The Butterfly and Cultivating Creativity

By Kieran McGuigan


Butterflies do not have ears. No lungs either. They sense direction and course by attuning to their surrounding vibrations. Tasting with their needle-edged feet, breathing through openings in their spiracles and overlapping in patterned upon their wings of flight. Like Crabs and Lobsters, they grow a skeleton; an exoskeleton. Look out for them. Look out for their patters; their flight; blind upon the limits of sight. They’ll always be about, and always seem to fly at the right height of time as they appear in their patters of disguise. Where do they spring from? Where do they go? How long do they live? I couldn’t tell you. I wouldn’t want to either. The same I will speak of about creativity and the ideas behind its flight.

As students, scholars and teachers of an Arts university, we are all, by now, attuned to the restless rhetoric ruling the language of our vocabulary towards our insights and ideas. This morning I’ve already heard ‘Well it flashed before me’ along with ‘my great epiphany’, ‘my eureka’; I myself have said it, and will probably continue. But these terms are as useful as a five-star menu to someone with only a £5 note creased in their back pocket. These metaphors of insight assume that ideas-and creativity-spring like illuminated visions of completed perfection. All the best with you if they do. But for the rest of us, can we say this the case? Should we just sit on our arses until our faces turn pretty enough to experience the sight of creative Nirvana?

Think about your ideas for a moment. Are they all together in one body?? Visible to pick and place at any time and face them into a coherence of clear explanation; or expression? If not, are ideas quite misty in clarity? And thoughts like clouds? Persian poet Rumi called it the Cloud of Unknowing. Ideas seem to stem from thoughts; thoughts enforcing memories, and memories enforcing thoughts. A pulsing network of interconnected patters of motivations, fed from our conversations and interpretations of each other, inside the apparatus of culture and society in the wider sense. . But still this creates an even bigger mist of unknowing. We are still left unknowing to the act of creativity; as we load ourselves with theory and hang around awaiting to cocoon our energies into creativity.

One name worth listening out for are the non-profit organisation Design That Matters, based in Boston MA. They collaborate with students and professional volunteers in designing new products and services of yet-to-develop industries of poorer countries. Assisting in placing projects of healthcare, education, microfinance and renewable resources, in countries such as Mali, Kenya, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam, to name a few examples. In 2010 Design That Matters (DTM) revealed their ambitions for creative care and insightful implication by attempting to tackle the issue of infant mortality, by supplying newly manufactured incubators. After collaborating with many such as world renowned pharmaceutical scientist and inventor/author Sir Raymond Ayery, and Global Health Initiative, they aimed to demonstrate the issue with relying solely upon technology and the need to spend time ever-training Drs and Nurses to operate these machines; manufactured in precise means and shipped from the US. Although the incubators, manufactured and dispatched from the US, were indeed finding their way to Hospitals of these counties, when they stopped functioning or general mechanical problems ensued; they were useless. You’ve heard the cliché saying, ‘You give man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. But if you teach him how to fish, he’ll feast for a lifetime’. So after sending out a research team to each location to feedback with a gathering of all local and abundant industries and services, it was realised an abundance of labour and investment filled the car manufacturing and motor vehicle industry. DTM, along with a team of collaborators, implemented a new neo-nurture design base; built from car parts, and any spare parts accessible from scrap yards. Making it possible for the local mechanics to adapt the same foundational understanding to another product; another surrounding. The incubators claimed top spot of the 50 best inventions of 2010. Science Theorist Steven Johnson responded to the neo-nurture development ‘You didn’t even have to be a trained medical technician…You didn’t even need to read the manual. You just needed to how to replace a broken headlight’

Should this be an example of the interconnecting insights and ideas clashing in the cloud of unknowing? The cultivating sense of creativity comes from matching patterns of development within the surrounding environment. Helping those with the simplicities of life as though it were changing a lightbulb.

But MIT, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam seem almost a world away from Falmouth. So we’ll bring it home a bit. To the Prince of Wales Pier, as Charles Darwin boards HMS Beagle; December 24th 1836, heading on a two-month voyage to gather geological information, animal species and an experience of the South American environment. Five years later a return to Falmouth saw his findings with his experience enter a process of cultivation of ideas. Darwin had yet to seriously consider the possibilities of his insight. It was all but a year later the scientific orthodoxy of his time began to crumble and cocooning into his eventual creative stimulation which sparked the biggest shift of human awareness of conscience and development in recent time. Implying reason emerges out of instinct; driven from natural habits.

The truth is if we ever found a method or defined a series of formulas to explain and teach creativity, then it would lose all mystery. It becomes a different sense of experience when the Illusionist explains his tricks; it is no longer magic. It becomes science or obscure mathematics. And sure, science is just as necessary as most. But so is mystery and illusion. Like the butterfly. Maybe creativity is just the personification of the butterfly.

Last words from William Faulkner’s The Bear says all that should be said about the pattern of creativity.

‘Alright’ his Father said. Listen.She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,

forever wilt thou love, and she be fair” he said.

“He’s talking about a girl” the boy said

“Well, he had to talk about something” his father said’.

So why speak about the act creativity? Well, what else would we talk about?