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
As some of you may have noticed – possibly even if you live in North America! – there’s a bit of a football – err, soccer tournament underway. Kind of a big one, they say. I’m not a ‘real’ sports fan by any stretch, but like many people I appreciate amazing athletic talent and often tune in when a big international competition is on. And I live in Germany… so, I’ve watched a few games of this World Cup and will doubtless watch a few more.
Soccer/Football has an interesting nickname: they call it “the Beautiful Game”. Having learned to watch it with a bit more understanding over the years, I have begun to understand why: there is a good deal of finesse and subtlety in it when it’s played at this level, and sometimes the plays have a beautiful logic and rhythm to them. And when a player or a team is really ‘in the zone’ as the saying goes, their performance often takes on that extra dimension: creativity.
Of course, this is by no means exclusive to ‘the beautiful game’ – I think most sports, even ones I don’t get a lot out of personally like boxing or Formula 1 racing, offer these sublime moments when the normal flow is transcended and magic happens – when a player or competitor takes on that special energy and does things that seem too perfect to be quite human. When someone does that a lot, they become legendary, and every sport has its legends. Watching them in their element can often provide a window into why other people care for a sport that is not to our taste.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall…
So while watching a game last night I was commenting on a particular team’s creativity (I have no idea whether ‘real’ sports fans talk like this, but I do) and it got me to thinking about the relationship between creativity and competition. I think to many people in the arts, which again is my own area of specialization, competition is a four-letter word of sorts. We talk about non-competitive games or activities in the context of encouraging kids’ creativity, and we are nervous about the idea of making judgments about the value of one person’s art or music over another’s.
Perhaps this is as it should be, but I sometimes wonder if we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Is competition really the enemy of creativity? Or might there be something very empowering in it – even outside professional sports? More
I seem to be developing a habit of ‘reaction posts’, but I can’t help it – when I read something provocative, it tends to plant a seed that slowly grows in my mind until it is well beyond the scope of a comment. In this case, I’m responding to Jonathan Fields’ post “The Creative Addiction: Is the Muse Friend or Foe?”.
Fields post consists of a quote from writer Pearl S. Buck and a couple of discussion questions. I’ll begin my discussion with the same quote:
The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…
They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.
Now, this is melodramatic stuff, and plays into a common stereotype of the creative person that is not, I believe, universally or necessarily true.
First of all, I take exception to the inverse implication that if I am not such a sensitive flower – if (say) I can handle a bad day or (heaven forbid!) an actual failure without wilting in a corner or crawling under a rock to lick my wounds, then I must not in fact be a ‘truly creative mind’. I beg to differ.
And then we have the issue of addiction, or at least “strange, unknown, inward urgency”, which probably amounts to the same thing. Is creativity an addiction? This is Fields’ central question, and there are some cogent replies among the comments. Personally I don’t really buy it, or at least I prefer to think about it differently… More
I’ve just finished reading a little ebook by Mark Silver called Backwards, and it’s got me thinking about a few things. It’s a free download (you don’t even have to opt in!) so if the following piques your interest, head on over and grab yourself a copy!
The basic proposition seems to be that in terms of ‘getting what you want’ in life, or building a life you want to live, the popular Law Of Attraction / Manifestation concept might be putting the cart before the horse. Silver offers a ‘heart-centered’ Sufi perspective on how to go about it the other way around. I started thinking about how this might apply to creativity…
I’m not sure the book is for everyone, but I feel it’s a very sincere and powerful little document and well worth a read if you’re open-minded about such things. That said, if the notion that a mystical/gnostic tradition with roots in Islam might have something profound to offer to the modern world is upsetting to you or challenges your core beliefs in ways that make you uncomfortable, you should probably steer clear; then again, you might not be in the right place here, either… More
Well hello there! I’ve been developing the concept for this new blog for the past couple of months, and it seemed appropriate to launch it during World Creativity and Innovation Week – April 15-21, leading up to Earth Day on April 22nd. I don’t know if the connection there is deliberate, but it ties into one of the main things I’ll be talking about in these pages: creativity as a key connection-point between us and the world we live in.
In her seminal book ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success‘*, psychologist Carol Dweck identifies two basic ‘mindsets’ – core beliefs about our intelligence and abilities that determine how we learn, how we see ourselves and what motivates us. They are the Fixed mindset and the Growth mindset. Basically, if you have a Fixed mindset, you believe that your intelligence, talent, creativity, ability, whatever, is innate – you are born with a certain capacity, and that’s that. A Growth mindset is just the opposite – you believe that these traits are plastic, flexible, something to nurture and grow and develop over a lifetime.
This is obviously a very simple idea, and a very broad categorization… and yet I believe it is enormously powerful. Dweck’s research is compelling, and indicates unequivocally that the latter ‘mindset’ is a far more effective and empowering way to view ourselves and our interaction with the world of information we live in. I’d like to take a closer look at this in the specific context of creativity. More