These ‘Chambers’ are not to be confused with a single process that can be named and repeated. These are guides, reminders and ways of thinking to help you make stuff. What you want to make is entirely up to you. Why you are making it is your own business. How you make it is for you to discover. If you stay true to yourself, you will create things that are unique. Even if they don’t change the world, they might change yours, because they came through you.
- Don’t Pre-Create
- Instinctual Negation
- Justified Resistance
- Fail More and the Short Term Ego
- Acquired Knowledge and the Subconscious
Pre-Creation is an issue we all deal with. Our modern world demands it from us. Where results are everything, students panicking about their GPA, everyone worried about job security, cost of living and worst of all being ‘on-call’ 24/7, our smart phones shackle us to the world, connecting us in real time to all of our messages. We feel that we need the answers immediately because most of them are a command or search away. Everything is under a deadline so there is no time for letting our imaginations wander. I experienced this as a student when I would receive a syllabus on the first day of a new class and proceed to internally freak out because I didn’t know anything on it – realizing a few moments later that that’s what I was in the class for. The creative process is the same thing. We shouldn’t presume to know exactly what we want to do before we even know what we are doing. What I mean by this is to only think of the finished product before we even know how we might get there or what we want to say. We can imagine what and where we’d like to go in a split second – that is in and of itself is not a horrible thing, but to hold on to that initial image will only lead to frustration. The imagination and ‘the real’ operate under different rules (ru-alities?). In one of my Performance Creation classes we had a puppet assignment where students were asked to build their own puppets and use them to act out a scene from a play. Not being a puppet expert, I brought one in. They spent two classes with the students, showing them different styles of puppetry and the beginning ‘How-tos’ of putting different types of puppets together. The main thing he wanted the students to understand is that the image of the puppet that was in their heads was 99% not going to be what their puppet was going to look like. Even experts struggle to match inspiration with reality. As amateur builders, the students needed to let go of that initial images and work with what’s in front of them.
If we are only fixated on the end game, we’ll miss all the ideas, impulses and possibilities along the way that could take the work in a multitude of new directions – These new worlds might not look at all like that first image in our heads, or could look very similar, but we have to work in the moments of development, stay open to those new sensations and meanings that will permit the work to be more connected to us and our intentions. We need to walk around it, through it, over and under it – a few times. This also means a slowing down of the process – so we can root yourself in the work and not the race to the end – missing the view along the way. Formula One racing drivers even have a version of this, three time F1 champion Niki Lauda said: “The secret is to win going as slowly as possible” – meaning a constant accelerating to high speeds, then slamming on the brakes will become exhausting and it actually takes longer, no matter how fast we think you are going. We can’t win the race if we don’t finish it, so we have to slow down, take it one corner at a time and not crash and burn-out on our ideas. Which brings us to one of the many contradictions in the creative process: Although creation is not about the finished product, finishing the thought is still essential. There’s a chorus of sob stories from the whoulda-coulda-shoulda artists that never actually finish anything. It’s all a bit of a con. If we never finish anything, we can never be critiqued. Whether that’s fear of failure or fear of success – I don’t know. But we need to finish things – without worrying about the finished product – because we can’t move past something unless we finish it.
The creative process does not go in a straight line – It goes back and forth – sometimes in a circular way, sometimes jumping and skipping aroud, expanding with each revolution:
No matter which words are between the arrows, they always go back and forth. That doesn’t mean that you we need to go back and forth every time, but we must be willing to do so. If we only go in a straight line, we will no doubt save some time, finish something, meet a deadline and we’ll also create something that had the potential to be so much better. There are circumstances when quality isn’t priority number one, but we need to recognize those times and proceed with the work accordingly. The creative process isn’t about perfection. Voltaire said: “The perfect is the enemy of the good” and I agree. Perfect is boring. Perfect is also impossible, so why even try. Perfect has no energy. Let’s be messy, ugly, unpolished, unsure, have some sharp edges and find out what we are capable of. Lose the word perfectionist and replace it with being a precisionist. Precision is an achievable and learnable thing – Perfection is a myth. This also isn’t about finding the ‘right time’ to work. There is no right time. The right time reveals itself only in hindsight as if it was somehow meant to be. If we wait for the right time, we will have accomplished nothing but waiting.
When students begin each new assignment, I ask them to take their first pre-created idea – the one that will usually pop immediately into their heads – and let it out, see it, walk around it, document it if that’s their thing and then place it aside on a metaphorical shelf and come up with two or three more ideas. There are a few reasons for this. The first being that we do not want to get stuck trying force an initial emotional response into a reality that might not be ready for it. It might be brilliant, but you would only know that much later into the process. The second reason is that when we create an immediate response, an initial spark, we have no way of knowing where the idea could go, is going, no way of knowing what might happen within the process. We want to acknowledge that first impulse, never ignore it, but then keep ‘staying open’ to what else might arrive. The third and most important, is that the second idea or the 14th could be pure magic and if we stopped after the first one, we would never know. This isn’t an easy way to start a project because we can feel as if we are wasting time looking for new ideas when we have a perfectly good one sitting right over there on the imaginary shelf!! But, we must remember that as long as we are working within the process, letting the ideas swim around the thinking machine in our heads, time is never wasted. A little struggle is a good thing in the creative process.
This also doesn’t mean our first idea wasn’t the ‘best’ one, but how would we know that if we don’t play around in some of the others first? It’s not that we don’t want to trust our instincts, but as we will see in Chamber #2, sometimes our instincts are not always being helpful – for so many different reasons. Allowing several ideas to come into play permits us to see them from different perspectives. We might return to that initial spark, but it won’t be the same anymore because we’re not the same anymore. That first response will be deeper, more grounded, more detailed because we let it sit, let it marinate while we investigated other things. When we weren’t looking, it grew. By not Pre-Creating we are also flexing some creative muscles. We are practicing letting go, we are allowing time into the process and we are discovering what we might be capable of if we allow it. Chasing after an initial idea might seem like we’re trusting ourselves and our instincts, but it can also mean that we fear not having any other ideas. This is impossible. We have hundreds of ideas a day, we just aren’t paying attention to them all and most of them are probably not very good – but which ones? Only coming up with one idea will also cause us some trouble down the line as the assignment or the project develops and it is not doing exactly what we thought it would do – because it never does exactly what we thought it would. We panic, and instead of scraping what we’ve been working on and starting again (not starting over), we will attempt to force things, shove and shoe-horn things together and ignore the issues we know exist. We will make excuses and a long list of disclaimers – or not even finish.
Instinctual Negation is the mirror image of Pre-Creation. What this means is that we – by instinct – will dismiss ideas before they are even allowed to be worked on, explored and developed. It’s like racing to a finished product by saying ‘no’ to every idea that jumps out – because… because why? The older we get the more we negate. “I don’t like this” – “I only like that” – “That’s stupid” – “that’s too complicated” – “That’s too pretentious.” – “That’s too weird for me” – “I don’t like spicy foods” – “That’s not my style” – “I don’t do (insert activity here).” We begin to inherit all these instincts about everything and after a while we stop asking why. Ask Why?! Some of these instincts are based on lived (good or bad) experiences – things we’ve learned about ourselves and the world like putting our hand on a hot stove burner will burn you, this is a good instinct from a bad experience. As a species, we are not set in stone, we change, we grow – every new experience we have adds to who and what we are and we experience new things every day. So, if new experiences continue to shape us, we have to then re-evaluate our old instincts based on these new experiences. Yes, it’s safe and comforting to declare ‘This is who I am’ – but it is inaccurate the moment after we say it. Some of our instincts might be re-affirmed with investigation but I will wager, there are many that will not stand up to scrutiny.
We will often negate when there are rules being broken, when we venture into the unknown, and begin stretching the boundaries of convention. In this space, things can get messy, but messy – ‘the choas’, is where the good stuff is. This isn’t only in the Art! world either. In Nolan Bushnell’s book Finding the Next Steve Jobs (Bushnell is the guy who created Pong, founded Atari – hiring Steve Jobs pre-Apple and started Chuck E Cheese Restaurants – go figure), there’s a passage at the beginning that talks about rules in business and their inherit inflexibility. He writes: “If you try and apply the same rules to every person or circumstance, you will find you’ve planted a field that is sterile and homogeneous. In that environment creativity will wither and die. The constant application of inflexible rules stifles the imagination.” This is also another example of how these ideas, chambers and concepts can overlap into any discipline. It should also be noted that part of being an artist is waving your middle finger high, saying NO to conformity and established rules. It’s about standing up to and disrupting the status quo. If teachers and instructors only ask their students to follow the rules then they have failed them and they should not pretend they are creating new artists. Sorry for the rant.
Creatively speaking ‘Instinctual Negation’ comes from fear. Fear is a powerful force in the creative process and the hardest creative task is trying to get it to work for us and not against us. Our instincts can become hardwired and after a while they become our default setting. Nothing in creation should be done by default – everything must be a choice. This isn’t only creative instincts but all of our instincts; emotional, practical, spiritual – you name it. It’s important to understand that if we don’t acknowledge them or try to pretend they don’t exist, they will usually hunker down, build strength and attack when we thought the coast was clear. In life, our instincts are a form of protection. In the real-world these safety barriers can save our life, that’s why they are sometimes called survival instincts. But in the art world, as much as Dramatists want to tell us that all Art! should be life or death, it is not, so we can stop being martyrs and get to work. The initial sparks and emotional responses might come from some primal life or death deep seeded instinct, but the work is… work. Sorry to disappoint, but what we see on stage is not life and death – it’s pretend and dress up. Can it be profound? Absolutely. It can, like all great Art!, change lives, but that only exists within a plain of absorption that lies mostly inside the witness and not the performer. Art is about communication, a need to communicate and the fear of exposure, ridicule, embarrassment, of disappearing or disappointing, of revealing ourselves and discovering no one cares… IS terrifying. Being exposed can bring new life, ridicule can become acceptance and embarrassment can be uniting and strengthening. Everything exists with its opposite, everything. If we give into the fear, it will win every time. But be careful, fear is a shifty little monster and it also has its opposites. What if we are not afraid of disappearing, but of actually being seen?
So how do we conquer fear? We never really do. But what we can do is learn to make peace with it. Just because we have instincts does not mean that we have to act on them. When those negative instincts arise, acknowledge them, say hi, let them know that we are aware of them. Let them have their say, let them attempt to persuade us from trying that new thing, that scary next step, that word or colour choice. Once they have had their time at the podium, take a moment to process what they’ve just said and question them. Listen to the arguments because they all won’t be bad, but once we’ve listened, we have the power to make the choice to proceed or take a step back. If we allow those initial impulses to breathe a little, some of their power is reduced and we can look at them practically, methodically, insert them into our creative process. Most people get nervous when they have to speak in public. I believe it’s still above death in the things most people fear. This is not a completely accurate statement, as the act of public speaking will probably come up more in our lives then the act of dying so the test controls are a little wobbly. What I try and do in my own life – to varying degrees of success – and what I ask of my students before they have to make presentations in class, is to use their nerves for fuel, let it energize them as this instinct doesn’t mean we can’t do it, but more often than not it means that we care about what we’re doing. We know we’ll get nervous, so be ready when the instinct to run shows up and instead of panicking, take breath and acknowledge it. Let that nervous energy do what it needs to do. Its power is so much greater when it first arrives, so be ready and diffuse it with a little time. Will this stop us from being nervous? Nope, but if we let it live, understand that it’s a part of the process, we can minimize its power over us and you can continue the work at hand and create more things. Fear and nerves will be reduced to just another part of the process.
These instincts are not all negative either. We can trick ourselves to play it safe by not following that new idea as a form of protection. We will more often than not try things that just won’t work. Does that mean we shouldn’t try them? No, it means we should try more of them. If Leonardo Da Vinci stopped, say at 45 years old, because he just didn’t think it was going to work out for him, there is no Last Supper. Every failure will create new instincts, more reasons to negate and it’s important to give new things time to settle-in before we dismiss them. If we negate too quickly because it’s un-tested or different we might be saying no to something amazing. The impulse to instinctually negate will never completely go away but with experience, with DOING, by acknowledging them and moving forward anyway we will learn to read them better. Some instincts will be accurate, some will be flat out wrong, but we need to discover these answers in the DOING and not just intellectually stuck in our heads. With experience, we will have a larger creative palette to work with and those leaps of faith will be a little less scary.
“By a thousand ruses, he prevents his nocturnal work coming to the light of day”
Justified Resistance is the natural outcome of Instinctual Negation and can work on anything. It’s an intellectual exercise that does nothing but make us feel good about not doing something. In Theatre, where you might think everyone is opened minded and will try anything – Justified Resistance very much exists. Students and practitioners who have set up what they like and dislike about certain styles and methods and even a preference for one Teacher/Artist over another can set up barriers to new ideas because new ideas keep things unbalanced. This is again mostly based in fear. Fear of not wanting to feel stupid, or embarrassed or – imagine this –
that we might actually be open to things that we have so resolutely said we would not be. Long-term ego gets in the way all the time. It creates false identities that stop us from straying too far from what we have decided is acceptable. People pick sides all the time. If we are into Metal, we can’t possibly like Pop. If we’re into art films we can’t possibly like action movies. We dress a certain way, whether that’s a suit and tie or a leather jacket or some over-priced hipster ensemble – all become uniforms and offer a sense of belonging. There are few true trailblazers among us. The majority of us do want to belong somewhere so we adapt certain things as our own to help with the identification. This isn’t to say that we might actually like these things and dislike other things, or like certain styles over others. We all lean towards something, but we can’t shut out the ‘Other’ just because… We don’t have to love something to be able to appreciate or learn from it. Everything has value, everything has an opposite. The more we experience, the more creative material we have to work with.
We can justify anything we want or don’t want to do. It’s actually really easy, but make sure that the justification is based on real experiences and not some imagined (pre-created) outcome. Think how easy it is to do something…a little…morally suspect. When that little smirk appears on your lips and you run though the pros and cons of what you might be about to undertake – I’ll let your mind wander on that for a moment. This can range from the completely innocent to maybe breaking a few bi-laws. We’ve all at one point in our lives acted upon some shaky moral ground. Whatever our choice, to proceed to or to step back, an internal argument raged. Justifications on each side, each one seemingly so right, so iron-clad we could stand on any of them to defend ourselves. This is exactly how we also hold ourselves back creatively. Ideas pop up in our heads, someone suggests something a little Avant-Garde and we resist. In that initial moment we’re unsure why, but there was clear resistance. What I ask of myself and my students is that unless we can articulate why we are resisting this idea in that moment, we have to stay quiet. We have to let the idea live; we have to give it time.
It’s in this holding pattern; while we’re giving the idea some time, where the internal debate begins. We’ve moved beyond the initial spark of the pre-created idea and the instinctual, and are now into the world of thought. The work sits within the two arguing voices, a pro and con, and a possible third voice, an observer, one that is not completely impartial but acts against both sides, poking, prodding, whispering, questioning intentions and listening for the motivational subtext of each argument. Every justification has a motive, good or bad. What is the ultimate goal in proceeding and justifying this thing we’re about to do? Is it pleasure? Is it to feel free? Is it to test boundaries? Is it simple curiousity? Maybe it’s out of fear, caution, safety, comfort, self-preservation? Maybe we don’t fully understand the idea and you don’t want to play in the unknown? All of these reactions/motives are valid. Very few people, if any, know our internal life, or what makes us tick so we might have very good reasons for feeling the way we do. But – before we confidently state the justifications for the choices we’re making, we need to check our motives. Everything has to be choice, even our choices. Whoa.
Resistance also keeps us in a comfort zone where little interesting can exist because we feel comfortable – meaning we’ve done it before – it didn’t ‘hurt’ us – so therefor must be safe. Safe is boring. As Peter Brook states: “The mediocre artist prefers not to take risks, which is why he is conventional. Everything that is conventional, everything that is mediocre is linked to fear. The conventional actor puts a seal on his work, and sealing is a defensive act … To open oneself, one must knock down the walls” (excuse the simplistic genderizing – all genders can be mediocre). Also, Brook is using the term ‘mediocre’ to mean ‘bad’ or ‘boring’. But it doesn’t have to. The word ultimately means ‘Halfway up the mountain’, so we could also use, ‘emerging’ or ‘mid-career’. One of Brook’s influences, Alfred Jarry, put it this way: “We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well.” Resistance builds walls. When we’re being creative, walls are a nuisance. When people say ‘think outside the box’, it’s because the box has walls! When I talk about comfort-zones in artistic terms it’s not in a positive way. I feel the same way about the word ‘easy’. Things can be difficult and pleasurable. For some, the opposite of comfort is torment but I would liken it more to agitation, dissonance, dissatisfaction and wanting. Those are states where some exciting Art! can be made.
Resistance also stops repetition. Repetition does not immediately mean routine. Routines in and of themselves are harmless things. Routines can allow you some grounding. Routines are a part of the creative process. It’s when our routines happen unconsciously that trouble and comfort can sneak in. Just as we need to question our instincts and your resistances, we also need to check in with our routines from time to time to make sure we’re not simply following a mindless pattern. We must allow our routines to shift and change. If we are working with others, what are their routines? Try different ways into things to see how they feel. The simplest and most direct way to avoid justifying our resistances is to actively seek out resistance. Look for the walls and run towards them. Embrace the unsure, swim in it for a while and find out what it feels like. Be curious about what’s on the other side of those walls. I guarantee that we will make discoveries, find some dead-ends, maybe see a little magic and unavoidably we will find more walls. There are always more walls. So, run head-first and at full speed because when we justify resistance, we have stopped creating.
We will always fail more than we succeed, and the successful fail a lot because they keep trying and keep failing. If we stop failing it means we’ve stopped trying. If we stop trying, we can’t succeed. Ever. This is a standard trope for start-ups and business leaders. Whether they really believe it is another matter. Even Steve Jobs got fired from Apple – and his own start up after the firing, Next Inc., bombed. But, he took what he learned with that failure and brought that new knowledge back to Apple and now we all live in his world. Again in Bushnell’s book- geared towards Creatives in business,there is an entire chapter called “Celebrate Failure” which contains this passage: “Of course, you never actually plan for failure. But failure happens whenever you try something new… You must take new risks to learn new skills. You have to fail to succeed. Failure is an important teacher.” Another maddening contradiction wouldn’t you say? To achieve we must fail. In an academic setting this is a difficult proposition. Students are concerned about their GPA, with good reason, and we’re asking them to fail. In my studios, I try to explain that I’m not concerned with the finished product, I’m interested with how they got there. The ‘presentation’ part of each assignment is nothing but a demonstration of the work in progress. There’s not enough time to create something polished so I try and remove that stress – which almost takes the full two semesters of the course for that idea to drop in. If we’re trying to succeed we will probably fail, just not in the good way we’re talking about here. We’ll make something nice, ‘ok’, passable… mediocre. This will happen because we played it safe and didn’t take risks to make a pretty picture. A pretty – empty – picture.
Failure has to become a part of our process. To keep talking in circles about it, if we embrace failure, we have a greater opportunity to succeed – remember the arrows go both ways. This tool is so indispensable to Art! or anything else because we learn very little from success – mostly we’ll end up trying to re-create exactly what we did the last time, but every experience is unique and what worked on one project, might be a disaster on the next. Careful with blind repetition. What happens if that first thing was a fluke? How do you recreate a fluke? It’s like Hollywood executives saying that their next green-lit project is a sure thing. This is dangerous talk because you have no idea how something will be received; especially if we’re trying to capitalize on someone else’s success by doing something similar. The music industry loves this move. A band or singer, with some chops, a look, chemistry and a handful of great tracks, breaks through by force of timing, the stars aligning or the universe or zeitgeist tapping them on shoulder. They’re a phenomenon and now there’s a mad rush to capitalize, one band after another is released, some will sell, others won’t, but at some point, tastes will change – usually quite violently – the universe will get bored, shift its focus and the well is dry. Even the pop music hit-makers don’t always create hits. None of it can really been planned, it can be prepared for, but there are no guarantees. It’s trial and error with the hope that something will stick. This is how we must treat our own creative process. Make things, then make more things, finish everything, throw some stuff out, show a lot of it to someone or to many people, let it live, get it out of our heads and into the world, push ourselves, take risks, see what we’re made of.
It must be acknowledged that taking risks and failing is not easy. It can be scary to constantly work in the unknown, but it does eventually become less scary even if it doesn’t get any easier. We have to build up a confidence to take that first step into the unknown while not confusing this with arrogance. There’s a whole world filled with assholes (male and female) who imagine themselves to be the second-coming, but are simply overcompensating for mediocrity, constantly pushing their energy out at full volume, hiding the insecurity just below the surface. This personality type can ‘fail upwards’ – but not in the good way. They move from one group to another, impressing quickly with a sales pitch, and a quick wit, moving up the ladder, but they can’t stay long because eventually the smoke will clear and mirrors will break. At some point, they will run out of impressionable audiences and their ride will end. The fall will be a long and lonely one as this kind of bluster usually consists of burning bridges as well. This is all ego; long-term ego. A blind belief that they are somehow better than, smarter than, more talented than. There’s also an underlying bitterness in this as well as they feel personally attacked when their ‘greatness’ is overlooked. Long-term ego can muddy the waters. Long-term ego won’t allow for failure. It’s too fragile. Long-term ego doesn’t create for love; it creates for validation. It creates with an agenda. If this is the goal, the work is no longer pure and risks are not permitted. The long-term ego is capable of making some interesting things, but it has a short shelf life and an empty core.
When I talk about the ‘Short Term Ego’ this isn’t about being better than someone else, it’s about being better than our current selves. A shot of confidence to say ‘You know what, I can totally pull that off”. When we’re looking at that next project, artistic or professional, and it’s new, if it’s not in your comfort zone, a leap of faith needs to be taken. We know you’ll have to take some risks instead of walking away or dismissing certain ideas because we’ve never tried them before. We’ll need that shot of short-term ego to give us a little nudge into the unknown. This is key in creating new work. When we’re working on a new project, there are going to be times when we won’t have an answer for something, won’t have an idea at the ready or can’t see something because we haven’t acquired that knowledge yet. We could stop, or walk away or proceed with some weak-ass facsimile, or we could take a deep breath and say ‘fuck-it, I can do this’. We can do some research, we can reach out to those who have the knowledge we need, we can try things without knowing what might happen and being present and aware in the process. That extra shot of confidence can propel us into new worlds and new discoveries. It can force us to learn new things and make friends with uncertainty. The opposite of this is negation and resistance.
This type of ego needs to be short-term because when we inevitably make that mistake, or bomb on that idea, or outright fail – in the good way this time – we need to be able to move passed it right away and look towards the next unknown and repeat to ourselves ‘I can totally pull that off’. Remember that we never start from scratch; every ‘failure’ is knowledge. Remembering that the successful fail more, they also must have short-term egos to keep going onto the next idea. It’s an understanding that nothing is perfect and every attempt has value. Imagine the pressure of believing everything we do needs to be awesome. It’s the kind of pressure that can paralyze. I mean, why bother doing anything if it’s not going to be awesome? That kind of thinking is also long-term ego; believing what we create will be nothing short of brilliant… to do what exactly? Bring us accolades, money, respect or validation? Who cares? We can’t control any of that. We cannot control the reception of our work so we have to let go of trying to control it. Long-term ego also invites judgment. Our long-term ego can’t let go of how our work might be received so we try and control it even more, sometimes to the point of not making any work at all. If we make nothing, there’s nothing to judge. The short-term ego doesn’t care what anyone thinks – it just wants to play.
The short-term ego is only concerned with making stuff, is excited to make stuff, new stuff, different stuff. If one thing doesn’t work, forget it, on to the next thing. This doesn’t mean that we don’t care about what we’re doing, or that we’re not taking our work seriously. It means that making things is more important to us than someone telling us we’re awesome. The short-term ego is hungry for discoveries. It wants us to attempt things we might not have any business attempting. The short-term ego is ambitious – not cautious. I ask students to think ambitiously when they start a new project. To not worry about budgets, knowledge, material or tech. Just let the imagination fly. Then as the process continues and practical decisions need to be made, they begin compressing their imagination and making choices based on those wondrous possibilities. If we start by only thinking of what’s realistically possible, we’ll miss out on so many subconscious connections. All work has some limitations so why start the process there? The short-term ego likes to fail, likes to be as ambitious as it can be, by challenging and surprising itself. Some of it will work, some of it will be magic and some of it will be a disaster. Good. We’ll take it all with us into the next project or idea and reach even higher, because we can totally pull that off.
Picasso (yes, as a human, problematic, but I’m just going to focus on the work – apologies) called his paintings “a sum of additions.” That makes sense. The more we do, the more we experience, the more we allow into our imagination, the more knowledge we have at our disposal – the greater our metaphorical languages, the greater our file cabinet. This final chamber is a mix of doing and researching. Being Art! smart AND book smart. Don’t limit it. The more we can actively do – not just think about – builds this file cabinet in our heads and our bodies. A lot of that information might not be used and that’s fine because it’s always being crossed referenced. The best part is that we don’t have to actually think about putting the information into the cabinet. Everything we do and see and hear is recorded and filed away into the subconscious. Now there’s one problem – we can’t consciously access the sub-conscious and we can’t actually ‘Think Harder” – the brain is not a muscle. Squeezing your face, rubbing your temples, hitting things, cursing the gods – all useless. It might make us feel better, but won’t help us find answers. The only way to access the subconscious is to relax. Stress will cut it off, panic will lead to worry, and worrying will lead to stress.
Picasso also said, in the same sentence, that his paintings are also “a sum of destructions”. Think about that for a moment; a sum of destructions (a little Jarry-esque). By destroying, we are building. He finishes by saying: “…in the end nothing is lost, the red I have removed from one part shows up in another.” This is a perfect metaphor of our brains being creative. This is acquired knowledge. This is why we’re never ‘starting from scratch’; because everything we do is stored and filed away to be used at another time. Everything you do creates knowledge. Every time we begin to create we are in fact creating a sum of destructions. We are making choices, and each choice eliminates an avenue, and reveals another. Each word, colour, movement or note propels us in one direction and not another, with every move being recorded and acquired and increasing our knowledge base.
It’s fun to tell a group of university students moving around the studio to ‘stop thinking!!’ Thinking too hard or trying to force ideas or solutions will just get us stuck in the spin cycle of panic and worry. To access these subconscious files, we need to relax and allow the subconscious to partake in the activity. What I encourage in my studios is that within the process of creation, or problem solving or brainstorming – we need to include time into our schedule. We need to let things marinate – work on something else for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes, a fresh mind and a fresh heart. In the time that we’re not hyper-focused on the specific thing we’re working on, when the mind is relaxed and you are not negating, justifying and worrying about failing – possible solutions will appear. By DOING and acquiring knowledge we are filling the subconscious.
Imagine having access to everything we have ever seen, heard and felt. What if I said we already did, but there’s a catch; we can’t be sure when it’ll come into play and how it will reveal itself. The subconscious is our own personal cloud where everything goes to be stored. It’s all there, waiting to be accessed. The problem is that it has its own agenda and won’t work for us if we try and force it. It’s also something that we can’t, in hindsight, consciously describe or map out, and we have to be OK with that. We have to let go of trying to control the process and just let the images arrive when they do. Sometimes it’ll be magic, they will appear whole and ready for us to seize and sometimes it’ll be a series of small, unknown connections that emerge as a whole new idea meshed together by a multitude of individual experiences. In a chapter called ‘You have To Learn How to Daydream’ from Playwrights teach Playwriting, Maria Irene Fornes writes: “Rather than trying to do everything through logic and putting two and two together, it’s a question of letting the mind do something it does much better than we do consciously”. We have to let the mind wander and make illogical and sometimes irrational leaps and engage in bizarre, logic defying arithmetic. This is also where artists get the mis-informed reputation of being flaky dreamers, sitting around waiting for inspiration to just appear out of thin air. It doesn’t happen that way. We’re not waiting for anything, we’re getting out of the way, letting our imaginations get to work, we’re actively allowing time into the creative process so there’s room for the subconscious to figure out why 2 + 7 = The colour blue.
The pressure to make something brand new is immense, but is there really anything ‘new’? It becomes new when it is filtered through our individual filters. To avoid copying or imitating, we need to seek out input. We need to acquire knowledge. Not only Art! knowledge because that will limit us, but ‘everything knowledge’. Our world moves extremely fast and doesn’t care who can keep up, so we need to consciously stop every once and awhile and look at things, see things, hear things, touch things. I call this ‘The Violence of Stillness’ because the strength to stop and just be in a moment when all of existence wants you to keep moving can take a brutal, unforgiving effort. All experience can be filtered into Art! and then we have to let these experiences drop into our subconscious without labeling them, or judging them. We don’t know how these experiences will be used, so don’t try to control them. Be in the moment and then be in the next moment without analyzing the last moment, because then you are no longer in any moment. Brewster Ghiselin writes in his book The Creative Process: “It is essential to remember that the creative end is never in full sight at the beginning and that it is brought wholly into view only when the process is finished. It is not to be found by scrutiny of the conscious scene, because it is never there.” This is the completed creation loop. The arrows have come full circle. Judging or labeling our acquired knowledge and eliminating the subconscious as an active creative partner means we are pre-creating its worth and the only reason we would do this is to try and control it, which is impossible and will create nothing of value.
AUDIENCE: INTENTION AND RECEPTION.
The “suspension of disbelief” is where an audience enters into a contract with the performers and says, ok, I know this isn’t 14th century England, but I’m willing to trust you. I know this is just a movie, but I’m willing to go to outer space with you. I know it’s just a 3-minute pop song but I’m willing to let you take me on that journey. I know this sales pitch is to try and sell me something, but I’m willing to listen. This contract is extremely thin, almost imperceptibly thin, and any hint, wink or hesitation, however minute, that would indicate that the performers/presenters don’t know what they’re doing and that contract is void. Once you’ve lost an audience, it’s nearly impossible to get them back.
Rule #1: Never take an audience for granted.
Every opportunity to present our work to an audience is a privilege. Whether that’s on a stage, in a club, in a gallery, on a screen or even in a boardroom or in a classroom. Regardless of whether the audience was going to be there anyway, the question is how are we going to make sure they pay attention to what we’re trying to communicate. Even if that audience has purchased tickets specifically to see our work, we still need to include them within the performance. If it’s three people or 300 or 3000, the energy, commitment and intention of that performance and presentation should be the same. We never know who those three people could be. One of them might have to power to change our lives and if we called-in our performance because we didn’t feel enough love, well, that’s on us. Remember, nobody owes us anything, just because we made something doesn’t mean anyone has to care. It’s our job to bring them into the work, not their job to love you.
Rule #2: Don’t tell an audience anything.
We might have a super important point to make, or we are shinning a light on an under-reported social issue, or we just need to say something that we feel people need to hear. Even if we are trying to sell something, we can’t tell an audience anything, we can’t speak at them, we have to speak to them. Nobody likes to get yelled at. Nobody wants to feel stupid and condescended to. Everyone has their own shit to deal with so what makes ours any more important? What we want to do is share with an audience some of our thoughts and discoveries. We want to offer this information to the audience and let them do with it what they will. If we berate the audience they will turn on us or worse, just turn off, stop paying attention and pray whatever we are doing will end quickly. Our job is to be as confident, committed, honest and as rehearsed as we can be so that we can simply offer and share our intentions, themes and points of view and then we have to let it go. We can’t force an audience to ‘get’ us. They either will or they won’t.
Rule #3: You have to acknowledge the audience before you can ignore them.
We can’t pretend the audience isn’t there. We know they’re there. They know they’re there. If we want to ‘ignore’ the audience that is a choice that has to fit within the context of the work, so in reality we are not ignoring them at all. I’ve seen bands that played a whole set with their backs turned to the audience but they knew there was an audience there, they didn’t think they were alone in their basement. It was a choice – not always a successful one, but still a choice. The reception of that choice is up to each individual audience member. Most classical plays have a 4th wall between the audience and stage. The stage becomes the entire world and the audience watches as they would a film. This is a choice. The actors know full well there’s an audience right over there through that invisible wall. Most modern (and ancient – nothing is new) plays are more ‘meta’ and are aware of themselves and the audience using ‘direct address’ (this exists in film as well, think Ferris Bueller or Deadpool), even venturing into the seats if there are seats at all. A performer/creator needs to be as honest as possible, and pretending the audience isn’t there is just another lie. It has to be a choice. This extends beyond the stage and the arts into any professional environment.
Rule #4: What are we hoping will come back to us ? (check your intentions.)
We can’t expect anything from the audience besides that initial suspension of disbelief, then it’s all on us. If we want adoration, a complete understanding of our ideas or acknowledgment of our genius, well we’re in trouble. We can hope for these things but you cannot expect them. Wanting adoration is a very different thing than needing it. Audiences vary. Some audience will be vocal and laugh or gasp out loud, and some will be quiet. This doesn’t mean one is ‘getting’ the work more than the other; it’s just a different energy. The quiet audiences are called ‘listening audiences’ and sometimes they like the work more but show it in different ways. Everyone has a different sense of tragedy and a different sense of humour so all you can do is offer the best work possible and then let it go.