This is probably the first time in about ten years that I haven’t taught my creativity module at the University. Apart from missing working with some lovely people, I haven’t minded not teaching it a bit. It always sounds like an interesting thing to teach but actually it is quite dull. Experts tend to write very boring things about a seemingly fascinating area, or they write the same old stuff over and over again. If you are interested in Creativity Techniques, which is a sub-genre of the whole thing, I still think that Roger von Oech’s work is the best. If you are interested in what the creative state is like then you could do worse that read a bit of Happiness by Csikszentmihalyi, or see a bit of him here. For a telling it how it is about creativity I would recommend Dangerous Ideas by Alf Rehn, which is a really good read apart from anything else. That would be my ideal creativity course really.
I mention all this because I was interested to find myself spending quite a bit of time over the New Year holiday making the chicken you see in the picture. I bought the knit a chicken kit at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace this year. I have no idea why I bought it. It was the first thing I bought. I just saw it on a stall out of the corner of my eye and I knew that I really wanted to knit it. I ended up having a conversation about the kit with Stewart Hillard from The Great British Sewing Bee on BBC 2. I knew I knew him from somewhere, but couldn’t place him until I saw the Christmas Special. He was really delightful. We talked about how sometimes you just have to make something and you really don’t know why. And this is what I was thinking about with this chicken.
I really don’t need a knitted chicken, but this one spoke to me. She had to come home with me. And I really enjoyed knitting her. I loved the quality of the chunky Icelandic wool knitted up in moss stitch, and the shaping of the beak and the comb. I loved having the skill to do that, and acquiring a new skill making the icord for the legs and toes.
So, in Csikszentmihalyi’s terms I was in a flow state because I was practising skills and learning new ones. It was a difficult task but not one so difficult that I became anxious or self-conscious. I experienced that feeling of flow, when everything seems to go well. And this is important to me. I am interested in creativity and making, not the mental gymnastics of innovation or problem solving. I love to create with my hands for its own sake for the sheer joy of making. There are lots of other reasons to make: to show our love for others with baby quilts, or wedding quilts, or socks, or to impress others, or to make money, or to save money, but for me, making for the joy of making, and then wondering what I am gong to do with the end result – in this case a slightly wonky stuffed hen – later. There is a theory that we are genetically selected for our ability to make with our hands – so the very earliest of our ancestors would have had the greatest chance of passing on their DNA if they were skilled crafts people who could make things. I wonder though, if those very early makers might not have got all the girls (or boys) because they exuded a certain delight at being in the world, which is very attractive, which comes from making craft items with the hands.
I have no idea what I am going to do with my chicken now she is complete, but she is an interesting talisman of creativity and one which I will keep near me in the coming year.