Thursday, February 14, 2013

Not Enough Creative Outlets

I was talking with a co-worker the other day, and they made some an allusion to having more creative outlets in the office. Not in a "oh, I wish there were more ways I could be creative at work" way, but in more of a "you seem like you're not creatively challenged enough here, Sean" way. Maybe I was reading a bit more into his commment than was intended, but it sparked some reflection on my own creative endeavors generally.

I have a job that, by most measures, is relatively creative; I design and build web pages. It's not free-form, expressionistic painting, but there's a level of artistry that goes into it. But, at the same time, I work within the confines of branding standards and such. So I'm not sure if my co-worker was responding to some (allegedly humorous) Photoshopped images I whipped up of other co-workers last week, or he found this blog, or he saw my MTV columns over on my LinkedIn profile, or what. But I think he got the sense that I have more creative energy than can be funneled into my day job as it's currently structured.

And that wouldn't be inaccurate.

But the "as it's currently structured" part is misleading. I'm pretty confindent that, no matter how my job was structured and what I actually got paid to do for 40 hours a week, it would still be inadequate to express myself creatively. Not in terms of any limits that might be imposed by branding or whatever, but by the simple matter of time.

See, the thing about creativity is that, when you've spent time to develop your creativity (regardless of how or in what disciplines) it doesn't really get turned off. Ever. When I walk out of the door of my office building at 5:00, I don't suddenly switch off all the projects that I'm working on. My brain keeps going and making connections. Maybe I catch some interest custom license plate in the parking lot, maybe I hear an interesting news article on the radio while I'm driving home, maybe there's some clever new billboard that went up, maybe they've reorganized the grocery store I stopped at before I got home...

The very notion of creativity involves putting together disparate ideas, and part of training your mind to do that means constantly and continually seeking out new inputs. Yeah, that news article on the radio may be the exact same one that hundreds of thousands of people are listening to at that exact moment, but you might be the only one who happens to be passing by a billboard with imagery that inadvertently relates back to what they're talking about. That new store layout is experienced by a lot of people, but you might be the only one who's looking for just toothpaste, deodorant, whole wheat fig bars and oats.

There have been studies that suggest that people are more creative when they're really tired or drunk. The reason for that is that in those states, you tend to lose focus. You start picking up things more on the periphery, and are able to see those in conjunction with either other things on the periphery and/or what's in your immediate focus. The difference between stereotypically creative individuals and non-creative ones is that the creatives are more readily able to lose focus.

There's a somewhat famous anecdote about Jack Kirby where he almost ran over his son while picking him up from school. Jack drove up to the school, pulled into the driveway, and proceeded to launch the car up on the sidewalk where his son was standing. It wasn't a deliberate act, certainly, and not a problem with Jack's physical ability. What happened was essentially that he was dreaming up some new comic book story, and lost all focus from the road. His wife Roz soon took away Jack's car keys because he simply could not drive a car without his creative mind making an endless series of connections with all that he was seeing out before him, both inside the car and out. The shape of the steering wheel, the dials and guages on the dash, the lighting as he broke through a line of trees, the guy on the corner trying to fix an awning... Jack just spent all the time making connections from one thing to another.

So when I sit down to write a blog post or an MTV column, or when I get behind a drum set to play, or when I pull out my tools and start building something, or when I fire up Photoshop here at home... all of that is because I can't not create. I can focus long enough to drive a car for a few hours or sit and read, but 40 hours a week isn't enough time for me to get done everything that's going on in my head. I'm glad I have a job that has some creativity to it, but I can't just stop because I'm not getting paid any longer. I've spent far more money than I've earned in writing my two books. But I honestly don't think I could've NOT written them. I put together a Dr. Who time war trailer several years ago, not because I'm any good at video production, but because it was something that I just could not get out of my head.

My point is that creativity does need an outlet. And a really creative person can't get that JUST within the confines of any one job, no matter how enjoyable or creative it is. That's why you see so many artists who also write or play an instrument or dance or whatever. There aren't enough hours in the day to get out everything that's going on inside a creative person's brain, and their life is likely a constant flow of ideas, only some of which may be relevant to what they're paid to do.

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