Creatives and Creativists Cultivate Independence

I saw a documentary about Janis Joplin last night, another great artist who died too young. The film seemed to imply that Janis's tragic end could be traced back to having been excluded and bullied by her high school classmates but watching with a creativist eye, you can see it was the usual story.

Janis Joplin was different and she had all the sensitivity and emotional honesty that creative expression demands. That difference hurt her so long as she stayed's around Port Talbot, her home town in Texas, trying to fit herself to the beauty myth. But when she moved to  San Francisco, she found her tribe and her own creative way.

She stayed true to that way, in her music (her last song, from Pearl, her posthumous album is below), but not in her life. In her life, she handed over her creative power to drugs and lovers. She had a great independent streak and a great dependent streak. She cultivated the dependency until it killed her.

The music lives on and so does the pain that her pain and suffering created in her family and friends, palpable in the documentary. One of her band members is moved to tears, remembering her, almost 50 years on, and says “That's the price you pay for creating art like this.”

Is that true? I think we are too wedded to that story of creativity, the hindsight that sees such tragedies as inevitable.

What kind of music might Janice Joplin have created if she had cultivated the independence in her life that she managed in her music?

And what else might she have created?

Do You Think Product or Process?

Ours is the creative age.  A recent study by IBM shows the number one characteristic employers now look for in future employees is creativity. But its application is much wider than work.

Learning how to recognise, understand and harness our creative capacities is becoming not just a nice-to-have but a psychological necessity in our fast-paced, interconnected, always-on world.

In ancient and tribal cultures, creativity was understood as a gift from the gods. The Enlightenment dethroned both superstition and religion and rationality came to be privileged by modern societies as the highest level of thought.

We turned to science for answers, in fields from ethics to medicine, and in many ways that has served us well. And in some, not so well, as the twentieth century saw life all over the planet deliberately extinguished through war, consumerism and pollution, and human suffering and extermination on a previously unimaginable scale.

As we make the next turn in the wheel of human evolution, we urgently need to establish creative connection as the necessary framework for scientific, analytical and rational thought.

We need to integrate rational and spiritual, conventional and creative, without privileging either over the other.

You cannot separate them. They are like our right foot and out left, designed to work together. To say one is better than the other is to set yourself off kilter.

Going Creative

Because society, school and workplaces favor conceptual more than creative intelligence, we grow up failing to understand what it means to be creative: what it entails, what it asks of us.

  • to know  what we truly want;
  • to experiment with our own lives;
  • to see failure as learning;
  • to express our own truth;
  • to accept open questions and the unknown;
  • to let go and surrender to the process.

Our culture is highly uncomfortable with all this. It tries to have it both ways, to turn creativity into something that can be measured and proven.“For the Romantics, creativity’s center of gravity was in the mind,” says Joshua Rothman in a recent article in The New Yorker. “For us, it’s in whatever the mind decides to share — that is, in the product.”

“It’s not enough for a person to be “imaginative” or “creative” in her own consciousness. We want to know that the product she produces is, in some sense, ‘actually'  creative; that the creative process has come to a workable conclusion.” (You can read Rothman's article in its entirety here.)

But isn't a focus on product, rather than process, actually anti-creative?

What do you think?