Saturday, July 26, 2008


For the record, here's the text of an article I wrote a couple of months ago for Zero Tolerance magazine regarding the relationship between creativity and technical ability. It touches on some themes and ideas discussed here before.

As far as I'm concerned, in many ways painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is as creative as baking a chocolate cake for your cousin's birthday. I see creativity as a basic universal human need that's (sadly) often suppressed, and one that can bring us much-needed gratification and happiness in our lives. So in that sense it's what it gives us, the creators, that matters, not what it gives to anyone else. The big difference above is that only your cousin can enjoy the chocolate cake and then it's gone - and there lies the key to artists wanting to spread their work as far and wide as possible because it extends their potential for immortality; the nature of creating things is similar to the model of having offspring. In this sense, not all forms of creativity are equal: in the fields of art, film and music we are fortunate that our work can outlive us - compare that to stage actors, dancers, live comedians, chefs and all the other professions whose creativity is much more fleeting and ultimately less satisfying.

Nevertheless, looking at it from the spectator's perspective this is all irrelevant and entirely subjective.

Whether we're aware of it or not, I believe we measure others' creativity not by their technical prowess but by the artist's intent (often commonly described with words such as 'charismatic' or 'original'). What I personally mean by intent is what the artist, consciously or not, believes about why they're doing what they're doing and the response they wish to achieve. The really important technical gift isn't (funnily enough) the virtuosity of the activity but the skill to achieve the desired outcome.

There are always endless numbers of technocrats on the horizon: skilful musicians, painters, dancers, and so on, yet very few do we value; the most useful aspect of being an amazingly virtuoso soloist (for example) is as a demonstration skill: a way of showing off your potential through a technical showcase. For instance, walking on water is a fairly pointless action, yet it demonstrates to an audience in need of say, salvation, that by implication there must be so much more to offer.

To me, guitar solos have much the same effect as Bach's flamboyant free-form preludes to fugues: they give enjoyment to the listeners who feel comfortable in the knowledge that the performers are talented, thereby adding increased weight to the music; and as long as they don't start to fall in love with the belief that their solos are an end in themselves, they can be a worthwhile component to a traditional song. Now where's that cake?

1 comment:

defaultxr said...

Very interesting, thank you for posting this.