“Creativity can be learned,” says Arild Berg.
Berg is a professor of Art and Design. He is also an artist and ceramist and teaches students who are studying product design.
Berg is also the Project Manager for the OsloMet Craft Hub. Craft Hub is an EU-funded research project that focuses on how craft techniques can be made relevant again (see fact box). A craft can be characterised by routine, but it also allows for new, creative solutions.
“There cannot be creativity without obstacles.”
Berg believes that resistance is necessary in order to achieve something creative.
“I consider it a strength to be able to face and accept the challenges.”
The artistic work consists of giving shape to the chaos
Being able to accept that you do not know what the final solution will be is part of the skill set of artists, designers and others working on creative tasks. This is a crucial element in creative processes.
“You are, in a sense, practicing facing fears and uncertainties, but it is also a form of freedom,” says Berg.
“Freedom because there are so many possibilities. In terms of design, we can refer to this as “the fuzzy front end” of idea development. That is to say, the tortuous start-up phase when ideas are loose and constantly changing.
He talks about the American psychologist Rollo May, who wrote a book about the courage it takes to create. Rollo May argued that some time might pass before you experience a eureka moment at the start of the idea development phase.
He believed that it takes great courage to come up with a creative product because the fear of failure is substantial. Nevertheless, May insisted that creative work is among the most healthy and meaningful activities a human being can do. This applies to everyone, not only artists.
The psychologist argued that you are betraying yourself if you don’t express your own, original thoughts.
Rollo May also said that creating is about achieving a new totality from tension. There are conflicts and contradictions to be solved and the artistic work consists of giving shape to the chaos.
The state of creative flow
This is why doubt is an important aspect of creative processes and it takes courage to switch between conviction and doubt.
“You need to dare to enter the unknown,” Berg says.
He believes that you will often come up with ideas due to coincidences that occur when you are doing something else and that this wouldn’t happen if you weren’t doing that activity.
“Once you get started, you will discover something. I also tell my students that they need to dare to doubt.”
“We know from research that the fear of failure and greatly excessive expectations are what prevent access to flow mode and creative power.
By flow mode, we refer to a state in which an individual is fully immersed in an activity, as though in a bubble, forgetting both the time and place. You experience a kind of time warp, as you are completely present here and now.
The social psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was the one to develop flow theory and describe the phenomenon. He conducted research into creativity together with artists, athletes and other researchers. In 1975, he identified the psychological state of flow and gave it a name.
Csikszentmihalyi was interested in the state in which you forget about yourself. He also argued that people are much happier when they experience flow.
Using playfulness to test out new ideas
“The special thing about working with shapes, colours and materials is that there are so many solutions that can be found,” Berg says, before adding that there are no definitive answers.
“You need to apply the creative part of your brain and look for what is not necessarily the logical solution. You then need to use playfulness and curiosity to try out your ideas.”
By taking your time, you can immerse yourself in a material and examine it at a detailed level.
“You can twist and turn things. Assemble them in new ways and look for something new. This process will often contribute new insights as we learn along the way.
The professor explains that it takes time, as we need to allow things to sink in, forget about things and take them out again to look at them with new eyes.
“This is why we often come up with new ideas while having a shower, going for a walk or doing something completely different. This is because we are relaxed and our intuition comes into play”.
“This enables us to practice the ideas we get. Often, ideas need to be refined and interpreted
New doors will open when you move from the known to the unknown. You learn something new when you go from what you know to what you don’t know.– Arild berg
It takes time to explore
It can be easy to assume that we are becoming less creative as a result of a digital everyday life in which we can look everything up on the internet and use artificial intelligence.
“Of course, this may make people passive, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way,” Berg says.
He believes that we can strengthen our creativity by using new technology such as artificial intelligence to process reality.
“Artificial intelligence, for example, can be useful for inspiration”.
“It is a good thing if we are able to imagine taking ownership of the new technology and using it in our own way,” he says.
However, it can be a challenge if you want quick results and therefore do not have the time to spend on longer processes.
“You will generally be more likely to repeat what you already know. You will recycle old ideas instead of engaging in the explorative process of trial and error”.
“New doors will open when you move from the known to the unknown. You learn something new when you go from what you know to what you don’t know”.
- Berg, A. (2014): Artistic research in public space: participation in material-based art (aaltodoc.aalto.fi). Aalto University.
- May, R. (1975): The courage to create. Norton.
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1975. ISBN 0-87589-261-2
About Arild Berg’s PhD
Arild Berg experienced challenges himself while working on his PhD. The PhD dealt with artistic investigations in the public domain and the specific point of departure was how participation can be ensured by using the aesthetics of the materials.
By entering into creative processes as part of problem solving, he wanted to create art for completely different contexts and people in real life. So he created art for a church space, a school and a hospital.
The processes were challenging in very different ways at the three institutions. At the church, he collaborated with a large number of stakeholders who were members of the congregation and church staff. They had different opinions on what would constitute suitable artwork.
This difference in opinion was one of the things he wanted to explore in depth. Different aesthetic solutions were discussed on several occasions in order to identify the best solutions. It wasn’t possible to satisfy everyone, but the process was highly educational and inspirational for Arild Berg.
He notes that while art can help us deal with challenging emotions, involving users or affected parties can also be of great importance when it comes to designing art. The art led to increased interaction between several user groups in the public domain.