How do you sustain creativity? How do you keep it fresh? This post is inspired by wise words on creativity from Andre 3000, Rick Rubin and Chris Difford.
In these coronavirus-constrained times, the escape that creativity and imagination can offer is arguably more valuable than ever.
Creativity is all about breaking free. Creativity is all about building your own worlds. Creativity is all about flow. Allowing your mind to roam wild, to create something or somewhere that has never existed before. Brush strokes, words or notes forming unexpected combinations to give birth to heaven-sent images, sentences or melodies. At its best, creativity flows through you. Creativity can give shape to ideas through the movement of your hands over paper or keyboard or musical instrument or clay.
But what happens if your creative flow should freeze?
Break free of everything you know
“As you go along, you gotta find a way to break free of everything you know. And that’s very hard. Even melody-wise, I’m getting sick of my melodies.”
This is Andre 3000, from his fascinating Broken Record podcast conversation on creativity with Rick Rubin, released earlier this month. Andre 3000 is a true artist, and Outkast (the band that unites Andre 3000 with the the equally wonderful Big Boi) have released some of the greatest albums of our era.* It’s heartbreaking to hear Andre 3000 speak of the creative impasse he’s been stuck in for years.
If it’s going to result in anything concrete, creativity requires effort and application – in short: work. If you stick with it long enough, you will also inevitably learn the tricks of the trade. It can be challenging to retain the innocence of unbounded creativity when you know how things work behind the scenes.
For Andre 3000, achieving both global success and mastery of his artform have lead to something of an artistic block. With the eyes of the world on him, he finds it hard to tap the creativity that once flowed so easily. His melodies no longer surprise him. “It’s like you know too much”, Rubin suggests.
Where can you go when you know too much? Andre 3000 would dearly love to reconnect to pure creativity, inspiration and expression by forgetting all he has learnt:
“You have to get back to that place where you can build those worlds again and not have the eyes or the judging. The problem with being an artist – a successful artist – is, you have to find a comfortable place to do that again. A comfortable place to feel uncomfortable, is what I’m saying.”
A comfortable place to feel uncomfortable. This, to me, is a perfect expression of what creativity means. I dearly hope that Andre 3000 can find his way back to this place, and that Outkast might return to us once again.
Where words are gifted to me
There is always hope. Dormant creativity can return when you least expect it. In his memoir Some Fantastic Place, Chris Difford shares a lovely story about how the delight of creativity returned to him as an unexpected by-product of giving up drinking:
“I was in my happy place; the place where words are gifted to me. […] My notebooks were brimming with words, colours and ideas.”
Difford writes beautifully about writing. He captures the art and the joy of putting one word after another in the best possible order:
“It’s the writing that I enjoy – it opens me up and hopefully reveals something new every time I put finger to keyboard. I find it’s writing that connects me to my higher power. I feel plugged in, sparked up and nourished if I manage to hook something great. It’s a hobby more than anything.”
I love this idea of writing taking you to another place, one that is surprising. It captures something vital about creativity.
MJCarty.com is nearly 300 posts old!
I realised the other day that the MJCarty.com blog is very nearly at 300 posts.
For me, this blog is an invaluable hobby and an outlet. I love to write. What I look forward to most is the unique feeling that creativity and expression provide. I love to see where words – the flow of virtual ink onto virtual paper – can take me. Writing helps me get my thoughts in order. Writing lets me know what I think. Writing has proven particularly helpful in helping me process and deal with the abrupt change to all our lives forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Regular writing is also a discipline – a highly enjoyable discipline, but a discipline all the same. I strive to keep it fresh and interesting for myself. I work to put out a new post every Saturday morning, without fail. The words keep flowing – for the moment, at least.
Whether there is any merit to the words I write is entirely up to you, gentle reader.
But writing these words means the world to me. A comfortable place to feel uncomfortable, the place where words are gifted to me. I can’t wait to see where the written word takes me next.
May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.
* Every OutKast record is excellent. I recommend you get ’em all: Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens, Aquemini. Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. If these are new to you, please do consider giving these a listen. I envy you if you’ve yet to hear them. Stankonia includes the song that gifts this post its title, So Fresh, So Clean.