I first met Tim Hurson at the Next Idea Creativity Conference in New York, and have since taken his training on facilitating productive thinking. A very inspiring guy. This is a conversation with him that appeared on “Creativity Post” recently in which he talks about creativity as a learned skill.
Context is everything. I’m a big believer in the importance of play - for both kids and adults. So today, when I heard someone say, very assertively, “You don’t have the right to stop me playing!!!” part of me wanted to cheer, print it on a placard and parade through the streets, repeating it to anyone who cared to listen. Unfortunately, the someone was my three-year-old. And she was talking to me. And it was bedtime. So, lo and behold, my belief in bedtime won out over my belief in play. Funny, that :)
“Creativity is paradoxical. To create, a person must have knowledge but forget the knowledge, must see unexpected connections in things but not have a mental disorder, must work hard but spend time doing nothing as information incubates, must create many ideas yet most of them are useless, must look at the same thing as everyone else, yet see something different, must desire success but embrace failure, must be persistent but not stubborn, and must listen to experts but know how to disregard them.”—Michael Michalko
One of the things I miss from my old life (you know - that fictionalized time that came before kids, jobs, responsibilities, and the accompanying pressures on time, energy and headspace*) is the ability to produce art on a whim.
Art on a whim. You get a good idea, you play with it, and you execute it, without worrying too much about the why. Ideas don’t have to earn their place in your life’s work - if they seem interesting, they get attention. I’ve been through times in my life where whim has been an exciting and alluring muse, a temptress that flirts coyly and takes me all sorts of places I couldn’t anticipate. But I see that now as a bit like a lifetime of first dates - fun, empowering and loaded with potential, but ultimately a little hollow. A little lacking in the “meaning” department.
Now, with so many competing priorities (and perhaps - sigh - a bit more maturity) I find I am more mindful of how and where I’m going to invest my creative energy, especially when it’s unpaid work that doesn’t have a complementary function like serving a client or paying the bills.
I find myself asking “How does this fit in with my view of myself and my life?” “Does this project have enough personal meaning for me to invest in?” “Is this important enough to add to an already full plate?” Or, to return to the dating metaphor, “Will I still love you in the morning?”
I’m less spontaneous, as a result, and more inclined to check in with myself about what’s important to me. It’s not always easy - it means passing on great ideas, letting go of the belief that ideas and project embryos are sacred, and applying a kind of ruthless prioritization to possibilities.
I think that a good middle way would be ideal. Spontaneous enough to be able to jump on interesting ideas for no better reason than that they seem fun, but not so reactive that I believe that any good idea is good enough to throw myself into. Careful enough that I chose projects that have meaning for me, but not so careful that I think myself out of projects by over-questioning their purpose. A little from Column A and a little from Column B.
What about you? What does “whim” mean to you? Does it have positive or negative associations for you in your creative work? Does it imply playfulness and exuberance, or lack of direction? When is it useful and when does it get in the way?
(*Although it’s true that, as a parent, I have less “freedom” to produce art on a whim now, I have to be careful about idealizing what it was like before - the need to earn money, juggle responsibilities and negotiate demands on my time are certainly not recent things! :))
If you are a politician in the arts and culture “sector” and you want a surefire way to piss off an audience of artists, refer to them as “content providers” and tell them they should never produce anything that doesn’t have an established “market”…
It’s a remarkably effective way to make fast and committed enemies!