Have you ever walked into a place, rubbed your hands together and said to yourself, “I could really do some great work here?” Artists and musicians have studios, craftsmen have workshops, professors and pastors have studies, and scientists have laboratories. Sitting in a room with a view of the ocean or looking out the window of my office at the pine trees in my back yard does this for me.
Where is your creative space? Where do you go to do your best work? One of my artist friends, describes her studio as her sanctuary. It is her “safe place.” When she is in her studio, she is able to create, try out new concepts, and leave her work in progress. Her studio is filled with light. It’s clean and well organized and is just the right temperature for her. It is also the place where no one disturbs her. It is her retreat from the hectic, outside world, a place where she can immerse herself in a private world of concepts and colors.
In his book, The Art and Science of Creativity, George Kneller described the unusual devices some creative people adopted for their working environments. Schiller loved the smell of apples, so he filled his desk with rotten ones; Proust worked in a cork-lined room; Mozart composed after exercise; Robert Frost would write only at night. The extreme case was the philosopher
Immanuel Kant, who would work in bed at certain times of the day with the blankets arranged around him in a specific fashion. While writing The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant would concentrate on a tower visible from his window. When some trees grew up to hide the tower, he became frustrated, and the city fathers of Konigsberg cut down the trees so that he could continue his work.
Now, I am not advocating that you stock your desk with decaying fruit or cut down the trees in your neighborhood. But think about it for a minute: What are the attributes of your optimal working environment? Do you do your best work with music playing or in silence?
Is your space filled with light, or is it dim? Is your ideal work environment formal or informal? Do you have desks and tables neatly arranged in your space, or is your area informal with pillows and cushions scattered about the place?
James Adams in his book Conceptual Blockbusting suggests designing the all-purpose studio. This is the environment in which you can create, paint, write, invent, design, or craft. Remember, if you expect yourself to do creative work then you need a place to do it.
It’s time for me to confess. I wrote most of the words above over 20 years ago in my book, Leading on the Creative Edge. A great deal has happened since 1997 and we work in very different ways. If you were to ask me about my creative space now my answer would be a bit different than when I wrote this. I would tell you that yes, I still enjoy working in my home study that looks out over the pine trees in my yard. But I would also tell that you I have a variety of places where I do my creative work. I do some of my creative work at my office at the International Center for Studies in Creativity. I do other creative work at the coffee shop down the street from my house. One of my favorite creative spaces is the Space Between: The Complex Brain Complex. The Space Between is Western New York’s only dynamic, creative training and ideation work space. It is located on the Erie Barge Canal in Lockport, New York. As soon as you walk in the door of this complex, the creative juices begin flowing. I absolutely love working there.
Today, however, I am working in downtown Buffalo, New York. I am sitting at a desk in one of my friend’s offices. The large windows of his office look out over the east side of Buffalo. It is a rainy gray afternoon. Through the rain and fog, I see the outline of the Buffalo New York Central Railroad Terminal. Built in 1929, at its peak, approximately 200 trains used the terminal daily. This is the terminal that Alex Osborn, the inventor of brainstorming would walk through to board a train that would take him to his New York City office of the advertising agency BBDO in the 1940’s.
Sadly in 1979, Amtrack abandoned the Central Terminal. As I am looking at the 17-story office tower of the terminal I wonder what it must have been like to wander through that amazing building at the height of the Central Terminal’s history. What would be the smells, the sounds? What would I be seeing as people bustled through this amazing transportation hub at its 20th century peak?
So where are YOUR creative spaces? Where ever your creative spaces are, use them as your sanctuary, your safe places, your places to create, dream and wonder. I just took a great creative journey sitting here looking out through a rain storm at an amazing old building steeped with history. It gave me some great inspiration to write this piece.
The rain is slowing down and I can see the Central Terminal tower again. I wonder… I just wonder…
Author: Roger L. Firestien, Ph.D.