Mastery And Spontaneity

I recently read Keith Johnstone’s Impro, an absolutely fascinating book that has been on my shelf for years. I read the chapter on status when I first got it (in fact that chapter is why I bought the book in the first place) which I’ve sent to friends and which has influenced my perception of social dynamics ever since. I remember trying to read the rest of the book but at the time, it didn’t speak to me.

I might talk about the book in a separate post but there’s one idea that has kept my mind occupied since I read it. Johnstone has a very critical view of formal education. He seems to consider its main effect to deaden curiosity and stifle the natural flow of creative expression that kids have. He’s scornful of other ways of teaching theatre and believes that the fault for failure to learn lies with the teacher.

One of the ideas that I found useful to understand my own process is that people can’t do improv because it reveals too much of themselves and they’re afraid of others’ judgement. This, according to him, is why people try to be original when asked told to imagine a box, open it and say what’s inside: it creates a facade of originality that hides the true self. This is a phenomenon I’ve seen described in other terms but his admonishment of “don’t be original!” is the version I like most so far.

Anyway, what I want to get to is the idea that while structured education can be a hinderance in free expression, it seems to me like mastery of a skill can also create an entirely new conduit for creativity to flow through. I have often seen play out when teaching other people simple origami models. Origami is an art that is quite unforgiving to beginners: the first few dozen models most people fold are crooked and asymmetric. Most people look at the result of their folding and are frustrated with the result.

One way to look at it is that all origami is of equal aesthetic value, however, I’m not so concerned with aesthetics in this post but rather human experience. When people feel dissatisfied with their creative output, is this an Incorrect Emotion created by too much formal education? Origami has always been fun for me, from the first model to the most recent. Still, wet folding an animal, trying to soften all the straight lines and trying to make it come alive feels more creative to me than following one diagram after the other, copying folds from my screen to the paper the way I did early on.

Maybe a good way of thinking about it is to remove constraints to my creativity like lack of technical ability. Another is probably taste but I’ll have to leave that for the next post.