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Cathy Haynes on how to supercharge your creativity

The best, most unexpected ideas don’t always come on command. Personally, some of my greatest epiphanies happen in the shower. It’s not uncommon – by stepping back from a problem or task, you allow your mind to create the connections necessary to bring fresh thoughts to the forefront. What if you could help encourage new ideas by developing your own creative practice?

Curator, artist, and educator Cathy Haynes from the School of Life is coming to The Collective to help make this happen, delivering an interactive talk on ‘unlearning’ – the process of discarding something from your memory to enable you to see things from a fresh perspective. I spoke with her to get the low down on how she processes creativity.

Alyssa James: The ‘creative process’ often seems shrouded in mystery. People often ask writers, painters, and poets how they do what they do. So, how do ideas happen?

Cathy Haynes: Ideas don’t come from nowhere but, in a sense, from what already exists. Ideas pop into our heads when a new connection forms between existing ideas—and something else is brought into being. It’s magical and it can be unique to the individual. But it’s a universal process: we all experience it whenever we think, do, or say something we haven’t quite thought, done, or said that way before. We might not be having world-changing ideas but nonetheless, we’re on the continuum, and I believe we can all hone our abilities and build mastery. That’s what we’ll see in the workshop. It’s a space to step back and think about how we can support that more for ourselves, as well as weave creative play more into everyday life.

Alyssa: Teaching people how to incorporate creativity into their daily life sounds fantastic! But let’s start with the basics: What even is creativity?

Cathy: Our culture often associates ‘true creativity’ with a rare and narrow set of artistic skills, not with the vast range of ways that people use their imaginations. And that can be an inhibiting idea.

I like the alternative definition of creativity as the process of making something new that has value for the creator —not necessarily the world at large. It matters because it matters to you. That’s a liberating thought.

AlyssaI’m a writer, and frankly, I’ll agonise about coming up with new ideas for stories, articles, and Instagram captions. Then, I’ll just go for a walk, stop thinking about it, and bam! A great idea. Why don’t ideas turn up when I want them to?

Cathy: We’ve all had that experience of thinking of a really good comeback when you’ve just left the room. Or struggled to get something right all day, gone to bed flummoxed and woken up with it all worked out. Those moments of inspiration after you’ve stopped focusing so hard on the problem happen because your mind has been released from its standard logical circuits and is free to roam, dream, and find new patterns. That’s why taking a break, forgetting about it for a while or sleeping on it can really help.

Unlearning isn’t ‘blue sky’ thinking. It’s not about getting away from reality, but opening it up and seeing it more clearly.

AlyssaI have a terrible case of staircase wit! You talk about allowing the mind to explore freely—is that why the workshop is called ‘Unlearning’?

Cathy: Unlearning is a creative learning method from the celebrated 1920s Bauhaus school of art and design. It’s a way of discovering what’s disguised by our habitual ways of seeing. It isn’t ‘blue sky’ thinking. It’s not about getting away from reality but opening it up and seeing it more clearly. We’re going to do some fun experiments in the workshop to explore that.

Alyssa: Definitely! It’s like optical illusion art — when you’re looking for the illusion, you can’t see it. It isn’t until you relax your eyes that the 3D figure or illusion becomes clear. What do you hope people will take away from the workshop?

Cathy: I’m hoping participants gain confidence, a greater sense of permission, and some practical strategies to develop their own creative practice for themselves. ⚉

The workshop ‘Unlearning, with Cathy Haynes’ runs on Wednesday 5th September, at The Collective Old Oak. Reserve your space on the app.