Making connections is a creative process

Where do you start when there are too many things to say, organize, write, explain? Which starting point ensures the best route through all the stages? Any point is ok if we consider those things significant, as they are implicitly connected by our own network of meanings. So there will be no risk of losing any on the way, we can interchangeably switch between them. And if we forget one, it probably was not so important.

The possible connections between things are potentially endless. Let’s look at this image (copied by an illustrious master I will soon reveal) as a visual metaphor. In how many ways, with how many shapes can we connect the red dots?

Of course, if there were more points, the number of possible connections would increase. But the real question is: could a larger number of points help us to create connections? In other words: is the quantity of points (or initial data) a relevant variable for our ability to create relations between them?

The French matematician Henri Poincaré defined creativity as the capacity to join scattered elements in new and useful combinations. Thus, the question could also be as follows: does the quantity of starting elements influence the quality of the creative process? As educators interested in the development of creativity, do we wonder about the quantity of stimuli we present to children?

We could also use this graphical tool to visualize the underlying relational patterns of a group. An image can often help us to focus on some aspects of which we were not fully aware: for example, the existence of subgroups, an isolated element, the closure or opening of the structure towards the outside… The representations of the group made by its members will probably be different from each other: common denominators may emerge, as well as individual specificities.

Since these are images, we should not forget the importance of their visual characteristics, of the tools we use for design them. The color, the shapes, the type of line, the disposition and proportions in space: all these features evoke some qualities of the connective structure. Do you see thin, flickering threads traced with a pencil or the strong, massive sign of a permanent marker? A thick and intricate network of angular lines or fluid overlapping areas of watercolor?

Each person will find a different way to connect the same points: in other words, considering the same set of things (or the same items of a problem as well), everyone will “see” different connective shapes. What better metaphor for reminding us that our vision is not the only possible one but one among many possibilities? How does our representation relate to the other ones?

Now it’s time to reveal the author that inspired me these thoughts with his work: “Flight of fancy” is a small, light, precious book by Bruno Munari, published by Corraini Edizioni. The cover of the book has got some pierced points so that readers can continue the game over and over.

In his book “Fantasia”, Bruno Munari develops a similar exploration with a leaf, trying to make its hidden relationships visible, as you can see in his drawing below.

Starting from the tracing of an oak leaf, Munari drew its outline and got out of it a pattern made up of dots. Then he has connected these points in many different ways, creating different relationships between them.

Everyone will find their own shapes but always in relation to the leaf.

We could play the same connection-game with many shapes. For example, the graphic designer Serena Moundrouvalis created a template of starting points for inventing stars. The possible variations are infinite!

Could we apply the same awarness and research of connections in different fields than the visual one? Through some illustrated cards, called Metafore della conoscenza, Donata Fabbri and Alberto Munari (the son of Bruno Munari) invite us to discover the visual metaphors through which we organize and connect our thoughts: is it a labyrinth? Or a tree? A palace full of rooms? How is the visual representation connected to our way of thinking?

Another suitable field for playing with this “connections-game” is the story-telling and the narrative thinking, as connections between characters, things, places form the essence of every story.

This reminds me something I loved to do when I was a child. I cut out figures from magazines and put them in a bag. When I wanted to play, I randomly took out one at a time, put it on the table and gradually invent a story. I think I was designing ever-changing connections between those figures.

It works not only with cutout figures but also with every kind of objects and stuff, like fabrics, leaves, tickets, material fragments, memories, or even words. For example, how could you give value to some pieces of paper as they were precious remains and then combine them for inventing a story?

What other ways of creating connections do you know and use? You are welcome to share for enriching this list… The more connections we can create the more we can choose. Even when the elements we have seem to be few or not interesting, it is the quality of the relationship that can make a difference.