Change, challenge and creativity

Art can often be seen as society’s essential irritant. It can challenge our ingrained perceptions, create emotional responses or stimulate different senses and initiate debate that often transcends our rational understanding.

All of this can be really good for us, if we embrace the challenges it can present.

One of the greatest attributes of the human mind, is being able to connect invisible dots, or to take creative leaps in the dark to explore or even create new ground. As Henry Ford famously once said ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ To me this is a great definition of binary thinking, humans acting like computers. Computers are tools, humans are individuals. The human thought process needs to be unshackled from a status of ‘what is’ to one of ‘what could be’.

New possibilities

I remember seeing and experiencing for the first time the ground-breaking conceptual sculpture ‘An Oak Tree’, by  Michael Craig-Martin, in London’s Tate Modern gallery. It was unlike anything I had come across before and I was transfixed. It was a pivotal moment for me in trying to develop my creative thinking.

For those that may have not seen the work, it’s a plain glass of water sitting on a glass shelf 253cm above the ground, with some supporting text mounted on the wall below it. The question and answer format of the text describes changing ‘a glass of water into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water’, and explains that ‘the actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water’.

At first sight you might feel conned! It really is a glass of water on a shelf – it is most definitely not an oak tree! This is the mind in ‘comfort thinking’ mode. However, push past first impressions and read the accompanying text and see if your perception changes. Craig-Martin considered ‘the work of art in such a way as to reveal its single basic and essential element, belief that is the confident faith of the artist in his capacity to speak and the willing faith of the viewer in accepting what he has to say’ – so if you have faith or belief, anything can be possible. A glass of water can be an oak tree!

You may agree or disagree with the artist, but it has opened a new dialogue in your mind to think about new possibilities, and that is something which is both vital and profound.


Seek out the alternatives

My professional creative work is all about generating new ideas, exploring new ways of thinking or approaching an existing problem. For any creative currency to be valid, it has to be challenged. For me it is vital to approach problem-solving from multiple, sometimes contrary, directions, if I am to produce solutions that attempt to rise above stock responses. However, relying solely on an existing reservoir of accumulated ‘comfort zone thinking’ knowledge, the pool of resources I can draw on is fairly shallow and prone to quickly drying up! To avoid this, new experiences, challenges and knowledge need to be embraced on a daily basis.

It is hard to be creatively inspired in isolation. Hence why I love working collaboratively with different people; clients, coders, printers, team members, etc. Generating an initial concept is comparatively easy, but sometimes it is all too easy to get seduced by your own ideas. Having alternative input and critique is really important to help shape and bring about a more focused solution.

Surrounding yourself with like-minded people with common interests does not challenge ‘comfort zone thinking’ or free the mind from a state of creative inertia. So instead of surrounding myself with the familiar and comforting, I try to embrace change or challenge as part of daily routines. This can be as simple as just choosing or taking different routes instead of familiar journeys. Limitation can also be a great way of providing self-initiated challenges. For example, I recently purchased a new Nikon DSLR camera, and deliberately opted for a 50mm fixed prime lens rather than the general-purpose zoom lens I have always previously used. Quite literally, I will have to change my perspective when taking pictures now! The ‘limitations’ help to push me to think more creatively about the type of shots I can and cannot take.

I also try to allow my passionate curiosity to get the better of me as it often opens the mind to different perspectives or viewpoints. Spending time with those involved in activities outside of my particular sphere of operation, or from different cultures or backgrounds, can bring huge insights and act as a real breath of creative fresh air. I recently attended a PechaKucha night at the De La War Pavillion, where speakers’ topics ranged from The Art and Neuroscience of Lucid Dreaming to Cool Knots, with lots of variety in between! These topics, although random to me, really inspired my thinking on my own current work projects.

Ask ‘Why not?’

Imagine the possibilities if painters mixed with scientists, photographers with mathematicians, linguists with engineers, musicians with sociologists, etc., or better still, they all mix together  to work collaboratively on a project! The outcome might initially be some kind of chaotic, creative cacophony! It would be very challenging to manage, but points of difference and commonality would soon be discovered and explored. Creative ideas would soon come to the surface as new thoughts or ideas were considered. Each discipline would be able to offer a unique, external objective perspective by simply asking ‘Why not?’. This in itself can bring a huge release, as accepted traditional ways of thinking within a field are challenged and developed further.

I believe this would resonate with some of the principles of Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus School of Art in Germany (1919–1933), a form of education that that has proved to be hugely influential ever since.

Often comfort zone thinking is a self-imposed type of mental restriction that we create within our mind. It gives us safe boundaries, a sense of comfort, but beware, these boundaries eventually become a creative prison and ultimately, the death of an inspired mind!

In the words of writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer,

adventure_is_good crop

CreativityThis blog is contributed by Chris Hamilton Brown, an independent designer and founder of, producing integrated solutions for print, online, social, photographic and furniture with passion, eclecticism and vision.  


Posted on Categories Arts & media, Creativity

Ownership: Stirring up new thinking

Ownership is a fundamental assumption of our twenty-first century life.

Ownership is a mainstream part of our culture. The argument for home ownership is strong – think of the importance we place on security, family history and feelings of peace.

Ownership has been sold to us by successive governments and policies as the best way forward for individuals, a basic ingredient of family life, a yardstick for the health of the economy, the herald of flourishing cities, a solution for poverty and a key aspirational force. Ownership is celebrated for the control it gives people over their lives.

This blog aims to throw out questions about the value of ownership and ask, what are the alternative economic and social models? We’re not saying that it can be thoroughly discussed in a few sentences, nevertheless, C2C is compelled to ask the questions! Our aim is always to generate thinking and let others muse upon and discuss the issues, with the aim of stirring new thinking and perhaps more radical responses.

Why is ownership so persuasive and pervasive?

The argument for home ownership is strong because we have made it into a set of equations that say:

Home = peace
Home = status
Home = community

Even where there is a laissez faire attitude to the economics and status of ownership, there may still be the aspiration towards it.

What is bad about ownership?

Ownership represents a completely unbalanced and unfair economic world. Ownership is not sensible economics.

Ownership is a false dream. It says ‘If you achieve this, you will be able to do, be and have all these other things, too.’ It is a prosperity mantra that teaches us to aspire to be the ‘greater’ person rather than the ‘smaller’ one. Ownership is a false goal that exacerbates our disenfranchisement and perpetuates power structures.

Are there any alternative models?

If we question the process of getting more or getting sufficient as essential to living a full and fulfilled life, we are asking, what are the alternatives to relationships and societies based on economics and ownership?

We want people to feel hopeful about an alternative to the ownership principle. We believe that people want a vision of community – not with a massive theology in tow – but a vision of community that represents a form of security. What creates community is longevity of relationships, sustainability and the sharing of resources, as well as lots of laughter and happiness.

So one proposition that we would like to throw out is that community, not property, is key to peace and security. The community element is found not in the fact that a home is owned but that there is security, sustainability, longevity of relationships and shared resources in the home environment. This is a system that takes away economic pressures.

Once we get rid of ownership’s contingent problems of storing, grabbing and inequality we enter a different relational and communal space. Indicators of happiness are higher in simple communities than they are in societies where people have a high economic stake.

The Christian ethic of love: Self-sacrificing ‘giving living’ 

The Christian ethic is based on a God who created everything but who, in desire as well as reality, owns nothing. Is the pattern of creating and living that Christians accept a way of simply saying that ownership is overrated? Or does it say that ownership is wrong?

God is love and the nature of love is that you give it away. God has given the universe to mankind and He frees up the space without claim on it. In contrast, ownership stores, holds, accumulates and divides.

Bold corporate and civic decisions

The city of Berlin is a good example of the way in which different cultural forms co-exist – the city’s vibrant art scene works alongside more economically rooted forces and the former has not been squeezed out. Galleries, rental accommodation for visiting students, non-profit studios and self-funded spaces have been nurtured, meaning that the artistic community can afford to stay and grow there. In other cities, such as London, similar grass-roots communities have been overtaken by economics and gentrification.

In London, Southwark Council spent £6m on creating a park in middle of a gang-troubled area. That is a positive example of ownership by a civic group – ownership for the benefit of community.

‘Non-ownership thinking’ is often local thinking

Strong communities are always based on a shift in the balance of power from global to local. C2C believes that local conversations and solutions will transform lives. The local is a site for ‘non-ownership thinking’, but the more that globals and corporates take over small initiatives, the more we lose this ‘non-ownership thinking’ in local spaces.

We need to challenge the idea that the ownership of land exists for political or economic advantage, rather than for the long-term benefit of residents. Where we see shared partnerships that are creating places of civic connection – allotments and parks, for example – we see that communities are truly brought together. Council-owned land has a social heritage that in many cities is being lost so that capital gains can be made from the land.

Filling the ‘space’ taken by ownership

Without the structures of ownership we are freer to build other things. When power and dominion are taken away we start to see that everything else can be put into a different perspective. People can connect to a system in which money is not central and there is no status involved. Other things may be exchanged and other currencies used – for example, art and creativity or volunteer time – both of which build long-term sustainable communities.

Look out for more on this, and the example of Timebanks, in another blog.

Posted on Categories Arts & media