Thoughts: On Creativity

Everywhere I stumble this week, I see articles about the need for boredom in order to be creative. People are railing against checking your cellphones and advocating (I think) reading the phonebook aloud. Apparently, if you stop the former and begin the latter, your creativity will spike.

One might hope there are easier–less boring?–methods to creativity. Any artist worth her salt already grasps this: creativity is borne from margin and ritual.

The margins are, to some extent, physical margins we need. We need time to rest and recuperate. But busy people can also be extremely creative. The real margins we need are softer ones: margins of emotional and mental space. If we are obsessed with problems, cut by anxiety, we’ll never find those creative moments–those aha! moments. To find those, we must allow our minds to wander, whether in the shower or the morning commute. If you cannot do this, you cannot be creative.

If you are trapped by anxiety, you cannot be creative.

It’s ritual that often helps us build these margins. Just like old-time religion, we enter into rituals to engage our creativity. I get coffee in the morning and come to sit at the blank screen, the same way each morning, the same steps. The two minutes of ritual prepares me, initiates a creative sequence.

The same thing happens, of course, in the shower or on our commutes. That’s why these are creative spaces, spaces where you’ll often solve problems or develop ideas (assuming you sometimes turn the radio off, of course). You can see why these spaces also inhibit creativity if they’re filled with worry or anxiety: our unconscious has no room to pop up, speak a word, then disappear until the next shower.

The real problem, of course, is that we do not see ourselves as creators, but consumers. Some of our most intractable problems are what to buy; we define ourselves by the buying choices we’ve made in clothes, house, car, how we spend our Friday evenings, the shows we consume, the sites we visit.

Part of the problem lies in our very language itself. We invest in things. We spend time wisely. These are consumer mentalities. Three hundred years ago, no one spent time. They passed time. Experienced it.

The role of an artist, but also a pastor or an entrepreneur (and there’s often not much difference), is to look at the world and describe what you see. The artist does this with words or images or music. The entrepreneur sees holes in the market and imagines ways to fill them. The spiritual leader steps back and asks where we are really going.

Look at the world and describe what you see.

This is the mind shift of the creator. It may mean we check our phones less often or limit our time on the internet. It probably should. It may mean we engage in rituals, showering thrice a day, or engaging in less waste by building in time to think, to look, to engage in a different way. It probably should mean that, too. It may mean we speak about time differently. It will definitely mean that we speak about ourselves differently.

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