October 22, 2010

“Creativity Comes from Limits”

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:44 pm by Doug Brockway

I was pleased and surprised while listening to an interview of Jon Stewart of The Daily Show aired today on NPR’s Fresh Air.  While describing the day for the Daily Show staff, the creative process, Stewart said:

we have a very kind of strict day that we have to adhere to. And by doing that, that allows us to process everything and gives us the freedom to sort of improvise.

I’m a real believer in that creativity comes from limits, not freedom. Freedom, I think you don’t know what to do with yourself, but when you have a structure, then you can improvise off it and feel confident enough to kind of come back to that.”

I have long thought the same thing.  Its surprising how much resistance you can get from people who, for instance, design computer programs.  The less than insightful of them will complain of the constraints of standards and processes imposed by others.  I used to occasionally hear that from young artists (but the one’s I know are older now).

My reply has usually been to ask if Mozart or Beethoven was creative?  One might not like their music but few would argue that these were un-creative people.  Look at their symphonies as an example.  All symphonies have four movements:  Sonata, Rondo, Minuet and Trio, Sonata (OK, OK… not Beethoven’s 9th… The exception proves the rule).  Each of these types of music has a specific mathematical form.  You could follow it in a dull fashion (think Salieri) or with incredible imagination, as did Mozart and Beethoven and Brahms, etc.  By not having to invent the structure they were able to focus on the creativity of the theme, the pace, the counterpoint, the music.

Its easy to think of examples of creativity that have to do with throwing off the shackles of convention, form, process.  Always doing what we did before would prevent much of jazz music or contemporary art.  But limits, themselves, do not restrict creativity.  Quite often, most times, they’re the best thing for it.

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October 16, 2010

Everybody’s Talkin’ [Past] Me…

Posted in Cognitive Dissonance, Foolishness, Social Commentary at 12:13 pm by Doug Brockway

It may be the political season, it may be the broader transition to “the new normal,” it may be that I’m increasingly a crusty som’ bitch, but it seems that I’m both watching and experiencing more and more conversations that aren’t.

Its a version of the classic Monty Python skit where Michael Palin pays for five minutes of an Argument but all he gets from John Cleese is contradiction.  Palin complains “an argument is more than simple contradiction!”  “No it isn’t” replies Cleese.  “Yes it is.”  “No it isn’t!”

In our house we recently finally upgraded to an HDTV and with that came access to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher.  Last night a Wall Street Journal reporter and the founder of the Cincinnati Tea Party had a similar “discussion” about how much money was involved in the “bailout” and whether it was larger or smaller than the money spent on the war in Iraq.  I happen to trust the Wall Street Journal on this arithmetic (Iraq War is MUCH larger) but what fascinates, or annoys, is how otherwise intelligent people went on for quite some time without remotely acknowledging anything the other had said.  No it isn’t.  Yes it is….

I know of a company just starting up that is having very emotional internal arguments about owner compensation.  All the management knows that early revenue is key.  Because of this one wants to pay owners commissions on sales to encourage early sales.  The problem is that the basic nature of capitalist business is that owners take risks of profits and loss.  They distribute the net, after tax profits that are left over at the end of the day.  It may be a small number.  It may be big.  THAT’S the owner’s incentive.   If you pay an owner commission on the way to net profits you’ve paid that person twice.  No you haven’t.  Yes you have.  No you haven’t!….

Here’s a less important example.  You can pull data from the web that shows that after 1918, after Babe Ruth was sold to the Yankees, and before The Great Comeback of 2004, even though the Yankees won WAY more World Series than their share the Red Sox still got to the World Series as often as the average team.  Boston fans say they hate the Yankees even though data shows its not the Yankees keeping the Sox from having a world championship in that stretch.  Yes it is.  No it isn’t….

I find myself wishing for discourse.  For the ability to actually explore an idea with someone or someones without it being an argument.  Barring that, an argument, “a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition” would be nice.

Unfortunately, too often you hear or find yourself thinking the equivalent of “Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, maloderous, pervert!!!”

And that’s just Abuse.  Arguments are down the hall in 12A…