What is the link between subversion and creativity?

I realised that after talking about it for a long time, I haven’t actually recorded what I found and summarised my thoughts.

I enjoyed researching this subject immensely and found myself getting deep into the area, I would not have anticipated the conclusions I now draw.

When I reflected on my process, I realised that it resembled a tree, I started off with a trunk with one question on.  I divided it into two – subversion and creativity, neither of which I knew much about, my aim was to understand these two areas fully, before I could then see where one influenced the other.   Each time I read a book, article or found an artist, the topic branched, one idea led to another, until I had numerous ‘leaves’.

My sketchbook….

At first I concentrated on subversion, a subject I had not thought about before.  I read from books, looked at articles online and researched many artists.   I could have done several talks just about them but sadly there was not time.   Picasso, Georgia O’Keeffe, Francesca Woodman, Banksy, Jann Haworth, Martha Rosler – there is an endless list of artists who subverted the politics of the day or peoples’ thoughts and opinions.

Researching Banksy was especially interesting as I thought I knew his work but discovered that he has been responsible for so much more than I realised.  What I like about his work is the intelligence with which it is staged – it is always carefully planned, perfectly placed and always challenges some belief or opinion whilst maintaining a healthy sense of humour about serious subjects.

Subversion can be bold and obvious or extremely subtle.  It is a form of rebellion, kicking back against the status quo.

I read about the Trickster character in mythology and felt that, this eternal character, was part of our makeup, and the source of subversion.   Tricksters are dangerous, have no respect for authority or the rules.  They mess things up and this is how society progresses and moves forward.

During the time of doing the research I wanted to do something ‘subversive’ myself.   Initially I felt that being subversive meant being somewhat offensive (often just for the sake of it) and since that isn’t really ‘me’ I did think of being overly polite as a subversion of subversion!   I thought about having t-shirts made with things like “Thank you very much” and “No, after you!” or perhaps “Yes please” on them but firstly I found upon doing some research that you can already get t-shirts that say such things and secondly, some phrases may still have been misconstrued as sexual, which was not my aim.    I then considered my existing art practice which is somewhat subversive already – to accepted watercolour painting techniques anyway – as I paint with watercolour neat from the tube directly onto the paper, using a cut down DIY paintbrush from B&Q.

The void – watercolour & mixed media Ailsa Brims

I started to look at creativity and the information I found was fascinating.   At the start of this, I would have assumed that being creative was genetic – I come from a creative family for instance, my great-grandparents, great-aunt, aunt, father and two cousins are/were all artists.   It seems that there is a small genetic component, but the story is much more complex.   Creativity it seems is not a ‘thing’ it’s a process that is multifaceted, and combined with a selection of character traits, personal histories and a bit of luck will manifest itself as creative.   Perhaps creativity seems to run in families because the particular character traits that it requires are encouraged within families, skills are also learnt at your parents knee which combine to make being creative seem a desirable use of time.

I am always interested in psychology and wanted to look into where certain creative and subversive traits come from.    I am familiar with Eric Berne’s Transactional Analysis (TA) model of ego states and I propose that the free child described in TA is the same as Trickster described in mythology and by Jung as an archetype.   I believe that this is the source of creativity.

It was fascinating to bring these threads together and show how certain traits may be influenced by our ego state, our very early upbringing and our later childhood experiences (which shape us emotionally).   All of this is conjecture of course but I have discussed it with a psychotherapist who feels it is a reasonable conclusion to draw.    Regarding creativity being genetic, it has long been believed that psychological issues and behaviours are passed from parent to child (subconsciously) and so, if some degree of emotional impact is necessary for creativity to flourish (Grayson Perry certainly feels it is – Reith Lectures 2013), then this will also be replicated down generations, albeit being diluted and changed by each one.

Having done a great deal of reading and research, I mapped out what I had learnt and from that my conclusions were fairly straightforward.   Subversion is so closely linked with creativity as to be indistinguishable from it, but it is possible to be creative without being subversive.   However, creativity without a point to make could be considered, well, pointless and I would argue that subversion gives creativity its purpose, its energy and drive.

Is there any great art work that is not subversive?

Interesting reading

Andreasen, N. (2014). Secrets of the creative brain. The Atlantic, 62-75.

Banksy. (2005). Wall and piece. London: Century.

Banksy does New York. (2013). Sky Arts.

Barrett, E., & Bolt, B. (2010). Practice as Research. United Kingdom: IB Tauris Co.

BBC Documentary. (2015, 11 3). Imagine – Anthony Gormley.

Cantu, L., Gundersen, D. E., & Rozell, E. J. (2012). Creativity and critical thinking: What is it? Who has it? How do we get more of it? Feature Edition, 108-126.

Chang, C. (2015, 2 27). What does it take to be a genius? Retrieved 11 22, 2015, from News.com.au: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/mind/what-does-it-take-to-be-a-genius/news-story/bd8024eccbd66bf910cd23cfc3f3beef

Clare Strand . (2015, 12 3). UP Photography Lecture.

Gompertz, W. (2015). Think like and Artist and lead a more creative, productive life. Penguin Books.

Gray, C. &. (2004 ). Visulising Research: A guide to the research process in art and design. Ashgate Publishing.

Hyde, L. (2008). Trickster makes this world: how disruptive imagination creates culture. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.

Joines, V., & Stewart, I. (2002). Personality Adaptations. Kegworth: Lifespace Publishing.

Joines, V., & Stewart, I. (2003). TA Today – an introduction to Transactional Analysis. Nottingham: Russell Press.

Loori, J. D. (2005). The Zen of Creativity: cultivating your artistic life. New York: Ballantine.

McNiff, S. (1998). Art based research. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Sachs S, Minioudaki K. (2010). Seductive Subversion – women pop artists 1958-1968. New York: Abbeville.

Sullivan, G. (2010). Art practice as research. United States: Sage Publications.

The Reith Lectures – Grayson Perry. (2013). Retrieved 2015, from BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00729d9/episodes/downloads

Think Different. (n.d.). Retrieved 11 30, 2015, from The Crazy Ones: http://www.thecrazyones.it/spot-en.html



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