Creativity Emerges From the Middle

2 people under a tree on a windy day

Creativity is not in our heads but emerges from the middle.

The middle of what?

Landscapes. What do we mean by landscape?

The environment we find ourselves in — whether it is a seeming wilderness of deep rainforest jungle or the desolate wasteland of an endless suburban mall parking lot — is not something neutral & separate from us.

It has been co-constructed by us & other creatures to suit us & our ways of life (Niche Construction Theory).

Landscapes are neither nature nor culture. But are the outcomes of tens of thousands of years of co-construction.

Because of this, landscapes are composed of countless specific co-constructed niches. For humans these niches are task specific micro-worlds that correspond to micro-identities. Taskspaces for processes/activities: cooking, reading, traveling, sleeping etc.

Our creative lives play out as processual dances with & of these micro-worlds.

Going deeper: It is a landscape of culturally & species specific affordances. The world shows up as a landscape that is all affordances— this is what we see— it is what we sense— it is what we interact with.

The concept of affordances is critical here. An affordance allows us to act in a certain manner. Sensing an affordance reveals a potential capacity for action: walking, climbing, grasping, conceptualizing

Affordances are emergent opportunities for possible action that comes from the RELATIONSHIP between the specific embodied skills of a subject & the material logic of an environment. An affordance is not “in” either the subject or the object but in the relationship.

Thus a landscape is always a landscape of relationships (affordances). Our environments are a dense weave of specific niches for potential actions. This is a world that is neither natural nor cultural — nor is it subjective or objective. It is a landscape firmly of the middle.

To get at the creative capacities of this middle we need to add one more nuance into play:

All affordances are socio-cultural — affordances are not universal ahistorical potentials for action but arise from within a specific way of life. A tree to an animist way of life affords very different possibilities than it does for materialists. Changing socio-cultural practices changes the landscape of affordances.

Creativity & imagination do not happen in our heads but in the dense dynamic middles of a landscape that is itself a middle(s).

To really get at creativity we need shift from practices that stress how it is “in” some “thing” (such as the head) and sense how it is “of” emergent relations (middles)— landscapes (which we are of as an organism-environment systems). We need to care for how we shape relations as a landscape

Doing this is to sense ourselves as being of a landscape.

For a creative life we need to care less about things in ourselves (such as our mindsets) & more about our environments and our practices as middles — as landscapes of creativity.

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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