It’s a whisper burdened by doubt, time, expectations, and distractions.
Informed by everything we see. Everything we experience. Everything we are.
One thought leapfrogs to another…sometimes improving sometimes faltering.
But always moving, developing, evolving.
Sadly, it never seems good enough.
Maybe next time, we’ll capture it.
It is Creativity.
It is a bitch.
A dreary, spring day, and my mood is reflected in the heavy, deep green of the hemlock tree outside the window. I’m under the gun to write before my girls and husband return from a trip to the grocery store and the park. The pile of laundry on the floor and the banging OshKosh B’Gosh suspenders in the dryer make me cringe. But alas, I must write…about creativity, of all things.
Creativity, it’s an unknowable aura that feels just out of reach. It’s the attempt to tap into something “original” that inevitably becomes fractured and broken. With each creative endeavor, there’s a twinge of remorse. It could have been better. It could have been more. And with that, we move on to another project. Using those endeavors preceding it to inform and push the next one in a different direction. The cycle continues, as does the clanging of those damn suspenders.
We, at Coat of Arms, believe creativity has nearly immeasurable value and affects every industry. As we uniquely create and finish films, commercials, and other visual media, creativity is paramount to our success. Generally speaking, we believe creativity drives economic growth, provides answers to societal problems, and maximizes human potential.
As a commodity, creativity becomes even more valuable because it is wild, untamed, and uniquely human. Sure, computers can run algorithms and excel in well-structured environments, but a truly creative computer is still in development. In fact, artificial intelligence researchers admit that engineering a “creative computer” is difficult because creativity is nearly impossible to define in objective terms.
Is it a state of mind, a talent, an ability, or a process? How is creativity wielded into something good and unique? Can creativity be learned? Can we ever truly own our creative if it’s never original? And how do artists “steal” or re-appropriate ideas without plagiarizing? Below, we humbly present a perspective on what it means to be creative.
The Mood and Muscle of Creativity
Interestingly, creativity is not typically thought of as a skill that is learned. In fact, John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, claims creative people do not possess any special skills or abilities. He asserts that creativity is a mood or a way of operating and that genuine creative insights occur when rational thought ceases and you play. The most successful creative thinkers are not burdened with the adult way of thinking and are more likely to tap into dream states or moments without preoccupation. Cleese isn’t alone. Pablo Picasso also wrote, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.”
On the other hand, Wharton School marketing professor, Rom Schrift, argues that while there are different propensities for creativity, anyone can be taught to become more creative. “It’s like a muscle. If you train yourself,…you can become more creative.” Training yourself to think divergently (or generate many unique ideas) and then converge that thinking (or combine those ideas into the best result) breathes some structure and predictability into creative thinking.
But no matter how hard we try to define and create a structure around creativity, the essence of creativity remains mysterious. In fact, many artists describe an out-of-body experience when inspired. As if inspiration and creativity were on loan or unconscious. Jackson Pollack once said, “When I am in my painting, I am not aware of what I am doing.” Similarly, Sir Paul McCartney claimed that the Beatles’ song, “Yesterday,” came to him in a dream.
Personally, I always feel creativity requires letting go. That’s why I started this blog free writing. Allowing my mind and emotions to freely express gave me the license to make mistakes, explore, and interpret. When we give ourselves permission to dream, our perspectives change and creativity can flourish.
On nearly every project Coat of Arms assumes, we flex our creative muscle through collaboration. For example, we worked with writer Mike Irvine to hone this blog’s message and as we began outlining this blog, we reached out to respected theologian and writer André Lacocque to ask him for his perspective on creativity. He replied,
“Here is what creativity means to me: It rests, I believe, on two bases: interpretation and imagination. That is, it is rooted in the legacy we have received and imaginatively strikes its branches toward the future. Creativity is hope, expectation, and striving. The ‘real,’ so-called, is to be opened up, developed, and fulfilled. The given is infinitely precious, but is not all there is…The artist is completing in her creativity the dynamic creation of the Creator.”
We especially love the organic imagery André evokes when describing how creativity is “rooted” in the legacy we have received and that it “branches” toward our future. Nature is one of the most mimicked and arguably the most perfect source for inspiration. Beyond this imagery, André touches on an important point in his final words. That final sentiment reminded us of a quote by Oscar Wilde, “In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”
From a more spiritual perspective, one may argue that because our souls (like our fingerprints) are unique, our artistic perspective is “infinitely precious” and thus cannot be recreated. The beauty and comfort in realizing this is that while originality may not always exist, authenticity is assuredly alive and kicking.
The Art of the Steal
I recently read, “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon. An easy read, the book includes approachable musings of a man in search of creativity. He includes pages from his “logbook,” which depict drawings and scribbles that briefly describe each day. Journal meets day planner, Kleon’s logbook is a reflection of where one can reap the greatest and most satisfying creativity: From the every day.
As the title suggests, the crux of Kleon’s book argues that all art is borrowed. He says, “Everything is up for grabs. If you don’t find something worth stealing today, you might find it worth stealing tomorrow or a month or year from now.” Thus, keeping a log of your daily routines, reflections, conversations, and adventures are all creative fodder worth holding onto.
Inspiration is all around us. The goal is to take that inspiration and nurture it at the right moment for the right project, until it becomes its own idea. However, if the inspired thought does not evolve and take on a life of its own, you risk sailing the stormy seas of plagiarism.
So, how can you avoid plagiarizing? Borrowing from one source of inspiration without the creator’s approval will most likely lead to plagiarism. You’re better off borrowing bits of ideas from many different influences and, putting your personal stamp on the final product. One famous example of “artful stealing” may be seen in Star Wars.
In 1977, George Lucas changed cinema forever. The story of a farm boy who must defeat the evil empire and restore freedom to the galaxy was unlike anything that had ever graced the screen. The special effects were light years ahead of their time and John Williams’ score is as epic and memorable as the storyline.
With that said, George Lucas pulled from many sources of inspiration to create Star Wars. He borrowed from mythology (particularly Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey), World War II, Ancient Rome, The Knights Templar, among others, and blended every influence together artfully to create an intergalactic space opera. The story of an underdog hero fulfilling his destiny is a common theme in literature and in film. However, George Lucas’ imagination and technical genius made it his own. But don’t take our word for it. Kirby Ferguson’s “Everything is a Remix” proves how often art is “borrowed.”
Creativity Doesn’t Always Equal Success
Yes, Star Wars was a huge creative and financial success. However, financial success isn’t necessarily a true barometer of creativity. Van Gogh only sold one painting during his lifetime. Edgar Allen Poe was paid a measly $9 for The Raven. The Velvet Underground only found fame years later, after the band broke up. Those artists were doing things that society had yet to experience. You could argue that they were “too creative” to be an instant success.
Achieving creativity and success is a delicate balance. If your idea is too far out there, you risk alienating your audience. It’s important that the idea be original, yet also familiar. If you can thread that needle, you’ll have a better chance of appealing to contemporary tastes.
A Creative Conclusion
No one can truly know where creativity comes from because it comes from a different place in each of us. Only you can understand your own creative process. And ultimately, it’s up to you to dig deep to discover an authentic idea. We leave you with some tips for breaking through creative roadblocks and a quote from Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch.
“Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.
If you do this, your work will be authentic.” – Jarmusch
5 Ways To Battle Creative Block
1. Nap Time!
Naps and breaks taken during the middle of a creative project improve your perspective and allow your mind to regain its creative flow. Studies show that, as our mind becomes more relaxed, there is an increase in Alpha Waves. These waves are what boost creative thinking. Sleep (at least seven hours a night) is essential to fully recharge your brain’s connectors.
2. Get Inspired
Go to a museum, take a walk outside, watch a movie, listen to music, write a poem, go people watching, play a video game… Often stepping back to remove focus on the problem will help you solve it. Neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel writes in his book, The Age of Insight, “When we take the wrong approach to a problem, which happens often, we get nowhere by continuing to think about it. But if we refrain from thinking about the problem and distract ourselves… [we] transition from a rigid, convergent perspective to an associative, divergent perspective.”
3. Start Over
Sometimes you need to kill an idea to spawn a better one. If your idea isn’t quite working, it may be best to start over. If there’s time, of course.
Ask a colleague or professional for a critique. Or better yet, discuss your idea with a stranger or someone unfamiliar with the project. Kids are great critics. They are already tapped into a state of childlike wonder and that raw innocence allows them to speak the truth. Even if it hurts. When working on our animated short “Death Loves Life,” our then one-year-old, twin daughters provided us with excellent, albeit wordless feedback – including whether the film could hold a toddler’s attention.
5. Edit Yourself
Edit. And then edit again. When you’re happy with the final product, edit a few more times.