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Notions on Play, Squiggla and a Philosophy of Mark Making
13 May 2019
This essay was originally published in Playing with Possibilities, ed. By Peter O’Connor and Claudia Rozas Gomez, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017.
Recent technological advances suggest there is a threat of thinking robots taking ever more employment opportunities previously designed for people. In response, there is an increase of academic and political investment to better understand our creative thinking minds so that they can then be developed and enhanced as creative capital - for everyone. Education can be seen as the key catalyst for developing a more creative and innovative society. To this end, The Chartwell Trust in New Zealand has invested in the development of Squiggla, an interactive game designed to develop creative thinking. It uses our understandings of the relationship between mark making and creative thinking as a pedagogical tool or, as we frame it, a Creative Thinking Education Tool (CTET). Mark making has been a source of innovation throughout the history of our species: from Homo Luden (Man the Player), to Homo Faber (Man the Maker), to Homo Sapiens (Man the Thinker) (Huizinga 1971). From earliest times, the reading of animal and human tracks and/or and other naturally created marks on the earth has led to mark making being considered a survival skill of the utmost importance and has led us to the creation of tools and the invention of the language systems we use today enabling tools and languages to be invented. D. H. Feldman says, "perhaps the first human to take a stick and make marks in the dirt was exhibiting a playful tendency to bring transformational possibilities to concrete expression with eventual profound consequences for all civilization" (Feldman 1988).
Squiggla Players register to join the Squiggla App using their digital devices. The online and offline game provides the impetus for players to create original Squigglaworks using their own inventive marks directly on paper. They then photograph and upload their work on to their own private Squigglaworks Gallery within the Squiggla App. Designed to keep a creative brain active, Squiggla encourages long term engagement and players attain points as they upload Squigglaworks and move up Challenge Levels. Full information is provided on the Squiggla website. Squiggla functions as a multi-layered, multi-leveled pedagogical tool for directly teaching creative thinking. It does that through developing, for people of any age, a willingness and desire to engage in mark making.
Desire “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time” (Oliver 2016, 30).
Even the very young can be aware of their imagination and the fun it gives them. The joy of children in making marks is obvious (and there is often joy for the observer too, in seeing that happen). Others who have forgotten, or who have never thought about their creative minds, have their attention drawn to their imagination through the use of Squiggla. Desire drives degrees of focus and effort where passion, joy, and fun become the stimuli of productive emotions, beliefs, ambitions and satisfactions in the mark making activity. The desire to create is both a pleasure and a need.
Minds at work The Squiggla philosophy encompasses creative thinking as a biological, neurological, environmental process; recognising intuition as the function of perception is no longer conceived as simplistically opposed to reason, but is recognised as fundamental to it. Perception awareness delivers cognition, and Squiggla uses this powerful creative thinking process by clarifying the understanding of marks as real things—as well as carriers of meaning for communication and thinking purposes. Here are the two ways they work. Marks and words have two meanings. For example, take a look at this printed word:
M A R K
Make sure to really become aware of it. Slow down. Look again. Look closely. See it as an actual, tangible, real, physical object, a thing out there in the world.
And see this mark:
—as four straight lines, l \ / and l, they join to create the letter M. They are delivering information about themselves to you: their size, the repetition of the four lines, their relationships to each other and the page, the spaces between the lines, their directions, the joins and the angles they make, the ink, its colour and flow are all linked and are sensed subconsciously in an experience of physical reality of which you can become aware if you attend closely.
Look again at the word "Mark" and the combination of the four marks:
M A R K
This combination of marks can carry a symbolic abstract idea, referencing the reality of a physical mark. This word is then an idea created out of the imagination, stored in memory which can then be shared with others by agreement. Understanding this is important to understanding models of creative thinking. New meanings are created directly from private, sensed physical experiences, and indirectly using communally agreed symbolic signs and sounds received from others via writing and words. We are assisted in this process by our unconscious processing, as sensed data are used to predict outcomes. This predictive process needs little information on which to speculate, and is constantly correcting mistaken expectations to fine-tune its facilities. Discrepancies between expectations and actual outcomes are brought closer to awareness when deliberate strategies of divergent actions (variations) are generated within the mark making process as it occurs. The predictive thinking arises out of intuitive free play, empathy, observation, and memory. There is a distinct similarity in this process to chance mutation and survival (as in the process of evolution) and to all free play in the physical environment.
Freedom is everything Squiggla shares the understanding that the greater the avoidance of conventional rules within free and inventive activity and thought, the greater the effectiveness of a CTET. Squiggla encourages uploads which are inventions and creations of compositions from any sort of marks and at any skill or experience level. This use of that most basic concrete human creative product, the mark allows anyone to begin/revisit the heuristic play and learning experience available, motivated by a desire to enhance general creative thinking abilities. In effect, Squiggla encourages the creation of one's own rules in the belief that sustained empirical enquiry out of natural curiosity in one specific field is productive in all the modes of creative thinking.
Chance All human experiences are impacted upon by the arbitrary inputs of time, space, and environment and these are, in turn, active contributors to creative new thoughts. Squiggla encourages productive recognition, interaction, and management of these energies. A player invents methods to increase the effects of chance on the marks being made, recognising the significance it brings to the transformative processes sought. This environment of chance brings an exterior input to the creative process and enhances the discovery of joy a Squiggla is seeking. The impact of outside influences which bring together mark making with things in the wider world constitutes the formative processes that shape our lives and ourselves. These influences have different degrees of effect on the individual's input to a novel idea. What is paramount, by way of contribution to the creative act, is the disparities between externally given data inputs and the ability of the mind to create new objects having infinite degrees of new meanings—including also the meanings of the process itself.
Play matters A CTET works best if it is fun. Squiggla is a learning game that everyone can enjoy right from the very start. Play is encouraged as a means to best discover new ways of thinking and making marks. Mind, body and environment interact in an energised natural living process, encompassing aesthetic, mental and physical play. Pure disinterested, purposeless and childlike individual yet non- competitive play is rich in potential for the discovery of understandings. The play is between body, mind and environment within time and space. Heuristic play is an active environment for learning for young and old. Primal playtime really matters.
Risk taking and making mistakes Willingness, even a desire to make so-called "mistakes", is an important part of being a free and creative Squiggla. The process echoes the evolutionary process which itself depends on mutations: replications that go wrong. Being skilled at bad replication is essential for fully free, creative, mark making. David Bohm (2012, 67) explains, "One thing that prevents us from thus giving primary emphasis to the perception of what is new and different is that we are afraid to make mistakes ... If one will not try anything until he is assured that he will not make a mistake in whatever he does, he will never be able to learn anything new at all. And this is the state most people are in."
Seeking stimulation Humans must have continual stimulation to survive. Our eyes move rapidly as they scan, searching the field to select the desired object upon which to focus. The withdrawal of stimulation is psychologically destructive as people naturally seek activities, interests, and change. With its focus on minimal means—that of mark making—Squiggla stimulates generative solutions via embodied activities, fulfilling the desire of an ever-enquiring, curious mind.
Heuristic learning Self-discovery, as a primary heuristic process of learning, is deeply embedded in Squiggla practice. Bohm (2012, 46) explains how "the essence of learned perception is being able to see in any situation, what fact is and what it is not". Memory enables a second heuristic opportunity: a means to enable play with stored abstract knowledge out of one's own experience or via learning from others. It is the senses which deliver the means to enable this distinction, and it is through development of one's sentient awareness that we reach the most productive understanding of the creative process between ourselves and the world.
Habitual activity People continuously and subconsciously respond to lived experience, constantly establishing and reshaping methods of processing learnings, building and rebuilding efficient neural default settings (pathways) for different situations as required. Developing these habitual settings is achieved through repetition—arguably true of anything we wish to master. Squiggla effectively provides three aesthetically appealing galleries for image uploads of physically drawn Squigglaworks, and rewards for quantity which motivate continual and habitual use. This also provides a bonus: the availability for the player to track their history of mark making over time. Children learn through play experiences. A weakening of these processes occurs if their habitual use reduces, as it tends to do when the child attends school where education is generally dominated by delivering conventionally and collectively approved knowledge.
Aesthetics Novel and creative objectification of sensed data is ultimately completed out of our desire for harmony and wholeness:, a gestalt for living. Renowned scientist David Bohm (2012, 124), who engaged closely with the visual arts during his career as a theoretical physicist, claimed that the creative impulse aims at:
a certain oneness and totality, or wholeness, constituting a kind of harmony that is felt to be beautiful .. .The artist, the musical composer, the architect, the scientist, all feel a fundamental need to discover and create something new that is whole and total, harmonious and beautiful. Few ever get a chance to try to do this, and even fewer actually manage to do it. Yet, deep down, it is probably what large numbers of people in all walks of life are seeking when they attempt to escape their daily humdrum routine by engaging in every kind of entertainment, excitement, stimulation, change of occupation and so forth in which they ineffectively try to compensate for the unsatisfying narrowness and mechanicalness of their lives.
The deliberate bringing to consciousness of one's sentient awareness is the key to developing critical thinking. It changes the mode of cognition and delivers an expanded experience of reality. Many discover the aesthetic choice process within play, where relationships between things are freely explored, giving exciting pleasurable experiences in the process. Lack of awareness of one's aesthetic sensibility is widespread and a negative attitude towards it is a serious reality for many through limited education. Sustained awareness within the process delivers cognisance of beauty as a subject reality, a feeling of its significance and fulfilment in the maker and the understanding it delivers of our natural state in the world. This is all intuitively sensed during and following the experience. Kant held the idea that the aesthetic response involves a playful interaction between imagination and understanding (Mattey 1986) Squiggla provides a platform for exercising our need to discover beauty.
Awareness Squiggla delivers a "learning-to-slow-down" process when seeking meaning, allowing for growth of fully intuitive self-awareness as a contributor to the discovery of novel ideas. Deep, attentive knowing attends to the activity involved in watching one's hand use the materials in mark making. The progression of the unique concrete marking process significantly engages the creative mind. The creator becomes first viewer; a special privilege, the emotional choices and the "flow state" important to generative outcomes are made possible. These are the key drivers of the creative impulse and are significant for the development of connections across other domains of generative thinking. They also widen opportunities for inductive recognition of analogous forms from which discoveries result. Everyone is capable of developing the self-awareness needed to do this, but the demands of living can divert minds and senses from the particular effort required.
Joy Squiggla recognises that marks recognition and invention by early humans supported survival and reproduction, and contributed to the development of social skills, tools development, rituals, and languages. Positive emotional responses (pleasures) within marks became rewards for biological mutations that were advantageous to the development of the creative mind. Obviously, skills in reading animal tracks and replicating them as needed, contributed consequential pleasures. Ritual and play activities included marking, as they still do. Creative thoughts and acts deliver a special mix of satisfactions including a joyful sense of submission, calm and fulfilment, unity, expectations, social recognition, empathetic awareness, and subjective pleasures in observation, touch and movement are available to everyone.
Deliberate divergent action Squiggla is a practical and accessible safe space in which to practise deliberate concrete, divergent, risk-taking activity that assists in the general development of inventive, open, and enquiring methodologies of thinking. The privately made mark becomes a source of enjoyment in this kind of risk taking, providing pleasure in surprise, excitement in expectations, and it stimulates the exercise of innate curiosity. In many domains of activity, especially in workplaces, laboratories, schools, and even in sports, it is often difficult to be fully free to explore risks for their own sake—as is required in the development of creative thinking.
Avoiding quality judgements Often mark making is subjected to viewing by others. There can be a desire on the part of the maker to share the joy in its realisation. The problem is that many such viewers bring conventions of belief regarding image making that encourage a judgement based on accuracy and skill in fully mimetic rendering of an observed object and expectations within of levels of recognition of meaning. This negative influence can appear even if it is not expressed in words. It often arises from lack of knowledge and the dominating conventions of seeing, along with a desire to reinforce the security of opinion and ego. This socialisation effect on image making in our society is so deeply conventional that the maker's own judgements can be impacted upon unconsciously, destructive of the very practice that is essential to the most productive, non-judgemental play. Stopping mark making because of such negative quality judgements either by the self or another, denies achieving the benefits of sustained repetitive activity and its related creative mind development. The Squiggla App is designed to assist in overcoming this problem by the provision of an online private My Squigglaworks Gallery.
My Squigglaworks Gallery is where created works can be stored or deleted as the player chooses. This gives the player an option to choose what they wish to share and to avoid negative criticism from others. So, a CTET such as Squiggla best operates in the private, personal activity space, avoiding uninformed negative judgements, comments, and instructions from others. Private creative activity is far more richly rewarding for mind empowerment than passive consumption of others' ideas.
Ease of access and use To maximise efficacy, a CTET such as Squiggla needs to be readily accessible, effective, and efficient in its use, and low in practical demands of time, cost, and social engagement. Access to actual making activities outside of consumer audience participation in our society is often limited, requiring significant costs and time before productive engagement can happen. These can include costs of education resources and specialised equipment for use in the activity, and investment of significant time and effort: all issues which impact negatively on access. Creative activities, having a general goal of developing creative thinking and not performance ambitions, are hard to find.
Avoiding skill barriers A CTET such as Squiggla is best designed to be accessible for everyone, regardless of skill levels. This is to avoid requirements of experience in the making functions involved which could impact on entry to the game. Squiggla is based on the use of an activity of mind and hand which is natural to everyone; making a dot or a line with a marking tool of any kind. Meanings attach to marks out of the mark-making activity through introspection and contemplation over time, energising consequential, imaginative thinking within abstract signs. Squiggla facilities this by firstly activating the intuitive, heuristic natural skills of dot and line making that are within everyone's reach, including the very young and the inexperienced. David Bohm states that:
The ability to learn something new is based on the general state of mind of a human being. It does not depend on special talents, nor does it operate only in special fields such as science, art, music, or architecture. But when it does operate, there is an undivided and total interest in what one is doing. Recall, for example, the kind of interest that a young child shows when he is learning to walk. If you watch him, you will see he is putting his whole being into it. Only this kind of whole hearted interest will give the mind the energy needed to see what is new and different. (1971, 3)
It is the focused intensity of the desire to learn that matters. Squiggla provides opportunity for access to the creative energies involved by deliberately starting the process within an unskilled natural activity: that of mark making.
Avoiding ego problems Skill-based performances which are driven by expectations of communal admiration and approval, or by career ambitions grounded in adulation of others or financial success (or both) divert and disrupt the productive effects of private, individual, creative thinking activity. The understanding and experience of these are most effectively achieved through individual activity of pure creative intent delivering joy in fulfilment. Squiggla is designed to minimise the ego problem and maximise the engagement and awareness of the creative experience.
The creative state' of mind is impossible if one is limited by narrow and petty aims such as security, furthering of personal ambition, glorification of the individual or the state... Although such motives may permit occasional flashes of penetrating insight, they tend to hold the mind prisoner of its old and familiar structures of thought and perception. Besides, such aims are not compatible with the harmony, beauty, and totality that is characteristic of real creation. (2012, 12).
A Squiggla player may develop marking skills towards artistic goals but there is need for care whilst emphasising appreciation and understanding of the purer goals of creative thought and activity to avoid the ego problems which so easily emerge. The development of general creative thinking skills based on private aesthetic invention is the goal in Squiggla. Seeking other goals, including the admiration of others of one's skills in mimetic rendering, is limiting of the resources of mind needed in the process of free search and discovery.
Pre-lingual Mark making is a universal, pre-lingual, concrete, creative activity. It shapes the mind of users even before conventions of meaning attach to marks (as in all written languages); sentient intuitive discovery empowers the creative mind process itself. Therefore, we dream in images, where our subconscious operates and perhaps it also explains why people have ideas in the shower.
Expression as experience Any mark carries the emotional expression of its maker. There are unique physical realities in the making which reveal themselves as the process happens, arising from interactions of hand tool, medium, mind and environment. Exploring and recognising these, qualities is important to discovering the potential of the creative outcomes which can result from using Squiggla. By using original expression not possible on a digital screen (see Digital section below), the physical mark reveals deeply personal influences which enhance the vitality and significance of each mark. Compositional choices enhance the outcome. Squiggla encourages this process by enabling awareness and unique learning outcomes for each player.
Reflection Contemplation of the body's interactions with its environment are productive of learnings of self and are important to the thinking/acting processes of marking. The close observation of the physical realities engaged, and the choices made over the character and sequence of marks as they are made in relation to each other and their Squigglaspace, enable the predictive thinking processes in the mind to operate and develop. This includes the functions of analogous responses of infinite variety and degree where similarities are discovered.
Use of the digital Squiggla uses a digital platform that supports real off-line activity. This promotes fully empowered sentient experiences of the physical which are important to holistic thinking in education, and disrupts the questionable effects of time spent with a limiting flat small screen and two thumbs! The impact and character of various marking tools and materials within various spaces where the arms rule the fingers whilst textures, colours, light reflections, scale, and chance have their voice are all important for wider and deeper sentient experiences. Love of media and their behaviour in contact with each other and the surface, and of tools and papers all contribute to the passion that activates the spirit of the creative process.
Getting started Pedagogy is achieved best via inspiration, live demonstration, encouragement to play, and enthusiasm for invention when it happens. Having a wide range of marking tools and media prompts processes of invention where the different characteristics of marks are explored.
Bohm, D. 2012. On Creativity. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Feldman, D. H. 1988. "Creativity: Dreams, Insights, and Transformations." In The nature of creativity: Contemporary psychological perspectives, edited by R. J. Sternberg, 217-297. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Huizinga, J. 1971. Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press.
Mattey, G. J. 1986. Kant's Theory of Propositional Attitudes. Kant-Studien 77: 423-440.
Oliver, M. 2016. Upstream: Selected Essays. New York: Penguin Press.