Pablo Picasso. Young Acrobat, 1905. BF72. © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Play. Wonder. Dreams. Curiosity. Boredom. Even procrastination. How is it that these are often the key ingredients for creativity? Try as we might, there appears to be no formula for the creative process. It defies our human desire to want to make sense of it. As Rick Rubin quips, “it’s more magic than science.”
I’ve had fun re-listening to podcasts interviewing Rick Rubin about his book “The Creative Act: A Way of Being” that came out a year ago. These podcasts seem to be after the same thing in their attempts to get Rick Rubin to put the ineffable into words. At times, he is as hard to pin down as the dreamlike cloud of inspiration that he talks about in his book. Speaking of hard, it hasn’t been easy to find a creative way to talk about this month’s theme but I digress.
Earlier this month, Roger Sparks gave a chat to our Tribe on his creative process in designing tattoos and patches. He spoke about how he approaches what is being asked of him to create, dedicating focused time to dwell upon the subject matter and seek out sources of inspiration - a song, memory, nature, album cover, etc. He lets the “flow” take the wheel, allowing his subconscious to unlock and be his guide, seemingly possessed by something beyond ourselves.
On the Huberman Lab podcast, Dr. Adam Grant discusses his research on procrastination and its correlation with creativity. Basically, he found that there is a sweet spot where a moderate level of procrastination equates to higher creativity. Turning in work with your first draft of ideas is roughly the same as waiting until the eleventh hour to put down whatever you still have time to accomplish. Procrastinating or dwelling upon the subject matter allows your subconscious more time to make connections and absorb other sources of information.
Shin, J., & Grant, A.M. (2020). When Putting Work Off Pays Off: The Curvilinear Relationship between Procrastination and Creativity. Academy of Management Journal.
All things considered, Roger admitted that, despite following this process consistently, not all designs are created equal. There are some that tap into something deeper and more universal; how and when that occurs is a mystery though often artists will sense the difference. Regardless, you have to continue the work of the creative process to get to the masterpieces.
A personal anecdote: for months and months, my seven and nine year old sons badgered me with requests for an e-bike. My replies have remained consistent: not going to happen, you need to use your legs biking to school and around the neighborhood. I was met with groans and overheard their dissatisfaction morph to conspiring that they would ask Santa instead.
One day, I came home from work to find my youngest tinkering in the garage. He asked for a glue stick, duct tape, and the leaf blower which I provided willingly being that neither is particularly dangerous. Next time I hear from him, he is calling me to come outside to see his “invention” — a DIY e-bike. He had first tried to use the glue stick to adhere a boogie board onto my skateboard and then decided to use duct tape instead. He sat on the boards with the leaf blower beside him, pointed the nozzle in the opposite direction that he wanted to go in, and then took off around the neighborhood. And the look of sheer joy on his face coupled with the resonating reactions from viewers of the shared video were nothing if not pure magic.