By Raymond Turner
So this is part 2 of our series, and you and I may find ourselves still sitting in the same spot: in front of an imposing “block” of marble, feeling uber-uncreative, claustrophobic and uninspired. To begin putting chisel-to-marble, we must overcome the #1 misconception regarding the creative process: the idea that being creative shouldn’t be “work.” Here is what many of us picture in our minds when we think of creative inspiration:
We see an image of the huddled artist gazing out of a sun drenched window overlooking a lush meadow or ocean vista when, suddenly, a lark lights upon the windowsill and becomes their constant celestial muse. This sublime songbird begins dictating never before thought of ideas, and the words begin cascading onto the page whilst the creative sage becomes lost in a world of rapture and awakens to find the art hence lying next to them wrapped in a glistening bow. He delivers it to the waiting masses and would enjoy immeasurable fame, but he must remain in his ivory tower; untouched and waiting to be carried off to delicious slumber and awakened by the rustling of angels wings the next morning to repeat the glorious activity.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if this were reality? But this is far from it! True inspiration takes work, and sometimes, an incredible amount of work. It can feel much like peeling and eating a tray of spicy crawfish. A Jewish proverb puts it this way: “Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights.” –Prov 18.15
Ideas do not float down from the clouds. Here is the secret. Great artists steal. And they work extremely hard at it!
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” – T.S. Eliot
“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” – David Bowie
That means we cannot be mentally lax. We must aim to become a Mental Crawfish Connoisseur (MCC). Just what you’ve always wanted to become, right?
The most creative people have a clear, internalized idea of what they like and don’t like when it comes to art. This is the culmination of years and years of seeing, hearing, reading, tasting and forming opinions about what touches their soul, not just their intellect. This true north, gut feeling subconsciously guides their creative decisions, but it doesn’t just happen. It comes from all who came before them. You and I must do the work of mentally engaging in the work and world of those around us.
How do we begin to work at this and mentally pull the most “meat” from our mental crawfish palette? Begin to notice details. When looking at a commercial, FaceBook ad, YouTube video, magazine ad, sitcom, etc, form the iterative habit of asking questions:
“Why did I like that?”
“Why did it make me laugh? Cry? Become angry?”
“HOW did it make me laugh? Cry? Become angry?”
“Why did I re-share that video on FB?”
“Why did I absolutely hate that?”
“Why was I deeply moved by that?” “How did they accomplish that?”
“Why was that article compelling? Not compelling?”
“How did they make that billboard ad stick in my mind?”
A billboard that still sticks in my mind (from the 90‘s!!!) is a simple J&B whiskey ad. The billboard simply says, “Ingle ells, ingle ells,” and at the bottom in smaller print, “The holidays aren’t the same without J&B.” No images or bold colors were involved. I have pondered that ad for years and questioned WHY I still remember it to this day, and HOW I can recreate that effect in something I may be working on.
Cultivate “active wonder.” By constantly doing this, you WILL develop an internal aesthetic and a mental portfolio so you’ll never have to stare at a blank piece of paper and hear it taunting you again. You will have a proverbial “deep well” of inspiration to steal from…sorry, to “draw” from.
The very act of pulling what’s imitated through the crucible of your own personality, life experiences, cultural worldview, etc will transform it into something unrecognizable from the original. There is nothing new under the sun. So stop striving to be original and instead seek to be innovative. Take an idea that’s been done and see how much further you can move it down the field. No idea is created in a vacuum; it’s the alchemy of our collective human life experiences, ideologies, cultural heritage, values, marriages, struggles, heartaches, and joys. So, no more staring out the window waiting for inspiration. Go out, hunt it down, slay it, and grill it up….with some crawfish of course.
Raymond Turner is our Project Manager Mogul. Before coming to Newton, he was a producer, director and professional drummer. Raymond and his wife Maria have two children. In his free time, Raymond is big into sports (wii sports that is), reading, drawing, composing or drumming.