David Byrne begins his new book “How Music Works” with an insight that has dawned on him slowly during his glittering career: “context largely determines what is written, painted, sculpted, sung, or performed.” While ideas, personality and passion are very much at the heart of the making, for something to feel and be recognized as creative depends as much on external factors – the space, the performance, the audience, the feedback, the size, the shape, the mood and so on. Furthermore, so much depends on the internal and external being connected – where creators (be they musicians, artists, chefs, choreographers and so on) and their audiences (collectors, buyers, fans, readers, etc.) are intermeshed in terms of their influence on each other and the creative ideas they generate, share and mold. This seems ever more so, now that social media and the internet have become the glue that binds them; where tweets, blogs, reviews, likes, thumbs up or, if you get unlucky, thumbs down, are the pervasive currency of influence. The flipside of all this online activity is that there are more opportunities for public recognition – which could also mean there are more chances for all of us to get our creative acts acknowledged and appreciated. Well maybe.
Creativity is very much an aspiration we all have and want more of – whether it is at work or in our dreams. But we can’t all be the next Pablo Picasso, Michel Roux, Vaslav Nijinsky or Albert Einstein. A few of us will succeed in becoming famous but most of us will remain on the sidelines.
So what does it take to be more creative – especially for those who have had it beaten out of them at school and any vestige stifled at work? It is hard being creative when pouring over a spreadsheet, unless that is, you are into creative accounting. And therein lies the rub. You have to contravene rules and norms, think the non-obvious and dare to cross boundaries – which many of us find difficult to do.
To help break free from convention one can look to the wisdom of others. There is a plethora of self-help books on creativity vying for our attention on Amazon and piled high in secondhand bookshops. Many are uplifting, positive and easy to read. One I just skimmed through, claimed that it could “help you become an everyday creative person” and in doing so “help you instinctively solve problems more easily, see the world as a richer place and enjoy life more” (Maisel, 2000). Moreover, through unleashing your hidden creativity you will be able to write more deeply and more frequently. “Whatever you do, creativity helps you do it better.” No wonder we crave for more. Just imagine…
But how? Deep and more seem to be at the heart of this pop psychology wisdom. We need to start being deeper, more mindful, connecting more with our inner and outer selves, being more ambitious and letting our guard down more often. Some even go so far as saying loving yourself more will help release the creative juices. I’ve always been deeply suspicious of these kinds of pearls of wisdom. They are a little cheesy and rather huggy-Californian – especially for those of us who are a tad reticent or introverted in feeling.
Maybe the secret is in the doing, not in the feeling or the knowing, and then in the selecting, embellishing and regaling. And maybe we can just be a little more creative – not through having to be deeper or trying harder – but through observing and trying out new ways of engaging with the world and people – such as being a little impish at times. And maybe one does not have to think that being creative is about accomplishing that big thing you’ve always wanted – like writing a great novel, starting to paint again or learning to play an instrument but one can be creative in conversation, in friendship and in deciding what to eat, wear and try out each day. Instead of asking someone what ‘they do’ on first meeting try asking them something unexpected such as what was the funniest/embarrassing/craziest thing they have done that they dare to share with you. That becomes the conversation turner and you never know where it might lead.
David Byrne (2012) How Music Works
Eric Maisel (2000) The Creativity Book