The Conditions For Creativity

Speaking at Full Sail University (via iTunesU), Sir Ken Robinson:

Because if you think of it, you know, a great gardener, a great farmer depends upon plants growing under their care. Otherwise they’re out of business. But the irony is that every farmer and gardener knows that you cannot make a plant grow. You cannot do that, you know. You don’t stick the roots on and paint the petals and attach the leaves. The plant grows itself. What you do is provide the conditions for growth. And great farmers know what the conditions and bad ones don’t. Great teachers know what the conditions of growth are and bad ones don’t. And with bad teaching all this potential of students shrivels in the face of it. With great teaching all this stuff starts to flourish and to flower. And that to me is the great gift of teaching, you know, to recognise that growth is possible at any time. Like in Death Valley, you know, in the most deathless place there’s life there if you know what the conditions are.

In Walking In This World: Practical Strategies For Creativity, Julia Cameron talks about the importance of boundaries and containment. She addresses the dangers of showing a work prematurely (and to an overly critical audience), as well as establishing limits to who can take your creative energies and when and how. She writes:

For many artists, expressing is almost a matter of emptying themselves to let inspiration move through them. We do not want to be in our human personalities and concerns when we are in the midst of creating. This is why busy executives have secretaries – to monitor their inflow and keep it from becoming overwhelming to their creative process. As artists, we may need the same protective shield and have to erect it ourselves.

Virginia Woolf said all artists need a room of their own – I think that room may be at Starbucks, or in the basement, or in the bathroom, sitting on the floor. It may be the words “Not now.”

For me, the conditions I require for creativity depend a lot on what it is exactly that I am creating. I can write just about anywhere – all I need is a pen and paper, though sometimes I’ll take my little netbook and type my thoughts out (it’s lovely and portable and has about 9 hours battery life). I implore any one travelling on public transport to always carry a notebook and a pen. When I was studying I would travel for six hours each Friday (three hours in either direction) and some of my most inspired output occurred during this time.

If I am working on a video or recording a song though my needs are different. The need for quiet conditions is extraordinarily important. (People in this neighbourhood have an annoying fondness for loud, heavy machinery. In these situations, this is a creativity killer!)

There are also times when I want to be alone just because I’m doing something that I haven’t done before, something that I’m feeling a bit self-conscious about. I recently made a silly (and hopefully funny) video for Halloween. I knew I wanted free reign of the house to do it and I certainly didn’t want an audience while I did it. Even though everybody who actually lived in this house was away for the day, a family member decided to ‘drop in.’ Eventually I overcame this by sending them out to get some lunch and filming parts quickly in their absence. (Murphy’s Law however was at work here and sure enough during the final sequences a loud lawnmower started. Fortunately I knew all the audio was this project was to be overdubbed later though.)

What conditions do you require to be creative? And how do you go about making sure they’re present?

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