Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Trash Heap: Creativity & Doug Aitken

Maybe the question is stupid, but whenever I've been asked something along the lines of, What is creativity? my mind immediately conjures images of children finger painting or throwing glitter at smears of Elmer's glue, making cotton-ball clouds and tapping them in a ziti sky. And maybe, after those images pass, I'll see an image of an art gallery or museum or something. But the childhood images always come first. And while those images don't, in the least bit, answer the question of creativity, childhood is probably a good place to start the discussion (and this essay). This, like most other things, is where creativity is learned. For this short period of time, the only real, intellectual goal for a child is to figure out what exists and what is possible. So, because they are just kids and there are no real consequences to this kind of day dreaming, there are no limits imposed on these experiments, and because of the lack of limits, creativity and imagination, that two-headed dancing beast, can rear their heads and run wild with every insignificant thing it finds.

But despite having my own ideas about creativity, I find myself drawn to the theories of others: hypothesis about what it is/what it means, interviews with artists/writers/chefs about where these ideas come from and the processes that evoke them.

Lately, there have been not a few articles by neurologists of different stripes hoping to nail down exactly what process in the brain cause one, when confronted by a problem, to find a unique and creative way out of the situation. While interesting for purely intellectual reasons, these scientific explanations seem to be little more than a man scratching at bark to find the nature of a tree. It's true, he may very well find something (a bug eating at the wood, for instance), but the essential nature of the tree will remain hidden. It could be that the essential nature of the thing will always remain hidden, is a thing beyond our limited mind, and may not even be a thing that exists, just a word that attempts to stop time, to freeze a moment in the metaphysical lab of the mind, tries to examine the world in order to develop true generalities from a specific. But by the time anything is gleaned from these experiments they have already spoiled and turned false. The moment has irrevocably passed and everything has changed.

Not to brag, but being a pretty famous neurologist in my own right, I have my own conception of what happens in the brains of truly creative people:

To find the spot where creativity happens, you must get past the bogs of last night's binge drinking, past the screens looping, repressed memories from childhood, to the places where the these experiences have swept though and left smoldering piles of rubble. There you will find large swaths of circuitry ruined. Disconnected wires flailing about like loose fire hoses, spraying bits of information in places they have no earthly right to be. There strange piles of images and phrases and ideas combine in large, rank compost heaps. In theses heaps, disparate tidbits collect from years of seeing and hearing, combine into an amalgamation all their own, combine and (if your prayers are said earnestly, and the muse is disposed to smile kindly) come out of that pile of shit looking brand new. 

After these strange chemical reactions comes the truly audacious aspect of the creative arts, where what Liz Diller (video above) calls naivete. The element of naivete seems just as important as the creative act itself. Having the naivete to believe that theses strange amalgamations mean something, are important. The naivete to believe that these divergent stimuli can be magnetized and attracted to one another in a way that is interesting, in a way that doesn't just make you look crazy. And, most importantly, having the naivete to believe that the connections, these new amalgamations, will make a sweet enough sound to attract other people, an audience, a public. That people will, and do care to listen, to see, this new world that was just, a moment ago, created from nothing, from everything.

For a bunch more interviews in this vain, by the filmmaker Doug Aitken, click here. I strongly suggest the interview with architect David Adjaye, and, oh, there are also interviews with Beck and Jack White that are quite pleasant as well. 

-By Adam Shutz

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