On creativity

This is another blog post following up on one Grainne Conole has written (at http://e4innovation.com/?p=661) which is ironic, I suppose, given the nature of the topic. I wanted to chip in on the conversation too, because I wanted to offer a slightly different perspective on what creativity is, and what constitutes a particularly creative person. I think our culture is obsessed by the lonely, creative genius who works away creating rare works of art, and I think this is both limiting and offputting for those of us who aren’t actually geniuses. So I’ll offer some examples of what also comprises creativity, using as an e the person I’d consider to be one of the most creative people, if not the most creative person, whose work I follow, Gregg Taylor.

You might not have heard of Gregg Taylor because he’s not someone held up as one of the great creative geniuses of our time, because what he does doesn’t fit in with that image. Gregg is the force behind Decoder Ring Theatre, which produces podcasts in the style of 40s’ and 50s’ radio serials. He’s been doing that for eight years. and I first came across them about seven years ago.

These podcasts come out twice a month. So 24 a year, of which he writes 18. That’s 18 a year, for 8 years. Without fail. We underestimate that as an aspect of creativity. Quantity. Sure it’s important to have the novelist spending his entire lifetime creating one world altering novel. But to be able to sit down and come up with something new, every fortnight. That’s an incredible achievement. I think more of us should look at the amount someone produces as a mark of a creative person.

That’s not to say the quality isn’t there. Sure there are better writers. I’m reading Midnight’s Children at the moment, by Salman Rushdie, and there’s a great writer. But the content of the podcasts are entertaining, there’s character development, nearly always a plot (as much as you can get into 25 mins), there’s some fun lines, poignancy. They have the lot. And Gregg is a better writer than most. And he comes up with that every two weeks. For eight years. Very few creative outputs have those attributes of quality and consistency.

But I think what also makes the truly creative people stand out, isn’t just the ability to succeed in one area. There’s a good team of actors in these podcasts, of whom Gregg Taylor is one. He acts, directs, does post-production and markets them. He’s also written novels based on the characters and now has launched the first comic book, to great reviews. Specialism is over-rated, adaptability is a mark of a very creative person.

I think, though, the most unhelpful of the characteristics we associate with creativity is the idea of the emotional erratic soul suffering for his art. We all know people who are jerks, who people let get away with being a jerk, simply because they are creative and innovative. This probably happens more in the academic world than the art world. Happens a lot in movie making too. They’re perfectionists, or they’re obsessed, or any one of a number of excuses we give for their bad behaviour. But really, if it’s such an effort for them to create, then really they’re not that good at being creative. Sure everyone needs to put their work first occasionally. I get ratty if I get interrupted in the middle of thinking about something. But actually … that is because if I lose my train of thought it takes me ages to get it back, sometimes I never do. So that’s a case in point, I’m actually not that creative, otherwise I could recall it whenever I want. In contrast, the DRT troupe engage with their audiences, through twitter, facebook and there’s an approachability there that you wouldn’t get, say, with other writers, actors etc. Not sure what I’d call this as a quality, but maybe not being really up yourself … humour or humility would cover it.

While on the subject of humility, I first heard someone describe themself as a Creative at a seminar day a couple of years back (at the University of Hull actually). Talk about lack of humility. To describe yourself as a Creative is, by default, implying that you’re somehow different from everyone else, that you’re creative and they’re not. No. You’re just lucky enough to be in a job that supports you to be creative, that doesn’t make you special. I get to spend a big chunk of my time writing. Sometimes I get paid for that. I am therefore a jammy bastard, http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=jammy%20bastard and I never forget that. If you ever refer to yourself as A Creative, you’re pronouncing it wrong, it’s actually pronounced “wank-er”.

Finally, and maybe the most controversial of the pre-requisites for creativity, the DRT output is free. One of the mistakes a lot of people who create things make is that they think that because they are talented, the world owes them the opportunity to put those talents to use. No it doesn’t. Work for the vast majority of people, is doing stuff they hate that they get paid for. If you like doing it, it’s not work, and essentially there’s no reason to be paid for it. People need you to stack shelves, mend roads, grow food. They don’t need your book or your music in the same way. So yes, the majority will share your music, download your movie, pass on pdfs of your book chapter. That’s tough, but it’s a fact of life and you probably need to just face up to that rather than whinging about it and trying to come up with legislation to stop it. I’ve never actually taken anything like that for free, I pay for the music I listen to, and the TV shows I watch, and I donate to DRT and soma fm and any of the free content that’s out there, but I do so because I see it as a moral obligation, not a legal necessity. And from a selfish point of view, I want to see them continue. If enough people value your work, then they will pay for it and the work will continue. If they don’t then they won’t,  and it won’t. The truly creative will therefore make their stuff open source, they’ll share it for free and then see what happens. A freemium model, whereby you find ways to make money by selling extra content works too – monetizing the long tail as I almost managed to say at a recent transmedia conference, then had an attack of self-respect at the last minute.  (Other people ripping off your stuff and making money off it is another matter, that’s out and out theft).  It’s inappropriate to rail against creating music, or writing books or making movies under those conditions.because you knew that’s the way things are when you got into it. If you don’t like it, there’s always stacking shelves, mending roads, or teaching to fall back on. If you’re really creative, you’ll still feel driven to create anyway.

Oh and if you want to check out DRT, their website is at http://www.decoderringtheatre.com/