Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Completing The Picture"

Allow me to wrap up one area of investigation before moving on; I can’t promise it’ll be interesting, but it does appear to be necessary.  The urgency to “complete the picture” is like having a piece of corn stuck between your teeth.  You feel noodgy (an indefinable unsettledness) until you work that thing out.

I don’t even know why I care about this stuff.  “Where does one’s creative ability come from?”  Why does that matter?  You have it, and you use it.  (And if you don’t, it’s not a question.) 

In yesterday’s post, it was, “What if you have some creative ability, but it’s not of sufficient reliability?”  Fine, so you don’t count on it for making a living.  Moving on.

I have a feeling that underlying these questions is a bigger question.  I know there’s “How did I get to be me?” but that’s bigger than big, and I choose to give that question a pass.  The next thing you know it’s, “Where did I come from?” and I’m four years old.  

The “Medium-To-Large-Sized Underlying Question”, I think, is this one:  “If I don’t know where my creative ability comes from, and I have concerns that it’s not reliably sufficient, what happens if that creative ability declines to appear, when I really, really need it to?

This ability – you have no control over it.  It doesn’t come from you.  It is entirely independent.

Is that really what you want to rely upon as the basis for your career? 

Creative ability is not like the gifts of a surgeon.  Unless the surgeon develops some degenerative brain disorder, there is no chance that in the middle of an operation, when they’re handed a scalpel, they will turn to the assisting nurse and say,

“What’s that?”

Surgeons may have better days and less better days, and their edge may decline with time, but there is no chance that one day, the essential element of what they rely upon to do their work will suddenly and stubbornly refuse to show up. 

Why?  Because there’s a school where the surgeons go to learn how to surge.  They are taught skills, involving steps – first, you do this, then, you do that, then you do more things, then you close them up, and go talk to the family. 

I do not discount the superior abilities that distinguish capable surgeons from brilliant surgeons, but fundamentally, we are dealing with a methodical sequence of mechanical procedures.  You do this, and then you do that.  And if you do the “thises” and the “thats” correctly, the patient usually lives. 

When it comes to creativity, I won’t say you have none of that reliability.  But you do have considerably less of it.  With increasing experience, you can learn certain workable techniques to get you through those times when that spark of inspiration seems to be otherwise engaged.  But it won’t be your best work.  It’ll just be “done by Tuesday.”  (Which, in a world of schedules and deadlines, has its own comforting appeal.

In a way, reliance on creative inspiration is a “kissin’ cousin” to gambling.  While I was writing the previous paragraph, what flashed to mind were the lyrics from “Luck Be A Lady” from Guys and Dolls. 

Sky Masterson desperately needs the dice to roll his way.  But, luck being luck, he is less than certain they will, the lyrical expression of his concern being,

You’re on this date with me
The pickins have been lush
And yet before the evening is over
You might give me the brush.

What if, at a moment when it is most direly needed, your creative ability suddenly gives you “the brush”?

Realistically, this is, at best, a secondary concern.  Reminding me of the classic scene from Butch Cassidy, when, after Butch proposes that they leap off a cliff into the water way below them, Sundance confesses that he can’t swim.  To which Butch sensibly replies,

“Are you crazy?  The fall will probably kill you.”

FLEDGLING WRITER:  What if my creative ability ditches me in my time of need?

Are you crazy?  You will probably never get a job!

We now come – sorry it took so long – to the third question of my investigation, which is this:  

“Why are most people with creative abilities – with the exception of the rare geniuses, like Leonardo Da Vinci – gifted at one creative mode of expression but terrible at others?  I am not talking painters and pole-vaulters.  These modalities are not that far apart.     

For example, I can reliably write scripts (and blog posts.)  I can occasionally write songs.  On the other hand, however,

I cannot draw at all.

I can draw pictures with words.  But I am hopeless at drawing pictures with pictures.

Why is that?  I know about training and I acknowledge drawing lessons would help.  But they would never make me good, just a little less embarrassing.  The question remains – lessons and their limitations notwithstanding – “Why isn’t the creative impulse more readily transferable?”

I always imagined creative ability to be like a flute, or challil, for those of you scoring in Hebrew.  The creative impulse source is the same – think “a big boiling cauldron of creativity” – but – it comes out one hole, and it’s writing, and if it comes out another hole, and it’s painting a picture.  (And if it comes out all the holes, it’s playing the flute.)

I just wonder how you get it to come out a different hole?

(NOTE: There is the possibility that the “flute” analogy could be wrong.  In which case, the question “Why do the majority of creative people have one creative ability but not others?” joins the two earlier questions, the answer to all three being, “I have no idea.”)

If you come here for definitive answers, you should really ask for your money back. 

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