Research shines light on the power of creative expression

Jasmine Soria
Staff Writer 

Grace Xia Zhao, chair of the music department, and Dion Johnson, director of art galleries, presented their research “Giving is Recycling: as a Generative Cyclical Model for Creativity and Social Connections” on Tuesday in the Lewis Center Classroom. 

Zhao and Johnson were part of a fellowship where they conducted research on creative expression and the power creativity has.

Zhao is a second-year Lewis Center Fellow and established a project called Harmonia and plans to create an organization of musical approaches to well-being. Zhao has performed in many different places and considers music to be her salvation. 

She introduced the lecture by sharing her experience as a pianist, the power of creativity and what the process of creative endeavor is, and why one pursues it. Art applies to creativity overall, not just art or music, but graphic arts, performing arts, visual arts, and literature. They are forms of expression that require creativity.

She mentioned that the research is based on who she is and her lived experiences as a performing artist. She began playing the piano at age five and considers it her “bread and butter.”

Johnson is a visual artist and currently has an exhibition, “Color Play,” at the LA Louver. 

“My work is visual and can be thought of in a musical sense,” Johnson said. “The piece, Red Rhythm, has layers of color similar to layers of sound; it has lots of changing movement.” 

The lecture discussed what social connection looks like in the arts. It is the desire to have a creation reach an audience and be an inspiration to future creators. They mentioned the act of participation informs and inspires creative endeavors. 

“We hypothesize that the relationships between these constructs, creativity, and social connections, is circular and regenerative,” Zhao said. 

According to the Csikszentmihalyi Systems Model of Creativity, it is defined as a social phenomenon that involves working in the field and domain and having a deep knowledge of the domain. While there are also different levels of creativity, including experimentation, means end, voice, and vision. 

“I am waiting for a piano to be placed in the Harris Art Gallery, with Zhao playing and Johnson painting. Combine the two art forms, feeding off of each other in that form of creative expression.” Kenneth H. Marcus, professor of history, said. 

Dion oversaw the fall 2022 “Vantage Point” exhibition and emphasized Nadia Angelines’ work. The piece contained large-sized canvas paintings that showed the different things humans experience as they grow up. In pieces like these, art becomes an openness of vulnerability.

“As a music major, creativity is something that I always strive to include in my projects and other musical endeavors,” Kolani Smith, sophomore music major, said. “I think this presentation really added to my idea of creativity and gave me some new ideas to work with,”   

Jasmine Soria can be reached at

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