10 July 2007

Live Free or Die Hard or Make Something People Will Love

Yeah, okay. I caved yesterday and saw it. Sometimes the lowest common denominator appeals to me, I confess. At present I'm reading about the creation of A Streetcar Named Desire, from the debut production through the Kazan film, and I'm blown away by how viscerally Brando lived during his twenties. I feel as though I've positively wasted the last decade of my life (though perhaps retained a bit more cleanliness in general), and last night I wasted two more hours of it. If Brando had had action movies, would they have helped slake some of his youthful lust and mischief? Probably not. And, while on the subject, would I have felt more fulfilled by two hours of casual sex, a la Marlon? Probably not.

Then again, an acting class might not have been a complete waste of my time.

It's a strange stew I prepare for you today, seasoned with Desire, Die Hard and day-job interruptions. (Best part about being back: Time for 'bloggage. [Ability to pay for groceries also ranks high on the list.]) I was greeted when I sat to email today by an unaccustomed missive (stop it, jerk) by an unusual email from Friend Anna. She writes:

"I'm writing my paper on creativity, and was fielding thoughts with some people on the matter. ... What is creativity? What does it mean to be creative? (Are there certain characteristics you think of?) [And, is it a matter of inborn characteristics or influenced by upbringing and social environment? Is it innate talent or something that can be learned? Some scholars propose it is simply a matter of skills learned through hard work, a matter of motivation and discipline, not that anyone is innately more creative (genius) than anyone else. That is, it's conscious effort, they don't believe in it coming from unconscious.]"
I know so many people in school right now. It really does make them smarter. Is that an effect of age? Because, God knows, school didn't seem to make anyone smarter the last time I was in it. The most reasonable thing to do before responding to such questions would be to define my terms, terms such as "creativity," "genius" and "it." But as John McClane teaches us, it isn't reason that makes America so great; it's a willingness to do viciously risky and self-aggrandizing stunts involving the maximum amount of property damage. In that spirit, I dive right in.

First of all, let's release the concept of "artistry" from this discussion. Great artistry is its own creature, a thing born from arduous study, disciplined work and having a craft or technique. It's great, I love it, and maybe no great work can be great without it. Fine. But in our interests today we're exploring the nature of creativity, not artistry.

I would separate "creativity" from "genius." To my mind, creativity is a quality all possess. In a spiritual context, I believe it is our awareness of having been created (and not necessarily by an omnipotent deity--an awareness that we begin and end suffices) that compels us to emulate the process with our own actions, be this via child birth, entreprenurism or performance art. In a pragmatic context, I see a sense of creativity as one of the later stages of the evolution of intelligence. After one learns to perceive tools out of the objects around them, one may eventually come to refine such tools and create their own. In short, creativity to me is simply abstract thought, which some people take to greater extremes than others.

One interesting feature of abstract thought is the ability to conceive of concepts. (Is that redundant? John McClane wouldn't care. I don't care.) The real brain-twister is contemplating whether concepts are of themselves spontaneous creations on our part, similar to ancient peoples creating gods to explain the bits of the world they couldn't better understand, or master. In other words, have we created the concept of, say, love, in order to explain (or at least name) what seemingly illogical and irrational forces make us act like absolute idiots. Me, I tend to discount the notion of spontaneous creation. I am a fan of the law of conservation of energy, and believe that kind of balance applies to a great deal of reality. Similarly, for example, I agree that there are a finite number of stories in the world, and we just seem to create new ones by recombining, deconstructing and re-conceiving these few. To put it still another way, we are all inspired in our "creations" by everything that already is, around and within us. To this end, I don't really believe in genius, per se. There is no great, mysterious inborn gift that is only bestowed upon a few.

Then again, when I was faced with Michaelangelo's David (and listen: photographs will never express this work), not a force in the world could have convinced me it wasn't the result of genius.

Not even John McClane killing a helicopter with a car.

So my overall opinion is this: The magic of the original Die Hard had a lot to do with where the star was at that point in his career (spunky with something to prove, because he was an acknowledged television star but not by any means celebrated) and where the director was coming from (John McTeirnan tells us on the commentary that he wanted to find the joy in this otherwise harrowing tale). There's a synergy to it that came from taking risks and improvising, something that could never hope to be duplicated in a sequel. When A Streetcar Named Desire was brought to film, it brought together the Stanley from the Broadway cast and the Blanche from the London cast, and it should have exploded. Brash, method Brando set off against Lady Olivier (Vivien Leigh) seems a formula for an insane working environment. Yet it worked beautifully, and it never would have happened if the rules had been followed or sense had prevailed.

Whether it really exists or not, the creative person needs to believe in genius. Maybe, in looking back on a creation, we can readily name its sources and the whole thing seems like a masterminded manipulation of common elements. Yet the feeling of creating something good, of being in a creative spirit, isn't like that. It's a chartless territory, a blank page or a silent room. People often ask authors where they get their ideas from, and it's easy to say, "Oh, I was a closeted homosexual who grew up in the south, so . . . you know . . . ." I believe that it's belief that ideas come from. Creativity springs from a confrontation of nothingness with faith in that intangible genius that we can never prove, but that always intervenes.

. . . Eventually. Yippie-kiy-yay . . .

1 comment:

Moheggie said...

My first comment on all of this has to be with the photo posted. Granted, I've never seen a Die Hard movie, but still people, HOW IS A CAR COLLIDING WITH A HELICOPTER???
Ok, now that I've addressed that, I can proceed.

I don't know if being in school makes one smarter, but it does certainly make you think in a different, I dare say higher level, than you are used to thinking on a daily basis. It's easy for one's smarts to lay dormant due to the abuse of the mind-numbing day job. In relation to this, I always wonder what humans would be like if we used the other 90% of our brains (I know, you're thinking of the scene from "Wedding Crashers"..."I think we only use 10% of our hearts.") Would we all turn into a mix of Powder pi-eaters?

I agree that creativity and genius are two separate entities, that can and often do coincide. You can certainly be creative without being genius (unless you are Will Ferrell). And the vice versa, though some might disagree, you can be genius without being creative (but this also depends on each individual's definition of creativity). Which is sort of the question at hand and I have added nothing to your conversation. Look! A flying donkey! (pitter patter of paws running away)....

I like your pragmatic view about everyone being creative and I'm struggling with how far I myself believe it. I want to believe it, but at the same time, I've seen a ton of evidence to the contrary working where I do. Some people just GET it, other's God love them and thanks for your credit card number. But maybe that's exactly what you are saying by some people have refined the skill of abstract thought while others have chosen whether they know it or not to ignore it.... Completely.

I personally always feel it's more fun to follow the illogical. You just get better results. Plus, you have great drinking stories.

We are all made from the same juice, the same bits and pieces. "Everything that is, around and within us." We tell it how we see it, but certainly, it's not the first time telling or seeing, or even existing to be seen.

When I feel creative, it is usually from a source of love, be it feeling love, wanting love, or just love of life itself, and wanting to express my gratitude for being here for such a short breath of time.

"Creativity springs from a confrontation of nothingness" I love this, mostly because it's probably one of the truest statements, and because it came from you. :)

So, where's this leave me?