What’s the difference between an artist and a technician? I suspect that the answer to that really depends on whom you’re talking to. I’m sure a lot of artists would say there’s all the difference in the world, but I’m not so sure I agree. I also think there are a lot of artists who get a lot done who might question the notion that there’s a cut-and-dried categorical difference between the two.
A lot of what really separates people who make art on an active, daily basis from people who don’t (but perhaps imagine that they could, or would like to) is not some mysterious source of ‘inspiration’ but technical skill and the experience it’s based on. And maybe even more than that, it’s about attitude. It’s about fearlessness.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because I’ve been immersed in a task that was highly technical in nature, and less overtly ‘artistic’ than usual. However, it has in a way been highly creative and satisfying and I thought it would be interesting to explore that a little – and get around the music-and-art-bias that sometimes pervades things around here.
I’ve been thinking about joy.
Perhaps triggered by the last post here, where it formed the focus of my central complaint about an otherwise quite amazing and important book… perhaps heightened by being near the end of a two-month holiday away from my instrument and principal creative medium, and looking forward to a blissful reunion.
Regardless, joy and creativity are on my mind, and I’d like to explore the connection between them a bit further this week. In my opinion and experience there has to be some joy in the creative process, on some level, even with dark material (and trust me, I’ve contributed to some very dark material), or else the whole thing feels hollow and cheap.
I have to be careful here, because this is dangerously close to a kind of Kumbaya, rose-coloured-glasses view of creativity and art as essentially light and fluffy, warm and fuzzy. There is no lack of this around the net, and I am not eager to add to it; generally it strikes me as unexamined and shallow.
No, I’m after something deeper, a kind of spiritual joy that comes from much more intensive and uncompromising self-observation and examination. I want to understand this joy and try to figure out what makes it tick, and how we might create the circumstances that give rise to it, a little more often…
So, as mentioned in the last post I spent some time with a number of old friends last week, and several of those I also count among the more creative people I’ve had the privilege of knowing over the years.
Today I’d like to be a bit more specific about this… and take the opportunity to talk about something I haven’t really touched on yet in these pages: collaborative creativity.
In many ways I am a fairly solitary creator much of the time, but as a performing musician I also find myself in collaborative situations quite frequently. Moreover, I have maintained a number of highly fruitful long-term associations with particularly gifted and creative musicians. One of these is my friend Ed Roman.
I visited Ed last week and we spent two days in the studio laying down some tracks for his new album. Although my involvement in the project ended a bit prematurely (due to a dental emergency), it was productive and inspirational and drew my attention to a few aspects of collaboration that seem worth exploring here…
I am writing this on a train, around the midway point on a journey from Montreal to Toronto. Trees and farms whiz by my window, accompanied by the familiar sounds (clickety clack! clickety clack! And an occasional whistle blast…) and the gentle back-and-forth movement.
I love traveling by train and do a lot of it in my adopted home of Germany; less so here in Canada, as there are fewer places to go by train and life seems to be organized much more around cars. We don’t even have a car in Berlin, in fact we’ve never even considered having one there.
Actually I love traveling just about any way – trains, planes (I’ve waxed nostalgic elsewhere about the magic of looking down on clouds), boats (especially sailboats), on foot, by bicycle, or even by car – I like a good road trip as much as the next guy/gal. I’ve even ridden elephants and camels when the opportunity presented itself; more on that shortly.
I suppose I have traveled more than a lot of people, though that has never been a goal per se; certainly I am a featherweight by the standards of someone like Chris Guillebeau. But compared to most people that grew up in the small Ontario town I did, or others like it all over the world, I’ve seen a few places (I’m up to 25 countries or so now, some extensively). And of course I have made my home for over ten years in a country and culture far from my own.
Has this impacted my creative life and work? Undoubtedly. Has it made me more creative? Or has my natural inclination towards the creative worldview also predisposed me towards making the most of travel opportunities? Hard to say. In any case it is part of my creative life… More
I have spent the past week at a family reunion: my parents have been hosting their four children, four grandchildren and associated partners at their country home in Nova Scotia. It’s been a lovely, if somewhat hectic visit, and has kept me away from the writing table for the most part…
However, in pondering what aspect of creativity I might like to tackle next in these pages, it has occurred to me (as it often does) that my immediate circumstances might offer some inspiration. More precisely, I have been wondering about how my family, both immediate and extended, may have influenced my creative development, as well as the ideas and thoughts about creativity that are the subject of this blog.
And of course this isn’t just about me – as always, I don’t think I’m particularly special or unique in this and likely the same kinds of influences are operating in your life as well, whether or not you consider yourself particularly creative. I want to think about this in a more general way, starting from my own experience and extrapolating from there.
I bought a new keyboard recently. And I don’t mean the one I’m typing on – which could certainly use an upgrade, to be sure, but I’m referring to a much bigger one with black and white keys that makes music. It’s quite a serious one, a real professional tool with bells and whistles, not to mention buttons and knobs and flashing lights, galore. Oh, and the whole thing is fire-engine red, and made in Sweden. If you’re a serious keyboardist like I am, this is something to drool over – and in fact, I’ve been wanting one for years.
So why am I doing this now, rather than years ago? Well, for a number of reasons really, which I’d like to explore here as a kind of framework for investigating the third type of creative commitment: to the tools and techniques that take our work to another level. We have to be committed not only to the idea of creativity, but to the reality of it as well, and this often requires investment in money and time that may not return directly for years or decades to come.
While I am a self-confessed gear nut and can get pretty ‘into’ music technology, amongst a number of other varieties, I have been on a low-acquisition kick lately and have have been pulling away from this kind of thing for a while. This has been educational, to be sure, and liberating in a number of ways, but due to a confluence of factors – first, I landed a steady gig for next winter (not the one I auditioned for last month, but in the same vein) for which I will need a solid reliable and professional unit; and second, I found this one about to go very, very reasonably on eBay. So I jumped.
It’s not the first ‘serious’ keyboard I’ve owned, of course. I’ve been buying and selling gear on some level most of my life, and in and of itself on a purely monetary level I can confirm that it has been a disaster of an investment strategy. However, not all ROI (Return On Investment) is measurable in purely quantitative terms and if I start to think about how all this gear has affected my creative journey over the 25 or so years I’ve been pursuing music as my life’s calling, a very different picture emerges. More