While this blog entry bears the title “How To Be Creative,” I am fairly certain that I made my opinions regarding personal creativity abundantly clear in the previous installment. Suffice to say, everyone is creative. Therefore, the idea of being “more creative,” is really a question of how to enhance the inherent creativity that you already possess. The first part of this series discussed the strategy of exercising your ideas: to attain a higher level of creative fluency, you need to spend time doing creative things. This seems like a painfully obvious admonishment, but very few seem to follow it. More frequent engagement with creative activities is where you begin this quest; the next steps are detailed below.
FEAST ON VARIETY
As an individual moves through life, they tend to develop certain preferences and sensibilities; in other words, taste. Having discriminating taste is often the sign of an artist, for, it is through a strong sense of what one likes and does not like that artistic works are made. But here’s the thing about taste, even the discriminating kind: it changes. As we age, we develop new interests and jettison old ones, depending on who we are during that chapter of our life. For instance, I abhorred Westerns for the majority of my life--I found them boring and archaic. Recently, something has changed. Much to the chagrin of my girlfriend, I find myself watching a lot of old Westerns, and reveling in their morality plays, and depiction of a world rapidly transforming. I’ve changed, as have my interests. However, had I never given Westerns a second chance, I would never have discovered a newfound appreciation for them, and would have been lacking the inspiration that they currently provide me.
The above is important. It is critical that you experiment with a variety of mediums and genres: critical to expose yourself to stories, and styles, and approaches that you’ve never experienced; critical to give things a second chance at a different time. This is the process of exploration, and it is only through exploration that the new is unearthed. And, it is through exposure to the new that you will grow as a creative individual. None of this is to suggest that if you sample French New Wave cinema and despise it--as I do--that you should force yourself to consume more and more out of sheer willpower and a vague hope that you will somehow summon the must through exposure. But, it is to suggest that you entertain artistic experiences that might not seem particularly intriguing upon first impression. If your first impression is confirmed, via trial, then, by all means, abandon the course and move onto something else. And, don’t be afraid to try French New Wave cinema once again, down the line, just to ascertain whether or not your taste has shifted. Finally, don’t be afraid to abandon experiences that no longer speak to you. Throughout my late teens and early twenties, I was colossally inspired by the work of filmmaker David Lynch. In time, there came a point where his particular brand of abstraction no longer spoke to me, not even in a whisper. Perhaps one day I will return to his work to see if I haven’t changed, and if there isn’t some value for me to mine; but for now, David Lynch can no longer be counted amongst my muses. We have a tendency to want to define ourselves, lock our interpretation of this self like an insect in amber. There seems to be some vague fear that if we change, we have lost a handle on who we are. To this, I can only counter the age old maxim: the only constant is change.
THE ART OF COLLAGE
When I was 17, I was obsessed with the band Glassjaw. You’ve probably never heard of them, but they were a very noisy, emotionally brutal band from New York. At that same time, a friend of mine and I produced a severely independent music ‘zine that we would print out in his basement, staple together, and hand out at grungy music venues around the city. One of these mainstays of this ‘zine were interviews with musicians; and, when I saw that Glassjaw was coming into town, there was no way that I wasn’t going to coax them into an interview. The band was extremely accommodating, and after a show at a bowling alley in disuse, they invited us onto their van, where I sat with the lead singer, tape recorder in hand. The most enlightening thing that I drew from our conversation was the concept of the art of collage. The singer explained to me that all art is essentially collage: we pull bits and pieces from the books, comics, movies and songs that we like, and weave them into a novel tapestry. And this is how we generate something new.
Many people who pursue creative labor under the mistaken belief that for them to create something of value it must be entirely novel. This is a fool’s errand, for nothing, in and of itself, is categorically unseen. Everything, all that we do, is simply the synthesis of our inspirations, guided and shaped by our taste. Many artists become paralyzed by this quixotic quest for something hitherto unseen; and they remain paralyzed because this quest is impossible to accomplish. As their frustration mounts, progress stagnates, and they drift from the creative path altogether. This all could have been avoided had they simply embraced the art of collage, and disavowed the phantom of complete novelty.
There is only a single you: more specifically, a single you at this single moment in time. The you of now is an amazing crucible within which mixes specific inspirations and ideas, turning out something that, while not wholly original, is wholly specific to who you are at this point in time. Accept this totally. Accept that other people have written novels about robots turning against their masters, but that no one else has your mind, your experiences, and your specific palette of inspiration--all which you bring to bear on your work. What you make is new, just not new in the way you’ve been taught to interpret the word.
AVOID THE VACUUM
Possibly more important than any other point addressed in this, or the first segment, of this essay on enhancing creativity is that said creativity does not occur in a vacuum. As with essentially everything else in life, creative work can not by accomplished to its fullest while laboring in solitude. Disabuse yourself of the notion that great artists sequester themselves in a cave of creativity, from which they emerge bearing genius. This isn’t how it works. This isn’t how it has ever worked.
Take, for instance, the act of authoring a novel. It seems that our conventional view of novelists is of the lone creator, sitting at a desk, hour after hour, pulling words and ideas from the aether. After an immense amount of effort and time, a book is born from this process. End of story. Not so. These “lone” creators suffer the slings and arrows of the massive undertaking that a novel presents, only through the support of a series of confidants; sometimes, maybe even strangers. Neil Gaiman, one of the most popular fantasists of our time, has been quoted time and time again thanking family, friends, and peers for consuming and commenting on his work. And, once all of that has been completed, authors work intimately with editors to reforge their vision. Creativity never happens in a vacuum.
And how could it? Currently, I am developing an idea for a short film. One of the characters within that film--one of the major characters--is a federal agent. The only things that I know about federal agents have been bestowed to me by films and television; therefore, my understanding is remarkably spotty. This means that I will need to reach out to my network and find someone who has a contact with an current, or former, federal agent. I will then collaborate with this person as a valuable resource for the character that I am creating. Another character is in an orchestra, something else I know very little about. So, I am going to need another contact to enter into another creative collaboration with. Once all of this research has been completed, I will write the script with my main creative comrade, Mr. Steven Brown (Motion Source’s very own Associate Producer). After Steven and I have finished authoring the script, we will share it with a number of friends and confidants whose opinions we feel our sound. Then, on set, we will collaborate with an entire team of wonderfully creative film people to further craft the final vision. One contingent of this team will be the actors, who will assume the responsibility of embodying the characters, a process which always yields new insights further changes to the piece. And… the list goes on.
As, I have hopefully made abundantly clear, no act of creativity happens in isolation. I don’t care what story you’ve been fed, I don’t care who strives to appear as an entirely self-sufficient island of creativity--nothing happens in a vacuum. This is a boon, because we are a social species who needs the input and involvement of others. The fact that creativity is a social experience--to greater and lesser degrees--should make absolute sense in the light of this. Would you be happy locking yourself in a cabin in the woods for three months in an effort to pin the muse to the page? Very few could answer that question in the affirmative. And, when Walden said that he did something similar as a grand experiment, well, he lied. Just ask the internet :)
It is my earnest aspiration that this blog entry, and the previous, have provided you insight in how to enhance your own creativity. I believe in you. I know that you were born a creative being, and continue to be one. And, I am just as aware that many in creative professions embrace the misconception that what they do is some sort of arcane skill confined to a select few. We can’t entirely blame them; we all have a desire to feel unique. But the thing is, you are unique. You do not need to be born with some special talent, or generate some impossibly novel idea to be special. You are special. Now it’s time to create!