Posted by: Liz Massey | May 2, 2009

Surf’s Up: Top Creativity Links for May 2, 2009

Photo courtesy SXC.

No More Arts/Crafts Kits
A fabulous “think” post by creativity coach and artist Quinn McDonald about the creative utility of assemble-it-yourself kits. Quinn used to believe that such kits were useful, because they encouraged would-be artists to experiment with projects they might have ordinarily been too intimidated to try.

However, after years of teaching art classes, she has changed her mind, and tells us why.

“For a long time I believed that kits and assembly-projects were art portals. People would understand art, get the fun and creativity, and strike out on their own. But I don’t see that happening. Instead, I see people demanding perfect, gift-ready products at the end of a two-hour class. The very field that encourages thinking, creative problem solving, experimentation, delightful mistakes that lead to interesting discoveries is now fraught with kits that assemble in under an hour and guarantee ‘perfect’ results.

“The problem with kits is that they don’t encourage artistic exploration, they encourage consumerism. You often have to purchase that special tool, which comes in three sizes, so you’ll need the container to put it in, and the book with other projects that require six more specialized tools.”

I’m a bit torn. As someone whose primary skill as a creative person is packaging ideas, I have to say I tend to admire the ingenuity that went into creating and marketing kits similar to those to which Quinn is referring; on the other hand, I doubt I would feel as if I had created “art” after finishing a kit project. And (as someone who is very limited in my present visual arts and crafts-making skills) I wouldn’t feel as if the kits were the best way to learn foundational techniques in whatever medium I was trying to explore.

Perhaps a useful parallel here comes from learning to play a musical instrument. Apple’s GarageBand application can teach you some basic things about how to play the piano or guitar, and you can have fun recording into yourself on the computer and mixing it in a sound editing program.

However, a HUGE amount of learning musical technique comes from receiving live feedback from someone who can respond to your playing in the moment. Cool computer software can’t do that. That feedback and response is also crucial if you ever want to play in a band—I can only imagine how hard it would be for a group of musicians who had only worked with GarageBand or another “pre-packaged” music tool to learn their craft to play together and sound good.

One way in which Quinn is countering the kit trend is by offering classes and instruction in raw art journaling, which she describes as “it’s writing, it’s doodling, it’s drawing…what you do when no one is watching you, when you are doing art for yourself.”

New Study: Travel Increases Creativity

The Creative Perch blog, which I have just started following, posted a commentary the other day on a new study, published by the American Psychological Association in its Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, indicating that travel experiences improve one’s creative insight and problem-solving abilities.

Study co-authors William Maddux, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, a business school with campuses in France and Singapore and Adam Galinsky, from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, conducted five studies to test the idea that living abroad and creativity are linked.

The tests involved problem solving with objects, as well as negotiating one’s way out of a seemingly “intractable” problem trying to buy gas at a service station for less than the seller is willing to sell it. The co-authors caution that while their results demonstrate a strong relationship between having lived abroad and creativity, they don’t demonstrate causation. They tested one thesis about why travel increases creativity by using a technique with their subjects known as “priming,” according to the APA release about the study:

“To help get at this question of what causes someone to be creative, the authors tried a technique called priming. In two experiments, they asked groups of undergraduate students at the Sorbonne in Paris to recall and write about a time they had lived abroad or adapted to a new culture; other groups were asked to write about other experiences, such as going to the supermarket, learning a new sport or simply observing but not adapting to a new culture.

“The results showed that priming students to mentally recreate their past experiences living abroad or adapting to a new culture caused students, at least temporarily, to be more creative. For example, these students drew space aliens and solved word games more creatively than students primed to recall other experiences.”

This research offers an evidence base for what artists and innovators have known for a long time: that a change in scenery can often fuel a change in perspective, and that being able to adapt to a new place may also help one shift their mindset enough to give birth to a new insight.

Musicians’ Brain Waves Are Also In Tune

Here’s another validation of something musicians have known forever!

Dr. Andrew Weil’s online health newsletter contained a mention this week of research by Ulman Lindenberger of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin in the March issue of BMC Neuroscience that indicates that when musicians play together, they think together as well, in terms of brain synchronization.

Lindenberger’s team simultaneously recorded EEG from the brains of each of eight pairs of guitarists playing a short jazz-fusion melody together repeatedly. The study reported that the frontal and central regions of the guitarists’ brains synchronized to a high degree. But, more surprisingly, the temporal and parietal regions also showed significant synchronization in more than half of the pairs.

Weil speculates that these findings may help explain the feeling of self-transcendence that performers in musical groups experience when things are going well. It may also help explain the subtleties and nuances of intra-group relationships in ensembles that bring together diverse individual performers, who nonetheless find ways to collaborate successfully in concert.

Bonus Links!
Three Internet resources for funding your healing arts project
From the Arts and Healing Network’s Spring 2009 newsletter.

6th Annual Natural Landmarks Photo Contest
Sponsored by the National Park Service. Deadline: June 30.


  1. One thing about learning anything is that it takes time and practice. Whether it’s music or art, time and practice are the path to getting better. Shortcuts can make you feel good for a while, but it doesn’t build expertise.

    In a culture that prides itself on being BUSY (not productive), taking time to practice and become good at something isn’t valued as much as buying a good shortcut.

  2. Musicians aren’t the only ones who think together! In improv, we call it “group mind”: we immediately “get” what another performer is doing before they’ve even really done it. Like finishing each other’s sentences, but on a deeper level – we can “feel” what the other person is going to do before or as they do it.

    One warm-up we do to get us into this vibe: we stand in a circle, close our eyes, and start to count to 21 as a group, one person at a time. So, I say, “1,” and you say “2,” and so on and so forth – but the trick is, we can’t talk at the same time. So if we say “3” at the same time, we start back at 1…rinse, repeat, until the group gets to 21. It’s an amazing feeling when it works.

    This is one reason why we find it’s so helpful to hang out with each other beyond just rehearsal time…it helps develop this chemistry, which then translates, without fail, to the stage.

  3. Really interesting ideas here. Much food for thought. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for sharing my commentary on the study about travel and creativity! I love that you include a round up of so many creative resources in your blog. That’s a fantastic idea. I appreciate the time and research you put into your posts – definitely adds value for your readers, and also increases the sense of creative community.

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