is creativity the enemy?

Tom Sachs via Leo Koenig Inc

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the artist Tom Sachs, whose amazing studio was featured in The Selby. When Todd Selby asked Sachs “What are the ten rules of your studio?” Number Ten was: “creativity is the enemy”. It is also the subject of an artwork Sachs created. Then, a reader wrote us an email that said: “I’d love follow up on why ‘creativity is the enemy'”. Good idea.

We figure the answer lies partly in the title of Sach’s artwork-sign:”Self-Fullfilling Prophecies”…It seems to warn of the danger of trying TOO hard, of being self-consciously creative and arty, rather than just…being…Maybe creativity is the enemy because it threatens the status quo, takes energy, takes us into various kinds of chaos and unknowing. Whew…We didn’t realize how Sach’s sign would make us think!

While we were mulling, we stumbled on New Liberal Arts, a free “book full of ideas” masterminded by Snarkmarket‘s Tim Carmody, and a collaboration of many.  Aaron MCleran,”Generative Media Artist” wrote a section about Creativity, which we thought was SWELL even though we weren’t sure what “generative”* means. We’ve excerpted it here (underscores, ours):

“…creativity should be studied as a kind of martial art. You should train to be a ninja of creativity.

So what do I mean by creativity? It’s a process that is independent of any particular domain and has its own set of universal characteristics. Just like Ninjutsu, it’s a skill and requires practice.

Here’s my stab (no pun intended) at some core components:

1 . Creativity is about aCtioN with FeedbaCk .

A medium is perturbed in some way, and a person reacts to that perturbation, causing further perturbations. A medium could be anything from a piece of music to a web page to a set of financial data. This is where aesthetics and per- sonality are expressed in the act of creativity. It’s also where things get done. An idea without action is worthless.

2 . Creativity is about exPLoratioN .

Fundamentally, you’re discovering something new, usually about yourself. But sometimes it’s a new chemical, a new equation, or a new law of the universe. Also, when you are exploring, you don’t know everything already. There’s the “fog of war” in front of you. Expertise can be dangerous to creativity: An ex- pert sees few new possibilities. Creative wanderlust disappears when it seems there is nothing new to discover. But the truth is, there are always new fron- tiers—in the form of new techniques, related disciplines, and unconventional points of view.

3 . Creativity is about PLay .

Sometimes creativity is just having fun. But it’s the kind of fun you have when you solve a hard problem or when you achieve what you thought was impos- sible. This is what leads people into careers they are actually passionate about. A sense of deep purpose, responsibility, or wanting to save the world are not enough to healthfully sustain an individual. At some level, you must derive some fun from your work. If you’re not having fun—deep fun—then it’s not worth doing.

4 . Creativity is about growth .

This component unifies the other three and is essentially the end result of practice. Your ability to provide feedback to your creative perturbations im- proves as you create more. You shouldn’t be an explorer who discovers the same mountain range over and over. Instead, travel to the part of the map where there be dragons. Through growth, a person develops an understand- ing of, patience towards, and appreciation for others—because they under- stand others can grow, too. Also, communities of creativity can grow together: Ideas can be shared, works of art exchanged. In these ways, the growth from creativity isn’t just personal but shared; we all benefit. x

*Of course we couldn’t help poking around to find this great description of “Generative” in a post by Carmody:

“Gen er a tive. Some thing new gets cre ated. The event doesn’t have to pro duce a series of lumi nous photo essays; the point is sim ply that con trib u tors aren’t oper at ing in play back mode. They’re think ing on their feet, col lab o rat ing on their feet, cre at ing on their feet. There’s risk involved! And that’s one of the most com­pelling rea sons to fol low along.”

…We are definitely gonna follow along!

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