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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.

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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

Exercise and Make Art at the Same Time

Ishot-1482

We've all heard the advice that a little physical acitivy will make you more creative, but if you use this machine by Joseph L. Griffiths, you can turn your exercise into art. The piece is called Drawing Machine #1 and it can turn anyone into an artist. Or does it just turn everyone into art? In either case, it makes me want to build more creativity machines!

Massive Creative Recharge From Captain Beefheart

Ishot-1450

Captain Beefheart‘s music is not for everyone. That’s a good thing. I’ve seen this bit of his prose reprinted multiple times since his death, but I thought it would be useful to reprint it again. The advice isn’t for everyone, but it might be exactly what you need to hear at this exact moment. Don’t be put off because it says it’s about guitar playing. It isn’t. It’s a magic spell. It’s about whatever you’re doing right now.

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Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

1. Listen to the birds

That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar

Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush

Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil

Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re bringing over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out

If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone

Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key

That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty — making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument

You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place

When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine

Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.

Taken from the Captain Beefheart Radar Station

Don’t be afraid and doors will open

If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in your field of bliss, and they open doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

Packaging as Content

Pacakge
The title to this post is the tag line to an interesting blog called box vox. Box vox is dedicated to the meaning and art of the packages that contain the things we consume. The perfect package makes what’s inside it more desirable. Lets face it, some things we buy just because the package is so amazing we can’t help it.

What if, for your next creative project, you created the packaging for it before you created the content? Imagine how easy it would be if you already knew the size and shape of what you were going to create. You’d know the name and maybe even the list of ingredients.

If you don’t want to create your own, use another package and fill it. What’s inside will be uniquely yours! If you want to write a book or story, find a book cover that’s evocative to you and write what would go inside. The same goes for old movie posters, advertisements and album covers.

For me personally, the best thing is to find an awesome package with a bad product. That way, you can create something that finally lives up to the promise of its packaging.

Less disappointment in the world is a good thing!

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