On Histories of Creative Practice - Is It Time to Think About Style?


Ludwik Fleck (1896-1961), an early philosopher of science, developed the concept of “thought styles” to conceptualize how thinking was an inherently social phenomenon. Cognition, as an inherently intersubjective practice – a practice of a collective, would, as Fleck argued, always have a collective quality -- a “style”. A distinct thought style emerges in group interactions via shared practices, techniques, environments, tools, habits, embodied logics, concepts and rituals. Such a group is bonded by a “mood”. These practices have “active” elements that co-shape the members and “passive” elements – what the group implicitly lives as the given affordances of reality.

What is helpful is the idea that what defines thought is its “style” and “mood” – for a style is far more than what can be clearly articulated (say an ideology), or something that could be seen as primarily mental (say a mindset), or ascribed to an individual (character, psychology, etc.). Style is an enactive and intrinsically relational and has a material/environmental dimension. It is a lived experience that has a tone or mood to it – and is of an environment, ways of acting, tools and rituals, etc. Style is embodied in ways that cannot be articulated. Style is in and of tools and environments that cannot be reduced to utility or clear conceptual purpose.

And consequently when we speak of changing patterns of thought from Fleck’s perspective – we are not focused on something that is individual, internal or brain focused. To change patterns of thought is to collectively evolve a new style with a differing tone, mood, and propensities. It is a collective embodied, environmentally intra-woven ongoing lived process.

Our sense is that we need to engage with this twice: once in developing a new style of approaching creative processes, and a second time in making change happen. Why? There is a dominant thoughtstyle of creative practices that has emerged in the “west” mid 20th century. And it is one that in its hyper anthropocentric individualistic internalism is decidedly unsuited to engage with the critical tensions of our present world. We would argue, we cannot take on the present challenges with a creativity thoughtstyle that is ultimately part of the practices and ecosystems of our challenges.

Ultimately to change our thoughtstyle of creative practice is to change our environment, tools, concepts, embodied gestures, towards a new more-than-human intrinsically relational, dynamic and emergent world.

on What Is Innovation, and How to Innovate

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