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.
This is more of an update post than anything, just a quick note to let people know I’m back in Berlin after a couple of months away. It was a dense summer, there was a lot going on in both our families… but we have made it back intact and are settling into our routines, such as they are.
Actually, speaking of routines, I have just published a guest post for Mike Cliffe-Jones TransGlobe Blog project, which is a neat idea where bloggers from all over the world give a kind of ‘slice of life’ of wherever they are and how they spend their days.
My own entry is typically rambling but I think it gives a good impression of what goes on around here on an average day, as if there were ever such a thing. You can find it here:
Alternately, if you’ve just arrived from there, even better! Welcome, make yourself at home and have a look around the archives or ‘best of’ collection (links at right) to see what this place is all about…
I should have things up and running a bit more smoothly and bring the post frequency back up a little in the coming days; I’ve got a couple of interesting things on deck, so I hope you’ll bear with me…
Have a fascinating day!
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…
Here’s a review of two recent books on creativity that have done rather well for themselves and their authors. The first is ‘The War of Art‘*, by screenwriter and novelist Stephen Pressfield (the title refers, of course, to the 6th century treatise on military strategy attributed to Sun Tzu, the Art of War); the second is the equally wonderfully-titled ‘Ignore Everybody (and 39 other Keys to Creativity)‘* by Hugh MacLeod, a popular cartoonist, blogger and general man-about-the-net.
While this will not be an entirely glowing review, particularly in one case, I want to start by saying that I consider both of these to be essential reading for the creativity space. Despite some misgivings, I think they are extremely valuable and accessible works and I heartily and unreservedly recommend them both.
There are a number of similarities, which is one reason I have chosen to review them together (another is that I happened to buy them together and read them sequentially). Both are edgy, streetwise and a little curmudgeonly, with short punchy chapters and an unapologetic willingness to take potentially controversial positions. Tough love, as it were, from a couple of guys who have done their time in the trenches – which is a nice change from the frequently more academic treatments of the topic.
Both are also written from the perspective of essentially solo artists, and portray the task at hand and the journey we are on as basically an individual endeavor. This might not ring true for everyone; as discussed in my previous post, collaboration is a deep creative well for many artists, and for some it is literally inseparable from the process; neither of these authors really mentions it at all. They may be more attractive to people working in similarly solitary idioms.
Finally, they are both fairly short books; I read each in a sitting-and-a-half, as it were, and will likely dip into them regularly for a bit of inspiration or a kick in the butt from time to time.
There are also some key differences: Ignore Everybody* is more practical, the War of Art* more psychological. MacLeod includes a selection of his own work in cartoon form, where Pressfield only makes reference to his novels and screenplays, in some cases quite self-effacingly. He also uses a lot more sports metaphors; this is the author of ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’, after all (subsequent events have cast a different light on his numerous references to Tiger Woods, but I’ll try not to hold that against him). More
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