Where does inspiration come from?

Aspasia Paltoglou watches the play 'Tao of Glass' at Manchester International Festival.

How can one find their voice and create something original? Phelim McDermott, in collaboration with composer Philip Glass, as well as puppeteers and musicians, gave us a first-hand insight into the creative process, in the Tao of Glass. The performance tells the story of the experiences and processes that inspired Phelim to write the play, including being mesmerised by the play ‘Billy’s magic kettle’ as a young lad, and, centrally to the performance, his collaboration with Philip Glass. The performance puts the creative process itself under the magnifying glass in a magical and illuminating way.

Having recently immersed myself in the study of creativity, the performance reminded me of several concepts I came across in the literature, such as the role of conscious and unconscious processing in the creative process and the effect of personality traits and states on creativity. I was intrigued by the effect of autobiographical memories and the long-term incubation of ideas described in Tao of Glass; how ideas and experiences can float around in our minds for years, to later become building blocks of our creative output.

I have studied both psychology and music for more years than I care to admit and I am presently enjoying the privilege of training aspiring psychologists. Witnessing Phelim’s adventure and listening to Philip’s mesmerising music made me wonder: what is the effect of formal education on creativity? Do we do enough to help our students find their voice?

Overall, this was a magical performance, leaving my collaborator and myself even more inspired to start exploring the factors that influence creativity. Who knows, perhaps we will eventually write a play describing the adventures behind our research! Tao of Glass would certainly feature in our play – possibly along with kettles and pianos.

Reviewed by Aspasia Paltoglou, a Lecturer in Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University

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