Monday, January 18, 2010

Creativity

I haven't written for three weeks partly because I was waiting for my inspiration to crystallize, but my thoughts are getting too expansive to reign into a coherent essay. But I just thought of a scatalogical metaphor for my creative process, so I going to let the thoughts pour out like diarrhea before they make a fully formed stool.

Until recently, I thought that creativity was originality. Within our brains, the spark between dendrite and axon gave birth to a new thing in the universe. But it could be argued that nothing enters our brain but what God created for our brains to consume. Often I despaired that "There is nothing new under the sun" and that perhaps creativity is God's perogative. Artists are but scientists of a different name observing small pockets of unusual phenomena in God's magnum opus and regurgitating what they see. Perhaps the great Playwright predestined that today, this actor would muse about the nature of creativity.

A friend made me listen to William Burroughs' "Spare Ass Annie and Other Tales." One line that struck me was his musing that God cannot act because acting implies resistance. In my world where God is the only Executive Producer and we men and women but plagiarizers, it occurred to me that perhaps God couldn't be an actor because actors have limitations and flaws and affectations which approach untruth. God wouldn't make a very good audience either because none of the humorous punchlines or plot twisting dramatizations would be surprising to omniscience. But I digress.

I was watching a Nova special about dreams and sleep researcher Sarah Mednick stated, "We define creativity as putting together disparate ideas in new and useful combinations." Wikipedia also allows in its definition "new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts." Ahhh...so...mashups are creative! And here I just considered myself an eclectic plagiarizer.

Recipe for creativity: In a large mixing bowl, combine any two disparate things such as a game of chess and a movie. Salt to taste. Mathematically, x + y = z. Music + sex = rock 'n roll. Writers select words and put them together in metaphors and similes and in ever complex combinations that will take the monkeys a bit more time to copy on their typewriters. The Vulcans have a saying "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

I find I'm most creative when I'm on the elliptical exercise machine at the gym. I'm moving, but I can't really hurt myself so I don't have to concentrate on safety. My blood is pumping, creating a heightened state of activity in both mind and body. TV, people, and mountain vista push visual stimuli into the front of my head , my MP3 player pours melodies and lyrics into the sides of my head, and my pumping legs probably throw proprioceptive data into the bottom of my head to the cerebellum. My brain is a mixing bowl. "The overcast sky reaches down with a gauzy hand and touches the stubbly pate of the mountain, like an angel checking a febrile child's temperature." Using a simile to anthropomorphize the relationship between mountain and sky is just another example of a mashup.

But the creative process also involves winnowing. Another friend introduced me to a rejection letter attributed to Samuel Johnson (publisher of the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language). "Your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." Not every combination deserves to be expressed within the bounds of tasteful discourse (see paragraph 1 for an example). Standards come from somewhere and create evolutionary pressure on these ideas that would otherwise undergo dissemination and miscegenation, ensuring survival of the fascinating-est. People tuning out is a sign that some extinction is going on. Your yawn just weeded out my meme pool.

For those of you who lasted this long, here's a pot o' gold: the artists of the world need a Magic Eight Ball that makes mashups: two windows each with near-infinite diversity that produce near-infinite combinations. Such a device would probably contain a microprocessor. But what self-respecting artiste would admit that his muse was a computer? Solve that problem and you might follow the inventor of the Snuggie onto Easy Street.

2 comments:

es_trick said...

""We define creativity as putting together disparate ideas in new and useful combinations." Wikipedia also allows in its definition "new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts." Ahhh...so...mashups are creative! And here I just considered myself an eclectic plagiarizer."


Hmm, not so different from taking a handful of mud and breathing into it the breath of life . . .


Or taking a rib from the first bloke 'from Mars' to render something similar but also quite different, and therefore complementary, to be his partner 'from Venus.'

Tony said...

Creativity exists in a social context and in an individual one. You have internal dialog, internal standards; let these not be confused with the social versions as you hone your crafts.
The discovery is no less valid when you find it for yourself than when some other found it centuries earlier.
The discovery's validity is not changed whether or not you were the first to record it for others to see and judge; it may be the same thought another had years earlier, to be found under a neat stack of stockings in Janet's parents' attic after her mother's death 23 years from now.
If the social context of creativity totally dominates the individual, then your personal work will regress toward the mean. Yes, those things that society does not deem valuable will probably fade away, but if you accept some god perhaps that god will know how awesome your work are, and in any case your personal standards have the potential to be satisfied during your lifetime.
So, your personal standards may be what is naturally selected by the meme pool, not your creativity. And the critical event of recording your creativity in a way that it may be socially judged is emphasized.
I wonder if you are trying to decide how valuable your you-ness is, trying to determine a comfortable balance between your individuality and the eyes all around you.