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BWW Blog: Creating Space for Creativity (Part 1)

How does our environment affect our ability to create? This is why you can’t create at home, but thrive in the black box.

BWW Blog: Creating Space for Creativity (Part 1)

I live in the basement of the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University and I love it. My theatre class and I joke about the university putting theatre in the windowless basement, but deep down I love our cold, dark basement! I am writing this blog from the basement! This space is where I feel the most creative, focused, and ready to rehearse. Therefore, I spend the vast majority of my time here. I say basement, but I should be more specific. It's really the rehearsal rooms in the basement where I have class and rehearse in my freetime that sparks creativity. The atmosphere of a rehearsal space or stage simply cannot be replicated or replaced. These creative environments assist my ability to create in massive ways. In a rehearsal space at Meadows, I am inclined to learn new monologues for fun on the weekends, go deeper in my voice and speech practice, and run through an action barre or two. As I write this blog from the basement, I am also receiving texts from my classmates saying when they are leaving to go back home for our two months winter break. In four days, I'll drive home where, to no one's surprise, an arts school basement does not wait for me. I will be back to using my bedroom as a rehearsal space, just as many of us have since lockdown. No matter the rearrangement of furniture, additional plants, or natural lights, creating at home is far from comparable to creating in a space for artists. What keeps us from finding the same creative freedom in our homes that we find in rehearsal spaces? How does our environment affect our ability to create?

The psychologist Lemin proposed in 1943 that behaviour is "a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in." One week into quarantine, I was behind. I don't know what I was behind on or how I was behind but everyone was learning their fourth language, writing a zoom musical, or showcasing the choreography to A Chorus Line that they remembered from the community theatre production they did five years ago. How did these people turn their after-workplace to their active-workplace so quickly?! Before the shutdown, I would work and rehearse at school, then come home to relax. My brain associated "home" with "chill", not "turn, turn, touch, down, back, step, pivot, step, walk, walk, walk." The home environment did not accompany my need and desire to create, it resisted it. When my physical environment for acting class changed from rehearsal space to bedroom, so did my behavior towards work. It became seemingly impossible to spend several hours in Zoom class learning technique, whereas spending several hours in person learning technique would feel second nature to me. It is hard to artistically engage when your environment is impeding your creative impulses.

Have you ever tried writing a play on a crowded plane and found it impossible to form a single sentence? Very specific situation, I know. Maybe you're trying to rehearse a monologue for Zoom class in your room, but you cannot get in the zone because you know your mom is sitting at the door listening. Teresa M. Amabile is known for her teaching, writing, and research on creativity. After conducting several studies, she found that one aspect of the environment that kills creativity is surveillance. Knowing that you are being watched or overheard makes it difficult to create vulnerably and explore work honestly. Comparing a rehearsal space to a home, surveillance is present in both but takes different forms. In a rehearsal space, such as the basement in Meadows, sound travels. I know that unless I'm the only person in the basement, which is rare if ever, someone is going to hear me rehearsing. Being overheard rehearsing in that environment is expected and accepted, unlike being overheard rehearing at home. Even if my family knows that I am rehearsing in my room or the garage, the home environment feels wrong and out of place because a home is not created for rehearsing. My family knows when I am rehearsing or thinking out loud and they don't judge me for that. I have every reason to feel safe exploring my ideas at home. I want to, but I can't! It is so frustrating! Here is where I think the line is- you trust creating in spaces where creativity is in constant flow. If creativity lives in the space, overhearing another artist working will not phase you or them. Eliminating surveillance enables a trusting and supporting space that fosters creativity and exploration.

If you are losing your arts school basement like me, or haven't had one at all, here are some tips on creating a space at home that supports and fuels your creative endeavors.

Declutter Your Space

Treat your space like a blank canvas, always ready to be painted with your ideas. This does not necessarily mean your room must be void, but be intentional with what you fill the space with. If I did not create it, know who created it, or why it was created, I don't want it in my creative space.

Temperature

A Cornell study shows 68 degrees fahrenheit is the best temperature for creativity and productivity.

Routine

While our creative brains like to run free, establishing routines will increase the chances that you'll pick up that paintbrush or pen. Start by writing out when you are going to write, paint, dance, etc. and for how long before you go to bed. When you wake up the next morning, your creative routine is already set.

Color

Colors affect our mood. Whether you like your space dark or filled with natural light, it is important to find what colors, tones, and lights ignite your imagination. There is no right or wrong color or light, it's completely up to you as an artist!

Time of Day

Some artists work best in the morning, while others can only work at night. Experiment working at different times of day to see when you are most inclined to create.

There are multiple layers to creative spaces. I'm going to continue this conversation in my next blog, incorporating interviews with fellow artists who are creating at home or missing their usual creative space. I want to hear what components make a creative environment for you. Is it the people, the light, the space, the time of day? Think about where you are when you feel most creative, and message me on social media! @macymcowart I would love for us to talk. Virtual coffee date! Every artist deserves freedom to explore their work. Don't just crave the space, create it!


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From This Author Student Blogger: Macy Mae Cowart