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THE ARTIST IS A CHIMPANZEE

Zoologist Desmond Morris performed some interesting experiments with chimpanzees which may provide some insight into intention. In one experiment, chimps were given canvas and paint. They immediately began to paint balanced patterns of color. In fact, some art critics saw incredible similarities between their work and the work of abstractionists. The chimps became so interested in painting and it absorbed them so completely, that they had little interest left for sex, food, or other activities. Similar experiments were performed with children. Their behavior was remarkably like that of the chimps.

It seems to indicate that there is a natural desire to create, to accomplish, to perform, yet, somehow this desire fades as we become adults. An extension of Morris’s experiment involved rewarding the chimps for producing the paintings. Very soon their work began to degenerate until they produced the bare minimum that would satisfy the experimenter. They became bored and uninterested in creating.

A similar behavior was observed in young children as they became “self conscious” of the kind of painting they believed they were supposed to do. This was generally indicated to them by subtle and implicit rewards, such as praise and approval and the need to conform to what other children were doing. The creative act of painting no longer has meaning in itself. It now has become an activity to experience satisfaction in the form of an external reward or reinforcement. Eventually, the children learn to seek only satisfying words of praise from others, and to collude with others in exchanging flattering remarks that lead to mutual satisfaction.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Here’s an interesting experiment which illustrates the power of internal and external forces on awareness and attention. First, have someone blindfold you. Then make a volitional movement of your choice, for example, walking in figure eights. Make a variety of complex movements. Do something that requires thought. Next, while still blindfolded, have someone passively move you around the room in the same amount of time and then stops you at a certain point.

The next day, have someone blindfold you again and then reproduce the movements of the day before. You will find that your performance accuracy is far better when you made the movements of your choice as compared with situations in which you were passively moved by someone else.

In the first case, because you took an active role and allowed yourself to behave naturally, you became “aware” and “attentive.” This created some passion for the exercise. In the second case, you were passively led around, which did not create much interest or passion.

We are taught to be linear thinkers and to have a fundamentally mechanistic view of the world. We are taught to look for external causes and effects and that these cause-and-effects are predictable and knowable and predictable. This kind of thing emphasizes external control.   For example, flip the light switch, and the light goes on. If the light doesn’t go on, there is an uncomplicated explanation – burned-out bulb, blown fuse, wire down in a storm, or a bad switch.

 This sense for external control is what freezes thinking and what prevents the “free” play of awareness and attention. Just as water is metamorphosed into ice, your thinking, which should be fluid and free, becomes frozen. All one has to do is desire and visualize outcome and the creative forces in you will act through you as if you were a medium.  Then you will see that your brain and body are free to do the work naturally, and will find the way for you to produce the desired outcome.

 Musicologists say that the cellos made by Stradivarius are even more impressive instruments than his violins. Some years ago some physicists – experts in Newtonian mechanics, especially the laws of acoustics – analyzed the cello. They studied the wood used to make it, the mixture used to make the glue, the recipe for the varnish, the number of coats of varnish, and so on. They researched all stringed instruments and cataloged the dimensions and sounds.

They concluded that the cellos made by Stradivarius are too small. The ideal cello, according to their research, ought to be three times the size of a violin, but the Stradivarius cellos are noticeably smaller. The scientists concluded that they could make a better cello by making it bigger. So they did, and it sounded awful. Not only wasn’t it anywhere near the quality of a Stradivarius, it wasn’t even as good as the mass-produced cellos that copied the size of a Stradivarius. So, what was the secret Stradivarius knew that the acoustical experts didn’t?

Stradivarius had no secret.

There are just too many interacting variables to reduce the making of a cello to a formula. The quality of the wood makes a difference, of course, but once a piece of wood is cut for the back of the cello, there will never be another piece of wood exactly like that one. Stradivarius had the attitude and belief that building a good cello requires the maker to have the attitude and belief in one’s ability to do so.

What Stradivarius knew that the acoustical experts didn’t is what to do about it. He knew what to change to adjust for the differences in the wood or in the number of pieces of wood used for the ribs or in the number of coats of varnish.

The point is understood by one of the best modern makers of stringed instruments, who, when asked if he could build a Stradivarius, deemed the question absurd. “I can only build my own cello” was his response.

Zoologist Desmond Morris performed some interesting experiments with chimpanzees which may provide some insight into intention. In one experiment, chimps were given canvas and paint. They immediately began to paint balanced patterns of color. In fact, some art critics saw incredible similarities between their work and the work of abstractionists. The chimps became so interested in painting and it absorbed them so completely, that they had little interest left for sex, food, or other activities. Similar experiments were performed with children. Their behavior was remarkably like that of the chimps.

It seems to indicate that there is a natural desire to create, to accomplish, to perform, yet, somehow this desire fades as we become adults. An extension of Morris’s experiment involved rewarding the chimps for producing the paintings. Very soon their work began to degenerate until they produced the bare minimum that would satisfy the experimenter. They became bored and uninterested in creating.

A similar behavior was observed in young children as they became “self conscious” of the kind of painting they believed they were supposed to do. This was generally indicated to them by subtle and implicit rewards, such as praise and approval and the need to conform to what other children were doing. The creative act of painting no longer has meaning in itself. It now has become an activity to experience satisfaction in the form of an external reward or reinforcement. Eventually, the children learn to seek only satisfying words of praise from others, and to collude with others in exchanging flattering remarks that lead to mutual satisfaction.

THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Here’s an interesting experiment which illustrates the power of internal and external forces on awareness and attention. First, have someone blindfold you. Then make a volitional movement of your choice, for example, walking in figure eights. Make a variety of complex movements. Do something that requires thought. Next, while still blindfolded, have someone passively move you around the room in the same amount of time and then stops you at a certain point.

The next day, have someone blindfold you again and then reproduce the movements of the day before. You will find that your performance accuracy is far better when you made the movements of your choice as compared with situations in which you were passively moved by someone else.

In the first case, because you took an active role and allowed yourself to behave naturally, you became “aware” and “attentive.” This created some passion for the exercise. In the second case, you were passively led around, which did not create much interest or passion.

We are taught to be linear thinkers and to have a fundamentally mechanistic view of the world. We are taught to look for external causes and effects and that these cause-and-effects are predictable and knowable and predictable. This kind of thing emphasizes external control.   For example, flip the light switch, and the light goes on. If the light doesn’t go on, there is an uncomplicated explanation – burned-out bulb, blown fuse, wire down in a storm, or a bad switch.

 

This sense for external control is what freezes thinking and what prevents the “free” play of awareness and attention. Just as water is metamorphosed into ice, your thinking, which should be fluid and free, becomes frozen. All one has to do is desire and visualize outcome and the creative forces in you will act through you as if you were a medium.  Then you will see that your brain and body are free to do the work naturally, and will find the way for you to produce the desired outcome.

 Musicologists say that the cellos made by Stradivarius are even more impressive instruments than his violins. Some years ago some physicists – experts in Newtonian mechanics, especially the laws of acoustics – analyzed the cello. They studied the wood used to make it, the mixture used to make the glue, the recipe for the varnish, the number of coats of varnish, and so on. They researched all stringed instruments and cataloged the dimensions and sounds.

They concluded that the cellos made by Stradivarius are too small. The ideal cello, according to their research, ought to be three times the size of a violin, but the Stradivarius cellos are noticeably smaller. The scientists concluded that they could make a better cello by making it bigger. So they did, and it sounded awful. Not only wasn’t it anywhere near the quality of a Stradivarius, it wasn’t even as good as the mass-produced cellos that copied the size of a Stradivarius. So, what was the secret Stradivarius knew that the acoustical experts didn’t?

Stradivarius had no secret.

There are just too many interacting variables to reduce the making of a cello to a formula. The quality of the wood makes a difference, of course, but once a piece of wood is cut for the back of the cello, there will never be another piece of wood exactly like that one. Stradivarius had the attitude and belief that building a good cello requires the maker to have the attitude and belief in one’s ability to do so.

What Stradivarius knew that the acoustical experts didn’t is what to do about it. He knew what to change to adjust for the differences in the wood or in the number of pieces of wood used for the ribs or in the number of coats of varnish.

The point is understood by one of the best modern makers of stringed instruments, who, when asked if he could build a Stradivarius, deemed the question absurd. “I can only build my own cello” was his response.

Posted: Saturday, May 12th, 2012 @ 10:52 am
Categories: Creativity.
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44 Responses to “THE ARTIST IS A CHIMPANZEE”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Nice article.

    “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

    It seems when we are young, we are free to think and do with limited “external control” – but as we get older, we tend to micro-analyze our actions and constrain our creativity.

    CPSI 2012: Ideas to Action – a conference on Creativity & Innovation

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