John Cleese on Creativity

17 Sep

John Cleese attributes successful originality and creativity, to one key factor – the ability of an individual to allow oneself to momentarily inhabit an ‘open mode’.

“an oasis of space and time, where play is possible”

In this context, we are of course referring to the ‘play’ of the imagination. The five key ingredients to getting to this point of creative openness and ‘play’ are outlined as such:

Space, Time, Time, Confidence and Humour. (Access a wee little sketch-ed summary of the lecture HERE)

Of course, many other industry professionals, writers, artists, analysts, psychologists have sought to explain the best avenue to creative brilliance. Steve Jobs for one (as sourced from http://edudemic.com/2011/10/creativity-steve-jobs/) concedes that – from a broad perspective – creativity relies, never on originality born of nothing, but always something arising from experience or things previously observed. In this way, we ‘connect’ the dots of our experience to create something new. Subsequently, gaining life experience is paramount to successful creativity.

Coming at it from a different point of view, Susan Caine’s article in the New York Time (view here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?_r=1 ) emphasises the need for individual time alone, and describes successful creatives as being introverted – at least in times of creativity. She notes in the opening line ‘Solitude is out of fashion…Lone genius’ are out. Collaboration is in’ to a point, I certainly concede that in the original stages of an idea, working alone is paramount for myself. However, the tangible execution of an idea, I believe, requires collaboration is varying degrees.

Which brings me back to John Cleese, whose lecture in essence, discusses the key to arriving at the originally brilliant foundational burst of creative genius. To get into the ‘open mode’ one must have:

 

1. Space 

A place ‘sealed’-off from day-to-day activity, pressures and demands. Undisturbed. Quiet. Shut doors. Phones off. Nothing at all to distract.  

I find this to be a very useful suggestion, as I often find my creativity inhibited by txt messages, to-do-lists, voices, demands. As John Cleese accurately puts it, “it is easier to do things that are urgent, than it is to do important things that are NOT urgent…like thinking…and easier to do little things we know we can do, than BIG THINGS we’re not so sure about…” How many times I’ve found myself, sitting down to write, and been tempted by menial tasks I knowingly despise and have no keen interest in – hanging that load of washing that has been in the machine for days, clearing my desk, throwing out empty pens, making a toasted sandwich…

2. Time  

A specific and defined beginning and end (including an allowance of 30mins or so, to ‘get in the zone’ – do this by CONSCIOUSLY ignoring the demands and reminders of your ‘to-do-list’). Play, is only play, because it is a distinct section of time separate and secluded from everyday life. If life was always play, it would not be play.

I find this aspect of ‘limiting creativity’ to be one that is not altogether unfamiliar. It was alluded to in both Writing Media Texts and Editing Media Texts last semester, as well as mentioned in Broadcast Media. The boundaries, limitations and restrictions set upon creativity are in fact vital to achieving an original result. Without them, we have no idea where to start or where to go. There can be no resolution, without first a problem. Which leads to the third point, also related to ‘time’. 

 

3. Time 

Don’t be fooled into taking the ‘easy-way-out’ or first solution to your problem, merely for the sake of appearing confident and decisive in order to escape from the unease of having the problem! The problem drives us to originality, so wrestle and ponder and play with ideas for as long as possible. Till a decision MUST be reached. In this way, you will read the most creative outcome possible.

This idea of not being scared to ponder and ponder, and the articulation of that ‘uneasy, intolerable, internal discomfort’ that John Cleese describes as being caused by the ‘problem’, is very profound and encouraging. I have definitely been afraid to experience that realization that you have not, at the given moment, understood a clear resolution. This is of course, the point of the game. Of the play. Of imagination and creativity. So the lecture has encouraged me to stick-it-out and keep pressing towards a greater solution in order to achieve something truly novel and great. As McKinnon notes in his research, “the most creative professionals always played with the problem for much longer before they tried to resolve it”. I would say, in future I will remember this third point…no as ‘time’…but as ‘tolerate’. Tolerate the discomfort of having no solution, in order to strive for a higher plane of creativity.

4. Confidence

Be free. Be spontaneous. Don’t fear making a mistake. Creativity is experimenting. There is no such thing as error or right or wrong. Play, play & play.

This simple truth is also very encouraging for me. In my recent personal creative endeavours of writing a short screenplay, drafting the concept for a feature film and recording an album…I am often frustrated at myself before I have really even given myself the opportunity to ‘play’ with an idea and see where it leads. I allow the pressures and expectations and known ‘rules’ to dominate my creative world and thus end up losing before the game has begun…when in fact, ‘losing’ itself is an illusion. 

5. Humour 

Giggle all you want. Humour opens you up. Everything can be humorous, some things are serious, nothing should be solemn. What is the point of solemnity? You can be humorous and serious at the same time.

At first this resonated the least with me, and I attributed it to the fact that John Cleese is predominantly an artist of comedic and humorous works. However, upon pondering on it all the more, I see how it clearly links in with the former point. If we take things lightly, and are willing to be risky and silly and outrageous, then we have nothing to lose…and everything to gain…because it opens up a whole universe of ideas of opportunities, a starry host of sparkling ingenuity that was otherwise stifled by a need to conform to expectations (both our own and others’), to deal with matters and problems as has always been done, to be too ‘serious’. The freedom to just play and muck around with an idea, realising it’s not the end of the world if you are unhappy with it, is truly liberating in a creative sense. So I shall seek to employ these methods the next time I allocate some creative me-time. And thank you Sir John Cleese for making this oasis of playtime and space something I shall no longer dread…but yearn to bask in instead.

  

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: