• Dara Schaefer

Navigating Creativity

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.

"I don't care much where---" said Alice.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

"---so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.

"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

In 1994, I graduated from The Cooper Union School of Architecture, a five-year immersion in a sea of creative exploration. The training to become an architect, or any artist for that matter, is not that different from training to be an Olympic athlete. You must learn to push your mind and body beyond their uppermost limits.

Let’s be honest, learning to create work in a new and foreign visual language under the purview of your peers, never mind the scrutiny of your professors is, at the very least, intimidating. The one tradition that most art and architecture schools will probably never change, for better of for worse, is the routine of “the pin up,” or “the review,” but "the critique” a.k.a. "the crit"----is probably the most common and best descriptor.

CREATIVITY UNDER PRESSURE If preparing for a crit is like training for a competition, final crits are like olympic gymnastics events, often done in the presence of a “jury” and attended by your peers. Being creative under this type of pressure requires the type of courage and strength in the face of the fear of being judged, that not everyone possesses, at least not at first.

I recently attended final reviews for second and fourth year architecture students at Cooper. I was impressed by many of the projects, but if I am truthful, I identified most with the students who had beautiful ideas but hadn't quite had the time to bring them completely to fruition.

I have been thinking a lot about the problem of being creative under the pressure of a deadline. Or just about creating anything that has the potential to be judged by others. It is a topic I discuss with my daughter who is a freshman art major at USC in LA. It is something I asked the other professors on the jury with me, including one of whom who had been my own first year professor at Cooper, Guido Zuliani--- he attributed it to hesitation. “They just hesitate” he lamented- “they just get stuck.” After many years of considering this, I attribute that hesitation to fear. Fear of finishing. At least if the work is unfinished, one can have the excuse that it isn't ready to be judged yet. Unfortunately, at a crit, you will be judged for not being done, but somehow our own psyche can trick us into thinking that being judged for unfinished good ideas will be better than being judged for finished work that is just meh.

In many ways, the essence of art and architecture school, is to learn to be creative and productive in the face of that fear. In order to live a creative life, learning to be creative under pressure is the best education one can get. It is a lifelong skill one needs in order to live and work in creativity.

This blog is intended as a series of revelations and thoughts that would have helped my younger self, and potentially as a resource for my future self for those moments of creative blocks. It is meant as a guide for students of art and architecture, although not just for literal students enrolled in an art or architecture programs, but for all of us who consider every day an opportunity to learn something that can be applied toward our creative practice. By synthesizing them in this blog format, I hope they can illuminate the process of creativity and that they speak to you as you navigate the litany of both joys and struggles encountered on your own path of creativity.



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