Learning to be creative on and off the distributed web

Backwaters, Kerala (* see note below)

Although the final week of the E-Learning 3.0 course is almost over, I haven’t yet finished thinking about the penultimate week on Experience.

The guest speaker for this week was Amy Burvall.  I really enjoyed her conversation with Stephen Downes. The recording is below.

Amy is a creativity expert, who tries to ‘make’ something every day. She believes in remix as a culture, transparency of work and multi-media work and has a website and many videos to prove it.  She has published a creativity handbook for teachers, which has recipes for creative thinking and has been designed to be remixable. Teachers are encouraged to take a prompt, work with it and share it with a given hashtag. Interestingly, Amy said that a community was growing around this hashtag, which is what Stephen thought could happen around the #el30 hashtag for this course, when the topic focussed on community.

Stephen sees creativity as pattern recognition and Amy suggested that creativity is being able to see juxtapositions and relationships that others don’t. Both these ideas fit with my experience.

Amy also believes that constraints help creativity and that learners should be encouraged to articulate why they made what they made. I’m not sure about this. Whilst I can see the value of articulating learning processes for the learner, a part of me says that a work of ‘art’ should be able to speak for itself, and doesn’t need to be accompanied by the artist’s explanation, but I think it depends on what the work of art is. A question has just entered my head – Is art that is created online, using technical tools, always conceptual art?  This question feels significant to me, but at the moment I can’t put my finger on why.

For Amy a computer can create art, but she asks where is the backstory that touches her heart and makes the emotional connection. I think this is why she feels that learners should be encouraged to explain their art. She says we are craving experience rather than stuff and agrees with Stephen that the creation of the content is part of the content. I can see that the creation of content is part of the content and that art should touch the heart and make an emotional connection, but I am still not convinced that this needs articulating.

Serendipitously in the same week that I listened to Amy’s conversation with Stephen, I listened to a podcast of a conversation between John Cleese and Iain McGilchrist (the first night podcast), who also talked about creativity, but in different terms.

They started by bemoaning the fact that creativity for comedians is being constrained by political correctness and that they can no longer make fun of people. (John Cleese stressed that this should be in an affectionate, not in a nasty way.) For John Cleese, all humour is about human imperfection, and is needed because we are not good at laughing at ourselves. All humour is critical. You have to be creative to be a comic.

In their conversation they touched on a number of ideas which overlapped with Stephen and Amy’s conversation, as well as coming at it from a different perspective. Some of the points they made were:

  • Creativity is mainly stopping doing things. We have to allow space for new ideas. (I have heard McGilchrist talk about this before – Exploring the Divided Brain. Creativity, Paradox and Negation.)
  • Artists let go and let things happen.
  • Creativity is non-intellectual and unconscious.
  • Moments of insight come out of the blue.
  • You can’t create to a schedule.
  • The moment you have an idea, allow the creative idea time. A new born idea needs time to grow.
  • Creative artists know how to play and take longer to make their minds up. It’s a healthy habit not to give snap answers.
  • There’s wisdom in I’ll just sleep on it.

Amy Burvall also talked about negative capability and living with ambiguity and uncertainty. She said creativity is a way of being, a way of approaching the world. We should live like an artist, dance as though nobody’s watching, and kill that internal editor! I think John Cleese and Iain McGilchrist would agree.

Stephen has provided some great resources for this topic which I am copying here as I still have to catch up on quite a few of them.

I can again particularly recommend his summary Feature Article.

*Note about the photo: Backwaters Kerala. This is my current location for the next three weeks, which also explains why I am a week behind on the course!


Feature Article E-Learning 3.0, Part 8 – Experience
stephen@downes.ca, Dec 20, 2018.
The challenge for educators and for society in general will be in managing and accepting the transition from emphasizing ‘what people learn’ to ‘how people learn’. Like the creative process itself, what’s important is not what is created – it could be anything from a cake to a cathedral – but rather how it is created. It is the history, process and provenance of the creation that gives it meaning, relevance, and ultimately, truth.

How to Be an Artist
Jerry Saltz, Vulture, 2018/12/12
Good advice that could be applied not only to art but to anything (substitute ‘research scientist’ for ‘artist’ and you get the same useful tips): “How do you get from there to making real art, great art? There’s no special way; everyone has their own path. Yet, over the years, I’ve found myself giving the same bits of advice. Most of them were simply gleaned from looking at art, then looking some more. Others from listening to artists talk about their work and their struggles. (Everyone’s a narcissist.) I’ve even stolen a couple from my wife.”

“We are a global community of millions who come together each day to create their own entertainment: unique, live, unpredictable, never-to-be repeated experiences created by the magical interactions of the many. With chat built into every stream, you don’t just watch on Twitch, you’re a part of the show.”

Fostering Creativity
Amy Burvall, YouTube, 2018/12/12
Amy Burvall offers a series of pink Post-It notes talking about aspects and properties of creativity – running from ‘remix’ to ‘messy’ to ‘constraint’. Web: [Direct Link]

Openness to Experience and Creative Achievement
Scott Barry Kaufman, Scientific American, 2018/12/12
Openness to experience– the drive for cognitive exploration of inner and outer experience– is the personality trait most consistently associated with creativity. Web: [Direct Link]

Stephen’s Web: Creativity
Stephen Downes, Stephen’s Web, 2018/12/13
I’ve covered the topic of creativity quite a bit over the years. This is a listing of the posts I’ve written referring to different resources on creativity. There’s a lot to pick and choose from. Web: [Direct Link]

The Sources of Innovation and Creativity
Karlyn Adams, National Center on Education and the Economy, 2018/12/14
The following pages represent a comprehensive summary of current research and theory on the sources of innovation and creativity, both in individuals and organizations.  Based on the recurring concepts in the existing literature, the paper concludes with some recommendations for how education systems can best foster these attributes in students.

#getsmART: Lessons from the Artists
Amy Burvall, YouTube, 2018/12/16
What insights can we gain from studying the lives and creative processes of famous artists? Thinking like an artist means being porous, pushing past, and playing. This talk was given (in a slightly different form ) at TEDxWestVancouverED. Web: [Direct Link]

Crushing It with Creativity- The Virtual Summit EU keynote
Amy Burvall, Slideshare, 2018/12/16 Web: [Direct Link]

Amy Burvall, AmusED, 2018/12/16
All of Amy Burvall’s posts on creativity. See also: Amy Burvall’s website. Web: [Direct Link]

5 thoughts on “Learning to be creative on and off the distributed web

  1. dogtrax December 21, 2018 / 10:52 am

    Yep. This is where it’s at — “..where is the backstory that touches her heart and makes the emotional connection …”

  2. scottx5 December 23, 2018 / 6:58 am

    Thanks for all the resources Jenny. The point that making art is a deliberate process seems out of place with the idea that creativity is a gift from the muse or a venture out into the unknown–a special insanity. In art school it was always very important to declare an intention for your work. Regardless of whether you fumbled it, were unable to replicate your initial vision or just ran off with a more attractive option that appeared by chance, the work was a piece of deliberation that couldn’t really exist without there being person an accountable associated with it.

    Even as a raw exploration there always some kind of intentional force pushing things along and maybe it is pattern recognition like you said Stephen mentioned though I’m thinking more in terms of creativity being a state fluctuating between accepting the familiar and enduring the unfamiliar–maybe even dancing around taunting the unfamiliar. Risky and unsettling though it is.

    Reading about “maker spaces” as creative incubators and just can’t get my head around them. Suggestions for reading about the maker space idea?


  3. jennymackness December 26, 2018 / 9:38 am

    Thanks for these thoughts Scott.I’m afraid I don’t know anything about “maker spaces”. Maybe Kevin @dogtrax would be able to help. Perhaps if you put a message on Twitter in the #el30 stream, you would get a response from someone in the know. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  4. amyburvall January 4, 2019 / 2:14 am

    Hi Jenny! Just found this…thanks for all your insights and the recap. I’m a big fan of Cleese and his views on creativity. I actually agree with you about sometimes not having to explain anything. I often make art (esp remix or poetry) that I just throw out there. I don’t explain it or justify it and sometimes don’t really know why I made it a certain way, though it usually stems from some sort of backstory, even if using tools of serendipity. The distinction I’d made is when teaching / learning….the point of my book “Intention” is that students can learn through making but need to articulate their intentions / creative choices, etc. in order for someone (probably the teacher, but even oneself) to get a grasp on their understanding of the content / knowledge. For me personally, as a viewer of the arts, I prefer to know any kind of backstory as it makes things more meaningful to me. Today I just learned that Grace Slick wrote “Go Ask Alice” after listening to a Spanish guitar record for 24 hours during an LSD trip and that is why her voice is using the “Phyrgian Scale” often used in Spanish music.

  5. jennymackness January 4, 2019 / 6:33 am

    Hi Amy – thanks so much for your comment. Yes, I agree with you. It does help learners to articulate their understanding, although I have to say that when asked to say what I have learned in my life drawing classes and write this down, I get very irritated – although that’s probably my age and the fact that I am only doing the class to find a different space 🙂 I also agree about backstories being interesting. I particularly enjoy a series of BBC programmes that we have here in the UK – What do artists do all day – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rjr1d/episodes/guide. It’s fascinating learning more about how these artists go about their ‘creating’.Thanks for sharing further detail on your content.

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