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Investigating Creativity
Interviewer: Dana Brandley, Rutgers University
Interviewee: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

Dana Brandley interviews Mike de Sousa, the Director of AbleStable®, and unravels his motivations and thoughts about creativity and the creative process.

What is your motivation for creativity?

There's little doubt my experiences as a child left me with the need to express myself about the world and to try and understand the people around me. I had a difficult and unconventional home life. There are different ways people deal with that, some hide away in a shell, some lash out, some take drugs in a forlorn attempt to escape, some create.

It also seems there is a certain propensity in some people to experiment, investigate and express, more so than others. I hesitate to say there are 'creative people' and that I'm one of them as my firm conviction is that we all have the capacity to be 'creative', but that different factors can make people feel inadequate or unable to create. People will say 'I can't paint' or 'I'm not creative'. The truth seems more that people have been discouraged because of a critical remark or seeming lack of success in a certain medium.

Like many who create, my drive is routed in the ego which can be at once a potent, yet at times illusory, force. My need to create something that is more permanent than the brief puff in time that is my life is, I believe, a common one.

Another central motivation for my creativity is my need to connect. The irony here is that if you have a sense of good connectivity with those around you, and that you feel recognised, valued, and understood, it is less likely you will be driven to express your world view in the hope others will share and connect with it.

There are times when the exploration of the medium itself is my central focus and motivation in creating a work. In these instances I hope others will be enriched by, or enjoy the beauty or otherwise of the medium.

Lastly, there are ways of living and behaving that I value, that I feel are mutually enriching. Part of creating works that others experience can represent my values and propagate them.

What do you create when you create?

That depends what the focus and audience of the work is. I've used many mediums to express myself and share my thoughts and observations about the world. I began concentrating my creative efforts in the field of music, composing instrumental works and songs, then went on to develop my literary skills for a few years writing poetry, and short novels. After an intense period of self-directed study I began to draw and paint. Finally, the Internet provided me with a context where I could marry non-performance media. So now I run AbleStable, a web site that I hope grows into a significant cultural destination where people are encouraged to explore and develop their own creativity. It also happens to be the perfect context for my own eclectic interests and skills base. What do I create? To get a more concrete view of that you'll have to browse an exhibition at AbleStable I've curated and contributed towards.

Do your personality states change when you are creating?

There are those who will say they are consumed by their medium, that they are taken over by a force beyond their control, that 'they' are no longer, but 'at one' with their craft.

Yes, I am consumed by what I am attempting to achieve through a given medium, but this is not the exclusive territory of the 'creative person', more the territory of any person who commits themselves to doing a job to the best of their ability. I am deeply suspicious, as are many 'non creative' people, about the 'cult of the artist', that somehow the artist is 'more', that they feel, more, that they see, more. That their personhood changes when creating in some mysterious way that the rest of us cannot comprehend. I suspect this is routed in our need for shamans, priests, and the like who are viewed as helping us and advising us about the world around us. Interestingly it is more likely the artists themselves and the 'industry of the artist' who perpetuate this view, rather than the common person. Those who call themselves artists are all too easily, in my opinion, prone to over dramatise their abilities and 'gifts'.

Artists feel the same hopes, fears, and desires as all of us, they may have chosen to develop their skills in expressing those experiences, and at times they may articulate the world around them in a novel and interesting way that is pleasurable to our senses and intelligence, but their experiences are no different than the ordinary persons'. Some will argue an artist sees colour and pattern differently, a composer hears sounds we cannot, 'creative people' 'feel' more, experience more, can perceive beauty, more. We all experience the world differently than our neighbour, we all see, hear, touch, taste, and smell as islands connecting across the ever present space between us. Artists are no different. My personality, like everyone's, is conditioned by the context I inhabit. The physical, social, and psychological context. Do I change? Yes, but so do we all.

What is your definition of creativity?

That's a tough one. Here goes.

Gathering personal experience, knowledge, and skill, then using these qualities to produce an answer to a challenge of some kind.

Was creativity encouraged in you as a child?

I was brought up by two aunts, both encouraged me to express myself. I have no doubt the encouragement of children's creativity (or lack of encouragement) forms the basis of our later confidence and attitudes about creativity.

Do you teach children or adults?

Yes. Mostly children now.

Do you think all people are creative?

Yes, but not all create.

What advice would you give a young person starting out in the field?

Create as much as you can, whatever the medium. Experience life, travel, talk, watch, listen, observe. Be honest to yourself and others. When a work isn't finished don't pretend it is. When a work is complete, let it take on its' own life. Don't bullshit. Be humble, don't brag. There's always a bigger fish who knows far more and is better skilled than you, learn from them. Question others, question yourself. Keep a watchful eye on your ego, if it grows too large your work will diminish. Be articulate, at least about your work. Don't expect money from your work. It may come, it may not. Create because you need to, not because you want to. Try your very best. Study. Share your talents. But most of all, create for a noble purpose, the world will be a better place, and you will be content.

Describe your work methods

I gather material, research, consume. Allow myself to journey to unexpected places, trusting my instinct, my feeling, the sum of my knowledge and experience. After I have as much as I can gather laid out before me, I pause. Sometimes for days, for weeks. Until I sense I am ready to begin. I have a general idea about the work, but my plans are open to change. I start: the hardest part. Gradually, slowly, the work takes shape. Form and structure is always at the forefront of my mind as I fashion the materials of the work. At many times I do not feel I am creating, more that the work has only one way it can grow, I direct the inevitable flow of material and form. There are moments of great self achievement, and times of immense frustration and doubt. And then, like a child's smile, and quite unexpectedly, it is complete.

Contributors background
Dana Brandley conducted this interview as part of her course on Theorising Creativity at Rutgers University.

Mike de Sousa is the Director of
AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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