July 12, 2013

Creativity – Myths and Legends

A lot of myths surround creativity. Artists never really talk about it. They talk about “the work” and they talk about what they are doing, but they rarely talk about creativity in the abstract. There are, however, some basic general principles:

Nothing comes from nothing. We are always starting from somewhere, the stuff in our heads, the existing marketplace; the history we all remember, the materials in front of us. There are no blank spaces in our heads and even the blank paper in front of us is a certain size and texture and absorbency that will limit what we can do with it. There
are always initial conditions.

Metamorphosis is unstoppable. All complex dynamic systems are spontaneously creative. If you leave a complex dynamic system alone and do nothing to it, it will change anyway. Leave your garden alone and it will gradually turn into a forest. Leave your car alone and it will gradually fall apart. Leave your people alone and they will come up with something.

Creativity is a boundary phenomenon. Creativity happens on the edges of things, on the margins of an ecosystem, on the surface of a membrane, where a theory meets a fact, where a person meets their needs. Without boundaries to define it, there is no creative territory.

The creative process is fundamentally the same whether you are trying to write a new book or to develop a new theory of subatomic physics. Eventually you find yourself at the edge of what you have mastered; at the boundary of what comes easily, and yet your imagination has offered you a glimpse of another possibility. This other possibility will be rooted in what you know and what has been done elsewhere and it will be fragmentary: a misty vision, not clear, not complete. The gap between where you are and what is known, and what you can glimpse, in moments, in your imagination, becomes more and more difficult to endure. When this tension begins to be felt, you are usually heading in the right direction to be creative and original.