In multi-media Creativity workshops I have been part of, children have found rich imaginative territory by employing randomness and nonsense.
Some teachers may balk at randomness and nonsense, but it turns out that in the creative process there is no such thing as entire randomness or complete nonsense. This is because the presence of human consciousness gives order to random events and can make playful sense of almost anything.
Consider some “random” combinations from a WavePencilBone workshop I led with elementary students recently. As one kid repeated a spontaneous dance maneuver, turning north then south then east then west, the others called out what the actions reminded them of. “Cheerleader! ” “Starfish!” “Sprinkler!” They wrote their words on colored slips of paper, and put them in a can. Tossed enthusiastically into the air, the words floated down to land in unpremeditated combinations, which the kids recorded. They ended up with things like “dancing basketball flower.” Now, dancingbasketballflower did not come from the normal thought processes for pre-writing, but it sure is an interesting and provocative image, ripe for extrapolation.
Each student drew an original conception of a dancing basketball flower, and of the other invented phrases. These colored pictures were then placed along the edge of a large rectangle of pink butcher paper.
Next I asked them to think of a distinct sound. Perhaps because she lived near the coast, one girl offered the sound of a crashing ocean wave. I presented her with a large purple marker, and invited her to draw the sound as she felt it. As it flew beneath her hand the pen made a wavey line that spanned the eight-foot paper on the floor. Soon the other kids were drawing lines away from hers like branches from a stem, and these gave bloom to hybrid pictures inspired by the word-toss activity: watermelon sprinkler bombs, hyper diver daisies, baby salad cheerleaders, dancing baseball elves, electric flying starfish. Then they added actual seashore debris– shells, stones, driftwood, and a large piece of jumprope kelp that snaked right down the middle.
Creative inquiry is like going to the ocean. We explore the beach or reach down into a tide pool, or cast a line into the invisible depth. We reach out and reel in. Something always comes to us, even if it’s the seaweed of a “mundane” object or a “dull” event. We do not have to manufacture the stuff of inspiration; it can occur effortlessly. We just look at what lands in our hands and begin to dream about what it might mean.
So why is creativity elusive for many people? It is because they don’t know how to get to the beach. It’s as if they live their lives three blocks from shore but stay in windowless buildings with one-way pictures on the walls.
For these people, a random path with nonsensical signposts can be helpful. If they are willing to embrace notions that are sufficiently absurd, they might find themselves hyper-spaced beyond the confines of their normal thinking, combing the shore of possibilities.
What happens is that the rational mind is at a loss to make sense of the senseless and, exhausted, it takes a nap. At that point the psyche is free to leave the house, and to rummage amongst perceptions, memories, thoughts, and emotions, until it finds itself standing at the edge of the sea.
The kids in my workshop made their art in a short time with a kind of frantic grace that seemed altogether natural. What the kids had in the end was a work of art from which they could tell a story. Each “random” image combined with the next, until new characters and places were given life in the mind, and then were pushed were down the highway along impossible plot lines past hilarious dilemmas. Why is that flying electric starfish standing next to the watermelon sprinkler bomb? ‘Cause that’s what they eat! The most exciting things were the unforeseen, the ideas that are not thought up on purpose but emerge through spontaneous interaction because of random cues and nonsense instructions.