Creativity: Gift or Craft

I heard a podcast with stand up comedians Ken Davis and Bob Stromberg talking about creativity. The one thing that stood out worth sharing was that neither man felt creativity was a gift. To clarify, they defined the “gift” as the capacity and desire to create, while they said “creativity” is a learned craft that everyone can practice.

I agree that everyone can be creative especially when following these 5 practical steps that I use:

1. Capture

The first step in being creative is capturing the things that stir the emotions. When I capture in a quick note or sketch the thing that impacted me or moved me, I’m able to remember it and give it my full consideration.

2. Explore

Once I’ve captured the moment, I then explore why it touched me. I ask myself questions in an attempt to learn the truth about why I felt the humorous or dramatic moment.

3. Birth an Idea

When I contemplate or meditate on the very thing that I chose to explore, new creative ideas pop into my mind. The one that makes the greatest impression fuels the fire of passion, giving me an opportunity to flesh out the concept in the form of an artistic expression.

4. Play

People stop being creative when they stop playing. It’s therefore important to play around with variations of the new artistic idea. Rather than searching for the one “right” answer to present, playfulness requires exploring multiple right answers to find the most entertaining one that clarifies the message.

5. Polish

Assessing the presentation or performance with a test audience helps me figure out what worked and what didn’t work. More importantly, I learn what the audience understood or missed. This new gained knowledge gives me a chance to tweak and polish my creative idea for its final and official production.

Being creative is a choice that requires a playful viewpoint while developing the craft. Everyone is capable of being creative, but not everyone chooses to work hard at capturing the emotional elements required to be successful. Fortunately the first step is child’s play, which everyone is capable of because we all know what its like having been a child.

© 2017 by CJ Powers

Creatives Are Driven To Live

OklahomaBill Hybels, a legendary spiritual leader, once talked about a “holy discontentment” and how it drives the spiritual to continually look for ways to help others. Choreographer Martha Graham spoke of an artist’s “divine dissatisfaction” that drives all creative work.

Prose writer Rachel Carson also spoke of this unrest that leads to creative activity, “No writer can stand still. He continues to create or he perishes. Each task completed carries its own obligation to go on to something new.”

Dancer and choreographer Agnes De Mille, known for her original choreography in Oklahoma!, a musical that generated numerous awards including a record setting 2,212 performances, found herself struggling with her “fairly good work” when critics touted it as a “flamboyant success.”

De Mille received clarity concerning this disconnect in her life when she bumped into Graham and shared her sense of dissatisfaction. De Mille started the conversation with a confession that she had a burning desire to be excellent, but had no faith to achieve it.

Graham: “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”

De Mille: “But, when I see my work, I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

Graham: “No artist is pleased.”

De Mille: “But then there is no satisfaction?”

Graham: “No satisfaction whatever at any time, there is only queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

Graham and Hybels had hit on something fascinating. Both saw the activity rising from creative discontentment as divinely inspired for the good of others. While artists long for satisfaction with their work, the blessed only receive a drive to move on to another work.

Julia Cameron, known as a artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, journalist and teacher, learned through her studies of the human condition that, “Art is a spiritual transaction. Artists are visionaries. We routinely practice a form of faith, seeing clearly and moving toward a creative goal that shimmers in the distance—often visible to us, but invisible to those around us.”

When I meditate on what I’ve observed, whether information from life or scripture, and many times the combination of both, I receive a divine awareness that helps me to understand a perspective that most have never considered. The excitement contained within the moment drives me to share it with others. But they don’t get it.

The only way for people to understand what I’ve seen is to create art that can demonstrate it or move a person to consider something outside of their reality. It therefore compels me to create art, always hoping it reaches the people it was intended to reach.

This continual drive that most of my friends label as passion, breathes life into me daily. It forces me to try and try again so everyone gets the gift of understanding that I received, but my attempts always fall short. The cycle begins again and again. While I can’t complain because of the life that stirs within me, I am always dissatisfied in my feeble ability to communicate such an important understanding.

And there lies the truth of an artist’s dilemma. Filled with life overflowing, always driven, but never arriving with any form of satisfaction. I’ll call this curse a blessing for it is who I am.

© 2017 by CJ Powers




The Tortoise and the Hare is True

Fake news is ridiculous and makes me laugh more times than not, yet some of my friends are greatly offended by it. The attitude we hold has everything to do with the way we choose to perceive life. Those who think the world is headed toward hell in a hand basket tend to find fear in everyday things. But, for those who hold hope for the future find silliness in the very things others fear.

It’s all about the long game. A life paced for eternity doesn’t get frantic when things go south. There is always a silver lining to be found by the ones looking for it. Artists need to find the silver lining in order to continue their creations. Finding inspiration or a muse is always associated with the positive side of life. It takes great focus to see past the world’s distractions and find the gift of joy and peace in the midst of the chaos.

I liken it to the short film I watched as a young kid called “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The rabbit was a really cool guy who was faster than anything. He was so fast that he’d flit around doing lots of things for fun in between his official task or goal. My favorite part was when he left the racetrack, hopped into a fast convertible and picked up three women for a flirtatious drive.

I admired his ability to attract the women, own a sports car and still have plenty of time to get back to finish the race. There was only one problem; all of his flash in the pan ideas and exerted energy got him so mixed up in alternate activities that he forgot the importance of focus and discipline.

The methodical turtle that focused on the race won. His discipline guided his every step as he moved a few inches with each stride. He didn’t allow the rabbit’s charisma to alter his strategy, nor did the blast of wind from the sports car driving away spin him off track. The turtle just counted on the hope within him and plodded along one step at a time.

In the last few seconds of the race the hare sprinted faster than most thought possible, but he was 2/10ths of a second too late. He had lost. The women left his car and went to the winner’s circle to cheer on the tortoise. The slow, but methodical champion received numerous kisses from the three women and many others. He didn’t need a sports car, as the crowd lifted him and carried him into the golden sunset.

I’ve learned over time that rabbits today make really cool short films that lack story. They also make low quality features with some great scenes, but no story structure to keep the film alive during the second act. Tortoises on the other hand work methodically on features, making sure every step is done to its best level of quality.

Marketers love rabbits who can speed ideas to market, especially the popular ones that have fans who consistently overlook their story flaws. However, audiences love the tortoises that carefully craft compelling stories the audience want to watch over and over again. This tension between hare and tortoise fans keeps a full line of good and bad movies alive for audiences to sift through regularly. But the stories that become classics and out last the test of time belong to team tortoise.

I wish that I could find the old short film I saw, but the below will have to suffice.

copyright © 2017 by CJ Powers