Saturday, February 19, 2011

Near Limitless

Creativity is one of those buzz words that get tossed around so much in elementary schools that it loses its meaning for most people. When every macaroni drawing by little Timmy Anklebiter is considered The Most Creative Thing Since Davinci (tm) and everyone is expected to agree and swoon lest you hurt Mommy and Timmy's feelings, it can be damned hard to sit down and have an earnest talk about what the word actually means. Like political rhetoric, people's feelings about being the best tend to make a whole lot of noise with not a damned ounce of substance and it all comes from one nagging thought at the back of our heads:

"If I wasn't born gifted, then I am not worth anything."

Which is of course utter horse shit. This is an underlying part of our culture where con artists and advertising agents play host to the devils and demons that haunt us and we obsess over what it means to really be gifted, or creative, or anything like that.

The worst thing you can say to a pro-athlete, or artist, or writer, or any number of other highly skilled professionals is "Wow, you got lucky." First off, how insulting. How the fuck do you come to the conclusion that years of work, study, practice, and dedication have somehow not had any impact on the outcome?

Oh right, I already answered that part. You were told from birth that people are born with these gifts, so obviously that professional X that you were talking too was just going to do whatever it was anyway so no worries.

This would be a good time to learn what its like to be dead wrong.

Many people are born with natural talents, it is true. But how many of them have any chance at real success? Not much it turns out. Athletes train every damned day. Writers pour out thousands of words that never even see a printed piece of paper, let alone the inside of a bookstore shelf.

This brings me back to my original point: Creativity, and what it is. First big surprise: it is a learned skill. Inherently creativity is nothing more than chewing up little bits of this fitful sleep we call reality and then digesting them into little proteins that our brains can then use to fuel a furnace that churns out our dreams. Thats it. Just a drawing of connections between point A and point B in a way that makes it so we can deal with and relate to each other and the reality we inhabit.

Are some people born better at it? Of course they are. Not everyone is born with the necessary physique and hand-eye coordination for sports. Not everyone is born with the ability to even SEE color, let alone paint a photo-realistic, true color painting of the Urals in winter.

But that is what is so great about it. We don't have to be able to do it that way in order to be great. Everything has an artistry to it. This is something that I try and teach my students constantly. You don't have to write music or sculpt a masterpiece in order to be an artist. There are ways to tease out the beauty and details of damned near anything, whether you are an accountant looking at the narrative woven by the numbers in front of you or you are a pilot tearing off the runway as the forces of physics and the ingenuity of the human mind takes you literally higher and higher. These are true and honest things. Things that are as much about dealing with reality as any famous painting or gentle poem. They are things that are deserving of the term "art" because they are things that we create and use to expand our lives.

Try it sometime. Next time you go into the office, or wherever you get work done, and look at the details of your day. Track how you used to do things, and draw those connections to other things. Digest your reality and find the beauty in it because once you do then the creativity will flow out. Solutions will come to problems. Answers will leap to your lips before the questions are even asked.

The possibilities are near limitless.

But it takes work. No one is born that lucky.

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