Behind the Scenes of Artistic Creativity

Processes of Learning, Creating and Organising

by Tatiana Chemi (Author) Julie Borup Jensen (Author) Lone Hersted (Author)
©2015 Monographs 370 Pages
Open Access


Throughout the literature of creative learning, many assumptions and even stereotypes about the artists’ creativity are nurtured, often according to myths going back to the Romanticism. The authors have been investigating and describing outstanding artists’ creativity and learning/working processes, asking the question: how do artists create, learn, and organise their work? This book explores these questions by means of original empirical data (interviews with 22 artists) and theoretical research in the field of the arts and creativity from a learning perspective. Findings shed an original light on how artists learn and create, and how their creative learning and change processes come about, for instance when facilitating and leading creative processes.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • Dedication
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of tables and figures
  • Recognised by whom? Insights on research considerations, by Tatiana Chemi and Julie Borup Jensen
  • Part One: Creativity and Art, by Tatiana Chemi
  • Chapter 1: Artistic creativity: past, present and future
  • Etymology and definition(s)
  • History of a concept
  • The arts and creativity
  • Creativity studies today
  • Chapter 2: Artists defining creativity
  • Meeting definitional challenges
  • Art: word and value
  • What creativity is for artists
  • Creativity as compulsion to make art
  • Creativity as artistic identity
  • The ineffable business
  • Embodied meaning
  • Propositional and presentationa
  • Art as language in a new key
  • Art as creative ex-pression
  • Chapter 3: Artistic process and composition
  • Before the storm: preparing for creation over a lifetime
  • The lifelong creative project
  • Inspiration
  • Preparing for the creation of artworks
  • Intentional exposure to experiences
  • Stealing: dialogue or fight with models
  • Sweeping up the creative space
  • Getting to work: engaging the idea-reservoir
  • Virtuosity
  • In dialogue with the medium
  • Rules
  • The art of making art
  • Chapter 4: Artistic emotions and ways of thinking
  • When the work is done
  • Emotions in the making
  • Positive emotions
  • Artists in flow
  • Negative emotions
  • Bridging positive and negative
  • Motivation, resilience and persistence
  • Art-making as discovery and research
  • Part Two: Learning and Change, by Julie Borup Jensen
  • Chapter 5: Creativity and elements of learning and change
  • Creativity, learning and the arts
  • Why associate the concepts of learning and creativity?
  • Experience, action and learning within the arts
  • Action, community and creativity
  • Cognition, arts and learning
  • Socio-cultural dimensions in learning
  • Tools and meaning-making in the arts
  • Determinism and spontaneity
  • Culturalism and creativity
  • Domains and the creative process
  • Aesthetic learning and senses in learning processes
  • Learning and creativity as intertwined and interwoven. What are the perspectives?
  • Chapter 6: Creativity and ways of building knowledge and skills
  • Learning purposes, goals and strategies in artistic work
  • Adequate expression: technical skills, craftsmanship and the body
  • Without technique, creative ideas die
  • Practicing as a learning strategy
  • Continual learning: how to creatively renew artistic expression
  • Challenging oneself as a learning strategy
  • Changing perspectives of meaning as a learning strategy
  • Impossibilities and obstruction
  • Challenge as a strategy for continual learning and creativity
  • Feeling lost: disorientation, crises and frustration in learning
  • Open engagement with the world
  • Curiosity killed the cat – but not learning
  • The reflective practitioner – a curious practitioner
  • Practice, challenge, curiosity and improvisation
  • Chapter 7: Creativity, learning and apprenticeship
  • Apprenticeship and the situated understanding of learning
  • Shared work, distributed learning
  • Non-verbal learning opportunities
  • Meaning-making and art
  • Mutual learning and own uniqueness
  • Formal education, schools, conformity and uniqueness
  • Teachers, educators, other masters and opportunities for learning
  • What can the educational field learn from the artists’ narratives?
  • Chapter 8: Perspectives for learning in educational settings
  • What is at stake in formal learning settings?
  • Daring to be deliberately stupid
  • What is serendipity?
  • Enticing learners
  • Restrospective appreciation
  • Prepared mind: the unique and special meets the conformist and common
  • Serendipity in the classroom
  • Evaluation – how to evaluate unexpected knowledge?
  • Part Three: Creativity in Relationships, by Lone Hersted
  • Chapter 9: Creativity in a Relational Perspective
  • The relational perspective
  • In dialogue with traditions
  • Internalised others and inner social audiences
  • Chapter 10: Collaboration in Artistic Teamwork
  • The role of confidence
  • Improvisation and relational responsiveness
  • Between structure and spontaneity: playfulness and rules for play
  • Communication and coordinated action
  • Challenges to collaborative creativity
  • Chapter 11: Organising Creative Work
  • Pathfinding and emergence
  • Developing new material and moving in process
  • Organising, community building and networking
  • Inspiration from travelling and cultural exchange
  • Chapter 12: For Leaders Concerned with Creativity
  • The challenge of creativity in today’s organisations
  • Leading and motivating within the arts
  • Metaphors for leading creative work
  • Creating a frame for the creative process
  • Nurturing a collaborative climate for creativity
  • Leading for creativity: a relational perspective
  • Epilogue, by Tatiana Chemi and Julie Borup Jensen
  • Meeting the artists, by Tatiana Chemi
  • The study in numbers
  • Artists’ biographies
  • References

← 10 | 11 → Acknowledgements

First of all, we wish to thank the artists who agreed to be part of our research project for having allowed us to look behind the scenes of their creativity. Very few of the artists we approached rejected our request and, if so, this was not due to lack of interest but exclusively due to lack of time. The engagement and passion of the participating artists has been a significant part of our motivation during the last three long years in the bumpy and creative process behind this book. Entering into conversations with them and listening to their engaging stories has been extremely inspiring and enriching for us. It has not been possible to include in this book all the great amount of precious narratives, but our intention is to use them in future studies.

Secondly, we would like to express a due acknowledgement to our families who have showed patience and sustained us morally in the process of writing this book.

We would also like to thank the Department of Learning and Philosophy at Aalborg University, which has supported the book project and the group of authors with both financial contributions and recognition. A special acknowledgement goes to our head of Department, Annette Lorentsen, and to our colleagues, who have shown great interest in our research project by enquiring about our experiences and findings.

We owe special thanks to our peer reviewers, Kjeld Fredens (part 1 and 2) Annie Aarup Jensen (part 2), Kenneth J. Gergen (part 3) and the research group CLIO at Aalborg University (part 3), who have spent their precious time on reading, giving feedback and discussing our chapters with us.

Finally we would like to acknowledge Julia Campbell Hamilton for her professional proof reading, Maria Mikkelsen for having helped us with the transcription of interviews and the elaboration of the artists’ biographies, Bente Lope at the University Library, Aalborg for her help with referencing software and finally the staff at the retreats, Klitgaarden in Skagen and Strandgaarden in Mols Bjerge, where we found time and tranquillity for writing surrounded by beautiful nature. ← 11 | 12 →

← 16 | 17 → List of tables and figures

Figure 1.Where is creativity? Inspired by Csikszentmihalyi (1996)

Figure 2.Dewey’s concept of experience

Figure 3.Dewey’s concept of artistic expression

Figure 4.The process of artistic composition inspired by Michael Valeur

Figure 5.The warehouse-battery model, inspired by Fjord.

Figure 6.On the left Kimbell and Stables’ model (2007), on the right Hetland’s modification

Figure 7.Vygotsky: learning through mediation

Figure 8.Relations between learning and creativity in artistic work

Figure 9.Serendipity and learning

Figure 10.Pathfinding ← 17 | 18 →

← 18 | 19 → Recognised by whom? Insights on research considerations

by Tatiana Chemi and Julie Borup Jensen

In writing this book, our curiosity was directed toward the qualities of creative learning and generative processes in individual artists and ensembles. Even though we did not understand (and still do not understand) creativity as a phenomenon exclusive to the arts, we wanted to focus on the domain-specific form of creativity in the arts, because artists and artistic communities seem to cultivate and nurture creativity as one of the means and ends of learning, communicating, engaging in relationships and living their lives (on domain-specificity see Baer 2010). However, our studies on creativity showed that the need for more focused attention on the specific domain of artistic creativity was still strong and unaccomplished. Therefore we designed a research study that focused specifically on artistic creativity and that made use of the power of focused observation. Our purpose was to describe the phenomenon of creativity by means of artists’ recollections, retrospective narratives, conceptualisations, ideas, processes and relationships.

Because creativity is a basic need of and a well-acknowledged expectation within artistic achievements, we intended to ask full-time professional artists (the so-called Pro-C level of creativity, the professionals) who had made an original contribution to the domain in which they operated, who were broadly recognised (the Big-C level of creativity) and who had proved a clear interest in meta-reflections and artistic conceptualisations (see chapter 1 for a description of the different levels of creativity). We wanted to find experts in the arts, someone who had tipped the point of expertise, the famous 10,000 hours or ten years of practice that make individuals able to challenge the very rules of their domain, some say (Feldman 1999, p. 173, Gardner 1993). But who should know and acknowledge the chosen artists? The general public or the experts in the field? And who are the experts in a field? How could we define our understanding of recognition within the arts and in which context should we place this definition? Was Odin Teatret known in the whole country of residence by both theatre experts and general public? Or was its international recognition reaching only participants in the field of experimental theatre? And what about young but internationally acclaimed authors such as Morten Ramsland? In either case, would a broad or narrow fame-span influence our sampling choices? Answers ← 19 | 20 → to all of these questions seemed to be dependent on by whom, about whom and where they were formulated.

According to Csikszentmihalyi “what we call creativity always involves a change in a symbolic system, a change that in turn will affect the thoughts and feelings of the members of the culture” (1999, p. 316). We wanted to engage in a dialogue with these game-changers who had practiced artistic creativity and who had reflected upon it.

Moreover, we wanted to investigate several artistic sub-domains, looking at patterns and similarities across artistic modalities. In order to do so, we started looking around us at our networks and our knowledge about artists. We established contacts with the artists we knew, artists we had been collaborating with, but also artists whose biography and works were very well known to us or accessible in more intangible ways. We found ourselves proposing names of artists that we could connect to, physically, intellectually and emotionally. Artists who lived close-by geographically (sometimes, even neighbours) or artists who lived far away but with whom we shared our curiosity, artists that had touched us as cultural actors but also professionally, artists whose works had changed our understanding and perception of art as skilled connoisseurs or experts, artists who we respected and admired and whose works we often loved. Hence, participation in the research project was addressed to professional artists with whom we frequently had a long-term dialogue, either in person or through their works. More often, the established dialogue took the form of both personal and artistic acquaintance or knowledge. This led to the first limitation of the study: we were moving in a Western cultural tradition and within a geographical area. Without suggesting that the sampled artists shared common cultural values, we were definitely mapping a Western-based culture, with strong relationships to Scandinavia. Looking closely, though, we noticed that the majority of these artists did not define a mainstream Scandinavian or Western culture, but rather a global, transnational or multicultural perspective, whether living in a foreign country (Barba, Varley, Bosch, Jordan, Nisticò), keeping strong contacts across several cultures (Hustvedt, Kvium, Ramsland, Granhøj, Bosch), working with multicultural inspiration (Dehlholm, Barba, Varley, Exner, Fjord, Bosch, Valeur, Kleis and Rønsholdt) or in international environments (Koppel, Dehlholm, Granhøj, Barba, Exner, Olesen, Nord, Hustvedt and Bosch). What unites these artists is a cross-boundary dimension: they are often highly recognised nationally or internationally or both and they are recognised beyond the borders of a specific tradition or genre or beyond the popular/high culture dichotomy. They are cosmopolitans, known for having challenged traditions and generated new models that became novel traditions for other artists. Some of them are ground-breaking ← 20 | 21 → in their domain and have been on the move physically as well as intellectually for themselves and for others, within and against traditions, always in dialogue with themselves, others and cultures. It follows that the cultural-geographical restriction is an element of our research design, but does not define or describe the artists’ vivacious interests, international practices and wide public reception.

We were curious about the subject of artistic creativity and the ways it is expressed, developed and enacted by individuals and individuals-in-groups and we decided to ask the persons we consider experts in the field - professional artists who knew the hard work of being creative and leading creative processes. Our main focus of interest was on how processes of creation are related to learning and organising in the professional practice of artists.

By investigating the literature about creativity, we noticed that several contributions addressed and criticised assumptions and even stereotypes about creativity in general (Kaufman & Sternberg 2010, Sternberg 1999) and artists’ creativity specifically (Locher 2010, Weisberg 1993, Weisberg 1999). Basic misunderstandings about artists’ work-processes or artists’ creative endeavour were addressed both in literature and in different educational contexts. Probably a legacy of the Romantic view of artists as chaotic lonely geniuses on the verge of psychic dysfunction, many of the common stereotypes regarding artistic creativity miss some fundamental points. The artists’ rational choices about their ways in which they create, learn, organise and lead their creative processes; the perseverance in pursuing a set idea in spite of failures; their voluntary openness to what is emerging or surprising - these are only a few of the ways in which artists draw trajectories of growth that combine several paradigms. Rather than being all feelings and irrationality, as in the Romantic stereotype, artists seemed to us to apply both feelings and rational thinking, both openness and rules, both individual and dialogical processes. These early intuitions of ours, supported by mostly systemic views on creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1996, Csikszentmihalyi 1999, Gardner 1993) and socio-cultural perspectives (Bruner 2009, Connery, John-Steiner & Marjanovic-Shane 2010, Moran & John-Steiner 2003, Vygotsky 1925/1971, Sawyer et al. 2003, 2007 and 2010), provided the background of our research interests. We wanted to investigate and describe in depth artists’ working and learning processes, by taking a step back and addressing the question: how do artists create, learn and organise their work? Do they learn in a specific way? Are there certain environments, social settings and working procedures that stimulate creativity in and between individuals and facilitate the generation of ideas in groups? How do artists work and develop their ideas in relationships? Do artistic learning processes build on specific elements and common patterns? If so, how can they be conceptualised? Can the concepts be transferred into ← 21 | 22 → principles applicable in other domains such as teaching and process facilitating and if so, how and why? We aimed to explore these questions by means of an empirical and theoretical contribution to the field of arts and creativity research from a learning perspective, including relational and leadership issues.

Coming from different but related fields, the collaborating authors each brought their individual knowledge to the project: Chemi from the field of cultural studies and aesthetic learning processes, Borup Jensen from music and learning, Hersted from theatre and organisational studies. All united by a shared curiosity about artistic creativity, the authors brought to the present book different but related perspectives and wove them together. Based on a conjoined study, our empirical content unfolds through three main themes: artistic composition, learning and organising. These themes give a direction to the three main parts of the book and in each part figures a main author. However, the final result is principally due to empirical studies designed and carried out together and to frequent conversations amongst the authors.

At this point it is important to clarify our understanding of learning, as unfolded throughout the book. Given the need of creativity studies with learning or developmental perspectives, especially with focus on artistic creativity, we made use of few but fundamental contributions with this multiple take on creativity and learning or development (Feldman 1999, Moran & John-Steiner 2003, Sawyer et al. 2003, Sawyer 2003, 2007 and 2010). Our socio-cultural perspective looks at learning as an enactive and socially constructed phenomenon that is constituted in the individual and takes place in contexts and within relationships. In the interviewed artists’ case, learning may happen all the time and everywhere, to the advantage of creative endeavours. Therefore we have chosen to look at several learning environments: the formal (schooling, education), the informal (communities of practice, peers, role models, cultural exchanges), the organisational (workplace, leadership, organising) and the artistic domain-specific knowledge that encompasses all the above. When we mention learning, we think about this diversity and we aim at embracing its complexity. According to Sawyer (2003) we should rather define it development and not learning: in Part Two these definitional issues will be addressed and discussed thoroughly.

We have chosen to work with artists’ creativity and learning, because we understand learning as a basically creative enterprise, supported by several learning theories that are going to be discussed in the following chapters. Furthermore, we define creativity in its etymological origin as the creation (Latin creare) of something new and appropriate (a more extensive definition is discussed in Chapter 1). In the case of artistic creativity this “something” would be the artistic ← 22 | 23 → products (artworks), processes or environments that artists/creators are able to generate, change, implement or challenge.

Our specific interest was to investigate artists’ and ensembles’ ways of creating, learning and organising through their own expressions and narratives. The basic themes we were concerned with included:

• specific artistic creativity in a learning perspective

• the interplay between individual, group and community

• composition and artistic processes

• artistic leadership and the organising of creative work processes.

Research within the field of creativity and learning calls for qualitative methods of investigation (Denzin & Lincoln 2005). Methodologically, we have made use of the semi-structured interview as described by Kvale and Brinkmann (2008), as a framework for data collection. The interviews were recorded as audio files, transcribed verbatim, translated and afterwards validated or commented upon by the artists (Cahnmann-Taylor & Siegesmund 2008).

In the research interviews, we asked the sampled artists to tell us about a meaningful experience that had made a special impression on them in an artistic context; about how they learn best; how they understand creativity and define it; in which situations they experience being the most or the least creative and when they experienced being completely absorbed by their artistic work; about their collaboration with others and their sources of inspiration; about recognition and the meaning of it for creativity; about their ways of organising and leading their artistic work processes; about working rules, routines or habits that stimulate their creative process; about how decisions are taken in groups and with artistic leaders; about the external factors that they believed important for creativity to germinate; about special places that they find most inspiring. This is in line with a hermeneutic-phenomenological approach to both data-generation and data analysis. Our approach matches the research questions, where the aim is to investigate the concepts of learning and creativity as they appear to the artists.

The replies we received were vivid narratives from the artists’ past, present and future visions. Probably the interviews tended to be positively biased, for the simple reason that we asked for memories on, influences about, definitions of what the interviewees are passionate about: their artistic work. Even though we mostly asked the artists to tell us the story of what works optimally for their creativity to unfold and flourish, we also asked them what is disturbing and what inhibits their creativity or communication in artistic communities. Although mentioned in a few places (distrust, lack of communication, frustrations), we have not systematically looked at highly dysfunctional sides of artistic creativity ← 23 | 24 → or topics such as crisis management, conflicts, mental or physical diseases or the like (on the dark side of creativity in general see Cropley et al. 2010)

In light of the four Ps of creativity –person, product, process, place– (Kozbelt, Beghetto & Runco 2010, pp. 24-25) we have collected narratives as follows:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2014 (November)
Kreativität Künstler Stereotypen Lernprozeß Arbeitsprozeß
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 370 pp., 10 tables

Biographical notes

Tatiana Chemi (Author) Julie Borup Jensen (Author) Lone Hersted (Author)

All the three authors are affiliated to the Department of Learning and Philosophy at Aalborg University and members of the researchers’ group ARiEL (Arts in Education and Learning). Tatiana Chemi, PhD, is Associate Professor of Educational Innovation. Julie Borup Jensen, PhD, is Assistant Professor. Lone Hersted is lecturer and PhD Fellow.


Title: Behind the Scenes of Artistic Creativity
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