søndag den 19. februar 2012

Creativity is all about hard work

Editors note: This blogpost about creativity is written by danish architect and co-founder Mikkel Frost from Cebra Architects.


by Mikkel Frost

Over the last decade, the word creative has totally lost its value. Since the term has been both misused and overused it has become a virtually meaningless cliché. Creative is something everybody wants to be – or it’s something people outside of the arts want to be around. Creative is one of the most commonly-used words in job applications as applicants know that every employer wants creative people. If all job applications were true, most people on the planet would be creative. Creative has become so cool that it is actually not cool at all. When you hear people or companies say that they are creative you can be sure that they are not – they just want to be.

1st prize competition - Experimentarium in Hellerup in Denmark - Cebra Architects

Hard work
Some clients believe that talented architects are creative around the clock. They think that their creativity is like a river of ideas and brilliant thoughts in which they can fill their bucket at will. To a certain extent this is true. Truly creative people get good ideas, but only rarely at gun point. Most of the time you don´t just get an idea – you build it. It does happen that lightening strikes and that the artist is filled with inexplicable divine inspiration, but let´s be honest: most of the time it’s all about hard work. In this sense creative people are just hard working people who won´t settle for the ordinary.

From time to time, we actually meet clients who´ll spend 15 minutes describing their commission before ending their presentation by asking, “So, what´s your take on this – what should it look like?”. In these situations, it would be great if we could verbally supply a finished blueprint, and we´d definitely make a lot more money that way. But this is not how it works. Most commissions are complex and even the most skilled architect has to analyze and digest the parameters and challenges it presents before a creative design can be achieved. This fact is closely related to the notorious problem of billing. When a client is presented with a simple plan – maybe even a single piece of paper – he´ll often wonder why he has to pay so much for it. The thing is that he doesn´t see all the work it took to get there. He doesn´t know that the bin is overflowing with discarded plans and proposals that led to the one solution in front of him. He doesn´t expect creativity to be hard work.

An education House for science in Bjerringbro, Denmark - Cebra Architects

Creativity is linked to innovation, which is another word that has been known to turn many people’s stomachs. There is an idea that creativity leads to innovation and innovation is obviously about inventing new things – new never-been-seen-before things. We´ve managed to stay in touch with our local architectural school and have had the pleasure of both teaching and attending critiques from time to time. During these sessions, it is clear that the students expect themselves to be creative and innovative – and so they should. However, and this is where it gets interesting, some students – especially freshmen – feel that they have to invent everything from scratch. That studying the works of great architects is like cheating. Imagine a writer who refused to read novels or a composer who refused to listen to music so no one could accuse him of not being original! Paul McCartney is supposed to have said that “everybody steals, but the good ones only steal from the best” and this is the essence of most creativity.

1st prize competition 'Isbjerget'/residence - in Aarhus in Denmark - Cebra Architects

Most of the time creating something is about putting the r
ight parts together. Just like doing a collage or welding metal scraps together like Robert Jacobsen. Almost any work of art – poetry, music or architecture – is a collection of memories combined and used in a new way. Even the Sydney Opera House, which is probably one of the most striking architectural inventions ever, gained its inspiration from somewhere else. Utzon never hid the fact that he stole, or if you prefer borrowed, the Mayan concept of plateaus he saw in the Mexican jungle and turned them into his own architecture. In short, no invention is made from nothing and creativity is strongly linked to knowledge and experience.

1st. prize competition - Design Kindergarden in Kolding in Denmark - Cebra Architects

Most people would agree that the greatest artists are born with special talents. On the other hand, if we forget about the genius of rare people like Mozart or Picasso, creativity is something that can be learned or at least developed. This doesn´t mean that everybody can become a great architect, but most people can become a good one. Creativity is not only a gift – it is also a mindset and to some extent a working method.

As already mentioned, most innovation is the result of hard, unceasing work. In our office, we never settle for the first idea we get. In the end, we might return to that first intuitive pitch but not before we’ve been through numerous different schemes, and we will keep questioning the durability of a con
cept right up to the deadline. Some refer to this method as a kind of architectural Darwinism. We bring ideas to life but only the fittest will survive – or mutate to do so. Architects who become easily pleased with their ideas – and this is a common trap that even the best can fall into – often miss out on realizing the full potential of their work. A creative person will keep trying to improve the thing he is doing. The composer Gershwin said, “I don’t need more time, I need a deadline!” Without a time frame, we´ll go on improving our work forever.

Often outsiders ask us why we always have to pull all-nighters at the end of a deadline, “Couldn’t you just start earlier?”. In their minds architecture is like cutting firewood. The thing is – and this can be learned – that a creative process is about continual reworking and mass murdering your darlings. Most creativity can be compared with Hogwarts: partly magic but mostly practice.

Planning/competition - Gellerup - Cebra Architects

CEBRA has designed quite a few schools for both children and young adults. Through this, we´ve met numerous teachers, students and their parents, and we often hear them talk about the creative subjects. By this, people mean everything related to subjects such as music and painting. There is a deep-rooted presumption that creativity is basically just fooling around with bongo drums and paints. However, we must realize that much of what surrounds us is the result of creativity. And this is also true of the negative aspects of modern life, such as the highly destructive atom bomb. When thought of in this way, we can see that creativity is not just related to certain disciplines.

Whenever human capability expands, it is usually a result of creativity. This was the case when Ford revolutionized production methods so cars could be produced quickly and therefore more cheaply. It was the case when John Pemberton invented Coca Cola and it was the case when the Wright brothers finally realized Leonardo da Vinci’s principles of aviation. There is really no difference between a Picasso and an iPhone. They are both proof of human creativity. The reason that creativity can be applied in every field is because it is basically a working method. It is a process during which designers, poets or scientists keep questioning their work and results and revising habits and traditions. This is the very core of architectural development: we try every day to do new and better things. Not because architecture itself is creative, but because creative architects keep trying.

Editors note: See more of Cebras work at www.cebra.info.
You will also find this blogpost in Cebras latest publication, which can be seen here:

lørdag den 11. februar 2012

Zendoodling. Leg, kreativitet og meditation i eet.

Jeg har genoptaget min lyst til at tegne. Jeg har kastet mig over 'zendoodling'...som er et fint ord for hvad mange af os gør bevidst eller ubevidst, når vi fx. taler i telefon: tegner kruseduller.
Zendoodling er leg med kruseduller. Det er meditation for kontrolfikserede mennesker. Og det smitter. Vi er flere i min omgangskreds der doodler nu.
Jeg har oprettet en side på Facebook under navnet United Zendoodlers. Ideen er at dele doodletegninger, finde inspiration og fastholde hinanden i at det først og fremmest er og skal være sjovt at tegne. Og alle kan deltage uanset 'niveau'.
Der er også masser af videoer på Youtube, der kan inspirere.
Personligt er jeg fascineret af at det samme enkle materiale med mange af de samme grundfigurer kan få så forskellige udtryk.
Jeg har lavet en 'kom godt i gang video' her:

torsdag den 2. februar 2012

10 minutters daglig leg på recept, mod depression.

- et blogindlæg om leg, depression og jagten på lykken.

Leg og depression er hinandens modsætninger. Det ved jeg nu, ikke bare i kloge ord, men af værdifuld erfaring.
Min blog er min personlige legeplads. Det vil mange bloggere nok nikke genkendende til. Vi leger med ord, billeder, skaber historier, undersøger og reflekterer over hvad der end må være vores blogs tema eller omdrejningspunkt. I mit tilfælde handler min legeplads tilfældigvis om netop leg – leg i mange afskygninger.
Men når depressionen sætter ind, sætter legen ud. Da jeg fik konstateret en svær depression i efteråret 2011, var min evne til selv at lege og til at spotte leg omkring mig på nulpunktet.

Det er ikke for sjov, at man kalder en depression for en sygdom. En sygdom der lammer alle vitale centre i både krop og hjerne – herunder evnen til at lege. For alt bliver meningsløst. Og den tilstand er det livsnødvendigt at komme ud af. Når man får diagnosen klinisk svær depression følger der af samme grund ofte både medicinsk behandling og kognitiv terapi med.

Man bliver dog ikke lykkelig af lykkepiller. Men lykkepiller – eller antidepressiv medicin som jeg foretrækker at kalde det - er nødvendig damagecontrol i medicinsk form der gør, at man som deprimeret bl.a. bliver i stand til at fokusere på, hvad det så ér, der gør én mere lykkelig.

Alt er mørkt og meningsløst under en depression.

I genopbygningsfasen under og efter selve depressionen har vi heldigvis fået god fokus på kost, motion og betydningen af at tage den med ro. Det er her, jeg befinder mig nu. Jeg kalder det min ’tal sagte, gå stille’ fase.
Jeg kan ikke lade være med at tænke, at det i denne fase også kunne være relevant for professionelle fagfolk at anbefale deres patienter og klienter at have fokus på legens betydning.
Kunne man ligefrem forestille sig noget som ’Receptpligtig leg’?

Jeg ser det for mig: En lille pilleæske uden indhold, men med en label hvorpå der står ’10 minutters leg dagligt i 2 uger, herefter 20 minutter dagligt’. Og indholdet er så op til én selv, for hvad vi opfatter som leg er individuelt.

Forleden legede jeg gemmeleg med min 10-årige datter i kælderen på hendes opfordring. Jeg har vist ikke rigtig leget gemmeleg, siden jeg selv var barn. Heldigvis har vi en rodet kælder, så der var et par gode voksen-gemmesteder. Og da de var opbrugt, var det sjovt at gemme sig bag en dør, og blive opdaget med det samme, alene fordi det var komisk. Og gæt engang. Det fik smilet frem.
Efter 20 minutter var jeg træt og gik op og sov.
Det er også sjovt at spille WII. Om det så er til Just Dance, Wii Resort eller i et håbløst forsøg på at følge med ungerne i en avanceret Mario-bane er lige meget. Det er bare sjovt og meningsfuldt at lege sammen.

Og app. leg og spil. Jeg blev den heldige ejer af min første smartphone ved juletid. Her kan man tale om en digital legeplads, der er overkommelig for en post-deprimeret: spil, tegneprogrammer, quizzer. Jeg har en masse kloge P1 podcasts liggende og en fantastisk virtuel rundvisning i kunsthistorien via en app for The National Gallery i London, men der er ikke meget leg i dem for mig. Jeg ender i stedet med at tegne farverige cirkler i den komplet formålsløse app ’Wurm’, slå min egen rekord i det supersimple spil ’Tiny Wings’, spille Wordfeud eller driste mit trætte hoved til lidt hjerneleg i app’en Brain Trainer.

En god veninde og jeg går regelmæssige ture i skoven. Vi er begge trætte pt. og har derfor omdøbt skoven til vores personlige Mount Dyrehaven. En stigning på 100 meter kræver flere basecamps undervejs og vi joker med faren for at glide ned af de stejle bjergsider og lide den visse bjergbestigerdød (læs: en lille skråning mellem to stier). Vi gør de ugentlige gåture til en fantasileg på et plan, hvor vi selv kan følge med, når nu vi begge er for trætte til intensiv intervaltræning eller powerwalks. Resultatet: vi er stadig i elendig form, men vi griner – af og med hinanden - når turen er slut, for det har været en lille leg midt i en svær tid. Det er mindst lige så meget værd som medicin, kognitiv terapi og sund kost.

Jeg er faktisk slet ikke i tvivl, nu hvor jeg har mærket depressionens mørke på egen krop. Det er vores evne til at lege, der gør os lykkelige. Det er vores evne til at lege, der bringer os videre i livet. Uanset hvad dén leg så må være. Om den er fysisk, kommer til udtryk i ord, fortællinger, billeder, lave mad, synge.... Det fantastiske er at legen på én og samme tid kan være så formålsløs og så meningsfuld. Og forandre sig i takt med at vi forandrer og udvikler os. Om et år leger min veninde og jeg fx næppe pseudobjergbestigere mere.

Og måske jeg også skulle tilføje, at man ikke kommer gennem en depression alene. Omsorg, tålmodighed og forståelse fra omverdenen er afgørende. Der følger en ny slags sårbarhed - en god én af slagsen - med en i kølvandet på en depression. Det er godt at vide for den deprimerede og det er godt at vide for omverdenen. Og i en tid hvor depression er udråbt til en af Vestens - desværre - helt store folkesygdomme, tænker jeg det med sårbarheden er relevant at huske. Hvor mange der render rundt og er sårbare i denne tid...Lad os bruge det til at nærme os hinanden frem for at isolere os. Bl.a. via leg.
Det kan fx være en stor hjælp, at andre inviterer til leg, når man selv har mistet evnen til at lege. Invitationen kan komme fra børn, voksne såvel som dyr. En hund, der gerne vil kaste pind, er en åbenlys legeinvitation. Jeg hørte faktisk for nylig om en depressionsramt kvinde, der fik af vide af sin læge, at hun skulle låne en hund at gå tur med dagligt. Så måske idéen med recept-pligtig leg slet ikke er så usandsynlig....

Kunsten er at finde en leg, man kan overkomme.
Og når legen så atter lister sig tilbage i ens liv, ved man at depressionen så småt er på tilbagetog og man er på vej tilbage til livet.

Som afslutning på dette indlæg er det mere end nogensinde passende at citere legeforsker Brian Sutton-Smith: 'Once you stop playing, you start dying'.
Tro mig...han har ret!