“One approach to innovation and brainstorming is to wait for the muse to appear, to hope that it alights on your shoulder, to be ready to write down whatever comes to you. The other is to seek it out, will it to appear, train it to arrive on time and on command.”
- Seth Godin
I’ve come across a few pieces on creativity lately, bits that I’m stringing together. There seems to be a popular conception of creativity that is at odds with what I view as the actual process. There’s another bit from Godin, that I can’t find for the life of me now, about the myth of inspiration. That truly creative people don’t sit around, waiting and hoping for that spark to strike them.
“There’s nothing worse that you can do as a person that wants to be creative than wait until you’re feeling inspired. That’s when you find yourself in ruts. It’s when… you need to create from a wacky compulsion or because you’re on a strict regimen… and you’re forced to think about how to do things in a different way than you’re comfortable, that’s when shit gets cool and weird.”
- Brendan Kelly, Bad Sandwich Chronicles
“Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”
- Chuck Close
Creative people work, consistently. Certainly, not everything that they create is a gem, and it takes quite a few terrible ideas to create a good one. Kelly admits that he throws away about 99% of what he writes. The thing with creative folks – musicians, designers, artists – is that you really only see the 1% that sticks. It makes it easy to believe that ideas just come to them, fully formed, and they’re somehow just different from the rest of us. Inspiration is not some magic fairy that comes down from the ether, it is the reward of research, of thought, of trial and error.
Creativity is technical, analytical, and a lot of the time, it’s work. If you read the Bad Sandwich Chronicles article in its entirety (and if you’re offended by language, well, I would skip this one) Kelly goes on to outline how he writes lyrics. He uses word association, writing for a specific feel, and other exercises that “shock your brain into creating something.” When writing their last album, Green Day mounted two drum heads on the wall – one with different genres, the other with different eras. They spun the wheels, and wrote for whatever came up. Did any of those tracks make the album? Doubtful. Did they influence or inspire the tracks that did? Probably. My point is that when the inspiration well came up dry, they did something. They started working. They started thinking, and asking questions, and coming at the problem in a different way. That’s what creativity is.
“Rules and routines may be tolerable or even comforting in the short term. But eventually, they need to be scrutinized and in many cases rejected to make intellectual or emotional progress. Rebellion has to be part of the response to rigid social institutions, or stagnation is assured.”
- Greg Graffin, Anarchy Evolution
Creative people tend to see the world differently. They view the world through a different lens, question standards, and make connections. They’re curious. I’ve been asked where I start when I get a new project, and my answer is always the same – research. Whether it’s a logo, a website, or a tv stand, I have questions. Who is your audience? What are you trying to accomplish? What are you competing against (you need to be familiar with standards in order to question them)? Sitting around, waiting for a genius logo design to strike me isn’t a part of my process.
Creativity means making connections where they may not be obvious, and this is where I hop on my soapbox to explain how important interdisciplinary education is to people in creative fields. Having a broader view of the world, having more varied experiences, and having knowledge of other systems and cultures gives you more to work with. Being curious enough to seek out those experiences, and those connections, cultivates the kind of mind-set that creativity requires. How many great works of art or engineering started with someone asking, “What if we did it this way?”
I found a live version from Pittsburgh, 2009. This version, from 1999, is infinitely better.
It’s borderline unsettling, but I could make a mint selling them as valentines at Hot Topic.
I wrote an article on branding for The Photoletariat:
“A brand isn’t pretty decoration, it’s a pattern of behavior. It’s the way a person feels about a product or service. This feeling about you, and your business, influences their purchasing decisions. It determines whether or not they trust you and, ultimately, whether or not they hire you. For most photographers, you are your brand. Everything you do, from how you respond to inquiries to how you act at a photo shoot, communicates the character of your brand. So how can you get the most out of your brand?”
I have no excuse for this. This acoustic version includes a sweet tamborine breakdown so, you know, you’re welcome.
We spent a good chunk of our weekend just walking around the city.
I’ve never been to a Broadway musical. I’ve been to some that have trickled down to Pittsburgh, and got to see The Phantom at Pantages in Toronto, but never actually on Broadway. Somehow, I doubt they’re usually like this (our playbills came with a reminder that “Now is the time to use the restroom, NOT during the ballad”). Sadly, I didn’t get any shots of the place – the St. James is a great little theater – but I did get a few of the outside, and of the cast.
We apparently made it up to the 300th show, which included Billie Joe Armstrong playing St. Jimmy. I’d read mixed reviews on it, but I loved the show. Lori made fun of me for probably being the only one trying to get the cellist’s autograph at the end, but the string arrangements… good God.
Trying to match up names with tiny playbill photos for these ones, so I’m not positive on all of them. Theater nerds, help me out here.
When we saw that The Merchant of Venice was across the street, we kept joking that maybe we’d see Pacino. After the crowd dispersed, we started walking up the street and noticed everyone going nuts outside of the theater. We were pretty sure it was him, but couldn’t see him on the other side of an enormous SUV. So he hopped up into the car, and waved to the folks across the street. I’d already put the camera away, but luckily I’m a pretty quick shot. I also yelled “Hoo-ah!” at him, proving that I really shouldn’t be allowed out in public.
It turned out to be a great night, and a great show. Seriously, go see it.