"The performers took on commendably the challenge of speaking and acting as characters from the late 19th century, making the script seem simultaneously alien and familiar...

...[Decker & Swanson] constantly change in and out of costume to assume different roles. The versatility of the actors heighten the entertainment of the play."

Review of On The Verge by AJ Cassidy,
The Northern Iowan.

Hello and welcome to my website!  I am Ryan Michael Decker; primarily a stage actor, director, and teacher.  On this website, I will post the most recent versions of my various resumes and the latest updates about my work as an actor and theatre artist in the column to the right.  The rest of this website is for you to start to know me, professionally and personally.  Thank you for visiting my site, and I hope to meet you soon! 

On Creativity and the Arts

May 22, 2011

     According to Webster's Dictionary, “creativity is artistic or intellectual inventiveness.”  The Encyclopedia Britannica elaborates that creativity is “the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.”

     Creativity can be witnessed in a vast array of disciplines.  Dr. Leslie Owen Wilson taught creativity at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and developed multiple programs for gifted, highly able, and creative learners throughout the United States before retiring as a professor emerita (Wilson, “Biography”).  On defining creativity, Wilson states “Obviously, creativity means numerous things to different people and can be defined in any number of ways.”  She goes on to identify where creativity can be found and lists just a few fields: “Creativity can also be defined at many distinct levels -- cognitively, intellectually, socially, economically, spiritually, and from the finite perspective of different disciplines -- business, science, music, art, dance, theater, etc.” (Wilson, “On defining creativity”).

     One of the greatest advocates and practitioner of these disciplines is Kevin Spacey.  While he may need no introduction, Spacey is an honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire, political activist, multi-Academy Award winning and multi-Emmy and multi-Golden Globe nominated film, television, and stage actor, director, producer, screenwriter, crooner, and is currently the artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theatre (Wikipedia.com).  The day following his explanation of why the arts are so important at the Nancy Hanks lecture at the Kennedy Center, Spacey shared his views during an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball”:

“I think that arts and culture are a necessity in our lives, not just as individuals but as nations.  I think it’s about our spirit and our health.  It’s about how much we expose our children to arts education, to music, and to poetry, to theatre, and to ballet.  And this isn’t about people that want to go into the arts.  This is about what it does to people’s sense of confidence, sense of self-esteem, to what they can learn about themselves… Arts and culture is the most important export we exchange around the world.  Countries may go to war, but its culture that unites us.  It educates us.  It teaches us to be better” (MSNBC.com).

     In his book A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, Daniel H. Pink describes “the three A’s” – Abundance, Asia (outsourcing/offshoring), and Automation – and identifies them as factors causing people in the United States to seek transcendental forms of existence.  Pink also recognize the scientific that the different hemispheres of the brain are attributed with certain functions and characteristics:  the left with logical, sequential, analytical, objective processes and the right with random, intuitive, holistic, synthesizing, and subjective processes (Funderstanding.com).

     He uses the three A’s as to fuel the argument that people can use art to develop a more balanced brain thus become more self-actualized and self-fulfilling.  W. Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance, agrees with the ideas of Pink.  As we leave an era that heavily favored left-brain process and we are now moving into a conceptual age that will encourage right-brained presence, Gallwey too suggests, we should not become heavily right-brained, but become balanced, whole-brained people where the right and left brain serve each other.  That we should become fully integrated individuals.

     Pink briefly describes the history of human economy.  First existed the Agricultural Age dominated by farmers.  This was followed by the rise of the Industrial Age, an age powered by machines and factory workers.  Next we arrive at the age the current generation identifies with: the Information Age.  This age is navigated by technology and “knowledge workers” such as doctors, lawyers, and scientists.  However, Pink believes that we are watching the Information Age bow-out.  “Now as the forces of Abundance, Asia and Abundance deepen and intensify, the curtain is rising on… the Conceptual Age.  The main characters are now the creator and the empathizer” (49).

     Pink’s major observation is that the three A’s are threatening our jobs.  If you’re doing something someone overseas can do cheaper, if you’re doing something a computer can do faster, or if what you’re doing is not in demand in an age of abundance, soon no one will need you to do it.  Soon, you won’t have a job.  Ultimately, Pink argues that in order to save of jobs, we need to develop a new set of skills and abilities: High Concept and High Touch (50).

     “High Concept involves the ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into a novel invention.  High Touch involves the ability to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian, in pursuit of purpose and meaning”  (51-52).  To achieve this we need to practice and develop our skills in the “six senses.”  Not just function but also DESIGN.  Not just argument but also STORY.  Not just focus but SYMPHONY.  Not just logic but also EMPATHY.  Not just seriousness but also PLAY.  Not just accumulation but also MEANING.  “Design.  Story.  Symphony.  Empathy.  Play.  Meaning.  These six senses increasingly will guide our lives and shape our world” (65-67).  It is anything but impossible to see how these six senses can be practiced through the practice of creativity – through artistic or intellectual inventiveness and imaginative skill.

     Actor and writer Rainn Wilson, best known as Dwight on the American television show The Office and author of SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions, shared his thoughts on the vast significance of creativity during an interview with Big Think.  “Creativity is absolutely for everyone.  I firmly believe this.  I think if you’re the driest accountant with the plastic pocket pen protector it’s in how you interact with the world.  There is artistry in everything that we do and there is expression in everything that we do…”

     Newness in an inherent quality to the products of creativity, as first identified in its definition.  Creative writers, therefore, do not generally write on subjects they know.  During a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) presentation, spoken word poet Sarah Kay described how she explores problems through poetry:  She uses what she knows to explore problems she doesn’t.  She describes all of her experiences as contents of a backpack she bravely takes along on new, exciting, scary adventures.  This is the creative spirit that is to be embraced.

     Austin Kleon, writer, artist, and author of Newspaper Blackout, wrote about creativity in a blog post titled “How to Steal Like an Artist (and 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me).”  In this, he echoes Kay’s philosophy as instruction: “The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s write what you like.”  In other pragmatics, he says “Write the book you want to read.”

     Kleon was irked by statement made by Rainn Wilson during his Big Think interview.  Whilst discussing the nature and origin of creative blocks, Wilson said “If you don’t know who you are or what you’re about or what you believe in it’s really pretty impossible to be creative.”  Kleon was dissatisfied by this statement because he believed it gave people a license to not create; to wait until they knew who they were.  “If I waited to know ‘who I was’ or ‘what I was about’ before I started ‘being creative’, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.”  I would argue, however, that Wilson was not encouraging that we delay the creation process.  Rather, Wilson was speaking to the potency of creativity – its resonance in the schema of the creators and receivers – in relationship to an artist knowing one’s self.  The more you create, the more you will know yourself.  Kleon and Wilson would both agree to the algebraic equation: “create things = know thyself.”

     Psychologist Erich Fromm is quoted as saying “Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.”  I believe that this is the biggest obstacle to our society engaging more in the creative process.  As human beings, in life we naturally seek comfort.  Creativity can be a direct threat to comfort.  In cases, it even compromises the most basic levels of Maslowe’s hierarchy of needs – the physiological needs (food, shelter) and safety.  However, uncertainty can have the greatest remunerations.  Consider what is the risk of not risking? David Bayles & Ted Orland try to impart a this consideration and encourage creative risk-taking in the closing statement of their book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking:

“In the end, it all comes down to this: you have a choice (or more accurately a rolling tangle of choices) between giving your work your best shot and risking that it will not make you happy, or not giving it your best shot – and thereby guaranteeing that it will not make you happy.  It becomes a choice between certainty and uncertainty.  And curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice” (118).

     Spacey ended his “Hardball” interview by sharing a brief history account: “When Winston Churchill was prime minister and he was told there was going to have to be major cuts in arts and culture because of the mounting costs of World War II, he responded with the simple reply, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”

     Let us not doubt the power of creativity and the arts.  Rather, let’s positively exploit the arts in its basic form, creativity, as means of knowing ourselves and developing the High Concept and High Touch abilities to improve our lives and relationships.  Let us constantly achieve this on the smallest levels personally and interpersonally we have available, and then transcend those boundaries across our communities, nations, and world.

Works Cited

Copyright © 2011, Ryan Michael Decker.  All rights reserved.


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