How to remain creative when the shitstorm strikes

library in ruins

First of all I would like to wish a Happy New Year to all readers of Blanco’s Blog, albeit a day late. Secondly, I’d like to thank all of you for the more than 30,000 visits to the blog made during 2012.

Third of all, I was wondering today: How do people manage to be creative, when they are assailed on all sides by the mad onslaught of the day-to-day? The hurricanes of shit that come flying at us from all directions via our jobs, from a permanent state of information overload, from our family commitments, financial responsibilities, and from trying to cope with the humiliating nightmare of still having our lives run by the very bankers who stuffed us in the first place – all, in other words, of the aforementioned shitstorm, and still, still, to reserve some time of the day in which to carry out so-called creative work. I say so-called because I am of the belief that everything one does can be creative, but am here talking strictly about those of us who have a commitment to a specific artistic medium, be it writing, painting, sculpture, music, mosaic, dance or theatre, photography or whatever . . . even baking. But not banking. No. Banking might well involve creativity too, but it is all the wrong kind, most definitely.

One of the most difficult things for me personally, as a chronic re-drafter of my texts (though not of these posts, which I tend to write straight off, often perhaps to their literary or stylistic detriment) is to gauge exactly how much time I should spend on trying to resolve a problem. A video recording of a talk by John Cleese informs us that Donald MacKinnon, the psychologist and researcher into creativity, found that the most successful creative professionals always played with a problem for much longer than their less successful peers. They tolerated, put up with, the discomfort, the nervous tension and anxiety; all the stuff that we experience when we need to solve a creative problem under pressure. And most of us will take a decision earlier than necessary, not because it is the best one, but because it makes us feel better by having taken it. The most successful creative people tolerate the uncertainty much longer, even thrive in the uncertainty. They are able to defer decision-taking till the time it suits them (the eleventh hour, often) in order to give themselves maximum pondering time.

Maybe this is a bit like breaking through the pain barrier for athletes, but I wouldn’t really know.

Anyhow, I will stick the John Cleese video up here, in case others who are not familiar with his rather useful thoughts on this subject should care to watch.







5 Comments on “How to remain creative when the shitstorm strikes

  1. I think Donald MacKinnon’s assumption has the value of all generalizations and nothing more. You cannot measure art according the time it takes. From there to think slow artists are better than faster ones there is just a tiny step and can be dangerous. Let’s think that John Cleese is a very funny guy and not a philosopher quoting Plato. A happy new year to Ricardo and his readers.


    • Hullo Jorge. I think MacKinnon’s assertion relates to problem-solving during the creative process, not to the production of ‘better art’. There is a big difference. I would agree that speed is not a concern: look at Picasso. But when there is a problem that needs resolving, it is probably more effective to dwell inside the problem, however uncomfortable, for as long as possible, rather than leap to the first convenient resolution. Feliz año nuevo.


  2. This reminded me of Keat’s Negative Capability. I think creativity has a lot to do with bearing the state of not knowing where whatever we are dealing with is going. It’s been wonderful to read this blog, dear Richard.


  3. Even if that MacKinnon is talking about the problem-solving during the creative process, I’m not sure at all of his conclusions. Sorry, but it still smells to me as a generalization. Most of us cannot afford the chance of getting more time than the time we have. Allow me to say that many of the achieved results are good enough to consider the problem well solved. On the other hand, we have seen, for instance, very good poems in their first versions ruined by authors corrections.


  4. Pingback: New Year Reflections | Toward A Sensible Organization

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