Today’s guest post on Tabula Rasa comes from the fantabulicious Emma from Steel&Stitch, who is the crochety and crafty goddess and overall a luscious person. Her designs are colourful, fun and begging to be made.
Well howdy y’all! This is Emma from Steel&Stitch here to talk to you today about tabula rasa (don’t worry, when I first heard this phrase I thought it was a roasted aubergine dip, turns out it’s actually the theory that human’s are born with a mind that is a ‘blank slate’ and then informed by life’s experiences) and creative ability. I would like to put it out there right now that I am not an authority on this (remember the aubergine thing), but I have been doing a little research in to creativity in humans for my MA in Sustainable Design, and will happily contribute my tuppence-worth. Oh, and this really isn’t going to be too heavy, in fact it’s going to be very unacademic and light (yep, the aubergine thing), so don’t worry.
Where to start? I’m mainly going to talk about this in relation to creativity, but this is one of those massive subjects that everybodyhas an opinion about, mostly informed by personal experience (which is exactly how I’ve formed my own opinion; as an identical twin, a mother and a person). That, and a tiny bit of research that was recently done by Harvard University. Those Clever Clogs have discovered that there are certain patterns that light up in the neural network when creative people come up with ideas. Some people have brains that do this very easily, and some people don’t. (This very interesting piece of research was in an abandoned copy of the Guardian that I found on 16.1.18 on the 16.54 from Victoria to Ore, very much worth a read if you want to find out about it properly). It would seem reasonable to assume that this is the case for other things too, like maths or combining flavours or singing.
What it proves is that some people are much more creative than others. But were they born that way, or did they become that way by having encouraging parents, or by being forced to live on their wits, or by being sent to a Steiner School? As an identical twin, we were each brought up with a designated identity. I was the Clever One and she was the Outgoing One. For years we subscribed to these roles, I rarely spoke to anyone, spent too much time trying to read the classics and mooning over Pre-Raphaelite art. She was wildly gregarious, kissed lots of boys and wrote her fashion dissertation on Barbie.
What was interesting was that for various reasons we ended up at different schools in different counties, and for all of those ideas about how differently our brains worked, we got identical results for our GCSE’s. Even now, as adults, we still marvel at how I ended up being the clothes designer in spite of studying philosophy at uni (I’ve just been working on a mini collection of patterns for Scheepjes J), and she has ended up as a lecturer working on a phd. So while we were unconsciously encouraged to study and engage in different things, our brains clearly have their own ideas about what they are able to do; which is pretty much the same as each other. We are both very creative, have a compulsion to make stuff and love doing a bit of research.
Another case study (this is just to make things sound fancy, what I could actually put is ‘thing I’ve seen’) is the difference in my boys. They are two years apart, have had the same access and been around the same amount of paint, paper, pens, glue guns, scissors, air brushes, you name it, and the youngest, Creative Boy, while seeming to have an innate ability when it comes to drawing, has very little interest in making stuff. The big one, loves it. What’s also interesting is the big one is Maths Boy. Always has been, so we’ve heartily encouraged him and worked with him to further this aspect of himself. Didn’t really notice it in the littlest so didn’t do anything special with him. Started school, turns out he is also Maths Boy, we just hadn’t given him that identity. So Maths Boy and Creative Boy are actually interchangeable, their brains have a similar default setting.
Having said all that, I just want to go back to that point about some people being more creative than others. Me and my twin were set on different paths but both have a deep love and connection with making things. My boys are being brought up in a creative environment and only one of them chooses to take of advantage of it. I think maybe we all have a desire to create things, just sometimes it may take a bit of encouragement to find the confidence to do it. And while there may be some of us that are hard wired to be good at it, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all take enjoyment from just playing and doing it. My goodness, I can’t sing for toffee, but give me a hairbrush and an empty house and I can have an absolute party.
So, what have we learned here? I don’t know the difference between an East African dip and a theory proposed by a 17th century Philosopher (in spite of having a philosophy degree). Surprising things can be learned from abandoned newspapers. Reading the classics when you’re 12 has very little bearing on your future career. Also that I think that we are born with a certain amount of pre-programming. We are not a clean slate. But whether we’re good at something or not, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy it and we can still do it just because it brings us pleasure and maybe a sense of connecting with something beyond ourselves. I don’t know the name for that something, maybe it also sounds like something you can dip a carrot in, but whatever it is, I’d definitely encourage you to try it.