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What is Creativity?

Photo by Lee Gass.

What makes the difference between creative people and the rest of us? 

People have been asking this for a long time and there is a lot to read about it.  I have read a lot of it.  But it is strange, strange reading, because for all the interesting and wonderful stories about creative people in all fields, no one has offered more than superficial answers to the question.  I think it’s the wrong question.

The question assumes that some people are creative and others aren’t, but I don’t believe it.  I think we can all do, and we all have done, things we haven’t done before, and that’s creativity.  And if that’s true, then it doesn’t make much sense to ask that question.    

It would be more useful, I think, for each of us to ask, of ourselves, why we are more creative at some times than than at others.  What makes the difference, for me, between thinking inside the box and staying in it?  If creativity is a way of being in which possibilities proliferate (and I haven’t come up with a better way to think of it), then why do more possibilities exist for me at some times than at others?   What makes the difference?

While the first question has proved to be unanswerable, these latter questions, in principle, can have many kinds of answers.  Here, I’ll tell you a story that offers a tiny bit of insight into this issue.  It is just a small story about a small event in my recent life, and the insight it provided me wasn’t earth-shaking.  But it was significant because it showed me a bit about what makes me tick.  

Two years ago, I carved a sculpture, Eternal Flame, in honeycomb calcite, a deeply translucent, deeply orange stone whose glow is almost unbelievably beautiful to observe in strong lighting (he said, modestly).  The original stone sculpture is quite expensive and there will only ever be one of it, but we wanted to make it available to more people and decided to produce a bronze version.  Here are some of the steps.

In 2008 I made a plaster mold of the original, a negative, and sent it to my sculptor colleague, Georg Schmerholz, in California.  He used my mold to make a positive replica of the original in polyester resin.  Using this replica as a pattern, he made a re-usable rubber mold and sent it to the foundry in Monterey.  At the foundry, they used the rubber mold to make a thin, hollow wax positive, added wax “sprues”, or channels to direct molten bronze into the form, then covered the wax with a hard ceramic coating, or “investment”, inside and out.  They put the investment in a furnace, burned out all the wax, pre-heated the hollow investment to over 1000 F, packed it in sand to support it, then poured it full of molten bronze.  A bronze “pour” is a beautiful thing to watch.  This video will give you the idea.

Once the investment was cool, they broke away the ceramic investment with a hammer and chisel, then ground off the sprues.  This rough, hollow bronze form then had to be “chased”.  Small pits were filled by welding, and the surface was brought to the smooth finish of the original pattern and prepared for patination, or application of chemicals under heat to produce the surface colour and “feel” that I wanted.  

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