Indulge Your Instinct to Create

28 09 2013

CreativityI believe that every human being who is living or has ever lived was made in the image of God, the Creator.  I believe this, first of all, because I am a Christian and believe the biblical record that says God made man in His own image.

From that reality follows certain things.  We are moral creatures, capable of choosing good or evil.   We have personality and intellect, heart and soul, drive and ambition, capacity and ability.

And creativity.  Like Creator, like creation.

Yesterday’s post, unpacking a quote by bestselling author Stephen King, highlighted the importance of reading as preparation for writing.  King’s goal, without a doubt, is to stimulate literary creativity.  He wants writers to write and to do so with skill.

I think I need to bring a necessary balance.

One might be left with the unfortunate conclusion, having read King’s quote, that unless one is a reader, especially an avid one, he or she ought not try to write.  Following on that logic, unless one has music or art lessons—especially “proper” ones—one ought not try to draw, paint, sculpt, or play piano.  Really?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Training in the arts is often helpful.  It gives one exposure to the best that creatives have offered fellow human beings throughout our history.  Such training often helps us along with instruction in techniques, interpretation, style, and grace.

But sometimes such training, though well-intentioned, has had the effect of stifling or even truncating one’s gifts.  Not all the time for sure, but too often.

The creative instinct is by nature a wild, exuberant, and wonderful thing.  It tends to defy a leash and, indeed, often withers by such an attachment.  It was because he thought about the universe as a child, rather than as a scientist, that Albert Einstein formulated his theories of relativity (General and Special).

What to do then?  Simple.  Write!  Draw!   Play!  Compose!  Sculpt!  Act!  Do so with wild abandon.  There’s little you cannot do unless someone tells you that you can’t.  That’s not the purpose of this blog.  My biggest regrets have come by believing I couldn’t do something significant because someone older and “wiser” told me I couldn’t.

And as for training?  Think it through and do so carefully.  If it enhances the gifts you’ve been given, then try it out.  If not, continue creating and let the snowflakes layer the ground where they will.

Most of all, enjoy the ride.  There’s nothing quite like creating, inventing, and reimagining.  It is, in fact, a divine partnership with the One who made you.

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The Place of Self-Discipline With Creativity

20 09 2013

Creativity and Self-Discipline

I’ve been thinking about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative giants–in music, literature, and art–of our time and of history.

Classical guitar virtuoso, Julian Bream, having enjoyed decades of success and now in his late seventies, still practices four to five hours a day.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Before they attained international superstardom, the Beatles played eight hours a day in clubs in Hamburg, Germany, honing their skills.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

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A Composer At His Best

18 09 2013

Elton John at PianoI’ve always enjoyed the A&E program, “Inside the Actors Studio.”  The main draw for me is this, namely, that the show and its skilled host, James Lipton, focus on questions of substance dealing with craft.  None of the paparazzi-kinds of questions one would expect from TMZ or other news outlets dedicated to the inane and superficial.

Though focused on acting, actors, and actresses, and filmed in the presence of students from the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at New York’s Pace University, from time to time, Lipton hosts musicians.

A while back, I happened upon an interview with Sir Elton John, Lipton’s guest for this particular show.  I’ve been an Elton John fan since about 1975 when my parents bought me my first record album, “Elton John’s Greatest Hits.”  I was fascinated and eager to hear what he had to say.

I learned a few things about the habits of Elton John and his approach to musical composition.  Those of you familiar with Elton know that he writes music and has spent a good deal of the last forty-six years working with friend and lyricist, Bernie Taupin.  Bernie writes lyrics in sixty minutes.  Elton writes songs in thirty minutes, as a rule.  If the song does not come in forty-five minutes, he shelves it for a later time.

When I viewed the clip below, I was simply blown sky-high.  In it, Elton John shows how he can put any text to music.  It is stunning.  Enjoy.

A true craftsman.

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What Are You Reading These Days?

15 09 2013

A Year of WritingI’ve often asked my friends in conversation as well as my readers on social media this question:  “What are you reading lately?”  I’m always fascinated by the responses.  I’m an avid reader in many different subject areas.  So here are a few that I’ve read or been reading this past three or four months.

A Year of Writing Dangerously (Barbara Abercrombie) – I first laid eyes on this gem a few months ago on a short vacation out of state.  Set up in the format of a daily dose for every day of the year, this fantastic little book gives daily fuel and inspiration for those of us who like to write.  Included in each day’s post is a quote by a renowned author.  I just bought it this afternoon.

The Kill ArtistThe Kill Artist (Daniel Silva) – This breakout novel first introduced the world of thriller fiction to the engaging character, Gabriel Allon, veteran Israeli intelligence officer and world-class art restorer.  Silva has given us fascinating protagonist in Allon, a psychologically conflicted veteran of various wars on international terrorism.  Read everything by Silva.  You won’t be disappointed.  By the way, Silva is President Clinton’s favorite fiction author.

Spirit of the DisciplinesThe Spirit of the Disciplines (Dallas Willard) – Recently deceased author Dallas Willard, philosophy professor at USC, shows us that our lives are lived in the body and that success in any pursuit–in this case, Christian discipleship–is predicated on the bodily (active) habits and practices we form and adhere to.  Fantastic read for those looking to improve their Christian commitment but equally profitable for those looking to master the gifts and talents they’ve been given.

The Creative HabitThe Creative Habit (Twyla Tharp) – Twyla Tharp is a veteran dance choreographer for, among other institutions, the American Ballet Theatre.  Set in the hustle and bustle of the New York City theatre culture, she shows that discipline and routines, far from stifling the creative impulse and creative persons, actually enhance creativity.  An excellent choice.

Zen In The Art of WritingZen In the Art of Writing (Ray Bradbury) – Famed novelist, Ray Bradbury, of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles fame shows that writing is about passion and child-like wonder.  Find something you love and hate and write about it, counsels Bradbury.  This little book of short essays will enhance your approach to writing and life.  I have a fellow writing colleague who reads Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes every October to remind himself why he’s writing in the first place.

Okay, friends.  What are you reading currently?  Tell us!

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“Inspiration” and Discipline

12 07 2013

segovia_with_ramirezI’ve been thinking lately about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative geniuses of our time and of history.

Father of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day up until his death in 1987.  I saw him give a recital at the University of Michigan in 1986 and he was still performing like a virtuoso.  And he was 93 years old at the time.  Ninety-three.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.  Mega best-selling novelist Stephen King writes 10 pages every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

Image Credit





Inspirations

25 11 2012

I read an interesting article some months ago about Viggo Mortensen and his influences.  Viggo is an actor of no mean accomplishment and a Watertown native.  He spent a number of his growing up years here in the North Country.  People who frequent neighboring Clayton see him from time to time as he comes back to visit family.

The article was not so much commentary as it was comprehensive lists.  Being a list junkie, I found it fascinating and invigorating.  You can read about it here.

I heard a wise speaker remark once that we are all a composite of the people who influence our lives, whether directly or through their work.  I resonated with this observation and it helped put to bed the nagging urge to “be an original.”

So I thought I would list some of my own, collected over forty-eight years.  I’d be interested in yours if you choose to comment.

Guitarists:  Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, David Russell, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton, Ted Nugent, Paul O’Dette (lute), Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Slash, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Joe Fava, Konrad Ragossnig (lute), Tommy Emmanuel, David Gilmour, Rick Foster, Angel Romero, Wes Montgomery, Jacob Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anthony Phillips.  And many more.

Music and Artists: Dan Fogelberg, Keith Green, Richard Souther, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Paul Clark, The Beatles, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Donovan, Honeytree, Sara Groves, Vineyard Music, Maranatha Music, Hillsong Music, James Taylor, Larry Norman, John Michael Talbot, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Jethro Tull, Randy Stonehill, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Kemper Crabb, Lamb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Twila Paris, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Card, Bob Bennett, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Brian Doerksen, Debby Boone, Kenny G, Norah Jones, Andrea Bocelli, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Jascha Heifetz, Glenn Gould, Malcolm & Alwyn, Phil Ramone.  And many more.

Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Gaspar Sanz, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Erik Satie, G.F. Handel, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Jimmy Webb, Francesco Da Milano, Henry Purcell, Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Michael Praetorius, Joaquin Rodrigo, Antonin Dvorak, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Rachel Portman, Felix Mendelsohn, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Mychael Danna, Stephen Schwartz, George Gershwin. And many more.

Film: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Steve McQueen, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Zandt, Jim Caviezel, Franco Zeffirelli.  And many more.

Writers: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Morris West, Will & Ariel Durant, Viktor Frankl, Chaim Potok, Ralph McInerny, M. Scott Peck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael D. O’Brien, William Manchester, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, Leo Tolstoy, Randy Alcorn, Joel Rosenberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Sol Stein, Mitch Albom, Mortimer Adler, Will Strunk & E.B. White.  And many more.

Leadership and Self-Development:  Jim Rohn, Peter Drucker, Michael Gelb, John Maxwell, J. Oswald Sanders, Jack Canfield, Dean Karnazes, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Warren Bennis, David Schwartz, Zig Ziglar, Warren Bennis. And a few more.

Politics and Economics:  George Will, Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Ronald Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, John F. Kennedy, George Schultz, Thomas Sowell.  And a few more.

Science and Technology:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, E.F. Codd, Stephen Hawking.  And a few more.

Enough for now.  Who inspires you in your talents, work and avocations?





Bron-Yr-Aur and Creative Spaces

16 10 2012

I am a guitarist.  I took up this amazing instrument in the mid ‘70’s.  I saw a friend of mine play three songs—“Time In A Bottle”, “Dream On” and “Smoke On the Water”–the riff that launched thousands of guitarists in those days.  I freaked.  And fell in love.  The love affair continues thirty-five years later.

I owe a great deal of my early formation as a guitarist to Led Zeppelin in general and Jimmy Page in particular.  I learned a lot of the classic rock Zeppelin tunes in those days.  But I was especially drawn to their acoustic work.  It was just so interesting.  Rare chords.  Alternate tunings.  Mandolins.  J.R.R. Tolkien in the lyrics.  Multiple overdubs creating marvelous sonic textures.  A world of wonder and colorful sounds. A fair amount of Led Zeppelin’s creativity in those days emerged as Jimmy Page and Robert Plant retired to a little cottage in the Welsh countryside.  Bron-Yr-Aur.  It was here that music was inspired and created that endures to the present day.  They even named music after this quaint locale, pictured above.

Where are your creative spaces?  A cottage?  Water?  Forests (my personal favorite)?  Urban life?

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