I ain’t gonna front. I had a wicked time just recently, shooting an aftermovie for Polar Music; a Manchester-based music production and events label who specialise in putting together house music/EDM nights around the north west of England.
I was asked to do some filming at the launch party for one of their events at Texture night club, a gig I was excited to be involved in but one that presented challenges; the biggest being – since I was filming in a club – that I had no control over the lighting, which, with how dark it was, made it tricky to consistently get the image quality I was after on my DSLR (planning to invest in some new toys to combat this very issue).
In the end – well, part way through the shoot actually – I decided to just roll with it, to make the dim, grimier look part of the aesthetic and incorporate it into the feel of the finished piece, an approach I carried forward into the edit.
Although it wasn’t what I originally had in mind before filming, I definitely feel this approach helped to capture the night’s atmosphere in a far better way than I’d planned to (see below).
Thing is, I guess it got me thinking about how often this kinda thing happens. How often our best laid plans don’t necessarily lead to the best outcomes, at least when it comes to creativity.
Which reminded me of this…
“I never went to college. I don’t believe in college for writers. I think it’s very dangerous. I think too many professors are too opinionated, and too snobbish, and too intellectual. And the intellect is a great danger to creativity… a terrible danger because you begin to rationalise and make up reasons for things instead of staying with your own basic truth. Who you are, what you are, what you want to be. I’ve had a sign over my typewriter for years now which reads ‘don’t think’. You must never think at the typewriter. You must feel…”
They’re the words of the late great Ray Bradbury, one of the most prolific and decorated writers of the 20th Century, speaking to James Day during an interview for Cuny Television in 1974 (below).
It’s a great interview for any writer – in fact any creative person, actually any person at all – to listen to. Bradbury talks about his work, his career, his life, his sensibilities, all with the same lyrical panache and swagger that gave his writing its special verve.
But the thing that really grabbed my attention as I listened was the resemblance between the ideas he shared on writing and creativity, and those I’d heard from someone else. Someone, in fact, who could not be more different…
“In a lot of [my play] I’m doing something impulsive,” Barry Sanders once said, “I had to [learn to] turn off the brain in certain ways and just react.”
Barry Sanders, running back of the Detroit Lions from 1989 to 1998, a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, regarded by many commentators as the greatest in the history of the NFL to play his position.
And so here is a sportsman, in one of the most violent and physical contact sports on the planet, describing his style of play in not dissimilar terms to those used by Bradbury to describe the craft of writing.
Where Sanders speaks of needing to ‘turn off the brain’, Bradbury’s law is ‘don’t think’. Both, it seems, seeking to push away reason and rationale and, as Bradbury says later in the same interview, ‘surprise’ themselves.
Which leads me on to another quote, this time from a musician — New Orleans native and jazz composer, Wynton Marsalis, speaking, interestingly, about the aforementioned Barry Sanders, and drawing parallels between the running back’s approach to his sport and what is, in Marsalis’ view, the basic impetus and raison d’etre of all jazz music.
“In the arts, greatness is that you are able to develop your skills [to the point that you] raise our — humanity’s — level of consciousness, our horizon of aspiration. [So that] we say: “Wow, I didn’t know that could be done… it’s metaphysical, and that’s when you are the thing, and when you become that thing you don’t have to think. Because the figuring out of things is transcended the ‘I am doing this’ to just what we call “the isness” — i.e. you are here in this moment and you are the living embodiment of that thing in action. When you [reach that level, then when you] don’t think you are on a higher level than when you think, because the thought takes you away from the thing [you are doing].”
Yeah, I know, a bit on the heady side, but I guess what these sentiments each have in common is the idea that eventually, once your skills have developed to a certain point, you have to let go. Stop thinking. Trust impulse, cede to instinct. Roll with it.
Intuition over intellect. Feeling over thought. Faith over reason. Like both Picasso and Jesus (now there’s a juxtaposition you don’t see every day) famously said — the trick is to learn to be like a child.
“All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” — Pablo Picasso
In his (excellent) commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, Neil Gaiman put it like this…
“The one thing you have that nobody else has, is you — your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can. The moment that you feel that just possibly you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside and showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right. The things I’ve done that worked the best were the things I was least certain about… looking back on them people explain why they were inevitable successes but when I was doing them I had no idea what I was doing. I still don’t.”
So, my question… what about you?
Have you learned to let go yet? To follow Bradbury’s (and Bruce Lee’s) dictum of don’t think, feel? To step beyond your planning and rationale and surprise yourself, creatively or otherwise?
And if so, what was it like? Vulnerable? Scary? Exhilarating?
Feel free to share your experiences below. Would love to hear them. And, who knows, maybe I’ll learn to take even more risks through what you share. After all, like Gaiman says later on in his speech.
“Where’s the fun in [doing] something you know is going to work?”