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
Once upon a time, I ran away to join the circus. Not a big-top-style circus with elephants and lion-tamers, but a circus nonetheless. And no, I’m not speaking figuratively. About 11 years ago, when we still lived in Canada, I got a call from an old friend who asked me if I would be interested in moving to Europe and playing piano in a show that he had been working in for a while, for pretty good money. The catch was that I had to be there the following week.
If that’s not a test-your-fearlessness moment, I don’t know what is.
As it happened, my then-girlfriend (now my wife) and I had ‘put the idea out there’ not long before that we would like to do some more traveling. But not in the backpack-and-railpass kind of way – we’d done a fair bit of that already; we were interested in living and working somewhere else for a while. And here was an opportunity to do exactly that.
So we took the plunge and, although much water has flowed under many bridges since then, we are still living in Germany a decade later. And while I left that particular show 6 years ago, I find myself working for a very similar outfit again now, and it’s given me a few things to think about – yet another lens through which to look at the endless subject of creativity through… More
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.
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…
(This article contains reworked material from a post on my previous blog, ‘Cliffjump!’)
Steven Pressfield wrote a post yesterday called ‘Do It Anyway‘, which got me thinking. It’s about powering through the “first I have to…” conditions and excuses we create to justify putting off our creative work. I wrote a comment:
By giving any playtime whatsoever to the ‘first I have to’ demons, we are giving ourselves permission to delay, hedge our bets, stew a little while longer, and generally talk ourselves off the ledge of doing something that might put us at risk of being laughed at. This is directly at odds with the permission we actually need to give ourselves, which is to get on with it, to try and (possibly) fail – or, just as possibly, ace it.
… And then I realized I had more to say. I’m not sure it’s quite as easy as Just Doing It. If it were, a lot more work (creative and otherwise) would get done. The fears that hold us back are more complex than that, they are deep and deeply intertwined. And they become even more insidious when we reconstruct them into habits and systems of rationalized Resistance – to use Pressfield’s own term.
I am not convinced that brute force is the best way to break through these barriers. The excuses we make often cover up old, deep, or very raw wounds, and simply tearing off the bandages might not be wise, or even possible, for everyone. It might work sometimes, for some people, but for many I think it may take more than sheer force of will.
Set up the dominoes
I’ll be discussing this more, and offering my own ‘program’ for getting past barriers, in the upcoming Cliffjump! Manifesto. In the meantime, I’d like to offer one remedy that is perhaps a little easier to put into action than simply not making the excuses you’re currently making.