The survey asks 12 questions, 5 of which elicit quantitative responses, the remainder are open-ended, qualitative questions. We therefore have a very rich data resource, which we hope further respondents will either confirm or expand. Quotations in this article are verbatim, but have been anonymised.
1. When someone says, 'they are in their element', what does this mean and how might this relate to their creativity?
Four themes emerge from the responses to this question. Firstly, respondents believe the meaning will differ for each individual, as described in this response: The mechanism does not matter rather it is the "fit" to the person. The next themes are closely related and are mutually influential, as noted by one respondent: They are engaged in something they really enjoy. Enjoyment may be an important motivation for creativity as well as an outcome of creativity
The second theme is enjoyment and interest in the activity. Words such as pleasurable, happy, interested reflect this feeling.
It is difficult to separate interest from motivation, our third theme. Typical of this, comments include: A realisation that what they are doing is inspiring themselves.
They are creating something which is aligned with their values and which brings pleasurable rewards,
The sense of motivation is closely linked to being in control, having confidence, and hence taking risks to go further, in a spiral of creativity. Some examples illustrate the point:
People probably feel in control of the tools and ideas they need to express themselves
It means displaying the full potential of your ability in that context e.g. sport, leisure, teaching.
If they are knowledgeable and confident about their participation, they may be more likely to try new things or deviate from the norm.
2. Have you had any experiences in your life which you would describe as 'being in your element'? What were the circumstances and why did you feel this way?
Responses to this question relate to both personal factors and more altruistic ones, hence interaction with others is intrinsic to some experiences. The following respondents both acknowledge the sense of achievement they derive from teaching, whilst also enjoying the impact (albeit intuited) they have had on their students:
Giving what I know to be a good lecture or presentation, one that evokes a response
When drawing on skills, knowledge, competences I have e.g. teaching and getting positive (implicit) feed back; creating something of which I can be proud
Teaching and get positive feedback, seeing ideas being taken forward
For some, there is an explicit aim of bring about the development or change in others: Having dialogue in an open forum breaks down concrete/narrow views, whilst others are content with sharing a common interest: I felt excited about learning new things or sharing my ideas and experiences with others.
Once again, the notion of confidence, mastery of something and the impact of this on personal motivation and experimentation is mentioned:
I felt confident in expressing myself, excited and surrounded by those who shared the same interests
I associate a sense of mastery with "being in your element".
You find you can realise something that has perhaps been fuzzy and forming!
The frequency with which such moments occur varies according to the individual. One person admits
It doesn't happen very often, and actually it usually means a lot of preparatory work has gone into making the moment. It’s like a coming together of otherwise disparate activities.
In contrast, another respondent says this feeling happens ‘frequently!’ A third person recognises the potential of mixing the planned and the unexpected for creativity to have elements of planning yet have the potential to be spontaneous.
3. Did such experiences encourage you to be creative? If they did, in what ways did they encourage you and what sorts of things did you do that you felt were creative?
Some of the previous comments have already provided affirmative answers to this question. We have seen that creativity is a motivator that enhances risk taking and potential creativity. Interaction with, and learning from others is essential to this process: it involves bringing together--the various people involved through the interaction with other creative people.
As a result, personal fulfilment can be derived and again, others may be helped: ?
understand the value in listening to other people's ideas, perceptions and theories.
they motivate me to spend more time planning and producing resources, learning new material to incorporate in teaching.
it encouraged me to further my understanding and appreciation of art by running these groups patients became more empowered
The quality of perceived outcomes can be enhanced:
I felt like I was producing high quality pieces but I was not constrained by technicality
The last comment reminds us of the freedom felt when in this state, and the consequent desire to experiment:
(I feel) safe in the knowledge that I can extemporise and adapt as I progress.
I really enjoy adding this "other" message
The message is repeated: creativity can occur anywhere
there are different levels of creativity even a mundane task can be creative
and it is caught up in a spiral of motivation, interaction, security, and risk-taking.
4. What do you understand by the idea of a 'medium' for creative expression'?
Many respondents associate the medium with a situation or setting, but it is seen as also encompassing an event, a conversation or simply a mental state. It can be the tools, materials, anything:
it is a conduit- the “thing” that you use. As such, it is ‘limitless’,
Anything that allows the brain to feel as if it is opening up to the new possibilities or even seeing familiar things in a different light
Security to take risks is involved, as we need to feel
the freedom to be creative without being judged. In short, says one respondent,
I think we are only limited by our self-imposed limitations.
5. In your current life, what medium or mediums provide you with opportunity for creative self-expression?
As we would expect, the medium for individual creativity is personal to us each. Some of those cited are: drawing, poetry, textiles, teaching, researching, communication, conversation, writing, producing workshops/PowerPoints, decorating the house, yoga, telling jokes, photography, blogging, videos, Wordpress, Flickr, Twitter, cooking, cabinet making, playing an instrument and many more. These media include professional and leisure activities, the intellectual, physical and emotional, but one person explicitly suggests the two may be iterative:
A lot of this seems inwardly-directed, but much feeds (eventually) into my external facing creative activities. Another respondent regrets being no longer able, with age and physical incapacity, to engage in previous forms of
activity, but has found new outlet, raising the question of adaptability and the ability to be creative in our creative media.
Questions 6 – 10 required respondents to rate statements on a 5 point scale from strongly
disagree to strongly agree.
may be teachers, designers, homemakers, entertainers, medics, fire-fighters, artists, social workers, accountants, administrators, librarians or even politicians! In other words, people may
find their element in any type of work, hobby or other activity which they find interesting,
meaningful and fulfilling.
The figure above shows the responses to questions 6 limitless variability in the medium,
to be completely in agreement with the statement, with 93% being in strong agreement.
This would confirm the qualitative answers above, where they indicate that creativity is not limited to an individual, discipline or medium.
7. To be in your element you have to care deeply about what you are doing and love doing it.
You have to have a deep and positive emotional engagement or passion in order to commit the time, energy and attention to do the things you do. That does not mean that you enjoy every moment but, on balance and over time, your enthusiasm and motivation is sustained and you do not get put off by challenges, obstacles and setbacks. In fact these become new sources of motivation and goals.
7% of respondents actually disagreed that positive emotional engagement is essential to creativity, whilst 14% were unable to decide. We should note that, at the moment, these represent small numbers of individuals, and it is important that we encourage more responses in order to test the validity of this apparent trend. Despite these exceptions, the majority of respondents were, again, in agreement with the statement. The comments made in questions 1 3 also indicate an association of creativity
with engagement and motivation.
8. Your element includes the medium through which you are able to express yourself creatively. The medium is an agency or means of doing and accomplishing something you value.
We have already heard respondents’ comments on what the medium for creativity means to them. The figure shows that individual answers spanned the whole range of (dis)agreement. Still, 72%
are in agreement or strong agreement with the statement, but 14% (only 2 individuals
so not necessarily indicative of a general view) disagreed, and a further 14% were neutral.
9. For an artist the medium is his painting, drawing or other form of visual representation. The medium includes the media or tools he uses - his sketchbook, pencils, paintbrushes and paint for sketching and colouring. Or, if he is a digital artist, a computer or digitising pad, scanner, camera or smartphone and software to process and manipulate the images.
Question 9 explore the association between medium and tools, a theme that was considered in
questions 4 and 5, where we saw the variability of media and the extension of meaning to include
contexts and frames of mind. Given this range or meaning, it is perhaps surprising to find such high
levels of agreement with statement 9: only 1 person neither agreed nor disagreed, the
remainder being positive.
10. Personal creativity flourishes when an individual finds their 'element': the particular contexts in which an individual can fully utilise their aptitudes, abilities, talent and enthusiasm for doing something, be- cause they care deeply about what they are doing and are motivated
to perform in an excellent way to achieve things that they value.
Question 10 returns to the themes of self- actualisation, commitment and motivation, but links
this to the need for personally valuing the activity. No-one disagrees with the proposition, but two people are unable to comment and one does not answer the question at all. When we re-examine the qualitative data, it is clear that there is little, if any, explicit reference to the value of
activities, though there is some implicit indication of personal value.
So what picture emerges if we compare respondents’ views on the five statements contained in questions 6-10 The figure below provides an easy overview of these. The colours indicating
agreement are blue and yellow.The statement eliciting greatest approval was 6, the
individuality and variability of one’s creative medium, followed closely by 9, the medium being
one’s tools. The statement with which least agreement and most variability in responses was found was question 8, the need for the activity to be valued.
This and question 12 bring the issues of creativity into the Higher Education sector. We did not seek autobiographical data, so do not know how many of or respondents have experience in the HE sector. Nevertheless, there are some very strong, common themes in their comments.
Sadly, numerous remarks indicate the limits imposed by institutional and/or central constraints, be it in terms of course structure, delivery or resources:
it depends on your colleagues, and also the encouragement of line managers etc. protocols and guidelines
timetabling, pressure on studio and classroom space and exam and assignment deadlines
Increasingly less so because there are so many hoops for students to jump through
Expectations, both explicit and implicit, are also affecting creativity. High amongst these is the assumption that study will have a vocational outcome:
The possibility of experimentation by students is reduced because of increasingly work-oriented syllabuses being fixated on industry and getting a job higher education context tends to stifle any creative self-expression because most students are here "to get a 2:1" "to please my Mum" or "to get a good job".
Even those who reveal some sympathy to the structural constraints show little optimism for change:
I think that HE aim is do that but resources and guidance can be limited sometimes, HE don’t like to be messy and is sometimes scared of being colourful or daring,
I think higher education struggles with this, by its nature and by society, education is formed to put value on what people do and potentially earn. This conflicts with the goals of the creative life, in which earning a max amount is often not the first thing on the list, not the most important thing.
A number of respondents cite interdisciplinary approaches as a means to creativity, though they are again some- what cynical of the degree to which they are implemented:
interdisciplinary collaboration is celebrated in theory but rarely offered to students in practice
Courses that encourage inter-disciplinary approaches tend to be more successful in achieving this
It (HE) doesn't - it is very subject specific
One person recalls how her PhD supervisor scorned her for daring to step into disciplines other than her own, leading to a sorry conclusion:
I was conscious that I had to learn to jump through the hoops of the doctoral tradition before I would be free to really express my own views/creativity.
One respondent suggested that students are forced to fulfil their creative needs outside the curriculum – if there are such opportunities:
This may mean that some will find creative self-expression via societies or social and hobby-related activities, which may be pursued and developed with others who just happen to be in or around the institution.
But let us remember these words: if HE is preparing students for life as well as a professional role we should be aspiring to helping them find their element.
Question 12 provided a wonderful rich picture of someone in their element. The final question asked
respondents to look at an image of Jeff in his element and to say what it meant to them.
12. What features of this image convey the idea of 'being in your element’?
The first, most obvious theme is the sense of chaos, but this is seen as pleasurable:
a bit chaotic; It is colourful and chaotic, but also vey harmonious
The chaos is a source of excitement and creativity of mind:
the excitement and the flurry of thoughts that flood through your mind; contents of a brain exemplified
As some observe, Jeff does not look troubled by the chaos: they refer to the tranquil face of Jeff; Jeff looks very focused but not overwhelmed
This is attributed to his being in control:
It looks like "Jeff" has built around him all the things he likes and uses. I equate this to his being at the centre or the "control centre".
Finally, one respondent observes that Jeff has managed both to give himself some unique space and remain an individual while still being part of his environment:
doing what you are interested in as opposed to what you are supposed to be doing, Having a barrier between yourself and the 'stuff' - feeling part of a cosy family and expressing a little individuality.
The response to this image therefore recognises many of the themes that have recurred throughout the survey. We have noted that responses are rich but derive so far from a small number of individuals. We welcome further contributions. Please take a few minutes to add your own responses to the survey and give a more reliable understanding of issues. to https:// www.surveymonkey.com/r/VWD5K36
Executive Editor Creative Academic Magazine