Creativity: Stay on the Bus
A creative friend recently pointed me to Australian artist and videographer, Struthess – Campbell Walker. It’s refreshing to find content in the style and language of my homeland. Like most Aussies, Walker calls it how he sees it, and he’s an inveterate storyteller. In this video, Struthless riffs on the ‘Helsinki Bus Station theory’ of Arno Minkkinen. Oliver Burkemann has a nice variation on the theme in the Guardian.
Most creative people have a desire for exploration that can easily lead in too many directions. The ‘stay on the bus’ metaphor for persistence really hit home for me personally. In recent years I’ve felt a lot of frustration with just how much I failed to stay on the bus. I didn’t have a clear picture of my destination, and I lacked faith in my ability to get there. I’ve changed buses umpteen times, jumped on a train, and ended up on the other side of the metaphorical country, 25 years older, with a hangover and empty pockets.
Walker talks about drawing daily, and drawing ‘one thing’. And this singularity of focus is important. Creative people are often trying to Do All The Things, along with a rent-paying Day Job. They’re already spread thin in terms of the basic hours of the day, and then they’re trying to create in ten different media and managing social media and a tshirt business on the side. I don’t think ‘Sketch a day’ trends are all that helpful as a rule, because these tend to be about producing a piece of social-media-ready content rather than skill development. Sketching is an important part of your creative practice, and artwork doesn’t always need to be a major production, but if you’re only doing half-hour sketches, you’re not learning to test, push, and develop ideas. You’re not learning to persist with a piece through technical challenges and conceptual disengagement.
One of the issues with low-stakes work is that once idea is on paper, the brain – ever in search of the novel – starts to disengage. You’ve scratched the itch and need to move on. There’s an idea in Psychology – contrary to the pop psych doctrine of ‘visualization’, where picturing success tells the brain that the goal is achieved (whether or not it actually is) and this actually reduces motivation . So you need to learn to work through the stages of conceptualizing and executing an idea without losing momentum. The key here is that drawing daily should support, rather than substitute for, serious art practice. [see also: Cal Newport on Deep Work].
There’s a related idea that I want to explore, and that is the notion that ‘creativity’ is an attribute that exists and can be developed and applied at will, independent of domain [spoiler: it isn’t, and I’ll have more to say on that in another blog]. This idea is quite pervasive at the moment: just check the ‘graduate attributes’ boasted by any higher education institution. But the evidence simply doesn’t support this. In the context of this post, my point is that achievement in your art means practice in that art.
The road can get a bit rocky when you’re on the creative bus. There will be flat tyres and detours. But remember where you want to go. Keep that ticket in your pocket, and keep drawing.