Psychological

The joy of dislocation (creativity and travel, part II)

Anchor [Explored]
Creative Commons License photo credit: Salmando

I have been travelling a lot lately, so I guess that means it’s time for a followup to my old Creativity and Travel post from a couple of years back. I’ve also been reading a bit more than usual, and one of the things I’ve been reading is Jonathan Fields’ excellent book Uncertainty, which I may do a full review of at some point.

I liked a lot of things about Uncertainty, and it rang true in a lot of ways; mostly confirming my suspicion that in many ways I am that oddest of creatures, a person who basically enjoys unstable or unresolved situations, genuinely likes to shake things up, try new and unfamiliar things, take on challenges I don’t know if I’ll be able to meet.

In many ways this ties into my general philosophy of ‘just say yes‘… interestingly, an old friend just contacted me via Facebook and told me that he remembers me from time to time when he uses a story about me learning to tune pianos to try to inspire patients to ‘confidently go forth into areas where they have no apparent skill in the present moment’. Guilty as charged, I suppose!

security blankets

However, I am also human and so despite learned habit I am subject to many basic human instincts and traits, so the idea that we can find ways to mitigate our general distaste for being out on a limb also made a lot of sense to me. One of the key concepts Fields outlines is that of the Certainty Anchor: these are things in our lives that do not change and/or that we feel sure of, that can give us something stable to hold on to while we take risks in other areas.

Many of these consist of routines. We can anchor our threatened sense of self around a set of things we are sure about and that give us a feeling of security – familiar places, people, little rituals or practices we do the same way or at the same time every day. We all do this anyway, but if we pay a bit more attention to it and do it consciously or with more intention, we can increase that feeling of security that allows us to take risks in other ways.

So what does this have to do with travel? Travel is when we cast the certainty anchors aside for a little while and step into the realm of the genuinely uncertain. Or at least, it can be. Why would we want to do that? Read on…

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Keep it secret! Keep it safe!

My preciousnesss
Creative Commons License photo credit: lrargerich

I read a short blog post a few days ago called ‘Creative Privacy‘, which posed the question “Do you agree that it’s best to keep your creative projects private until you’re ready for input and criticism?”… here’s what I posted by way of a comment:

This is a thorny one. I think it really depends on what you’re looking for by ‘letting people in’… and on your degree of artistic confidence. If you’re looking for approval or validation, because you need those things in order to feel OK about your work, then I think there’s danger there for sure. If you’re looking for criticism to hone your ideas, and you’re confident enough to handle that, it can be a healthy part of the process. It’s not necessary – some people create in a very private way, some in a very public way. I’ve experimented with both, and have pretty much arrived at a place where I’m confident enough to have a very open process; the project I’m immersed in now is a relatively public one, where I put out works in a very raw form and I’m not much bothered by how people respond to it. I’m really just happy if there is *some* response as opposed to deafening silence…

Predictably, there was a range of other responses, ranging from the somewhat paranoid (“what if someone steals your idea?”) to the more blustery (“I’m an artist. I don’t care about input and criticism!”). Some found an ambivalent middle ground; I guess you could put my own response in that category.

I think it’s worth examining our responses to this a little more closely, because they say a lot about our relationship to our work…

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Portable Creativity

Old fashioned wheelbarrow
Creative Commons License photo credit: Walt Stoneburner

As mentioned in the previous post, I’m travelling in Canada just now with my family, on our yearly whirlwind visit to see friends and extended family. As I often do, I have a ‘mobile rig’ with me, with a view towards doing some creative work while I’m here, rather than putting everything on hold until I get back to home base in Berlin.

This year I’ve been somewhat more successful at this (so far, at least) than in previous years, partly because I have an ongoing project that lends itself to ‘short-burst’ creativity: the Sound Fascination project. I thought I’d take a moment to look at that and why it’s helping me keep the creative juices flowing a bit more.

I think it’s important to clarify that this is not accidental. It’s kind of built in to the framework of what I’m doing, and that was deliberate. I’m not saying this to blow my own horn and point out how clever I am; it’s taken me a long, long time to arrive at this point and I’ve had to confront a few creative demons along the way. So, in the spirit of learning from my mistakes and sharing the few bits of wisdom I’ve been able to glean in the process… let’s get into it! More

On Commitment, part 4: Why aren’t you out mowing the lawn?

Backyard Hair Cut

Creative Commons License photo credit: seantoyer

In the last post here, I mentioned an interview by a producer/engineer named Scott Solter, and while I was looking it over again, checking it to make sure I had the ideas right, something else caught my eye and subsequently became lodged in my mind. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, probably because it relates directly to both the creative project I’m immersed in right now, and also to a theme I’ve touched on in these pages before: namely, the idea of commitment.

It turns out that this notion is also rather important for Mr. Solter, and in the interview (it’s really more of an introduction to his work and the ideas that inform it, in sixteen short and somewhat oblique chapters) he describes what it means for him. I no longer have the article at hand, being on the road just now – I’m writing this on a train from Berlin to Amsterdam – but here’s what I can recall, and a few things it’s led me to think about…

The interviewer is inquiring about his (Scott’s) recording methodology, on a practical level, whether he prefers to use tape or computers, that sort of thing. With most people working in the audio field, that kind of question will usually lead to discussions of the merits of analog frequency response versus those of rapid, non-linear editing, or the positive effects of tube or tape saturation versus the amazing creative potential of digital signal processing, or the warmth and dimension of analog summing versus the flexibility and accuracy of mixing in-the-box.

If you choose not to decide…

Not so with Mr. Solter (although I imagine he has opinions on all the above, or at least is not unfamiliar with the arguments). For him, the central issue is one of commitment. The problem with working in the all-digital, non-destructive, we-can-always-change-this-plugin-later mode so common in audio production at this point (hint: it’s very much the mode I tend to work in) is that it’s all too easy to defer decisions, to end up not making real creative choices in the moment when we’re creating, which is probably when we should be making them.

To put this in more concrete terms, he illustrates the point with the example of recording a bass part for a track: “If you don’t know what the bass is supposed to sound like, why are you tracking the bass right now? Why aren’t you outside mowing the lawn?”

Being in an audio-industry magazine, the interview was intended for an audience that is more familiar with the technical background, so I’ll embellish a little with my own interpretation and response to this simple but, to me, deceptively powerful idea… More

The Trouble with ‘Should’…

Carrot + Stick < Love
Creative Commons License photo credit: opensourceway

Greetings! Once again I find myself writing here after a much longer absence than I had planned, which is unfortunate – but also, in this case, instructive… Cutting straight to the chase, I have been struggling a little with motivation, focus and productivity lately. Well, actually I’ve been struggling either quite a bit, or not enough, depending on how you look at it. In any case it’s something I’ve been giving a good  deal of thought, and I think some of it merits sharing here. So, on with the show!

A fine kettle of fish

To clarify, I should explain that I have a number of interconnected projects, initiated over the past couple of years, all of which I’m quite invested in but all of which are also somewhat ‘stalled’ in one sense or another. While none of them are exactly poised on the brink of completion, let alone massive success or return on the considerable time and energy investment I’ve put into them, I do feel they all have significant potential in one sense or another – whether on an artistic or business level – and so I’m quite attached to them.

So besides the obvious – too many things on the go – part of what is going on is probably the paralysis that kicks in when I get close enough to something to realize that the stakes are high and failure, possibly public and highly disappointing, is an increasingly real possibility. I seem to suffer from a kind of allergy against going the distance, finishing what I’ve started. A sort of disconnect creeps in and my attention drifts.

How is it that we (assuming this affliction is not unique to me, which strikes me as unlikely) can become so disconnected from meaningful work that we’ve spent valuable time and energy starting, thinking through, imagining and problematizing and re-imagining? More

Fearless Problem-Solving

Maker Faire Africa: Ghana 2009

Creative Commons License photo credit: whiteafrican (from the Maker Faire Africa, Ghana 2009)

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.

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