CPiC: Understanding Creativity – Seelig’s Innovation Engine

We had a lecture on Tina Seelig’s Creativity Engine, which challenged us to look at creative in a new and very different way. In school, art education in my experience has been entirely based on making and getting grades, with more exploration and teaching on different artists, movements and ideas as I progressed through the education system. Therefore, for me, having lectures on art theory and conceptual thinking is quite new and engages a whole other part of my creativity – the space where my love of ‘normal’ school lessons and my creative subjects and hobbies combine.

Even more unusual to me was Seelig’s lecture – she took the subject of creativity into a place that I’d never even considered it could be taken. She made creativity something that  could be defined and measured and given structure, whereas previously I had always felt like creativity was this vast messy space that sometimes would work for me, and I’d be inspired, and other times would fail, either out of lack of ideas or out of being unable to execute what I’d envision.

I know a lot of creative people whose brains work well in that messy space, and for them school was difficult and constraining, but I feel I and the kind of person that has always preferred structure and order, instructions, and some way for learning to be measured. It makes it hard for me to work independently on occasion, and self-motivation is a challenge, especially with the kind of briefs we have been given so far at university where it is for the most part up to us to direct what we create. For me, Seelig’s model was refreshing in that it categorised and simplified that ‘mess’ called creativity by “opening the aperture”, giving each part of it a simple title that I can work with. I also find it easier to explore complex concepts when they are broken apart like this, and especially when having to write about them or apply them to my own practice.


The mobius strip structure of the engine diagram also really helped me to be able to visualise and understand the ideas Seelig was discussing. The way the interior flows into the exterior perfectly illustrates the way the world we experience influences who we are as a person, and in turn who we are as a person influences what we put out into the world. When I googled the word ‘creativity’, the images that came up were much more like the impression of creativity that I had – splashes of bright colour, entangled messes of ideas and thoughts flowing from the left side of the brain. I found it quite interesting for a concept like creativity to be defined by such a simply structured, business-like model, but the simplicity made it easy to understand, and was a visualisation I felt as though I could ‘work with’. Perhaps her approach perfectly uses both the analytical, logical half and the creative, imaginative half of the brain.

Seelig then proceeded to break down each of the sections of the engine, starting with imagination. This is a part of myself I often relied heavily upon for creating work, and so in those times when it ‘simply isn’t working’ I have difficulty coming up with ideas or having the motivation to create. The way she then breaks this down further into ‘framing and reframing ideas’, ‘connecting and combining ideas’ and ‘challenging assumptions’ which laid out ways in which we can build our imaginations. I found this break-down a little clinical, but I try to use these approaches when I’m struggling to find ideas. I feel as though I use the ‘connecting and combining ideas’ “method” the most in my own practice – I already had the concept in my head of the joy I feel when I ‘make connections’ and things slot into place or layer together – even though I know she isn’t attempting to define imagination so that we can ‘pick a category’. When I consider a lot of contemporary art I feel as though it goes down the line of challenging assumptions, with a lot of art being driven by political, cultural or philosophical agendas or messages behind them. Considering these ways of building imagination has really made me think about how I view work and how I create my own work.

The other two aspects of ourselves in the engine are attitude, the mindset we’re in when creating and how we approach the act of making, and knowledge, ‘the toolbox for creativity’. I felt as thought knowledge as a toolbox was a fairly obvious and straightforward way to describe it – in my much simpler terms its the ‘stuff’ we make our art about and with. As well, I already identified with the idea of attitude influencing my creativity. I have always experienced difficulty in creating when I’m in a bad mood, or will just have times when I get easily frustrated or more critical of my work than usual, and so for this to be in Seelig’s model was obvious. As a Christian, I already try to work with and pray about my attitude, knowing it to be not what is happening around me but how I approach a situation, problem or idea, and that even the worst things can be made calmer or clearer with a good attitude.

The final three aspects of the engine were the exterior or environmental factors that contribute to our creativity, and I fail to consider these myself as reasons for why my creativity could be stalling or boosted in different situations.

Firstly, culture as the ‘background music’ to ourselves and our community, I felt, was brilliantly described – it is the influence that is there but not overt, that we may not even consciously recognise, and that can totally alter how we experience art and the art we make based on our experiences from where and how we live compared to others. From what I’ve been learning in college and university so far, I’ve come to realise how much culture has an influence and a driving force in art, with many works being based on (wether deliberately or subconsciously) race, religion, gender, sexuality and so many other cultural influences. I know that I am part of a culture in my country, as well as a smaller more individual culture in my community, in my family and friends, and even in myself – a personal unique culture and experiences.

She also spoke about habitat and resources, which personally interconnect a little more than the other aspects, but are still distinct. The environment in which we work, our habitat, can have great influence on how we work, especially for me. I can be a very messy person, and find it hard to keep tidy, but will find it difficult to work or even spend time in my messy bedroom, and will prefer to go somewhere else to put it out of my mind, but at the same time it is a kind of safe sanctuary in which I’m allowed to be as messy or neat as I want. However, I do relate to the saying that having a cluttered home shows a cluttered mind- I find it sometimes exaggerates any stress or frustration I may be feeling.

I can understand how the final aspect, resources, can have an effect on creativity in that we are limited to what is available to us and can often be limited in our resources by economic, geographic or political factors. However, I also think that resources can work both ways – that when we are limited beyond where we are comfortable/would ideally choose to be, we come up with creative ways around things, or just go ahead and do them anyway in true human defiant spirit. I personally have not found myself to be especially limited in terms of art materials because I am blessed with an artist as a father and with good family income, and access to workshops, teaching and materials was one of my main reasons for applying to university rather than just heading out into the world as an artist.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Seelig’s creativity engine and it prompted me to think about aspects of my own creativity that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Writing this essay in response to the lecture has meant I’ve thought about how these six aspects of creativity influence how I and others work and how important some things are compared to others. I will try to apply what I’ve learnt here to my own practice in the future and am curious to see if adjusting these different aspects of my creativity will help me when experiencing artist’s block!


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