Do we really know how to be creative? -
How free are we to make things up as we go along? Or do we just follow the rules?
It would seem to me that there is a considerable correlation between the way we lead our lives and our distinctly human capacity to play music and sing together. I am particularly intrigued by musical improvisation and our capacity to be able to make great music just by 'making it up as we go along'.
In many ways we like to think of ourselves as rational. If you look at your week's activity you see that you mostly follow a pattern. That's how we lead our lives. We find ourselves fitting in, and 'why not?' it's often the easiest way. After all, as individuals we wouldn't like to be thought of as being without a sense of direction or a plan. We have our rules, our expectations, our goals, don't we? We follow the rule of law, we comply with society's standards, and behave towards each other according to an agreed set of values and principles, don't we?
In music there are things we like and things we don't like. There are types of music which are very much 'now' and then other styles which are of the past. Whatever our preferences are if you look underneath the bonnet so to speak you will find that almost all types of music which get to market conform to a set of procedures. We refer perhaps to the rules of harmony, to chord patterns and structures. For the most part we listen to the music and enjoy it. We don't think about the 'structure' or the conventions. But if the music doesn't comply you would soon notice it. So the patterns and the processes are there even if you aren't really aware of them.
Certain types of music are regarded as quite literally, conventional. Classical music, although this term is used very loosely is a case in point. Depending on when the music was composed it follows the conventions, structures and processes at the time it was written. Jazz and styles similar to this seem to be more free but interestingly with careful examination you realise that jazz is still in its way, conventional. It uses the underlying patterns of previous forms and structures and 'stretches' them. It 'bends' them. Although it is a more free style it still relies on the 'conventions' for it to make sense.
At a certain point jazz becomes extreme and the music becomes chaotic. It may not now sound anything remotely like 'music' per se but it can be extremely fascinating to experience. The whole sound-world becomes topsy-turvy where we seem to be inhabiting other dimensions. This free chaotic space is not one that many of us like to stay in too long.
And yet I would say that this is a space which is well-worth exploring, This is because whilst it does seem to be chaotic it is a zone which is full of possibility, of ideas and of new thinking.
When young children play they often enjoy 'make-believe'. When they have fun they make things up. Watch children truly playing with their toys. They're not concerned about convention, the rules, the limits. This is probably a reason why they can often be in trouble with those in charge. The ones in charge set the limits and through this we talk about learning to accept the rules of society. The interaction been the child and the parent in this way does serve to help the child understand limits.
The problem is that we can grow up being over-conventional. I would argue that this is the position in which most of us find ourselves. We are tied down by the rules even though most of these are social conventions which for the most part we aren't consciously aware. We've learned them too well.
So consider these thoughts when you are stuck for an idea. When you're considering your next important purchase, are you using your own ideas or someone else's? How original are you being or are you merely following convention? Those of you in creative industries, how much of your own negative self-talk is getting in the way? You may need to find a way of unbinding yourself from the rules you've inherited.
My way is music. It's been a hard lesson learned. I've learned the rules. I write pretty good music. I follow the rules to get it into shape. But the ideas come from experiencing and learning to be with the 'Chaos of Play'. This is truly from where the inspiration emerges.