Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Creativity = Finding New Connections

The Story Course in L.A. left me with a lot to process. Not just about the writer's craft but also about many deeper matters--from the nature of creativity to what we mean when we say someone has a noble "character" to how communication really happens (text or subtext?) to what it really means to be a fully formed human being, and why so few of us actually get there.

Who knew a course on writing fiction would turn out to be the philosophical equivalent of a UFC throwdown?

So let me begin in the (slightly) shallower waters: What is creativity? When you are being creative, what are you actually doing? McKee defined creativity in an interesting way. He said that creativity is the art and skill of making connections that have never been named before between things that already exist. As an example, he quoted this line from a Carl Sandburg poem:

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

He makes the point that the creative artistry in Sandburg's poem isn't in writing about fog or little cat feet, but by naming the previously unseen connection between them. Once you read this, says McKee, you can never experience fog in quite the same way.

Another example: The photograph by Brian Rust, above, in which he draws out for us the curiously disturbing beauty entangled in a mass of automobile corpses. And another: The elegant lyric in Brooke Fraser's song "Shadowfeet" (video below): "I am changing / less and less asleep." Again, the creativity, the artistry, lies in identifying a fresh connection between two things that already exist--in this case, personal transformation and the process of slowly waking up.

What do you think? Do you agree with McKee's definition of creativity? How might you spin it differently, or make for us a new connection?


Craig said...

Michael - what an awesome experience that must have been! I would agree with McKee and I think that understanding releases creativity. To create from nothing is in essence what it means to be God. I suppose the spiritual conversation is about our desire to be God, thus our desire to create from nothing. If we accept that creativity is making new connections, we have tremendous freedom. Musicians don't create notes, they combine them in a way that moves us. Artists don't create color, they combine color in ways that capture our attention. Writers don't create words (well occasionally they try) they combine words into stories that move us. Even outside the artistic realm, scientists don't create elements they combine them in ways that produce new things.
The freedom is in realizing that I already have everything I need to create. The raw material is all around me. The imagination is in me. I just need to be daring enough to put the two together.
Great stuff! Look forward to hearing more of what you learned...

Michael D. Warden said...

Well said, Craig. Thanks!

Patti said...

Creativity, what an awesome force! And yet I feel so much gets missed in the definition "art and skill of making connections that have never been named before between things that already exist". Someone once explained to me that we create our universe every single moment, for our universe would not exist without us there to create it. He took it further in asking 'would the universe physically exist if I had never been born?'. If you read the definition of creativity McKee defined, then to create the universe at least 2 'things' that exist need to make a connection, could not the 2 'things' be me and you, creating the universe we now find ourselves within? and if you go on the premise that nothing remains exactly the same as it was only a moment ago, then every teeny tiny thing we do, say, think, etc. is done with creativity.