Does it Have to be Wacky to be Creative?

Contributor:  David Intrator
Posted:  02/16/2012  12:00:00 AM EST
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A client of mine recently visited our website and told me he was disappointed.  Although he was thrilled with what he learned at our Make a Mess™ creativity seminar and workshop, he questioned whether our site was “creative enough."  Maybe he was expecting something louder or more colorful or, let’s say, wackier.

I’m not surprised, for his question revealed a common misperception about creativity.

For many, it's associated with a certain concept of freedom, one defined by the absence of discipline and rigor.  Creativity in this view is either romantically irrational and mysterious, or childish and goofy.

I can understand the appeal of such a conception.

After all, it feels kind of easy.  Just remove your inhibitions and let it all hang out.

Problem is, letting go of that which constrains us is difficult.  

And paradoxically, the way to liberate ourselves is through discipline, as evidenced by the jazz improviser who practices scales and patterns five hours a day, or the writer who scribbles a million words before anything is worth being read.

Creativity, as I’ve written before, is more a deliberate process of problem-solving than one of receiving divine inspiration or digging into one’s unconscious.

It is, however, a special kind of problem-solving, in which you are the one who defines the problem and establishes the criteria for an acceptable solution.

Now, these may evolve along the way.  The problem and the standard for its solution may change again and again. But what you’re involved in is neither mystical nor mysterious, but rather the more prosaic (but no less fascinating) activity of identifying a problem and solving it.

For sure, during the process there may be moments when you have an insight that  feels divinely inspired, but it’s the rational process of setting up your problem that will have opened the door for that moment of awareness.

And when you’ve found your solution, it might appeal to the unconscious of the viewer or reader or listener, but the way you would have gotten there is much more measured and logical than you might believe right now.

Added to that, the style of your solution may be colorful and bright, but it could equally be conservative and restrained.  Bauhaus architecture, for example, is all about clean geometric shapes.  It was a huge creative leap in the history of architecture, but I doubt anyone would dismiss it as uncreative because it lacks the elaborate ornamentation of a Baroque cathedral.

Likewise, computer coding is a highly creative enterprise that, by definition, is all about logic and rigor at its most severe.

Then again, one finds creative works that are indeed outlandish and colorful and seemingly unrestrained.  But if you study them, you’ll see that in order for the piece to “work,” the artist made many choices and exerted a considerable amount of rigor in order for the solution to express a coherent point-of-view, and in doing so, communicate with an audience.

So, wackiness can be understood as a style of creative output, but it’s just one style among many.

And the method by which one gets there is far more akin to the measured approach of a craftsman than the overheated process so commonly associated with creative work.

It might sound wacky, but it’s the truth.  

David Intrator Contributor:   David Intrator

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