary Alternative Gestures
Suggestions to be More Creative
- Stop digging
- Stop throwing everything out — those gestures and habits are good for certain limited activities — but for engaging creative processes:
- Start living across events
- Fall in love with that which cannot be pointed to — relational wholes…
The nothing that is something — it is here — in this gesture that the event of creativity thrives…
- Get horizontal
- Move horizontally — crab like.
- Multiply your sideways movements and gestures
- Stay on the surfaces
- Make and break connections
- Sense emergent wholes
Know that nothing is hidden and that the new is non-existent — until we co-emerge differently with it…
Remember the accidental and superficial drip launched Jackson Pollack into a novel world. That was nothing deep.