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For those who think my grammar has gone sour, the post title here is a quote by the Cheshire Cat character in the book, “Alice in Wonderland.” (The topic in this week’s Without a Net creativity class was Curiosity.) The pheasant above seems to be gazing into a looking glass, so we seem to be headed down a Lewis Carroll rabbit hole.

I found the following quote in Scientific American, adapted from Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire, from studies at Harvard.

“Openness to experience is absolutely essential to creativity. Those who are high in openness tend to be imaginative, curious, perceptive, creative, artistic, thoughtful and intellectual. They are driven to explore their own inner worlds of ideas, emotions, sensations, and fantasies and, outwardly, to constantly seek out and attempt to make meaning of new information in their environment… Findings suggest the drive for exploration, in its many forms, may be the single most important personal factorpredicting creative achievement.”

This is a pretty significant statement, and not surprising to those who’ve worked in creative fields or who surround themselves with creative people (though I think everyone is a creative, whether dormant or in bloom.)

Centering exercise

We did a breathing exercise in which we paused at the end of the exhale. We listened to the silence and calm, and then were asked to be curious about where the inhale came from. It takes a bit of concentration.  A few people pinpointed a physical place in the body as the origin of breath, and others noticed a feeling of need that propelled the inhalation. We noticed how being curious helped concentrate our focus and thus turn inward quicker.

Topic

My talk about curiosity was simple; I listed all the qualities I could think of that go along with being curious.

  1. It requires open-mindedness, a willingness to see things differently.
  2. Humility goes with curiosity. We have to suspend the idea that we have all the answers, and have to be willing to wrong.
  3. Curiosity about others requires and expands empathy. If I want to know more I have to change my small idea of how life is supposed to be lived.
  4. I’d have to have curiosity to have equanimity. I’d be weighed down by strong judgment if I stopped questioning.
  5. Curiosity brings me to the present moment. That’s where the answers are. I can’t be satisfied with past assumptions or patterns.
  6. Introspection and outer exploration is risky. I have to find courage to embrace the unpredictable.

All of this courageous inquisitiveness calls for a detachment from knowledge. It demands that I be more in touch with a receptive response to the moment. Curiosity is a great word for being “without a net.”

Last week we talked about Risk. If my curiosity is strong enough, I’ll be willing to take risks.

Card Game

Our Without a Net Card exercise for the week involved asking questions about a particular painting. We chose the pheasant in the fancy frame. Here are some of the creative and curious questions that the group came up with.

Is the bird showing off?

What’s he looking at?

Is the bird looking at the past or the future?

Is the bird so close to the picture he sees in gray instead of the real colors?

What kind of road is the bird traveling?

Why is the frame ornate?

Is the bird going home to the black and white scene?

Why doesn’t the bird go fly around?

What is the bird’s name?

What time period is this?

Is the bird desperate?

I’ve offered this exercise before in my workshops, a practice that concentrates and deepens observation of an object. The part people seem to enjoy the most is when they hear the interesting questions of others. Very few people ask the same questions. Hearing what others wonder about enlarges our sense of possibility. Curiosity builds on itself.

Project

We played with watercolor, only with the intention of exploring the capabilities of the medium. There were no skills taught or images to replicate—just an instruction to discover what watercolors do. I’m a proponent of letting water flow and drip and do its thing rather than trying to control it, like you’re filling in an image in a coloring book. In addition to the paint, we used salt, plastic wrap, rubbing alcohol, crayons, sponges, to achieve different affects. It’s always fascinating to see that with the same assignment each person has a wildly different way of going about the task. We saw again how we’re all curious in a different way. The consensus was that goofing around is fun, and we all became more interested in how good watercolor artists make it work well. I posted examples of our investigations on my personal blog.