Tag Archives: creativity

A Portrait of the Artist as a Monster

Harvey Weinstein, Letty Aronson, Soon-Yi Previn, and Woody Allen attending a screening for "Vicky Christina Barcelona" in 2008. © RTN McBride/MediaPunch/IPX

Claire Dederer‘s essay in The Paris Review on whether and how we can continue to enjoy the art of predatory men is excellent, and challenging, and not quite what you think it’s going to be: that is, it’s great writing. Yes, it’s partly about Woody Allen and Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein and how their films can be simultaneously genius and tainted:

I took the fucking of Soon-Yi as a terrible betrayal of me personally. When I was young, I felt like Woody Allen. I intuited or believed he represented me on-screen. He was me. This is one of the peculiar aspects of his genius—this ability to stand in for the audience. The identification was exacerbated by the seeming powerlessness of his usual on-screen persona: skinny as a kid, short as a kid, confused by an uncaring, incomprehensible world. (Like Chaplin before him.) I felt closer to him than seems reasonable for a little girl to feel about a grown-up male filmmaker. In some mad way, I felt he belonged to me. I had always seen him as one of us, the powerless. Post-Soon-Yi, I saw him as a predator.

My response wasn’t logical; it was emotional…

A great work of art brings us a feeling. And yet when I say Manhattan makes me feel urpy, a man says, No, not that feeling. Youre having the wrong feeling. He speaks with authority: Manhattan is a work of genius. But who gets to say? Authority says the work shall remain untouched by the life. Authority says biography is fallacy. Authority believes the work exists in an ideal state (ahistorical, alpine, snowy, pure). Authority ignores the natural feeling that arises from biographical knowledge of a subject. Authority gets snippy about stuff like that. Authority claims it is able to appreciate the work free of biography, of history. Authority sides with the (male) maker, against the audience.

Me, I’m not ahistorical or immune to biography. That’s for the winners of history (men) (so far).

But it’s also about anyone who creates, who is committed to making art and pushing it out into the world. For many artists (particularly those who are women, and or mothers) this requires a level of self-interest and boundary-setting that is usually described as selfish — even a little monstrous:

There are many qualities one must possess to be a working writer or artist. Talent, brains, tenacity. Wealthy parents are good. You should definitely try to have those. But first among equals, when it comes to necessary ingredients, is selfishness. A book is made out of small selfishnesses. The selfishness of shutting the door against your family. The selfishness of ignoring the pram in the hall. The selfishness of forgetting the real world to create a new one. The selfishness of stealing stories from real people. The selfishness of saving the best of yourself for that blank-faced anonymous paramour, the reader. The selfishness that comes from simply saying what you have to say…

My friend and I had done nothing more monstrous than expecting someone to mind our children while we finished our work. That’s not as bad as rape or even, say, forcing someone to watch while you jerk off into a potted plant. It might sound as though I’m conflating two things—male predators and female finishers—in a troubling way. And I am. Because when women do what needs to be done in order to write or make art, we sometimes feel monstrous. And others are quick to describe us that way.

So at the end, are we allowed to laugh at Annie Hall? Like many of us, Dederer isn’t sure, but her essay adds necessary layers to the conversation, getting us closer to the possibility of a response.

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Mothering Is Not the Enemy of Creative Work

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Many American women struggle about whether they can be both mothers and professionals, especially women with little social and financial support. Female artists know this problem too well. Is it possible to write and to parent? Do you sacrifice your painting career and creative energy to raise children? Yes, our culture says, you do. But at The Atlantic, journalist Erika Hayasaki argues that this is an oversimplification.

Hayasaki, a mother of three, understands the complex truth from experience. Before giving birth to twins, she took her first kid on reporting trips, to book readings and to the classes she teaches. Her writing life thrived. After adding twins to the mix, juggling became more complicated, but as a creative thinker, Hayasaki sees opportunities and advantages in her new paradigm.

To get insight into the relationship between motherhood and the creative life, Hayasaki looks at neuroscience, psychology, and the life of female rats. Tension will always exist between the need to do create and the need to mother. And yes, mothering takes huge amounts of time, Hayasaki argues, but it also involves many of the same elements as creativity: grit, flexibility, resourcefulness, innovation, and novel thinking.

When Abraham became a mom (her son is now 8) she realized she had to change her habits and daily patterns. She knows that fostering creativity often involves changing how you look at the world. “Being a mother gives you a different perspective,” she said. “You’re dealing with a wholly novel situation. You’re discovering a side of yourself that is completely new. All of this could be useful to creativity—which is about novelty.”

In 1953, the psychologist Morris Stein defined human creativity as the production of something original and useful. Rex Jung, a neuropsychologist at the University of New Mexico who studies creativity and the brain, takes that definition a few steps further. For an idea to be creative, it must also be surprising, he says.

Creativity requires making unusual connections. At its core, Jung said, creativity is original problem solving. This is an evolutionarily derived process that is important to survival. Humans who achieve high creativity usually have endurance and grit, Jung said. Creative people take risks, Jung said. They are bold, and adept at finding new and unusual ways to get tasks done.

“In this period of extreme pressure, when mothers are going through massive changes in their bodies, diets, and hormones,” Jung hypothesized, “that is when creativity should emerge as a highly adaptive reasoning process.”

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Putting Creativity on Your Tab

Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images

At 1843, Emma Hogan reports that in Silicon Valley, microdosing LSD is the new “body-hacking” tool everyone from engineers to CEOs is using to boost productivity and creativity. Interestingly, while apparently everyone is doing it, users are reluctant to have their real names appear in print. Psychedelic secrets, man! Peace out.

Every three days Nathan (not his real name), a 27-year-old venture capitalist in San Francisco, ingests 15 micrograms of lysergic acid diethylamide (commonly known as LSD or acid). The microdose of the psychedelic drug – which generally requires at least 100 micrograms to cause a high – gives him the gentlest of buzzes. It makes him feel far more productive, he says, but nobody else in the office knows that he is doing it. “I view it as my little treat. My secret vitamin,” he says. “It’s like taking spinach and you’re Popeye.”

San Francisco appears to be at the epicentre of the new trend, just as it was during the original craze five decades ago. Tim Ferriss, an angel investor and author, claimed in 2015 in an interview with CNN that “the billionaires I know, almost without exception, use hallucinogens on a regular basis.” Few billionaires are as open about their usage as Ferriss suggests. Steve Jobs was an exception: he spoke frequently about how “taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life”. In Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography, the Apple CEO is quoted as joking that Microsoft would be a more original company if Bill Gates, its founder, had experienced psychedelics.

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Why Don’t You Just Get One of Those Creative Jobs?

Photo by ctj71081, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

I never acted on my mother’s suggestion that I find a nice creative job, like in advertising, but then the job came to me anyway. An art-director friend called and said she was making a TV commercial for Barneys New York and she needed some words. Would I do it?

I didn’t hesitate for a second. Why not? What is the difference between art and advertising?

Quality? Clearly not. The only difference I could come up with for sure was the logo. I was an adman from that day forward, and somehow it gave me the resources to do what I thought was art—with a logo.

I had always been interested in the neutral zone, the DMZ of art and commerce, and now I was working there. It was a place where I could push the limits, mainly because I was so unfamiliar with the limits. Like Iggy, I didn’t feel like a sellout, I felt empowered. If you’re going to be a bad boy, be bad: like Bob Dylan talking to the computer in the IBM ad. Don’t tell me he wasn’t savoring the transgression of the whole thing.

At The Paris Review, writer and creative director Glenn O’Brien narrates the comic struggle of making a living in the arts, particularly the way many creative types struggle with whether or not to go into advertising. He doesn’t.

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Borges and $: The Parable of the Literary Master and the Coin

Elizabeth Hyde Stevens | Longreads | June 2016 | 31 minutes (7,830 words)

 

Nothing is less material than money. . . . Money is abstract, I repeated, money is future time. It can be an evening in the suburbs, it can be the music of Brahms, it can be maps, it can be chess, it can be coffee, it can be the words of Epictetus teaching us to despise gold. Money is a Proteus more versatile than the one on the island of Pharos.

—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Zahir”

I fell in love with Jorge Luis Borges when I was a freshman in college. That year, full of hope and confusion, I left my hometown for the manicured quads of Brown University, desperately seeking culture—art, beauty, and meaning beyond the empty narrative of wealth building that consumes our world. It is easy to look back and see why Borges spoke to me. The Argentine fabulist’s short stories were like beautiful mind-altering crystals, each one an Escheresque maze that toyed with our realities—time, space, honor, death—as mere constructs, nothing more. With the beautiful prose of a poet-translator-scholar, he could even make money seem like mere fantasy. It was precisely the narrative someone like me might want.

Yet, money is real. We live and die by the coin. Money tells us how many children we can raise and what kind of future they can afford, how many of our 78.7 years must be sold off in servitude, and what politics we will have the luxury of voicing. As a college freshman, I still knew none of this, and I had the luxury of not thinking about money. These days, it seems all but inescapable.

I am still full of hope and confusion, but at 35, practically nothing concerns me more than the coin, a metonymic symbol representing my helplessness. The coin represents this desperate need to support myself and my writing when, in the very near future, I start a family. My mind has changed; all my journal entries turn into to-do lists and career strategizing. Money, planning, and money. I think of little else. Read more…

‘The World Is Full of Obvious Things’: A Sherlock Holmes Reading List

Image by Julian Breme (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Sherlock Holmes feels uncannily contemporary these days — from his dizzying array of post-hipsterish quirks (Cocaine user! Virtuosic violin player! Exotic tobacco aficionado!) to a social aloofness that feels straight out of a Millennial INTP‘s playbook. (His knack for Twitter-ready aphorisms doesn’t hurt, either.) I’ve been rereading Conan Doyle’s stories for almost 20 years, and the guy has never felt more fresh.

After more than a century of massive, ever-splintering fandom, Holmes is still a commercial juggernaut, a literary character at once instantly recognizable and endlessly customizable. How many fictional creations could plausibly be portrayed, in the span of four years, by Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Ian McKellan (whose Mr. Holmes will be out in theaters later this month)?

The Holmes universe has long fractured into an ever-expanding multiverse, one in which the original canon is but one galaxy (and a minor one, at that) among many apocryphal ones. From Sherlockian cosplay in the Swiss alps to a family’s archives in Illinois, here are five stories that speak to the ubiquity and longevity of one Victorian detective.

1. “Sherlock Holmes And The Adventure Of The Impudent Scholars.” (Jenny Hendrix, The Awl, November 2011)

What do Franklin Roosevelt, Isaac Asimov, and Neil Gaiman have in common? They were (and in Gaiman and Asimov’s case, still are) members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a semi-secret, tightly-knit scholarly society dedicated to The Game — the study of Sherlock Holmes as if he were a real, non-fictional figure. Jenny Hendrix digs into the history of this strange literary club.

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The Fight Club of Motivational Books

The professional cannot take rejection personally because to do so reinforces Resistance. Editors are not the enemy; critics are not the enemy. Resistance is the enemy. The battle is inside our own heads. We cannot let external criticism, even if it’s true, fortify our internal foe. The foe is strong enough already.

A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul. The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.

The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.

—From writer Steven Pressfield’s manifesto on overcoming creative blocks, negative thoughts, and fear: The War of Art.

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Loneliness and Isolation: Necessary Ingredients of Creativity?

Vincent van Gogh: Self Portrait (1887) Van Gogh Museum

(Vincent) Van Gogh likely had a cadre of mental issues, none of which were suitably diagnosed while he was alive. Yet what seemed to weigh heaviest on him was the inevitability of his loneliness. According to his letters to Theo, he felt he had one of two options: content himself with loneliness or try to countenance his loneliness with friendships thereby derailing his creativity (“lead us from the road,” as he wrote).

Aldous Huxley wrote, “If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely,” and upon thinking about it even a little, it quickly becomes apparent that many of history’s creative geniuses have been deeply lonely people. There is the obvious reason for this: dedicating oneself to an artistic pursuit means one has little time for social endeavors. This is what has frustrated flamboyant, gregarious writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Henry James, both of whom wrote about the dreadful isolation necessary to turn out great fiction. But whether it’s the mysteriously secretive writing careers of J.D. Salinger or Donna Tartt, the well-known loneliness of Joseph Conrad (“we live as we dream — alone”) or the friendship-loneliness conundrum of van Gogh, it becomes apparent that something else is at play. Loneliness is not just sufficient for creativity; it is necessary. It is almost as if one can only be truly creative when one detaches from society.

Cody C. Delistraty on how social rejection and isolation fuel metacognition and the creative process.

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The Old Music Industry: ‘A System Specifically Engineered to Waste the Band’s Money’

Shellac, with Albini. Photo by goro_memo

During the 90s there was something of an arms race to see who could write the biggest deal. That is, the deal with the most money being spent on the band’s behalf. In a singularly painless contest the money would either be paid to the band as a royalty, which would take that money out of the system and put it into things like houses and groceries and college educations. Or it could be paid to other operators within the industry, increasing the clout and prestige of the person doing the spending. It’s as if your boss, instead of giving your paycheck to you, could pay that money to his friends and business associates, invoking your name as he did. Since his net cost was the same and his friends and associates could return the favour, why would he ever want to let any of that money end up in your hands? It was a system that ensured waste by rewarding the most profligate spendthrifts in a system specifically engineered to waste the band’s money.

Now bands existed outside that label spectrum. The working bands of the type I’ve always been in, and for those bands everything was always smaller and simpler. Promotion was usually down to flyers posted on poles, occasional mentions on college radio and fanzines. If you had booked a gig at a venue that didn’t advertise, then you faced a very real prospect of playing to an empty room. Local media didn’t take bands seriously until there was a national headline about them so you could basically forget about press coverage. And commercial radio was absolutely locked up by the payola-driven system of the pluggers and program directors.

International exposure was extraordinarily expensive. In order for your records to make it into overseas hands you had to convince a distributor to export them. And that was difficult with no means for anyone to hear the record and decide to buy it. So you ended up shipping promotional copies overseas at a terrific expense, never sure if they would be listened to or not.

Music producer and Shellac frontman Steve Albini’s reminder about what the “good old days” of the music industry were really like for artists.

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‘My Brain Was Changed Forever’

And, I found, I could not lie. I could not write fiction. So instead I wrote the truth. I started an anonymous blog on which I chronicled my stroke recovery as a writer. It connected me to friends that I have to this day.

I became an introvert. I learned to protect my energy, something that now serves me well in midlife. I learned to take better care of myself. I learned to devote my time to things that reinvigorated me, to things that were important. Write a paragraph in my journal. This person, not that. A bath and not makeup.

My brain was changed forever. The dead spot never rejuvenated. But the brain was making new paths around the destruction. In this way, blood traveled in a new way around my heart. Also in this way, there are new neural pathways in my brain.

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, in BuzzFeed, on having a stroke at age 33.

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Photo: reighleblanc, Flickr