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Does alcohol fuel creativity?

Does alcohol fuel creativity?

We all know the dangers of alcohol, but is there any truth to the cliche of a drunk writer or painter being better than a sober one? Can inspiration be found in a bottle?

In my personal experience, I think people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol create despite, not because of, their addiction. (And they are no fun to work with!) However, a new study says that limited drinking might spur new ideas by making you more flexible.

We approach problems with fixed ideas about the solution, but alcohol loosens that fixation and opens us up to trying new things. Anyone who has tried to do a task as simple as putting on shoes while drunk will know that you have to rethink each step as you do it and you still might end up with your shoes on the wrong feet.

So, the study says, if you are stuck in the creative process, a glass of merlot may be just what you need to come up with a new solution to the problem facing you. It might not be a good idea, but it will be a complete rethink instead of a retread.

Here’s the relevant piece of the conclusion:

Alcohol may particularly play a role in mitigating fixation effects. In creative problem solving, problems can often only be solved after a restructuring of the problem representation. When initial solution attempts get on the wrong track, this can cause blocks to immediate problem solving, which is known as mental fixation ( Smith & Blankenship, 1991). These fixations typically fade with time, which is considered a central mechanism behind incubation effects ( Storm and Koppel, 2012 ;  Vul and Pashler, 2007). In a similar way, alcohol may reduce fixation effects by loosening the focus of attention and hence impeding the building and maintenance of dominant but inappropriate mental representations. Thereby, alcohol may facilitate a broader associative search and the effective solving of creative tasks that are prone to fixation effects.

There are lots of other ways to shake yourself out of this! Check out our post that gives you five ways to shake your creative doldrums! 

A word of warning, alcohol will not be helpful in doing the actual hard work of a project and as an artist you have a lot of fixed ideas that are good and helpful. In other words, putting your shoes on the wrong feet might be creative, but it isn’t a good idea long term.

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Show and NEVER Tell

Belive-it-or-not-eraserhead-is-my-most-spiritual-fi-1613958

When a friend of mine posted this quote from from a Bafta Television Lecture of David Lynch being asked to explain the spiritual roots of Eraserhead it struck a chord with me. The interviewer innocently asks about the spirituality of Eraserhead and David Lynch shuts him down quickly. We've all been in the situation where a person in authority (a parent, teacher or boss) asks us to tell them where the idea for something came from or what it's supposed to mean. Usually with implication that our creative act is somehow describing ourselves and us explaining it will reveal something about our internal world. 

Why should we explain the beginnings of our ideas and tell people what it means to us? Isn't it true that once we've created something it exists on its own. If you could only enjoy or understand a work of art after the artist explains it, you're really not enjoying the art; you're enjoying the explanation. You've saved yourself the effort of bringing any part of yourself to it and filed it away neatly in your head as if it were a riddle and you now know the answer. Also, it puts the blame for your lack of understanding on the creator. If only the work of art were better, you'd understand it.

What I admire most about the Lynch quote is his confidence that he doesn't need to explain. In fact, he doesn't even need to explain his lack of explanation. He spent five years of his life making Eraserhead and knows that it stands on its own. His intentions and intended meanings are incidental to it. Why take something beautiful, creepy and strange and try to diminish it by explaining it away just to make the person experiencing it feel smarter and more comfortable? 

The next time someone asks me to explain myself I'm going to smile, shrug and politely decline to answer. Other people not understanding you, when it comes to art, is a wonderful thing. Own your weirdness.

 

You Create What You Consume

While “you are what you eat” has become an almost meaningless cliche, its truth is undeniable. The substance of your body is made up of the food you eat. Let me add another aphorism to your arsenal.

You create what you consume.

What you create is a direct reflection of what you choose to listen to, read and watch. This is not to say that you create exactly what you take in, although that certainly happens occasionally, just that everything you put in your brain is reflected through the prism of your own unique point of view and experiences.

It’s a given that athletes change their diets while training for a big event, why don’t creative people do the same thing? Martin Scorsese shows his actors many movies before he starts filming as a way to make sure they are all on the same creative page. As Winona Ryder said in Harper’s Bazaar:

He would show us films in the screening room in his brownstone, and I don’t know if he realized it, but he was basically narrating the entire film. We’d be like, “I wonder why he’s showing us this film?” but it would be for one shot or one scene—and it was like a four-hour epic!

Stephen King said in his excellent book On Writing, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

Before you embark on a new project, give some thought to changing your cultural diet: read the books, have conversations with relevant people, see the movies, go to plays and museums. Immerse yourself in the world you want to create. Go into training to complete the creative marathon you want to undertake!

My Head is Like a Factory: Creativity in the Industrial Age

Myhead

I ran across this chraming poem by Butler Brannan in an old magazine on Google Books. Oringinally published in 1901, it compares creativity to a factory. The brilliant bit is that it acknowledges that we don't always control what the final product of that factory will be.  I think we've all had days when our heads produced nothing but hair.

My head is like a factory,
the windows are my eyes;
The Furnace is my mouth, – you see
I feed it meats or pies.

And when its Hunger I appease
My Head will do its share,
Sometimes producing Rhymes like these
And sometimes only Hair.

Tame Your Creativity Monster With A List

100monsters

Everyone remembers being afraid of dark spaces as a child. Even the shadowy space under your bed was a potential monster hideaway. The bigger your imagination, the worse the monsters you imagined.

A friend of mine posted her 7-year-old son Chester's school project on Facebook. To celebrate their one hunderth day of school, his teacher asked each student to bring in a hundred of something. He decided to bring a list of one hundred monsters.

At first, as with all scary things, it seemed like there were an infinite number of monsters. So many monsters, in fact, that he decided to group them into tens. Ten dragons, ten cryptoids, ten movie monsters… Also, it wasn't enough to just have the name, he had to look up each one and learn about it. He then painstakingly wrote each one, learning how to spell even the Kaiju monsters. With each step the list got more and more manageable until, toward the end, it was hard to even come up with enough monsters to finish.

It struck me how helpful it would be when you are faced with completing an impossible, scary project to list your monsters. Sometimes just a blank piece of paper is the terrifying dark closet that contains everything that scares you into inaction.

Instead of letting yourself get overwhelmed by fear and inertia, why not list out all the things that are stopping you from starting? Get a piece of paper and write them out. Break them into sections if you want, anything to make them more manageable.

In fact, try and list a hundred things preventing you from moving forward. It's not easy to do. I bet it's hard for you to get past twenty. You can start with the teacher in the fifth grade who told you that you'd never amount to anything and then move on to that nasty commenter on your blog that tells you that it's hard to read your writing because there are so many grammatical mistakes and run on sentences.

Once you see the monsters all laid out neatly on a piece of paper, I bet they're no scarier than Spongebob Squarepants. Who, if you look carefully at the picture above, you'll see in the Sea Monster category between the Gloucester Serpant and Gill-Man.

Image copyright 2011 Chester Haugaard

The Writer Who Never Finished Anything

 

TimBurton

In his always interesting blog, writer Mark Evanier answered a question from a reader who was having trouble finishing any project she started. She wanted to know how she could motivate herself to finish if there was no guarantee of an audience when she was finished. His answer brought up even more questions. Are you a writer if you’ve never finished anything? Is it enough to just call yourself a writer?

Here’s part of Evanier’s answer:

You’re fooling yourself to think you’re a writer. A writer finishes things…even things that never get sold. Every professional writer has things they’ve written that never sold or reached the public. In fact, we all have things we’ve written that upon reflection, we’re very glad didn’t reach the public. That script you’re writing now may turn out to be one that will never sell but you’ll never know that until you try, which means you have to finish it. As the saying goes, there are no great uncompleted novels.

His answer brought to mind Seth Godin‘s pithy quote that makes the same point, “Real artists ship.” Godin uses ship to mean completion of any project, personal or professional.

He points out that not shipping is just an expression of fear of failure. In his, and Evanier’s thinking, failing is as much of being an artist as shipping. In this post on Tim Burton, Seth sums it up succinctly:

One key element of a successful artist: ship. Get it out the door. Make things happen.

The other: fail. Fail often. Dream big and don’t make it. Not every time, anyway.

Do you have a project you’ve been putting off? Ship! After all, the quickest way to succeed is to fail as quickly as possible and move on to the next thing.

Don’t Wait For Inspiration

Chuckselfportrait

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

Chuck Close

Via Drawn

Jumping and Creativity

Jump

I have been noticing lately how often the word "jump" is used in conjunction with creativity. In improvisational acting it is held as a truism that if you jump, a net will appear. Jumping implies taking a risk and propelling yourself over normal limitations.

Here are a few quotes to consider:

“If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall”

– Ray Bradbury

“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”

– Benjamin Franklin

“Look, I really don't want to wax philosophic, but I will say that if you're alive, you got to flap your arms and legs, you got to jump around a lot, you got to make a lot of noise, because life is the very opposite of death. And therefore, as I see it, if you're quiet, you're not living. You've got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively.”

-Mel Brooks

"You have to find something that you love enough to be able to take risks, jump over the hurdles and break through the brick walls that are always going to be placed in front of you. If you don't have that kind of feeling for what it is you are doing, you'll stop at the first giant hurdle.”

– George Lucas

“If you want to learn to swim jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you.”

– Bruce Lee

"It took me years to figure out that you don't fall into a tub of butter, you jump for it."

-Claudette Colbert

And who, other than the lactose intolerant, wouldn't want to jump in a tub of butter?

Picture from Dancers Among Us by Jordan Matter

Incomplete Manifesto for Growth

Ishot-1515

I’ve been reading CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People: Inside the World of Design Thinking and How It Can Spark Creativity and Innovation by Warren Berger. The basic idea of the book is to teach you to look at the world as a designer and then to show you how apply that to whatever your passion happens to be. I’ll write more about when I’m finished.

In passing, he mentioned Bruce Mau‘s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth and from the little bit he said about it I had to immediately put down the book and look it up. Bruce Mau is a very successful designer and he wanted to put down his thoughts on creativity in a manifesto. It’s 43 ways of changing your perspective and getting started. It’s 43 ways to move forward when you’re stuck. It’s a map out of the creative rut that you might find yourself in.

Bruce Mau wrote it in 1998 and unleashed it on the internet. It’s one of those things that just might change your life. I’m cutting and pasting a few bits of it below, but you should read the whole thing.

4. Love your experiments (as you would an ugly child).
Joy is the engine of growth. Exploit the liberty in casting your work as beautiful experiments, iterations, attempts, trials, and errors. Take the long view and allow yourself the fun of failure every day.

9. Begin anywhere.
John Cage tells us that not knowing where to begin is a common form of paralysis. His advice: begin anywhere.

31. Don’t borrow money.
Once again, Frank Gehry’s advice. By maintaining financial control, we maintain creative control. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it’s surprising how hard it is to maintain this discipline, and how many have failed.

37. Break it, stretch it, bend it, crush it, crack it, fold it.

43. Power to the people.
Play can only happen when people feel they have control over their lives. We can’t be free agents if we’re not free.

Read the rest

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