A Taste of Creativity

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By Emicon Mendenilla and Nina Tesoro-Poblador

What in the world is this nebulous construct called creativity, anyway? The mere mention of the buzzword can make even the most erudite tongue-tied. Vastly cited Italian behavioural scientist Paolo Legrenzi describes creativity as a justification of artistry. In his 2013 publication, Creativity and Innovation, he cites architect Vittorio Gregotti: “Every work of architecture seems to be justified by the term creativity, which by now is used to define every aesthetic act (diffused aesthetics has overwhelmed us) with which designers, advertisers, stylists, architects and many other professions justify their ‘artistry.’”

Patis Tesoro discovered early in her career that this God-given gift is apparently scarce in the local design industry. In fact, her late husband Tito Tesoro was hesitant to reprint her 1994 book, The Art of Philippine Embellishment, as they noticed her designs were being knocked off by more and more businesses. By early 2000, countless imitations filled retail establishments across the metro. Such blatant reproduction made Ms. Tesoro wonder how creativity can be accurately defined, and hence, nurtured. But if genuinely artistic creativity inspires replication, said Mr. Legrenzi, then truly beautiful creations are destined for imitation.

As Ms. Tesoro pondered over how budding artists can honestly create and not merely imitate, she decided to stage “Patikim ni Patis: Product Testing in a Garden Setting” on Oct. 27, at her workshop and residence in San Pablo, Laguna. Her main intention was to initiate a practical discourse on creativity by inviting both experienced and budding artist-entrepreneurs to subject themselves to constructive feedback from the marketplace, which would fuel idea-generation while refining their products and recreating themselves.

In an attempt to deepen the understanding of creativity and its process, Mr. Legrenzi mentioned psychologist Philip Johnson-Laird’s theory on creativity which posed four principles, namely: novelty or new idea; non-determinism; constraints; and the use of collected elements that trigger or feed the creative process (Paolo Legrenzi, Creativity and Innovation, 2013).

These four principles are complemented by some of the categories of creativity discussed by Claribel Bartolome in her article: “Filipino Conceptualizations of Creativity” (Philippine Studies, vol. 39, no. 2, 1991, pp. 212-220). We used concepts from both scholars as a rough guide for our examination of creativity, in light of the works of the “Patikim” artists.

CREATIVITY AS NOVELTY OR NEW IDEA
As one of the most common characteristics of creativity, the novelty that comes with a creation or the freshness of an idea, is a basic requirement. A product may be deemed truly creative if it presents a certain level of newness, something that has never been done before.

German-Filipina textile artist Annatha Lilo Gutierrez, exhibited her ethereal balabals (shawls) alongside Buddhist goddess-themed estampitas (holy cards) and tapises (over skirts) at “Patikim.” Known for her masterful use of silk dyes applied to textile, traditional materials such as jusi, piña, habotai silk, or liniwan shifu serve as the canvas for hand-painted religious icons and inspirational images to create wearable art. Of the process she says: “It is labor intensive, involving crochet, quilting, and beading. Beads and semi-precious stones are hand-sewn on my paintings. Quilting sets the artwork evenly and firmly on the fabric.”

Apart from inventiveness and originality, creativity as aesthetics is mentioned by Ms. Bartolome. Here, the aesthetic value of the creative product is stressed, apart from its functionality. Among gifted young designer Clarisse Provido’s new line of accessories launched at “Patikim” was the Hiyas Bag. The hard case clutch was formed in the shape of the native giant clam, covered in a combination of handwoven materials: nito, raffia, and abaca, then finished with a brass buckle and button. “This purse gives the right amount of elegance to more formal tropical gatherings,” Ms. Provido suggested.

FREEDOM, NON-DETERMINISM, AND MINDFULNESS
Creativity as a non-deterministic activity considers the freedom of choice artists exercise in their process, such that it is not limited to conforming to previously set rules or requirements. Mr. Legrenzi mentioned a 35-mm film featuring Pablo Picasso drawing on a spotless wall, which exposed his candid approach to deciding what to do next as he finished his work.

In this manner, Ms. Bartolome cites the element of fluency as integral to creativity. She said, “Creativity is the ease with which one can generate ideas and translate such ideas into forms easily understood and appreciated by others.” At “Patikim,” Escolta habitués Bianca Holganza of Alaala Sala, Daniela Calumba, and Celine Mallari of Rumpus Studios, demonstrated fluency in their merchandise.

Alaala Sala is a creator of handmade and vintage mementos such as pounded brass cuffs, while Daniela Calumba produces vegan beauty products, beeswax wraps, and ethical jewelry. Rumpus Studios’ ultra chic Celine Mallari was particularly proud of her linen robes, which were ingeniously fashioned to use a single continuous piece of fabric. The soft jackets featured raglan sleeves and came in deep blue, white, and khaki.

Picasso spontaneously imagined on his feet and drew aimlessly. He exemplified mindful art therapy, where one is in the present moment and can simply let go of judgment, fear, or deterministic processes. Mindfulness-centered therapies and art activities, therefore support freedom and non-determinism in Johnson-Laird’s theory of creativity.

Joyz Dinsay of Nine Lives PH, a one-year-old brand of charming fabric statement earrings, revealed that she found solace in her craft while dealing with her father’s sudden illness and her own ruminations. Recently, she had what she called her “Project Runway moment” while preparing for “Patikim.” The adrenaline surged when, a mere week before the affair, Ms. Tesoro gave her retasos (cloth scraps), which the Baguio-born artist was tasked to incorporate into her pieces. Ms. Dinsay recounted how Ms. Tesoro’s straightforward comments were key in conceiving more elaborate pieces which eventually sold well at the event.

Mindfulness can also be attributed to the work of blossoming author and surreal impressionist painter Bianca Young Co. At “Patikim,” she read a powerful poem on mental health awareness called “The Necklace,” from her self-published book: The Shitstorms and Rainbows of Naivety. The collection of writings not only presented a confrontation with life’s uncertainties, but also provided a warm embrace of its imperfections. So moved by her poetry, “Patikim” subsequently became an impromptu book signing for Ms. Co and her first wave of readers.

CONSTRAINTS AS STEPPING STONES
At “Patikim,” negative comments were welcomed — encouraged even — as they are necessary stepping stones crucial to the creative process, and is thus congruent with another principle of Johnson-Laird’s theory.

Ms. Tesoro and her crew are themselves continuously open to constructive criticism. In fact, “Patikim” was also a dry run for them, as they simulated the reopening of the Patis Tito Garden Café in February 2019. She strongly encouraged guests to give the creators, vendors, and her team the feedback they needed to improve. As she emphasized during the event’s afternoon program, “this is a learning process for everyone.”

Constraints are also the roadblocks or challenges entrepreneurs encounter along the way. Ms. Bartolome mentions the element of flexibility in creativity as necessary because “new ideas, approaches or products are seen as answers to problems where existing or stereotyped approaches no longer work or have become less efficient.”

A duo of former corporate professionals, Valerie Fischer and Skeeter Turgut recently conceived Pinas Sadya: a marketing service innovation that curates and aggregates “purposeful joy-giving Filipino products.” The business idea was actualized after Ms. Fischer recounted her exciting but harrowing adventures in sourcing local products for her upcoming wedding such as getting lost trying to find the workshop of a supplier, which made her wish that there was a one-stop-shop for all her Filipiniana lifestyle needs. The online store is set to launch in early 2019.

TRIGGERING THE CREATIVE PROCESS
Ms. Tesoro, one of Philippine fashion’s top designers, admitted that she is not free from the pitfalls of creative blocks. Whenever it hits her, she turns to gardening, watching TV, or any activity that will take her mind off her works-in-progress. When asked if she merely waits for the spark to reappear in order to create again, she then suggested the benefits of a more proactive approach: research.

The proactivity of research is aligned with the principle of Johnson-Laird’s theory in that it is necessary to use collected elements that trigger or feed the creative process. For “Patikim,” Ms. Tesoro’s main artwork was her latest architectural feat, At’s Place: A Creative Retreat, named after artist-photographer At Maculangan, who originally built the weekend getaway for his family and friends to enjoy.

Ms. Bartolome included elaboration as a category of creativity which involves “making new formulations out of existing ones through improvisation, and the ability to modify a prototype model.” Ms. Tesoro built on Mr. Maculangan’s original structure by extending the living space, and then adding accents that exude her unique style: such as the endemic flora and fauna trompe l’oeil painted on the ceilings, posts, and staircase. Surrounded by a garden with a wide variety of flowers, edible plants, and trees, it is a place for mindful activities, while receiving the psychological benefits of being one with nature. In this way Ms. Tesoro practiced creativity as synthesis, by building on the work of a colleague, so that their inadvertent collaboration became a testament to their friendship.

NEWNESS AND INNOVATION VS REPLICATION
Mr. Legrenzi stated that “creativity inspires replication.” Therefore, it can motivate others to either seriously challenge themselves and indeed make something totally new, or to simply adapt elements into their own outputs in the hopes of earning the same recognition. Ms. Bartolome, however, stressed that at its core, a creative work is inventive and original. If patterns and adornments have been employed in exactly the same manner, it is safe to consider it a replica, and even void of creative talent. If it has been translated to the creator’s unique vision and interpreted in her own style, thus giving birth to an original piece, then it is a product of true creativity. Ms. Bartolome maintains that, “Newness is novelty out of the ordinary; a change from the regular way of doing things, renovation, rejuvenation or regeneration.”

Zarah Juan, celebrated contemporary Filipiniana designer known for her signature creations such as a funky jeepney-shaped wicker bag, was most impressed by how the budding entrepreneurs presented such clear visions of their burgeoning brands. “Their high level of confidence shows a deep commitment and passion for their craft.” Ms. Juan is a champion of indigenous artisans as she has successfully helped various communities become centers of sustainable livelihood. She was joined at “Patikim” by some of the founders of the Arte Fino pop up bazaar, which happens at least once a year, and features up-to-date homegrown items.

Ms. Bartolome also mentions “tangible manifestations of creativity as having a functional purpose aside from aesthetic satisfaction,” which should benefit the common good. Just like how indigo natural dye artisan Yana Ofrasio zealously communicated her mission to generate appreciation and respect for malatayum (the endemic source of the coveted deep blue hue) to the “Patikim” audience. “Creativity is piecing together what you love to do and what you’re good at, then using that to help people care and see good in the world again,” Ms. Ofrasio declared.

BREWING THE SPARK
“You don’t wait for the spark. You work towards that spark,” Ms. Tesoro exclaimed, when asked how she manifests original ideas. In a similar manner, Ms. Provido accepts that the spark is sometimes elusive, which helps in overcoming a creative hump. “Creativity and inspiration are never passive, they are constantly in motion,” she said. Creative block occurs when artists, designers, and writers complain of being drained of fresh ideas, or being devoid of inspiration to produce something new, may it be a painting, a product, or a story.

Mr. Legrenzi may have a solution for overcoming blocks when he tried to address a yet broader question, can we actually learn to be truly creative? Though he admitted that “no one will ever be able to provide us with an algorithm for creativity or innovation,” he suggested self examination as a first step in getting one’s creative juices flowing. By reassessing if the block is concrete or abstract, the solutions become within reach.

If a block is manifested in the real world — a need for a better workplace, for instance — the problem can be logically addressed (i.e. renting a co-working space). The complication arises when it is abstract or exists only in the mind of the creator or of others. In this case, Mr. Legrenzi names empathy, social creativity, and emotional intelligence, as helpful in overcoming constraints.

NURTURING CREATIVES
Driven with a vision to inspire and hone creativity, inaugurating At’s Place for “Patikim” was a big first step for Patis Tesoro’s team, as they move closer to launching a series of mentorship programs in February 2019, called SINULID or Space for Innovative Universal Lifestyle and Indigenous Design. SINULID workshops aim to provide an experience of convalescence through creativity. The modules are currently being fully defined but generally, SINULID will carry on what “Patikim” started — gathering thriving artisans in a creative retreat and immersing them in activities that will further hone their craft.

The “Patikim ni Patis” experience can also be considered an act of coming home. Creatives and enthusiasts congregated in an unassuming and fresh environment where they were free to express their passion for the homegrown and the handmade. There was respect, appreciation, and love for Filipiniana arts and crafts. Just like a nurturing home.