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
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 played an audition last week. For a gig that would really smooth over some bumps in our financial stability, at a big (actually I am told it’s the biggest theatre stage in the world!) and ultra-professional stage show. In all honesty it is artistically not my highest goal in life, but there are not so many solid jobs left for musicians and it’s an opportunity I’m not in a position to blow off.
However, that’s really not what this is about. What’s it about then? In a word, confidence.
It’s been a while since I did one of these auditions and I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it. I should clarify that I rarely ever get any kind of stage fright when actually performing; after thousands of times in front of audiences ranging from rather small to very big indeed, I generally don’t let that particular breed of anxiety get the better of me.
Auditions, however (and exams, though they are likely a thing of the past for me now) have always been a different story. They have always brought out the worst in me, all the self-judgment and second-guessing that this blog is all about transcending. In performance, the feeling that everyone is picking apart your work looking for flaws is largely imaginary; in an audition, it’s entirely real – in fact it’s the whole point. And it’s been an Achilles heel for me as long as I can remember.
This time was different: I found myself with an unexpected feeling of confidence, and I’m interested in uncovering where it might have come from. Let’s break it down. More
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