The other week, I wrote a piece about making things, and how the constant, small-scale desire to make is central to the creative spirit. Whether the form is written, visual, verbal or audial, the force of creativity is what drives these acts, and is the unshakeable impulse that propels creators forwards.
The unspoken assumption that I was forcibly attempting myself to challenge was that these creative acts are to be confined to only creative areas, or zones where creativity is a given. For example, creative writing, painting, design, etc.
While this is partially true, what I've been attempting to soften in this broader philosophical shift is that divide between making and taking in, creating and observing. Frankly, I do not have the biochemical makeup of a tank and cannot physically bring my mind or my hands to always be making something.
And that shouldn't be the way, and I'm sure for many others, it's not.
The word "inspiration" gets bandied around far too often these days. It's gone from being this tiny, fragile wisp of a motivating breeze into the constant winds, large and small, that surround us. This is true in the sense that inspiration has potential for all around us, but if we are to take our kite to the park, hitch it up and let it fly amongst the tops of the trees, what's required is a series of conscious, deliberate acts.
That notion — consciousness — is another level to the earlier phrase I used — makers make. When somebody creates something, their decisions and actions, however deliberate or not, are on many different levels conscious ones. What they're saying may be coming from an unconscious, vague place in their heart or psyche, but the physical act of putting brush to canvas or pen to paper is a conscious one.
This is the part that comes with training and practice, translating that core desire to express something into the words, colours or shapes it needs to be expressed through.
But it's that deeper level of consciousness that drives everything, and to my mind, it's the core element required in the creative psyche.
The truth of the matter is that no person can go on making forever; their energy reserves would dry up. There's a finite amount of "makingness" in any human being, and while some people may have greater or lesser amounts than others, the shared goal is to make the most of that time that we can.
The flip side to that coin is what the person is up to when they're not actually making something, but the rest of the time. That is to say, when they're going about their daily life and watching movies, reading books, cooking or just seeing friends or family, how much are they consciously taking in of the situations around them.
Ray Bradbury, John Hegarty and many, many others, have spoken at length about the need to constantly be filling the brain with "stuff," and that the more diverse, high-quality and different the "stuff" is that you put in your brain, the better. One half of the fuel mixture that drives the creative brain is the core spark that comes from within the creator, but the other half is what's been consciously taken in from the world around.
It's tantalizingly easy to fall into the trap of comfort and "turning off," simply easing back on the couch and watching the latest serial drama or blockbuster. But when Bradbury, Hegarty et al are going on about reading books, attending plays, watching movies, listening to music, visiting galleries and other situations where someone is receiving the benefit of someone else's creativity, it's not enough to just be there or take it in. It's absolutely crucial that the observer consciously absorbs the pieces and everything that comes wiht it.
It's not a breakthrough concept, and it's something that, on some level, comes naturally to most human beings. But where the core action — being aware of what you're watching or reading — is common to everyone, it's the degree to which the creative brain is engaged in order to take in, play with and poke, comprehend and digest the bits of creativity its being subjected to that makes the difference.
There's another word that's been used many times in recent years in many different contexts, and that's "mindfulness," or the idea that a human, fully aware of their surroundings, is in an elevated state of reception, and that this is a good thing to be in. Most often (in my experience, anyway) relating to the ever-hazy fields of zen and mindful living, once it gets carried over to popular culture and literature, it's the core philosophy employed by Sherlock Holmes, as this wonderful book/article about it on Brain Pickings detail.
One of the key points in the article is not that being aware of ones surroundings is unique, but that the level of awareness Holmes employs is unique — in the sense that he worked incredibly hard at training his mind to read the world a certain way. In a different context, this is precisely my point: that the creative brain doesn't just need to answer the impulse to physically create something, but it needs to strive for and employ a higher level of deliberate, conscious, mindful awareness of anything that's put before it in order to fully reach its potential.
If there's any flip side to the philosophy that makers make, that can apply to the downtimes when the makers aren't making anything in particular, it's that makers absorb. It needs to be conscious, it needs to be purposeful, and it needs to actively leapfrog the mind from passive reaction to active engagement, even if it's just an intellectual engagement.
Of course, not every film is a classic nor every artwork is a masterpiece. But whether it's the finest example of its type or the basest, practicing conscious observation with everything you come across is just as paramount to creativity as the physical act of creation.