Thursday, February 14

Have your cake and create it too: A macroscopic look at the creative process

In the following article we will discuss the journey through the creative process* on a macroscopic level - over the course of a lifetime as opposed to over the course of a day or a given creative project. Looking at the issue of creativity from this angle will reveal some of the inner workings of the creative process and help you determine what steps you might want to take next.

The creative process always starts with a piece of cake. A cheesecake in fact! Do you remember the first time you saw a cheesecake? Were you not drawn to it's alluring presentation? The velvety brown texture of the crust. The smooth as silk cream filling. The candy red cherries. Upon seeing this veritable ocular feast what was your initial reaction? Perhaps you salivated, your eyes grew bigger and your stomach rumbled. The only thing you could think to do was cut yourself a piece and eat it. Oh wow! What an experience!

And so we learn the first step of the creative process, observation and experience. As a young person perhaps you dreamed of becoming a rock guitar super-star. Why? Because you observed some musicians' performances and were attracted to the result of their creativity. Very much in the same way you are attracted to a cheesecake. Observing and experiencing the result of the baker's work is a stimulating experience. The point to note here is that observing and experiencing the product of other artists' creativity stimulates one's own creative process. This is by far the most common experience people have with creativity. But many take the next step in the process.

Let's say now that after eating the cheesecake and gaining a good three extra pounds for it, you decide that eating cake isn't enough. You wonder, "how can a cake be so good?" "What ingredients make up this delectable food?" You simply must have the recipe! And not only must you have the recipe but you must learn to bake this very same cake yourself. That way you will be able make as much as you want. This is akin to another key step of the creative process. Curiosity, initiative and imitation, and in keeping with our rock guitar super-star parallel, the scenario would go something like this: You inquire, "how can they play so well?" "I have to learn to play like that!" And so you take lessons and apply yourself to learning every song just like your favorite artists play them. Your curiosity coupled with initiative leads to imitation.

Many people will stop at this step, content with peacefully wading in the safe end of the creative pool. But perhaps you will not be satisfied with this. Knowing how to bake cakes will not suffice. You will insistently plod deeper into the craft of baking and enroll in a culinary academy to learn the skills required to bake, not only cakes, but cookies and cupcakes and all manner of pastries. You will journey even further and expand your knowledge of cooking savory main courses and familiarize yourself with fine herbs and wine until you feel confident of having a solid foundation in gastronomic creation, because your goal is to earn a living by cooking.

You will go through a similar process as an aspiring rock-guitar superstar and learn many things about music itself until you have the technical skills necessary to become a session musician. This is the third step of the creative process. A difficult hurdle that sifts the truly dedicated from the meddlers since it requires concentrated hard work and determination.

Is this the end of the creative road? The ultimate goal? To make a living from your craft?

Now that you have managed to become a chef. You are earning a living doing what you love yet for some reason you are tiring of preparing the same dishes day after day. This is beginning to weigh on you to the point where you begin to question the reasons why you are doing all of this? You are facing The Big "WHY?" There is a fork in the road and you can choose to stay there, at the fork, or choose a direction. What are the two alternatives? One, is that as a chef, you decide that what you want out of this is to deliver a specific and genuine experience to your restaurant's patrons. Using your accumulated skill and knowledge you turn your craft into a personal self-expression because for you the answer to the The Big "WHY?" is: I have something to say.

The second alternative is that you may choose to create completely new dishes with ingredients that no one ever knew could be used. A brave and bold new statement about cooking and baking itself to defiantly demonstrate to the culinary world that we need not rest on our laurels but that a vast horizon of tastes exists, awaiting our discovery!

And so goes for your rock guitar super-star alter-ego where you may decide that you have learned what you need to say what you want to say. Through songs you proceed to communicate a personal message. Or, conversely, you may decide to turn the guitar world on its' ear and use the instrument in a way no one knew even impossible thus proving that all the possibilities have not been exhausted.

It is true that some manage to cater to both of these interests at the same time but those individuals are few and far between. Most tend to choose one path over the other or focus on one then the other.

And so because of observation and experience, which happens all the time, some become curious and take the initiative to imitate. Though many are content going this far and staying there some hardy souls take the courageous plunge to further the technical skills of their pursuit. If unsatisfied still, a select few will finally face The Big "WHY?" To which the answer might be "I have something personal to say" or "I want to illuminate the craft itself".

Contrary to the popular adage, you can have your cake and create it too.

*in the interest of brevity and efficiency I use the terms art, artist and creative loosely. I am aware of the prickly semantics involved when using those terms and hope to have the opportunity to delve into this matter at a later date.


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