A simple shift in perspective.
(3 Minute Read)
For one reason or another, I’ve been thinking about “creativity” a lot, about what it means to be creative. I’ve observed that today we have a way of over-applying “creative”. Not only is everyone creative, but seemingly every thing can be creative.
For the past five or so years, Subway has referred to their store employees as ‘Sandwich Artists’. In this case though, I’m going to guess that Subway isn’t fooling anyone with this job title, least of all the Artists themselves.
As someone who has felt ‘creative’ for as long as I can remember, the ubiquity of creativity in recent years might have taken a toll on my self worth. I imagine that this trend has sparked some version of an identity crisis for plenty of creative people around the world. If everyone is creative, is creativity even valuable? Do we need new words for different types of creativity?
Is this just me leaning hard into my millennial identity, ever-longing to feel special?
The past year or so had me asking “who am I?” in just about every way possible. Maybe because of this damn pandemic. Maybe because of Donald Trump. Maybe because of losing my dad to cancer at the end of last summer. Maybe simply because of getting older. In the wake of last year, I’ve felt a heightened desire to live with some sort of purpose, and I’ve desperately wanted to find it.
I’ve done some strange things.
Strange Thing 1: I wrote a *nice* letter to George W. Bush, a fact that would blow the mind of my sixteen year old self. But, I had something to say to the man. Both my father and grandfather were in the ‘big leagues’ when it came to writing letters to the editor. So, in the spirit of them: I wrote it down, typed it out, *printed* it (which required a trip to FedEx because who owns a printer?), looked up the address to his official office, and mailed it. I was proud of what I wrote and perhaps even more proud for completing the series of tasks required to send the letter in the mail.
I haven’t heard back. I tell myself he’s busy painting. And that’s fine.
Admittedly, a real part of me thought (knew) he would write me back. My logic was sound: Who else is writing to W? I pictured him standing at his easel in a denim shirt, sweating a little in the Texas sun, when a secret service agent interrupts to bring him a lemonade and tell him that he ‘got some mail today’.
Still, If George W. has tapped into his ‘creative flow’ late in life via art and that is why he has no time to respond to me, fantastic. I imagine a lot of you reading this are fellow creative types (lucky you), and if so, you know there’s no better feeling than locating the elusive flow.
I imagine I will always be ‘chasing that dragon’.
Strange Thing 2: I’ve done more yoga than I’ve ever done in my life (by a lot… because I used to not do any), to the point that I now have a suggestion of abs - which also would blow the mind of my sixteen year old self. I’ve always been active, but I had long made peace with abs not being in my cards this lifetime. Vanities aside — Yoga, as much as anything, is an examination of the self, and so, my time spent in poses only furthered the “who am I?” narrative referenced above.
Sometime in the past few weeks, I grew increasingly curious about the connection between ‘how our society views creativity’ and individualism. For all of the talk of ‘creative collaboration’, in the modern economy, the celebration of creativity has largely become a celebration of individuals. A noble few are placed at the top of a pyramid while the rest of us are led to believe that if our ideas are good enough, we too might find fortune or fame.
Last week, I read most of Oli Mould’s 2018 book, Against Creativity. I wanted to like it. There certainly are passages worthy of underlines and stars (particularly when he illustrates how independent, creative work can lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ and puts a lot more stress on individuals rather than companies), but at times it left me scratching my head. His thesis is essentially that ‘everything we have been told about creativity is wrong’, and maybe the ‘everything’ part is too much for me in this particular moment.
What started to fester in me was the sense that so much creativity is about the ego. The lens with which we view creativity can begin to look like a craft for the self-centered and yet, I can’t help myself but constantly rearrange the puzzle of images and words in my head into something that might be useful.
On Saturday, I found myself entirely consumed by a project that had me revisiting old ideas with new eyes. I saw connections where I hadn’t before and it became crystal clear that this particular project wasn’t really about me at all, but about a not-yet-existent ‘we’.
Suddenly I felt it.
If creation is to make something from nothing, at a base level, it seems more interesting to create for others than for no one. Creativity that stays in a vacuum begins to feel pointless.
Once again, yesterday morning, I found myself on a yoga mat and perhaps for the first time, noticed myself genuinely questioning “who are we?” rather than “who am I?”. And that simple shift might be exactly what I’ve been looking for this entire year.
In other news… Graydon Carter says cities should put restaurants and diners first as they try to restore vibrancy lost during the pandemic and I think he’s right.
It’s a miracle anyone goes into the business. The hours are long. The margins are slim. You ever hear of a restaurant heir or heiress?
— Graydon Carter
There was much to love about Jackie Daly’s beautifully written profile about Renzo Piano in the FT. If I’m half as cool as Renzo when I’m 83, I can die happy.
“Architecture is also about illusion. It points to something but you don’t really need to know what. This is also true in music or a book, you don’t put everything in, you leave space for the imagination. You need that because changes must be celebrated with expression and must be built – with something that touches human beings.”
— Renzo Piano
Lastly, I was gifted a book which contains an interview with the late Walker Evans, the Depression Era photographer who was seldom interviewed. I enjoyed this passage:
“That’s what makes photography so special and interesting and unknown as an art, and that’s why so many people don’t see anything at all. The point is difficult and abstruse. And that’s why I say half jokingly that photography’s the most difficult of the arts. It does require a certain arrogance to see and choose. I feel myself walking on a tightrope instead of on the ground. With the camera, it’s all or nothing. You either get what you’re after at once, or what you do has to be worthless. I don’t think the essence of photography has the hand in it so much. The essence is done very quietly with the flash of the mind, and with a machine. I think too that photography is editing, editing after the taking. And knowing what to take you have to do the editing. The secret of photography is, the camera takes on the character and the personality of the handler. The mind works on the machine — through it rather.”
— Walker Evans, 1971
Have a great week!