Materiality, Memory and Imagination: Using Empathy to Research Creativity

Cathy Treadaway
2009 Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology  
Based on a paper presented at the sixth Creativity and Cognition conference (13-15 June 2007, Washington, DC), on the theme "Materialities for Creativity," focused on the cultivating and sustaining of creativity. As digital technology becomes increasingly pervasive and embedded into our everyday experience, there is a growing awareness of the significance of physical interaction with the material world [1]. Recent research is providing evidence of the crucial importance of materiality and
more » ... teriality and physical experience in creative cognition and illuminates the ways in which technology might be developed to enhance its usefulness as a creativity support tool [2]. From earliest times, artmaking has involved the manipulation of tools and materials. The physical properties of implements and the response to bodily interaction have always been sources of inspiration to artists and designers, not only in the process of crafting an artifact but also as stimulation for the artist's imagination. As tools, materials and technology have evolved from generation to generation, so creative processes and cognition have been influenced and changed. Investigating the complexity of the workings of the human mind and explaining how creative thoughts develop are not without their difficulties. Observations of art-making, however, can yield insight into creative processes as well as provide a deeper understanding of individual approaches to innovation [3]. Active participation in the creative act as a collaborator provides the researcher with an empathic experience [4], illuminating how it feels to be physically, emotionally and intellectually involved in this process. Through "disciplined noticing" [5] and qualitative ethnographic research methods, a collaborative creative investigation can reveal issues that might escape notice in a more formal research environment [6] . By using the "studio as laboratory" and utilizing the mutual creative experience of artist and artist-researcher, it is possible to make an analysis of observed and experienced creative processes [7] . This kind of active participation in the research provides insight into the creative mind and at the same time generates novel artifacts that exhibit the creative act. This article draws from a research project I undertook using this methodological approach. The investigation has focused specifically on how digital technology influences the creative practice of textile artists and designers and in particular its impact on creative cognition. Considerable changes in the working practice of the artists involved in this study have occurred over the last 10 years. Until recently the process of creating artwork for printed textiles has been constrained by the limitations of the manufacturing and craft processes used to translate visual imagery into printed surface [8] . Recent developments in digital print machinery mean that there is now a significant advantage to the digital development of artwork, and practitioners are beginning to embrace the technology and explore ways of working creatively with it [9]. Digital tools are no longer useful solely for pre-print design development but are also being used in the early stages of concept formation and visual idea generation. In my research I have sought to understand how textile artists and designers create visual concepts in order to develop artworks using digital technology. Findings reflect the specialist nature of this domain, in which material tactile qualities, handcrafting and visual stimulation are fundamental to creative action. ConCept Generation Memory and lived experience Memory is vital in the creative process and the ability to experience sensory stimulation: to engage in an emotional response and then remember it is crucial in the germinal phase of concept development [10]. Ward [11] describes how new ideas rely on stored information for their creation. Memory of human experience and the sensory stimulation it provides is fundamental to a visual artist's creative action. Findings from research in experimental neuroscience have revealed the importance of memory in the human ability to make sense of human experience [12] . Emotional responses to sensory stimulation have been found to enhance the strength of memories due to the release of neurochemicals in the brain [13] . Norman [14] asserts that this results in the modification of perception, decision-making and behavior; emotions "change the parameters of thought." The way in which the world is experienced and perceived, remembered and imagined provides inspiration, sometimes unexpected, for the development of visual representations by artists and designers. Digital tools such as video and still cameras, computers with scanners, graphics tablets and pens are useful devices with which practitioners are able to explore visual concepts. The research described in this paper has illuminated ways in which experience of the material world influences the development of visual representations, using ethnographic qualitative research methods, including case studies and practical investigations. My research also identifies how physical experience helps define the parameters of thought that are crucial for a b s t r a c t our perception of the physical world is informed by our bodily sensory experiences. this rich source of information stimulates the brain and is remembered and remade in the creative processes that feed our imagination. How does experience of materiality shape our creative use of digital imaging tools, and how does the technology influence creative practice? this article contends that creative processes are heavily reliant on our memories of physical experience and that tools to support creative digital practice could be enhanced to utilize the rich multi-sensory stimulation it provides. this paper presents collaborative art-making that has been used to investigate issues arising from case study research, enabling the author to empathically experience the artist's creative processes and to provide insight into how digital tools can support creative practice.
doi:10.1162/leon.2009.42.3.231 fatcat:ftgarbx4frccfinam3fahgiuly